“The way he looks at me now... that’s the only thing I like about being a girl.”
She Swallowed the Spider to Swallow the Fly
A much shorter version of this story appeared under the title "Instructions" in PersnicketyBitch's mixed tape anthology "Funky Lady" in January 2015.
“Excuse me, but do you have anything that will change me into a woman?”
“Maybe I do. Say, weren’t you in here just last week looking for a ‘love potion’?”
“Not just any woman. I need to be exactly the kind of woman that Todd Lane will be attracted to.”
“Look, I explained that I don’t sell ‘love potions.’ Those are highly illegal. The stuff I sold you isn’t guaranteed to do any more than make someone... intrigued with you, for a while. A few weeks, hopefully, and by that time maybe you can win them over with your personality and actions.”
“I know he likes them with dark hair, breasts around a large B or middling C cup, almost as tall as him but not quite — he’s five foot nine —”
“It doesn’t do anything but get your foot in the door, relationship-wise. And it sometimes wears off in less than a week, as I warned you, if the target is strong-willed or resistant to magic. So no refunds if it doesn’t make that girl, what was her name —”
“That’s what his current girlfriend, Ashley Penn, looks like. And his last girlfriend, Stacia Harmon, fits the same pattern; but other than that, they’re pretty different —”
“Ashley Penn, that’s right. If she didn’t break up with this Todd guy right away, you must have flubbed the next step. But maybe you just need to give it more time. She should be watching you, giving you a chance to impress her and show her she’s with the wrong guy.”
“So could you sell me something that will turn me into Todd Lane’s perfect woman? Or if not that, at least the kind of woman I described, only hotter than Ashley Penn?”
“Hmm. You seemed pretty hung up on this Ashley girl yourself, last week. Did you use that potion I sold you?”
“Yes, but never mind that now. Ashley thinks she’s hot stuff, but Todd won’t look at her again once he sees the new me —”
“Wait, let me get this straight before I sell you anything more. You got one of this Ashley’s hairs and dissolved it in the potion from the green bottle?”
“Oh, it’s embarrassing to remember what a crush I had on Ashley... I mean, really! But... yeah, I guess so. I mean, I had my sister grab a hair from her hairbrush. She’s Ashley’s little sister’s friend.”
“All right. Then you took one of your own hairs and dissolved it in the potion from the red bottle?”
“Yes, yes, okay, but can we talk about how I’m going to get Todd to notice me?”
“And you put the stuff from the green bottle in your drink, and the stuff from the red bottle in Ashley’s drink?”
“Yeah, sure... wait. Green in my drink and red in hers?”
“Well, then. How close are this Todd and Ashley? Does he stay over at her place sometimes?”
“I’m pretty sure.”
“And maybe use her hairbrush sometimes?”
“And do they have the same hair color?”
“And do they sometimes share sips from the same drink?”
“I think so... what does that have to do with making me Todd’s ideal woman, though? Oh, I see: I’ll need to share my hairbrush and my drinks with him. That’s the easy part, I could do that now if only he were into guys.”
“You are an idiot and I really shouldn’t help you again... but your money’s good, and my rent’s due... all right, listen close.”
“Unlike last time. Anyway: you’ll need to get one of Todd’s hairs this time, and you shouldn’t delegate the job, or get it from some source that might or might not be pure Todd. Directly from his head would be best, if you can manage it.”
“I’ll find a way. And?”
“And dissolve it in this blue potion, and let it steep for one hour and thirteen minutes. Then drink it and go to bed, thinking about Todd. You’ll wake up with the kind of body he’s most attracted to. Better sleep in the nude, and have clothing in several sizes ready to put on the next morning, before you go shopping for stuff that fits.”
“That sounds simple enough. How much do I owe you?”
I told him, and he paid without protest. Kids with more money than sense are pretty annoying, but they’re useful at times.
“Good evening, may I help you?”
“Yes! You sold me this potion a few days ago — it was supposed to turn me into Todd Lane’s ideal woman —”
I looked at her carefully; she was easy to look at. I couldn’t remember what she’d said about Todd’s type, but it was easy to imagine her being somebody’s ideal woman. “If you followed the instructions carefully, it should have. You kept your mind focused on this Todd fellow from the time you drank the potion until you fell asleep?”
