Fourteen-year-old Alex wakes up to discover he's not in his own bedroom. More surprising is that he doesn't recognize his hands or his legs... How is it possible that Alex has become another boy who everyone calls Philip? A riveting psychological thriller.


2. 2

It was shocking enough to wake up in a strange house, to discover that he’d aged six months overnight, to have a woman he’d never met before mistake him for her son.

But all that was a breeze compared to seeing himself in the bathroom mirror.

She had more or less hauled him up the stairs by the scruff of his neck, each of his protestations seeming only to spur her on to greater levels of wrath.

I’m not Philip... I don’t even know who Philip is... What’s going on?... You’re not my mother... Who are you?... Where am I?... Let go of me... My name’s Alex, Alex Gray... I want to call my mum and dad...


Then, bundled into the bathroom, with the door slammed shut and giraffe-woman keeping guard on the other side, Alex caught sight of his reflection.

Or, rather, he caught sight of someone else’s reflection.

A boy about his age. A boy without freckles, or gingery-blond hair, or blond eyebrows so faint you could hardly see them; a boy without a small mole to one side of his Adam’s apple, without blue eyes, or a chipped front tooth; a boy with-out a dimple in his chin. The face gazing back at Alex from the mirror was brown-eyed and tanned, with the stubbly beginnings of a moustache and dark hair cropped in the stylishly unkempt way that he could never get his own hair to go. The only blemish was a slight kink in his nose where, he assumed, it had once been broken. Alex ran a fingertip down the bridge of his own nose. The boy in the mirror did the same. Sure enough, Alex could feel the unevenness of the bone beneath his skin.

He stooped over the toilet and retched, splashing the bowl with undigested milk and Corn Flakes.

From the landing: “Philip, come on.”
 He looked at his hands, properly. They were too big.

His arms as well; he had muscles. Black hairs on his forearms instead of pale ginger. The fingers were thicker, the nails slightly ridged. The pattern of veins on the backs of his hands was wrong. They weren’t his hands. Yet when he filled the basin and immersed those alien hands, his brain registered the sensation of warm water. When he bent over to wash the face which wasn’t his face, he felt the water splash against skin that wasn’t his skin. He straightened up again, blinking, watching the droplets trickle down mirror-boy’s face and onto his T-shirt, which was becoming damp, just as Alex’s was.

It wasn’t possible. It absolutely could not be possible.

But, there it was, literally staring him in the face. This boy was Philip. He was Philip. And if this was Philip – if this was what Alex looked like, now – no wonder the woman, Philip’s mother, had flipped her lid at him for claiming he was someone else. No wonder she’d told him he was behaving like a seven-year-old.

I’m not Philip! You’re not my mother!

No wonder she didn’t believe him. What chance of her believing him, now, if he emerged from the bathroom and told her he was trapped inside her son?

He wasn’t sure he believed it himself. Kept hoping that the next time he stole a peek at his reflection, Philip’s features would be gone, replaced by his own.

But each time “Philip” was still there.

Alex dried himself, clumsily, shaking so much he dropped the towel. His legs were hairier and more muscular, too, he noticed. When he went to pee, he had the next shock. Two shocks at once: a) pubes; b) size. No. No way. It’d be like holding another boy’s thing for him while he peed. He did it sitting down, like a girl, hurriedly brushed his teeth and left the bathroom as quickly as he could so that he didn’t have to look at himself in the mirror any longer.

But the image wasn’t so easily erased from his mind. Nor could he get rid of the thought that if he had – somehow, impossibly, incomprehensibly – woken up inside another boy’s body, with another boy’s face, then what had happened to his own? And what had happened to “Philip”? In Alex’s house, right now, was this other boy, Philip, staring into a mirror just as he had been, in numbed disbelief at the face staring back at him? Was a woman who wasn’t his mum chivvying him off to school?

Outside in the street, in Philip’s school uniform (black blazer, not green; plain grey tie, not green-and-grey diagonal stripes), Alex watched Philip’s mother set off in her bright blue Punto for wherever it was she worked. No lift, then. She’d done her bit, hurrying him out of the house – the rest was down to him. No problem there, apart from the fact that he had no idea which school to go to. Or where it was.

Not that it mattered. Alex had no intention of going to school that morning.

