Body and Soul I: The Body Snatcher
Chapter 2: Crawling from the Ruins
I'm not crawling around looking for a friend
I'm not thinking the big I am
I'm not down on the ground looking for a cure
I'm not saying I'm the man...
I'm trying to hide my scars
I'm talking to you like a shadow in the dark
I'm just trying to survive...
And I'm not asking you for emotion
I'm not asking for the sky to mend
And I'm not asking you for nostalgia
I'm not asking for the world to end
I'm not asking for your opinion
I'm not asking for a miracle
And I'm not asking you to remember me...
--Gary Numan, Scar
The interstate exit descended down a hill, breaking from the cover of roadside trees down to a main road, which ran under the interstate in one direction. In the other direction, there was a strip of roadside services, starting with a McDonald's and a BP gas station directly off the exit, and leading up half a mile to the top of a hill, where a Wal-Mart sat squatly, dominating the landscape. Reluctantly, with a quick glance at the sky, Erik left the semi-cover of the trees alongside the road and bolted down the exit, forcing his exhausted body into a brief run, down onto the road below and across the street to the gas station. He limped toward a stand of pay phones between the McDonald's and the gas station, and fell against the closest one as if trying to melt into it, and thus disappear from under the pitiless open sky.
The heat was getting to him-- it was midsummer, and without his powers to block the sun, the past hour and a half or so of trudging and then jogging along the side of the road had sapped him terribly. The fact that he had no water, hadn't had anything to drink since he left the stream and he'd been in the sun near-constantly since, didn't help. The smell of the food from the McDonald's was making him lightheaded with hunger-- this body couldn't endure hunger as well as his own, he thought. Blood sugar fluctuations, perhaps. Small women tended to be more subject to that than tall men. But he didn't relish trying to beg one of the truckers or tourists who came in and out of the McDonald's for money to buy food and drink, not when there were telephones right there. He was only a phone call away from his money, and once he had that, he could eat all he liked.
There was a more important call to make first, of course.
He glanced nervously up at the sky as he punched in his calling card number and then the phone number he was trying to reach, attempting to conceal himself under the pay phone stand's top as much as possible. It couldn't be done; it was a stand, not a real phone booth, and there wasn't enough room to hide his head under its top. The phone rang twice. On the second ring, a woman's voice answered pleasantly. He recognized the voice as Jean Grey's. "Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters."
"I need to speak to Charles Xavier, please."
"May I ask who's calling?"
No, you may not. "It would take too long to explain and we don't have time. It's a matter of life or death."
There was a click as Jean transferred the call-- to her credit, she didn't argue over his identity-- and Xavier picked up immediately, probably having been telepathically alerted by Jean. "This is Charles Xavier speaking."
"Put the recorder on, Charles, I've little time and I don't want to repeat myself. There is a rapist-serial killer loose in Pennsylvania someplace, inhabiting the body of Magneto. I believe the Daily Bugle have taken to rather sensationally calling her the 'Electrokiller'--"
"How do you know this? Magneto's alive? What's happened to him?"
"Irrelevant, except that the serial killer in his body isn't him. She's a woman, one who believes that all men should be tortured for having more power than women. To this end she's taken up raping and murdering young homosexuals and young men of power. She's likely to prefer mutant victims if she can get them. You must take all precautions to ensure none of your X-Men fall into her hands, but it's vital that you stop her before she kills again."
"Who is this? Magnus, is that you?"
Damn the man. "Her real name is Lisa Davies; she uses the pseudonym Lee Davies, perhaps others, and lives in Clearfield, in western Pennsylvania. Her address is a rural route, it won't help you, but the place is no more than five or ten miles from exit 19 on I-80."
"Magnus, talk to me. I'll get the X-Men out to help you. If she's after you, we can protect you. I think I've already got a fix on her with Cerebro, unless that's you, but you have to give me more information. How did this happen?"
"Your ability to jump to conclusions on next to no information has never ceased to astonish me, Charles."