“I think so. Yeah, pretty much.” — Which meant she’d been distracted by something else, hopefully not for too long.
“And you’re sure the hair you dissolved in the potion was from Todd’s head and nobody else’s?”
“So what’s the problem?”
“Two problems. I can tell he’s attracted to me; he keeps looking at me, and Ashley keeps giving him the evil eye whenever he does, but he still hasn’t broken up with her.”
“It sounds like the potion worked, then. Give it some more time, and keep flirting with him in the meanwhile.”
She blushed. “The other problem is — I can’t stand being a girl.”
I sighed. There’s just no pleasing some people. “You wanted me to turn you into a girl, and I did. No refunds. I can sell you another one that will turn you back into your old self, if you still have any hair from your old body —”
“No! Then Todd won’t like me! The way he looks at me now,” she blushed even deeper, “that’s the only thing I like about being a girl. And he even complimented me on my gender change; he said he admired me for having the guts to try it out, that he’d thought about it once when he was between girlfriends but chickened out. But this body feels so weird and wrong, and it’s creepy when other guys look at me, and...” her voice dropped to a whisper, “and I just started my period and I hate it!”
She was a bit naÃ¯ve if she thought natural-born girls were pleased as punch about their periods. But it was obvious in retrospect what was wrong.
“So... how was I supposed to know you were cisgender, the way you were so eager to be a girl?”
“I wanted to be a girl because I’m in love with Todd. But I thought you’d sell me something that would make me like being a girl, too!”
“You didn’t ask for that. If you identify as male, why not buy something that would make Todd attracted to guys?”
Her mouth fell open. “But he’s perfect the way he is!”
I sighed. That attraction potion had really done a number on her — it had really been a “love potion,” for her, because she believed in it. I said: “So, you want something that will make you happy being a girl?”
“I can make it. I don’t keep it in stock, because there’s not much call for the stuff that changes your gender identity without transforming you physically. Come back this time tomorrow and I’ll have your order ready.”
Given her list of complaints, I didn’t just mix up the standard gender identity reversal potion. I added in some metaphorical sugar and spice (the exact composition of said sugar and spice is a trade secret) that ought to make her a good deal more feminine than he had been masculine, before. (Which wasn’t all that much if I could mistake him for transgender.) I had it ready a couple of hours before she came in again.
“Here you go, ma’am,” I said. “Drink it an hour or two before bedtime. For best results, surround yourself with feminine things while you’re taking the potion, and for the next hour or two — maybe put on a nice dress with jewelry to wear while you’re taking the potion and then change into a frilly nightgown, or watch a movie on the Hallmark channel, or something. Use your imagination.”
“All right... I’ll need to change my tampon right before bed; that’s pretty feminine, right?”
“It might help,” I allowed.
I looked at the credit card she’d handed me. “Are you changing your name? You don’t have to, you know, but...”
“Yeah, I’m going by Bethany now, but the name change paperwork hasn’t gone through yet, so I haven’t had my cards changed. It should scan just fine.”
I didn’t see her again for almost eleven months. By the way she walked, and the way she was dressed, I could tell my last potion had worked pretty well.
“Good evening. No complaints, I trust?”
“Not exactly. Not with the potion I bought from you, I mean. Only...”
“I wonder if you might have something to help me persuade my boyfriend to get a little more serious?”
“Hmm. How do you mean?”
“I’ve been dating Todd since... a couple of weeks after I was in here last. Almost a year. But he hasn’t asked me to marry him yet.”
“Could be he thinks he’s too young to get married. He’s about your age, right?”
“Yes, just a couple of months older than me.”
“How serious are you two in other ways? Are you sleeping together?”
She blushed prettily. “...Yes.”
“Not exactly. But I spend the night at his place more nights than we’re alone... I keep about a third of my clothes over there.”
“Well, we could try an attraction potion like the one I sold you that first time. But it probably wouldn’t work. He’s already attracted to you — you’re his ideal woman, after all — and that potion might make him spend more time with you, but probably won’t make him want to get married, not if he’s already sleeping with you.”
“Oh. What about... do you have something that can ensure I get pregnant?”
“That depends. Are you already trying?”
“I am; I went off the pill a month ago... but he’s not.”
I sighed. This was probably a bad idea, but: “Has he had a vasectomy?”