He fished Philip’s mobile from the blazer pocket. He’d spotted the phone on a shelf in the bedroom, along with a handful of change and an expensive-looking watch. Eight twenty-five. If it was a Monday, Dad would’ve already left for work and Mum would be dropping Sam at breakfast club before heading to work herself. Alex sat on the wall at the front of the house and switched on the phone. It was a slimmer, flashier model than his but simple enough to figure out. The trouble was he didn’t know his parents’ mobile numbers by heart – they were logged in his own phone’s “contacts”. Same with Mum’s work number; Dad’s, he’d never been given (phoning Dad at work was strictly off- limits). Alex knew the home number, naturally, but no one would be there to answer and any message wasn’t going to be picked up until the evening. So he dialled directory inquiries and got the number for the college where his mum worked, called that number and asked to be put through to the library. She didn’t start till nine but Alex could at least be sure of getting a message to her soonest, this way.

Hearing her voice on the tape caught him unawares and he was too choked up to speak at first. Then, “Mum, hi, it’s Alex. I ... I don’t know what’s happening or where I am or anything, but ... I’m here. I’m OK. Can you call me back? Can you come and fetch me?” He lost it again for a moment. Once he’d composed himself, he explained that he was using someone else’s mobile and read out the number which he’d found under ME! in Philip’s contacts. “Mum, I don’t understand any of this. I’m scared. I want ... I want to come home.”

Alex wiped his face, took several deep breaths. Now what?

He looked at the watch again. If she checked the machine as soon as she got there, he had about half an hour to wait for her to return the call. He felt conspicuous sitting outside in the street but going back indoors wasn’t an option – he didn’t have a key to the house. He searched the blazer pockets. Nothing. Just a tissue, a Snickers wrapper and a blue Biro with its cap missing.

At that moment the mobile buzzed and Alex almost dropped it in surprise. A text message, not a call, but even so he clicked “view” in the hope that it was from his mother. It wasn’t. The name that came up in the display was “Donna”.

hey sxy where u at!? u skivin off?!? :-)

He closed the message. So, Philip had a girlfriend. Good for him.

In a moment of inspiration, it occurred to Alex to call his own mobile number. If some kind of body-swap had taken place, then maybe Philip had got hold of Alex’s phone. Worth a shot, anyway. But when Alex dialled, a voice message said the number wasn’t recognized. He tried again. Same result. How could that be?

He stared at the phone for a moment, then slipped it into his pocket.

Right. Just standing there was pointless. Shouldering Philip’s school-bag, Alex set off down the street, not at all sure where he was headed but needing to be headed some-where. If Mum was going to collect him, he had to work out where he was.


Philip’s family lived in a terrace of old-looking four-storey houses. Built of stone, not brick. Leafy front gardens, posh cars parked outside. At the T-junction at the bottom of the street, he randomly took a left onto a busier road. The view opened out and he saw that beyond the rooftops lay countryside. Fields, hills, trees, sheep. Not London, then.

Unless it was out on the edges. Did he have enough money to make it home by himself, if it came to that? He rummaged in his pocket for Philip’s change. It’d pay for a bus ride, or tube fare, just about. There was a Tesco across the road and, beyond, a railway line. Cars cruised by but he hadn’t spotted a pedestrian yet. No one to ask: Excuse me, can you tell me where I am, please? Actually, it was nice here, wherever “here” was. The buildings, with the sunlight on the stone; in the distance, the tops of the hills – purple and green beneath a clear sky. He was too warm in Philip’s blazer. It pulled him up short again with the reminder that it was summer now – June – not the damp, grey winter he’d left behind less than eleven hours ago.

Half a year, gone, in the space of a night’s sleep. Alex wished he had been able to call his father. His rational explanation for this would’ve been interesting.

Thinking about Dad, he came close to tears again. If it was June, here, it had to be June back home as well, which meant – didn’t it? – that he’d been “missing” for six months. Or in a time warp. For all he knew, his parents not only had no idea where he was but had been grieving for him since December.

Their lost son. Or was “Philip” their son now?

Alex thought he might break down right there in the street but he didn’t. He held it together. Just. He’d been doing OK since he left the house. By concentrating on the practicalities of sorting this out – trying to ignore how he looked and the fact that it felt so wrong to walk around in this unfamiliar body – he’d managed to distract himself from whatever had happened. Managed to be Alex again, if only briefly. His thoughts were the same as always. Alex thoughts. The body might have been Philip’s but the mind was still his. On the inside, he didn’t feel any different at all. Except for the knowledge that something freakish and terrible had occurred. No matter how hard he tried to suppress that thought it was there, nagging away at him.

After a few minutes, he came to a parade of shops, then a car park and more shops, a post office, an Indian restaurant. A train station, with bays out front for buses. The sign outside the station said: Litchbury.