"So it is you! You are alive! Thank God. I--"
"Why 'thank God?' If you'd wanted me alive so badly perhaps you shouldn't have had Wolverine all but murder me." No. He was sidetracking, getting into the old feud, and he didn't have time for that. "What are you picking up via Cerebro, exactly?"
"I've been getting a blip that looks like you, only with limited telepathic powers of some sort, appearing and reappearing randomly across the Northeast."
"And you did nothing?"
"I take it that that's her?"
"She's been murdering people--" tortured me, humiliated me, all but broke me-- "and you've been sitting on your hands? Why?"
"I thought it was you."
"With telepathic powers? And when have you hesitated to attack me?"
"Since you supposedly reformed, and most especially after what happened when I sent my X-Men to talk to you last. As for the telepathy... I hoped it was you, Magnus, but given that I saw Asteroid M explode, I thought it reasonably possible that it wasn't. Polaris isn't quite that similar to you, but I've seen such similar signatures in different people before, particularly related ones. If it was you I wasn't going to push myself on you when you weren't doing anything, and if it wasn't... I haven't had time to approach new mutants in a while."
"When I wasn't doing anything?" His voice cracked shrilly, sending a wave of humiliation and fury through him, that Charles should hear him like this. "Charles, she was raping and murdering innocent young men, and you think she wasn't doing anything?"
"And how was I supposed to know that someone with your body was raping and murdering people? It's not exactly the sort of crime I'd have accused you of. Actually I just heard about it yesterday, since they're beginning to speculate on mutant involvement since that poor stockbroker was killed."
"Well, now you know. So stop her."
"Magnus, wait! Don't hang--"
Erik hung up. If Xavier could track her with Cerebro, he'd hunt her down-- but he was far too much a bleeding heart to kill her, particularly now that he knew she'd stolen the body from Magneto. That would neutralize her, would give Erik time to build a device to force her to switch. Getting her free of Charles to force the switch might be difficult, but then, Charles and his X-Men didn't know what Erik looked like right now... oh, but that assumed that both the body snatcher and Erik himself retained Magneto's natural mental shields. If Charles could read either of them, he'd know exactly who Erik was. Well, it couldn't be helped. He'd figure out a way to handle it-- later. Right now he had another call to make.
A pleasant young woman picked up the phone on the first ring. "Schonfeld, Stein and Hersch, how may I direct your call?"
"I need to speak to Aaron Schonfeld, please."
"And who shall I say is calling?"
He leaned against the side of the phone stand. What had ever happened to phone booths, the kind you could enter and close the door and sit down? The heat was terrible, and when a breeze did come along and cool him off a bit, it also kicked up dust from the bare ground under his feet, blowing it into his eyes. He supposed that that was better than concrete or blacktop to stand on in bare, injured feet, but why was there no grass planted here? Did Americans deliberately go out of their way to make everything as ugly as possible? Anxiety started to build again as he was left on hold, and he moved back to hide under the phone stand as much as he could. This area was too open; too easy for someone flying to spot him, no cover, nowhere to hide or get away.
And then Aaron's voice, age doing little to rob it of its robustness. "Erik? Is that you?"
"Never mind the way my voice sounds, Aaron, yes. It's me."
"Good God, what's happened to you? Your voice-- no, don't tell me, I don't want to know. Are you-- are you all right?"
"It's a temporary thing, and a long story. I'll tell you what I can. Have you got the passwords?"
"Yes, yes I do. Go ahead."
"The current password is bushah. Last password is choshech."
Aaron sighed. "So it's you, all right. My God, Erik, you sound terrible."
He did, actually, even for the borrowed body. His voice was hoarse from the dryness in his throat and the exertions he'd gone through this day. "Did you send out that two million dollar check?"
"Yes, I did, as soon as I got your fax. We overnighted it to you. Didn't you get it?"
"Put a stop on it."
"You didn't get it? We had insurance on that overnight package! And they called us to let us know it was signed for!"
No. No, wait. "Was your address on the overnight package?"
"Yes, of course it was, but Erik, someone signed for it. It didn't simply get lost."