“No... not that I know of.”
“If he had, I could give you something to reverse it, but it would cost you. But something to make sure a condom breaks won’t be as expensive.”
“And it will make sure I get pregnant?”
“If the guy you’re with is producing even a tiny amount of sperm, this will make sure one of them hits the target.”
“All right, how much...?”
“You’d better make sure you’re ready for this, whatever happens. If he doesn’t ask you to marry him, if he pressures you to get an abortion and breaks up with you when you refuse, are you ready to be a single mother?”
She hesitated a moment, and said: “Yes. He won’t break up with me, I know he won’t. And he doesn’t believe in abortion.”
“But if he did?”
“Yes... Actually, can you sell me another of those love potions too, that I can use right before I tell him I’m pregnant?”
I sighed. “It’s an attraction potion, not a love potion. And yes.”
Ten months later, she walked in with a baby in her arms and tears in her eyes.
“What’s wrong, my dear? Is there anything I can help you with?” I was feeling motherly toward her; the person she was now was more than half my doing, after all, and it tore my heart to see her so sad.
“I’m not sure... I hope so. The man who used to run this shop, he —”
“I know, dear. That was me.”
“Oh.” She smiled faintly. “Maybe you’ll understand... Todd broke up with me. He said he wasn’t ready to be a father and he wasn’t sure I was ready to be a mother, and he thought we should give him up for adoption.”
“That ‘we’ sounds encouraging.”
“We didn’t break up until later. I said I would think about it, but I didn’t like the idea, and the further along I got the worse I liked it. And when I told Todd I wasn’t going to give him up (I knew he was a boy by then), he said I could raise him by myself if I wanted, but if I didn’t want his advice, I didn’t need his help.”
“Oh, dear.” That might be a consequence of her using that pregnancy-ensuring potion — it strengthened the maternal instinct too, so the mother wouldn’t consider aborting the baby or giving it up for adoption, no matter what her attitude had been before she took it, and for as long as it lasted — three or four years in most cases — it would make sure she was an attentive if not necessarily skillful mother. I could have tried to brew up a version of the potion without that side-effect, but I didn’t have anybody to test it on and I thought, in truth, that with her anomalous history she might need a little extra help.
“So can you help me get him back?”
I pursed my lips. “I think so. It will be harder if he’s already hooked up with some other girl — has he?”
“I don’t know! I haven’t seen him in months; he moved and his landlord won’t tell me where he went. I emailed him pictures of little Todd, asking him to please come visit at least, but he ignored most of them — he only replied once, saying he’d think about coming back if I gave him up for adoption, and I shouldn’t have named him after him.”
I managed to navigate through the morass of pronouns and extract the salient facts. “He didn’t offer child support?”
“I didn’t ask. I’ve got more money than he does, and I don’t want his money, I want him.”
“Well... if you don’t know where he is, this will be a lot harder.”
“I can hire a detective. Then I can give him another of those attraction potions —”
“No, you’ve already used it on him once. It won’t be very effective a second time — not enough to get you past a quarrel this serious. But do see what the detective can find out. Meanwhile, I’ll be working on something to turn his heart toward his son.” Or possibly something to weaken her maternal instinct until she’d consider giving the baby up for adoption, but I didn’t tell her that.
“Thank you. I’ll be back after my detective has found out something.”
By the time she returned, I’d done some research on both of the possible potions I’d considered using to solve her problem. Through a forum for professional alchemists I found a guy in Phoenix who had a recipe that would, he claimed, make a man settle down and take responsibility for the babies he made. I was dubious about that claim — it’s rare that a potion can reliably make a person take a specific action — and I pressed for specifics. (He was also asking a pretty high license fee, but it was justified if the stuff worked, and my customer had deep pockets, so I didn’t quibble on that.) He responded saying that it worked by creating a bond with the baby whose hair was dissolved in it; it was really a maternal bond, more like the bond a mother normally formed with her newborn biological child than the bonds normal fathers formed with their children, or the bonds adoptive parents tended to form. Common side effects included male lactation, which nobody had actually complained about yet, and frustration at being unable to nurse, in those who didn’t get the lactation (but for those he recommended a male-lactation potion which was available for a moderate license fee from the La Leche League; I was familiar with it). He suspected that a long-term effect might be undue favoritism by fathers for their first-born children, the ones the mothers had given them the potion for, but he didn’t have enough longitudinal data yet; if so, he recommended another use of the potion for each subsequent baby. And he included some testimonials from a couple of satisfied customers.
