On the Thursday before last, every person in the world over the age – as far as current information went – of about thirteen years switched bodies with somebody else.
At this point I should probably clarify and say that Creepy’s initial and insistent objection was quite correct. Nobody actually swapped bodies, because all the bodies stayed where they were. But everyone suddenly had their consciousnesses moved into new bodies. Depending on the timezone they started out in, people either woke up on Thursday morning or just simply blinked and found themselves somewhere completely unfamiliar, looking down at a pair of hands – or, in the majority of cases either a pair of bosoms or a set of external genitalia – that were completely unlike the ones they’d had before. And as well as being in unfamiliar bodies they were all also in unfamiliar places, whether it was another house or another country altogether.
 And in a couple of memorable cases like our skinhead in King’s Cross, both.
In what was later confirmed as a single instant worldwide, the entire adult-or-adult-adjacent population bounced from their original bodies to the bodies of – for the most part – complete strangers. It was a mind swap, but it seemed to just be easier to wrap one’s head around “I swapped bodies with…” and call it good, so that was the terminology that stuck. Much to Creepy’s disgust.
Thursday was … chaotic.
There were, of course, a huge number of tragic accidents. A lot of people abruptly found themselves behind the wheels of cars or operating heavy machinery or crouching in the middle of war zones, and while the latter case was somewhat ameliorated by the fact that the people on the other sides of the wars were just as lost and confused, there were an awful lot of people who just didn’t know what to do, and consequently wound up dead. Freeways and airports were slaughterhouses for a couple of hours before things calmed down. And by ‘calmed down’, I mean ‘all the people who were going to die, died’.
In fact, as far as we’d been able to piece together only about six planes had crashed due to suddenly panic-stricken non-pilot pilots. Most of them managed to abort their take-offs, remain on autopilot until a solution could be found, or get talked down by air traffic control. Air traffic control, obviously, had problems of their own as well, which didn’t help. It seemed as though a fortuitously disproportionate number of trained aviators got swapped into passengers or cabin crew, though, at least enough to make the skies safer than expected.
Not only that, but the under-thirteens of the world had also found themselves in a serious collective predicament. All of a sudden, their parents and guardians had – from the perspective of the kids, and as a matter of more or less objective fact – completely lost their minds. Many adults abruptly found themselves in close proximity to babies or toddlers with absolutely no preparation. Kids waiting to be picked up from school, where their teachers had all suffered bizarre personality splits, found themselves stranded. National telecommunications grids went down all over the world as everyone who could manage to do so ran to a phone or a computer and tried to contact people who weren’t there anymore.
And the issues and complications went on.
At first there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the swap. It was like a massive-scale Freaky Friday, except inconsiderately on a Thursday, and with no actual connections between the swapped pairs. There wasn’t some kind of tacky moral about consideration to be learned, or a lesson in perspective. No two people had to our knowledge simultaneously said the fateful words I wish you could do my job for a day. They weren’t partnerships of boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife, except in what was shaping up to be a tiny, tiny fraction of cases. They weren’t parent and child – well, except for this lone unfortunate case I’d just gotten off the phone with. Bit by bit, however, and as the hours went by, people began to deduce more and more about the lives and bodies they’d just been deposited in.
And the emergent conclusion – founded as it was on the assumption that The Event had happened for a reason, an assumption that was sweet and compelling and all, but had no real basis or evidence to support it – was that everyone had swapped places with the people they were meant to be with. Their proverbial better halves. Their true cosmically-appointed life partners.