So he couldn't put a stop on the check-- she had Aaron's address. She could threaten him if the check was stopped. "I've changed my mind. Don't put a stop on the check. But I want you to trace it. Find out what bank it clears through as soon as it does. I also want you to track my credit cards-- the MasterCard and the Visa in the name of Edmund Stern, and the Visa in the name of John Wassermann."
"Erik, can I ask what's going on, or is this one of those things I don't want to know?"
He closed his eyes against the glare of the sun and the sweat dripping down past the barrier of his inadequate eyebrows. "Some of it you should know. I've... there's really no other way to say this. My body's been stolen. Currently I look like a woman, while the woman who should be in this body is running around in my body. She also took my credit cards and all the cash I had on me, and she forced me to send you that fax."
"She took your body."
"Yes, that's what I just said."
"Is this... um. Is this one of those things that happens all the time to people in your situation, or...? You sound very... well, calm about it. I mean, if I had just been turned into a woman I don't think I would be so calm!"
"I'm going to get my body back, Aaron, don't worry about me. As for being calm, well, you know me. Nothing shocks me anymore. I've certainly been through worse."
"Oh, I know, I know. I was there too, after all. It's just... well. Let's take care of business. Are you sure you don't want me to stop the check? If this, this body thief has it--"
"It's too dangerous. I'm positive. Besides, it's only two million, and once I have my body back I'll recover it from her."
"It's actually 2.7 million. Some of your investments paid off."
"It doesn't matter. Can you put a trace on this call?"
"Can you just give me the phone number you're calling from?"
"The weather's faded it. Looks like are code 814, 765-1243. I need to know the nearest Western Union, or anyplace else you can wire me money."
"I'll have that for you in a minute. What kind of ID do you have on you?"
"Aaron, she took my ID."
"Yes, but wasn't she carrying any ID for her own body on her?"
Of course. Aaron didn't know he'd been a captive for a month; as far as he could know, the body snatcher had taken his form and forced him to send that fax three days ago, and then let him run loose. "I don't have any of her ID. She took it."
"Well, that's a problem. Most places you wire money to, they want ID. But I think we can use a password instead. Let's not do Hebrew this time, they won't be able to spell it."
"'Pride goes before a fall.'"
"A little strange for a motto for you, but fine, that'll make a good password. I'll need to give them a physical description, too. What do you look like now?"
He moved back to look at himself in the reflective surface of the phone. Not that he didn't know far too well what he would see by now. "This body looks about 26 to 28, somewhere in there, and about five foot four. Weighs about 145-150 pounds or so. Light brown hair, slightly below the shoulders. Brown eyes. Fair skin. Smallish frame. Do you need anything else?"
"No, that should do it. How about a name?"
Damn. He could come up with a new, different male pseudonym at a moment's notice, but he wasn't used to having to create female ones. "Uh... Michele Roth."
"All right. I have an address for you. The closest Western Union is in the Wal-Mart at 100 Supercenter Drive in--"
"Aaron, I'm at the bottom of a hill. At the top of the hill there's a Wal-Mart. Is that the one?"
"What's the name of the road you're on?"
"I don't know; it's right after exit 19 on interstate 80."
"Let me put you on hold and check."
A minute later Aaron was back. "Yes, it's the one. How much do you need?"
"Give me two thousand; that should be enough for me to get to New York and pick up spare credit cards."
"It's done. Do you need anything else? You want me to get the credit card agencies to send a rep out to you, give you the cards directly? Anything I can do, I'd be happy to help."
"No, I don't want to stay here that long. You've been a tremendous help, Aaron. I'll call if there's anything else I need. Leave messages on the usual voicemail if you successfully track her through the money. I don't think she'd be fool enough to use the credit cards now, but..."
"Of course, I understand. And tell me how it turns out!"
This was probably one of the very few times in his career when he really could tell Aaron how it turned out-- at least, in the sense of letting him know when he had his body back. He saw no need to ever burden Aaron with the knowledge of how the body snatcher would die, once he got his body back.