I had less success finding a potion that would weaken the maternal bond, and I was relieved. I hadn’t really liked the idea, though I’d forced myself to check it out; I wouldn’t have even considered it if the customer’s strong maternal instinct hadn’t been created by a potion (a couple of potions, probably) in the first place.
When my customer returned with the information her detective had found, I told her about the potion, how to use it, and its possible side effects.
“So I dissolve one of little Todd’s hairs in it, and get big Todd to drink it?”
“And it might... what, would it make him grow breasts?”
“Probably not. But he might lactate without actually growing breasts, or at least not any larger than a young teen girl’s breasts.”
“So... he could help nurse little Todd?”
“He might take over one or two feedings a day. I don’t know how much milk he could produce without woman-sized breasts; I could do some research... but I suspect it varies a lot from one man to another. And only about one in seven men who take this potion experience lactation.”
“Oh. Well, that’s okay then.”
She left looking satisfied, on her way to pick up little Todd from the babysitter.
Some months later she returned; little Todd was asleep in a stroller, being pushed by a man whom she proudly introduced as her husband, Todd.
“We’ve got a sort of problem we need you to solve,” he said.
Wonders never cease. “Do tell.”
“We’ve been talking about having another child, and I said I’d like to try it myself — being the mother this time around, I mean. It’s odd — I’d never had any desire to be a woman or even to know what it’s like to be one, but since I got back together with Bethany and I’ve been helping her take care of little Todd, the idea of being a mother has started to grow on me. I see her nursing little Todd, and I see the way he looks at her, and I feel a little jealous, you know?”
“I know the feeling,” I said, exaggerating a great deal. I suspected the mother-envy he felt was far greater than anything I’d ever felt, or any of the other men who’d taken the maternal-instinct potion, if it led him to contemplate a change of sex. I made a mental note to send the potion’s inventor a note about this new side-effect.
“Well, Bethany doesn’t object to me being our next child’s mother per se, but there are a couple of problems to solve...” He looked at her.
“Either I’d have to be a man — even if it’s just for as long as it takes for Todd to get pregnant — or we’d need to find a sperm donor. My cousin volunteered when he heard us talking about it, and he shares a lot of my genes, but... I really don’t like either of those ideas. I mean, the idea of being a man really squicks me out, but I’d like the child to be ours, you know.”
“And the other problem is,” Todd said, “I’m keen on the idea of being a mother, but there are some other aspects of being a woman that are kind of scary. I guess I could work through them with Bethany’s help, but she said you had a potion that would help with that, something that helped her a lot when she first became a woman.”
“I could,” I said, “but I think that potion is part of your problem, now — ordinarily someone who’s given both sexes a fair shake might have a preference for being of one sex rather than the other, but they won’t be disgusted by the idea of changing temporarily, like someone who’s never tried it. I think the stuff I brewed for Bethany that made her get used to being a woman faster than normal is making her too strongly attached to her gender identity, at a time when it’s not appropriate.
“So what I’d recommend in your case, Todd, is just the standard gender-switching potion. It should make you reasonably comfortable being a woman, but not so much so that you won’t be willing to go back to being a man when you and Bethany decide it’s time. If you find it’s not quite enough, I can make something like what I made for Bethany, but then you may not want to ever change back... which may not be okay with Bethany.” I looked at her.
“No,” she said, alarmed. “I mean, I guess I can stomach the idea of being a man for a little while, and letting Todd experience the joy of being a woman and a mother... but I’ll want to change back as soon as I can, and I’d like Todd to change back after the new baby is weaned.”
“So,” I said, “you don’t want me to tinker with your gender identity again?”
She bit her lip. “I’m not sure. Maybe just a little, to make it not so disgusting to be a man, but not so I’d want to stay that way.”
“I can work something up. Give me a few days... can you come back in on Tuesday?”
They returned on Tuesday, and I sold them two doses of the standard gender-switching potion, and one of the special stuff I’d brewed up that should make her more open to the idea of a temporary gender change. Bethany wanted three doses of the gender-switching potion, so she could switch back the moment Todd’s pregnancy test turned up positive, but I reminded her that might take several months and the third dose of the gender-switching potion might expire by then; a lot of these potions have a short shelf life.