Alex hadn’t heard of the place. He went over to the time-tables board, where there was a map of the local rail network. A few people were about, going in and out of the station, or M&S Simply Food, or waiting for buses. Among these strangers, in this strange town, he was conscious of being an outsider, of acting suspiciously, somehow, as though he was a spy in their midst. Not that anyone paid him much attention. To them, he was probably just a schoolboy, bunking off. He studied the map. Litchbury was at the end of a line that ran into ... he traced the route with his, with Philip’s, finger ... Leeds. Leeds. Where was that? Somewhere up north. A long way from south London, anyway. His spirits dipped. He could have ended up anywhere, really, he supposed. Tokyo, Mumbai, Buenos Aires. Litchbury wasn’t too bad when you considered it like that. Even so, it was the thought of being this far from Mum, Dad and Sam, from where he belonged, that was unbearable; the thought of how long it would take his mum to reach him.

And when she did...

He tried not to think about how he would convince her it really was him, inside this body. Behind this face. Or even if she believed him, what she would be able to do to rescue him. To reverse this. How could she? How could anyone help him? Never mind hours, he might be stuck like this for days, weeks, months, years.

For ever.

The phone buzzed again. Fumbling it from the blazer, he opened the message.

Smoothies after skl? cu there Bx.

This one was from “Billie”. Two girlfriends.


To pass the time until Mum returned his call, he parked himself on a bench outside the station and went through Philip’s school-bag. In the rush to leave the house, the bag had been shoved into his hands by the giraffe-woman as she bundled him out of the door. What was in there? Keys to the house, maybe. Money. Packed lunch. (Having brought up his breakfast, Alex was hungry.) Some clues, perhaps, to who Philip was. Of all the billions of people in the world, Alex had wound up with him. He couldn’t help thinking it wasn’t just down to chance – that there had to be a reason, some connection that had paired them together like this.

Alex opened the various compartments and set the contents down beside him on the bench. The results were disappointing. A cagoule, rolled up tight; school books (Maths, History, French); a school planner; a Snickers wrapper; pens, pencils, ruler, eraser, sharpener; a calculator; an iPod; a fixture list for Yorkshire County Cricket Club; a lighter; a pack of playing cards; a 1.0gb memory stick; deodorant (Lynx); hair gel; breath-freshener spray; a two pence coin; a dried-out apple core; a half-finished tube of Polos; a young person’s travel pass; four elastic bands; two paper-clips; a mobile-phone top-up card; another Snickers wrapper; and, finally, a small key (for his locker?) on a keyring in the shape of a pair of breasts.

Alex popped a mint, binned the apple core and wrappers, and methodically put everything else back in the bag, except for the planner, the iPod and the playing cards. There was something odd about the box; it was too light to contain a deck of cards. He flipped the lid. Cigarettes. Well, that explained the foul taste in his mouth when he woke up. It also explained the lighter, the Polos and the breath-freshener. He’d never smoked, apart from half a cigarette at a party, just to give it a try. But even if he’d liked it (which he hadn’t), smoking wasn’t a good idea for an asthmatic. It occurred to Alex that he didn’t have asthma, now. He inhaled – deeply, no hint of a wheeze – and let the air back out in one long blow.

These were definitely Philip’s bronchial tubes. Philip’s lungs.

Maybe this was how transplant patients felt, with someone else’s lungs or heart or liver inside them. Only, in Alex’s case, it was an entire body transplant. Skin, flesh, muscle, ligaments, bones, blood, internal organs – the lot. All he had left of himself, as far as he could tell, was his brain. Or not even the actual brain but the thoughts inside it. The mind, or ... consciousness. Whatever it was that made Alex Alex.

No. It was way too weird even to think about.

He turned his attention to the planner: A5, spiral bound, with a clear plastic cover and, beneath that, the school crest, motto (Cognitio vincit omnia) and name (Litchbury High School). Philip’s surname was Garamond (what kind of name was that?) and he was in Tutor Group 9B. OK, so they were in the same school year. Tenuous, as connections go, but age was something else they had in common, along with gender and country of residence.

A train had arrived. Passengers were streaming out of the station. He glanced up, distracted by the blur of passing feet. He checked his watch again. Come on, Mum. Call. Please call. She would call. She would believe him. She would drive straight up here and take him home, away from all this. She would get help, somehow, and it would be all right. He would be himself again.


There was a baker’s across the road. Alex thought about getting a sausage roll or something with Philip’s change but didn’t want to use up what little money he had.


Alex bent over the planner once more, ready to have a proper nosey inside. A shadow fell across the page.

“Philip Garamond, I’m talking to you.”

Alex looked up. The guy was bald and wearing a checked jacket buttoned tight across his belly and a red-and-white bow-tie. He carried a leather briefcase too fat with books and papers to shut properly.

“It’s ten to nine, boy,” he said. “Why aren’t you in school?”

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