As soon as he was off the phone, he limped over to the gas station, heading for the bathroom. He'd have preferred the bathrooms in the restaurant, but since he had no shoes and looked wild and disheveled, he doubted they'd let him in the door. The bathrooms at the gas station were outside, although under an overhang that provided shade and a small sense of greater security, and he didn't have to interact much with people to reach them. Automatically he turned toward the men's room, stopping himself short just before he went in. Damn, he was never going to get used to this. He headed toward the women's room instead, tried the door, and found it locked.
The hell with it. The men's room door wasn't locked, so he went there instead. It was dark inside, even when he turned on the tiny dim light, and it smelled awful. The floor would have been repulsive enough to walk on with boots on; in bare, bleeding feet, he considered it an active health hazard, and snagged some paper towels to step on and shuffle around in. The toilet was clogged, and there was an overpowering scent of excrement. There were also no rolls of toilet paper. Annoyed, he grabbed more paper towels before hiking up the skirt and sitting down to relieve himself. This was not going to be pleasant.
It was worse than he thought, actually. He hissed when he saw the fresh bright stains on the underwear, glistening wet and red in the dim light. Too much to hope for that this could be the body's desperately awaited menstrual cycle, at last; it could be, but that wasn't the way his life worked. Far more likely, from the pains he felt, that his wild flight had torn open half-healing vaginal injuries. A women's bathroom might have had supplies-- he had no idea if in fact women's bathrooms carried such things, but it made sense that they would-- but a men's bathroom certainly didn't. He folded a paper towel and inserted it into the crotch of the underpants, wincing at the roughness of the paper against the sore flesh. That wouldn't prevent the blood loss, but hopefully it would keep the skirt from staining until he could finally replace the damned thing. There wasn't much he could do about the bleeding except hope it went away on its own until such time as he could rent a hotel room and lie down for a while. Preferably in New York City if he could, far, far away from here. If the blood flow didn't slow or stop, however, he was probably going to have to hole up here in Clearfield for a day or two until he recovered.
He washed as best as he could, wetting his hands and running his fingers through the tangled hair, trying to comb the leaves and twigs out of it and reshape it into something resembling a civilized person's hair. It wasn't as thick as his own body's hair, so it took to the reshaping rather better than his own would have. The bloody score marks across legs and face from branches and bracken couldn't be bandaged or healed, but he could wash them with soap and hot water-- amazing that there was actually soap in the soap dispenser, a piece of good luck he hadn't expected-- and clean off the blood, so the marks were less visible. When he finally was done and ready to leave, he looked superficially normal-- when he kept his arms at his sides, the tears in his blouse disappeared, and the clothing, though overwashed and permanently stained in places, was clean enough. The real problem was his swollen, bloody bare feet, but hopefully no one would look down.
For a moment he hesitated, his hand on the doorknob. It smelled horrible in here and it was cramped and if an actual man came along and found him here, the best he could hope for was humiliation; he didn't want to think about what the worst would entail. And yet he didn't want to leave. The sun beating down had sapped him, but it wasn't the sun he feared; it was the open sky, and what-- or who-- might be lurking in it, ready to swoop down on him and carry him back to his prison. But this was ridiculous; he couldn't hide out in a bathroom. Particularly not a men's room. All he had to do was get to the top of the hill, to the safety of the Wal-Mart, and disappear into the crowds within. And then he'd get his money, and food, and shoes, and he'd be safe.
He opened the bathroom door and stepped out.
Ten minutes later he'd trudged to the top of the hill, observing that distances always looked much, much shorter when you were looking down on them from the top of the exit ramp than when you actually had to walk the distance yourself. He'd alternated between running, jogging, and slogging exhaustedly the whole way up, unable to bear being in the openness, and too tired to move as fast as his screaming nerves told him to. Getting inside the building was a tremendous relief. He half expected someone to try to stop him from entering the Wal-Mart with his bare feet, like the security guard/greeter immediately inside. No one paid any attention. The tile was cool on his feet and pleasant after so long walking on dust or overheated blacktop, and he was finally able to slow to a walk and stay that way, now that he was no longer visible from the sky. He found a water fountain directly inside, and drank deeply, only stopping because a small child behind him whined about wanting a drink.