“What about the stuff that makes sure you get pregnant?” she asked.
“I can mix up some of that for Todd,” I agreed, “but it may not be necessary. Do you want to wait and give yourselves a chance to conceive naturally?”
She shook her head. “I don’t want to be a man any longer than necessary. You told me that stuff will make sure you get pregnant the next time you have sex, right?”
“The next time you have genital sex with a fertile man,” I corrected, “even if he’s wearing a condom or has a low sperm count or you’re on birth control... basically, if a series of coincidences can cause you to get pregnant, the potion will work. But none of those things are likely obstacles in your case.”
Todd suddenly looked startled; he glanced sidelong at Bethany and back at me.
“But we might have to try several times, several months in a row, even so. I want it.”
“All right. This time tomorrow?”
When they came back the next day, they’d already used the stuff I’d sold them the day before; Bethany was a man, not the man he’d been when he first walked into my shop a couple of years earlier, but a male version of Todd’s ideal woman plus a layer of pregnancy-fat she hadn’t worked off yet. He looked tense, on edge, though not as much I as I suspected he would have if it hadn’t been for my potion. Todd was a woman, good-looking though not as beautiful as Bethany had been before her pregnancy; she looked nervous but excited. They were just in for a few moments, to pick up the pregnancy-ensuring potion, and gone again without pausing for conversation.
Then, a couple of minutes later, Todd was back again. “I’d also like something to make me start lactating,” she said. “So I can nurse little Todd for a while before my own baby comes along.”
“I have that in stock,” I said, “I get some call for it from mothers who aren’t producing quite enough milk naturally, and from adoptive mothers.”
“I also have a few questions about the pregnancy potion,” she said, with a glance behind her.
“Did Bethany buy some of that from you about two years ago?”
“You know the privacy laws,” I said. “I can’t tell you —”
“Hypothetically, if a woman were dating a man who wasn’t ready to settle down yet, and was taking reasonable precautions to avoid getting his girlfriend pregnant... and she wanted to give him a nudge... might she use that potion to get pregnant despite precautions?”
“She might,” I said, “but usually it’s infertile couples — not completely infertile, but couples who have some problem where they could theoretically get pregnant but it’s really unlikely.”
“Uh huh. And hypothetically, if a man’s girlfriend got pregnant and he broke up with her after she wouldn’t give the baby up for adoption, might she use some potion on him to persuade him to settle down and help raise the baby?”
“As I said, I can’t talk about what potions I’ve sold to particular customers —”
“But such a potion exists?”
“Well — yes.”
“And hypothetically, if an alchemist knew or strongly suspected that one of his customers was dosing other people without their consent, wouldn’t he be obligated to report it?”
“And hypothetically, if someone knew an alchemist had failed to do that, and did the alchemist a favor by not telling the authorities, wouldn’t the alchemist owe that person a favor? Say, a free potion or a large discount on all future purchases?”
I sighed. “What do you want?”
She got to the point. “With this stuff you sold us, I’m going to get pregnant the next time I sleep with Bethany. And then she’s going to want to change right back. And — well, having sex with him as the man isn’t something I want to give up so quickly. Apparently that stuff you gave him to make him at ease with being a man wasn’t strong enough; I want something stronger.”
I was a little surprised, but not entirely. “You don’t want me to give you something to reverse the effects of the potions that — ah — someone might have hypothetically used on you?”
“No. I love being little Todd’s daddy, and I’m looking forward to being his mommy for a while, and having another baby...” She smiled. “Figuring out I feel this way because of a potion doesn’t automatically make me feel differently. But that also means that Bethany will still feel good about being a man even if she figures out I dosed her with something.”
“He probably will,” I agreed.
Four of my novels and one short fiction collection are available from Smashwords in ePub format and from Amazon in Kindle format.
|The Bailiff and the Mermaid||Smashwords||Amazon|
|Wine Can't be Pressed into Grapes||Smashwords||Amazon|
|When Wasps Make Honey||Smashwords||Amazon|
|A Notional Treason||Smashwords||Amazon|
|The Weight of Silence and Other Stories||Smashwords||Amazon|
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