There were far too many people about, pushing, ambling along with their carts, parking hugely fat bodies in the middle of the aisle and blocking his path. He had never been in a Wal-Mart before, and would rather be elsewhere now if he had a choice. Any time a store employee looked at him, he had to control the impulse to jump, afraid they'd see his feet and throw him out. There was no way the body snatcher could find him in this crowd, but the presence of a crowd aroused far older anxieties. He couldn't throw up a force field to protect himself from these people, to keep them out of his personal space. With effort, he wove his way through the crowd, picking out quick getaway routes and pathways involving minimal people contact, circling around some distance out of his way rather than be trapped with other people in a narrow aisle. It was five minutes before he reached the Western Union.
"Excuse me. I believe that someone has wired me money here, and I need to pick it up?"
What had he said his name was? Think, think... "Michele Roth."
The woman gave him an odd look, as if she was puzzled by him, or perhaps didn't believe him. "Can I see some ID?"
He sighed. "I don't have ID. I was robbed. There's a password that should have been sent with the money, and a physical description."
"We wouldn't have a physical description. I can't do anything for you if you don't have ID."
"Look, there's a password. I worked this out with my accountant ahead of time. I don't have any ID because I was robbed. They took my credit cards, they took my money. I just want to get my money so I can get something to eat."
She looked at him hard. "I'm going to have to call my supervisor."
He sat down in one of a row of hard plastic chairs on the wall to the side of the Western Union. Dear God but he was tired. And hungry. He'd drunk a good deal at the water fountain, and the cool air-conditioning of the Wal-Mart was a balm to his sweat-soaked body, but all the added comfort seemed to really have given him was a sharpened appreciation for just how tired and hungry he was. There was some kind of awful snack bar in the Wal-Mart. Visions of hot dogs danced before his eyes. Slather enough mustard and relish on it and he wouldn't be able to tell that it was made of no-name meat. And then get a cab, and get a hotel room, and sleep. Maybe a hot bath, and then sleep. No, a hot bath would worsen the bleeding. Just sleep.
Erik waited for what seemed like a minor eternity, while other people came up and wired money, while assorted people passed him, and while a small boy repeated to his mother insistently that "that lady has no shoes on!" After that he folded his legs under himself, which was extremely painful but didn't leave him as exposed to the potential of store security coming along and throwing him out for having no shoes on. When was this mythical supervisor going to come talk to him anyway? The longer this took, the more his nervousness mounted; until he had his money, he was trapped here, with no safe place to go and no way to go there should the body snatcher or anyone else come after him. No one was going to come after him. No one even knew who he was, except the body snatcher, and she'd never find him in here. He told himself that again and again. It didn't help.
He complained to the employee manning the Western Union booth. She repeated that her supervisor was on the way, and it shouldn't be too long. Bored out of his mind, and restless from the mounting anxiety, he got up, went to the cash registers to get a US News and World Report, and returned to his seat. It was hard to focus on the words when he so much wanted to be buying shoes and socks and food and getting the hell out of here, going someplace he could get some rest, someplace safe. His legs had started to itch fiercely, and a rash was starting to come up on them. Probably he'd stepped in some poison ivy or something. Dammit. His attempt to focus on the magazine to distract himself from the itching and boredom was so intense, he didn't even notice the people approaching him until one asked him, "Miss Davies?"
The name of his hated enemy jolted him back to awareness. His head jerked up, and he saw two uniformed policemen standing in front of him. Police, as a general rule, had always made him nervous-- even before he'd been a wanted terrorist, he'd had too many bad experiences with police in his life. But he had nothing to be nervous about this time, did he? He wasn't breaking any laws, aside from possibly the sanitation code by not having any shoes.
But they'd called him by her name...
"Excuse me, I think you have a case of mistaken identity," he said, trying to sound calm. "My name is Michele Roth."
"You got ID to prove that, Miss 'Roth'?" the same cop asked, a nondescript young man with brown hair.
"No-- no, I'm afraid not," he said, knowing it was the wrong answer, but what else could he say? "I've been robbed. I had my accountant wire me money, with a password so I could prove that it was me."
"Where did you say you were robbed, Miss?"
For a second, he thought he had said, and couldn't remember where he'd said, and almost panicked. Then he remembered he hadn't said anything of the sort. "Out on the highway."
"So, you brought your car here after you were robbed?"
"No, of course not. They took the car too."
"Uh-huh. So let me ask you, Miss Roth, how exactly did anyone manage to carjack you out on the middle of the highway? People get carjacked in parking lots, when they're stopped. They don't usually get carjacked when they're cruising along at 55 miles an hour."
He was not a very good liar, and his few talents there did not lie in the area of improvisation. Why would someone be carjacked on the highway? How could a criminal lure them into stopping so they could be threatened? Then the obvious answer hit him. "Well, I pulled over to help them. It looked like their car had broken down."
"And you figured you'd help out."
"Yes, of course. I didn't know they were going to steal my car and my ID!"
"Tell me, Miss Roth, you an expert on cars? We normally don't see young ladies pulling over to help people with their cars."
"Well-- yes, as a matter of fact. I'm a qualified mechanic." And he was, so they could hardly trip him up on that.
"Uh-huh. So what's a mechanic doing having $2,000 in spare change she can just have her accountant wire her?"
The other cop, a short blond man, spoke before Erik could try to come up with an answer to that one. "You're dirty, Lisa. We've known you were dirty for months. We just haven't had anything we can nail you on until now. You can insist you're Michele Roth all you want, but it won't change the fact that your real name is Lisa Davies and you've just committed wire fraud."
"I have not! And I am not! My name is Michele Roth and that's my money! I don't even know who this Lisa Davies person is."
"That why you jumped when I said her name?" the first cop asked.
"I jumped because there was a policeman at my elbow saying something, and you startled me!"
"Tell it to the judge, Lisa," the second one said, producing a pair of handcuffs.
This was not happening. This simply was not happening. His voice grew more frantic. "Look, you can call my accountant. He can confirm my identity. I don't have time for this-- I've got an important business meeting I've got to make it to, and I have to get my money and get changed and go, and I haven't done anything!"
"A mechanic's got an important business meeting?" the first cop asked.
Damn. "A business venture my husband and I are setting up. I don't want to be repairing cars for the rest of my life."
"Oh, so you're married? Where's your ring?"
"Well, they took it, of course!"
"Yeah? Where's the tan line, then?"
"You just keep digging yourself deeper, Davies," the second cop said, forcing Erik's hands into the cuffs. "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to talk to an attorney..."
The rest of the words blurred. Erik had been arrested before, of course, twice surrendering himself to the authorities as Magneto. But he'd been a VIP prisoner, to be handled with extreme and special care, and because it had been his decision it had been impossible to humiliate him. Even when Mystique had done things designed to humiliate him, like insisting that he might be carrying weapons in his business suit and demanding that he be put through a strip search once they had him in the secure facility, it hadn't, much-- he understood her too well. She'd taken his identity, not in the sense she usually took people's identity but in the sense that she'd declared herself leader of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, the group he'd originally founded, and everyone compared her to him. And she'd just sold out. She was taking out frustration at being compared to him and self-loathing for being a sellout on him, and that merely made her pathetic. She couldn't humiliate him. The second time he'd surrendered, to Captain America, there hadn't even been that degree of minor indignity. And the times he'd been captured against his will, he'd been handled with kid gloves, like a live wire who could burn everyone if not treated cautiously. They had taken exaggerated precautions against the danger he presented, and even in the midst of his fear and rage at being taken captive, he had at least known they were taking him seriously.
This was different. Whatever they thought Lisa Davies was involved in-- and he doubted very much they had the faintest inkling of the truth-- they didn't consider her a serious threat. They treated him like a very, very small-time hood who'd just made a really stupid mistake, and he found that incredibly humiliating. He was Magneto, dammit, he made entire nations tremble in fear, and they were treating him like he was no more threat than a teenage shoplifter... because, of course, at the moment he wasn't a threat at all.
Body Snatcher: Chapter Two Part B
Back to the Body and Soul index page