Philo's Stories

"Several Body Problem"

most witches live their lives in a magically-altered version of their original body, but a few engage in the difficult task of constructing or growing an entirely new body
those particularly obsessed with the practice have several bodies that they switch between for various purposes
one might have a body for fighting with intentionally dulled emotional intensity and no pain receptors, a body that has no need for sleep until the witch has to swap out of it for maintenance, and a body for swimming with a massive lung capacity
to form a body, a witch must first construct a heart
no two of them are alike, but all are delicately crafted
some are made of gears and clockwork, others from circuits, and still others from clay
they reflect the deepest depths of the witch who created them
once the heart is made, the rest of the body comes together easily, the magic wanting to flow and form flesh around it

the sun slowly rises in the corner of the eye of the witch's most "normal" body, in which she's spent the past three nights awake
she does not sleep often, and even her most "normal" body is capable of staying awake for weeks at a time
she has several other bodies for different purposes and several more for special occasions stored away in large tote boxes, but today is not the day for any of them
today, she is constructing a new heart, but not the new body to go with it
this heart is constructed from the small, smooth stones of the cold, windy, and rocky beach she grew up near
she carefully notches the shale stones to interlock with each other and form something closer to a ❤️ symbol than a natural human heart

this heart is not going in a body straight away, as it's destined for something special
she nestles it inside of a small felt-lined wooden box, closes the lid, and wraps it in bubble wrap
she puts this in a larger box and mails it to a trusted friend on the other side of the continent in Seattle

her friend dumps a pound of salt, an iron nail, an entire bag of charcoal briquettes (you've gotta get carbon somewhere), a pound of sugar, and a gallon of milk in the bathtub and nestles the heart into this pile before opening the tap and filling it with water
she closes the door to the bathroom, not wanting to see the body pull itself together from these odd ingredients
even other witches find the process unnerving, which is part of why few witches do it

the first part of the body to form are the bones, first a ribcage around the stone heart and then neighboring bones floating in the water of the tub
nerves, veins, and arteries come next, extruding outwards from the heart and wrapping around the bones
next come cartilidge, connective tissue, and organs
these organs are specially designed to prioritize quick growth rather than longevity, since this body is only needed for a few days and will crumble to dust afterwards

this body is held together more with magic than with actual bonds of flesh, an artifact of its quick and dirty construction, although it does contain all of the organs expected of it
her other bodies took much longer to grow and required much more exotic ingredients
as skin forms over her newest body's muscles, her memories are copied across the country to dictate the structure of her new brain

she lies down at home on the east coast, closes her eyes, and opens them again in a tub of lukewarm water in Seattle
the first time she switched bodies was extremely jarring and required intense concentration to not immediately swap back, but with years of practice, she slides smoothly between them with only a moment's interruption
her thoughts are a slow and foggy mess as her brain is slowly pulling itself together
she shakily stands up on legs that have never been used before and dries herself off
as she wraps the towel around herself, she looks down at a body that's very similar in shape to the one she just left, her curves just a touch different than that body
she runs her fingers through her long red hair and smiles a bit
most of her bodies back home have brown hair, but she felt like trying out the color, and where better to do it than thousands of miles from home where nobody will be confused by her suddenly changing hair colors
with a snap of her fingers, a tiny speck of light appears in the air for a moment, proving to her that enough of her is here to do magic
within a couple hours, all of her soul and magic will be on the west coast; it just takes a bit of time

she pulls on the clothes she sent ahead for herself and steps out of the bathroom to hug her friend, who does her best to hide how weirded out she is
she takes a deep breath and tries to remind herself that she's hugging the same witch she met in Boston the previous fall
as they talk, she gets more at ease with the witch and manages to forget that the witch just grew herself a new body from household ingredients in her bathtub

they go out to see a band they like with some other friends of theirs and she has a drink, which quickly becomes two drinks, and then three, and it becomes apparent to the witch that she did not build in enough alcohol tolerance in this body
she sits down in the bathroom, world spinning around her and music still loud in her ears, and wishes for all the world that she could swap to another body that is not drunk, but she can't without this temporary body crumbling to dust that'd need to be reconstituted
fortunately for her, it passes soon enough and she is left with only a slight hangover the next day

she wanders through the streets of the hilly city in search of a building she saw in a dream, the misaligned and rotated grids coming to her without having consulted a map
something deep inside of her where things are, something carried in the Seattle tap water in which her body was grown
she knows for certain that she did not know Seattle this well in any of her bodies back home and that this will later leave her with shaky memories that imply others that aren't present

her trip to Seattle flies by, and when her week there comes to a close, she returns to her friend's apartment and unfurls a trash bag in the bathroom
she sits down in it, closes her eyes, and slides her consciousness eastward
it's harder to leave a body when you know you aren't coming back to it soon, but she pushes her thoughts and wakes up in her wingèd soaring body on the east coast

in Seattle, her body crumbles as the spells holding it together collapse
it dissolves into a pile of fine dry dust with the stone heart resting amidst it
her friend dusts the heart off and puts it back into its box for her next visit to Seattle, only a bit unnerved by the whole experience
she has to admit to herself that it was easier than picking the witch up at the airport, although the charcoal was a bit annoying to get in the city

the witch's wingèd body rests face down, its angular wings too uncomfortable and fragile to lay on
she gives her wings an experimental flap and smiles a bit when she feels their breeze on her face
until this moment, it hadn't quite hit her how much she'd missed this body during her week out west, and now she wants nothing more than to fly
she rode around the mountains of the northwest on the back of her friend's broom, but that wasn't quite the same as flying under her own power, feeling the wind under her wings

she instinctively folds her wings behind her as she opens the window and climbs through it
they unfold behind her as she climbs through, angled sheets of composite magical materials sliding past each other to reach her full wingspan with a quiet clatter
the matte composite sheets hardly reflect any light and their straight lines and sharp swept angles call to mind a military aircraft, although their flapping very much does not
she flaps and kicks off from the windowsill, her wings quickly carrying her upwards into the cloudless sky, a far cry from the constant rain of Seattle
she starts to laugh as she picks up speed and feels the wind in her face and under her wings, magic carrying the sensation from the nerveless dark composite sheets that form her wings

sleep is not something this witch does often.
the body she spends the most time wearing has no need for sleep in the conventional sense, staying awake and active for weeks at a time, until enough brain cells burn out that she has to swap out of it for a week or two to let it regrow and recover
while it's out of commission, she swaps between her other bodies in rapid succession, running from even the slightest sign of tiredness, needing to stay active and keep doing things through every night
there's so many things she wants to do and so many other things she needs to do that she feels that the human need to sleep holds her back, so she has become more than human

the "wakefulness body" feels to her like a comfy pair of leggings, a vessel holding her and protecting her from the world without really getting in her way
it isn't her most magically powerful or her strongest or able to fly, but it's the one she's spent the most time in and the one that her friends expect to see when she comes over
of her permanent bodies, it looks the most like her since-discarded original body, although she did take the opportunity to make some subtle changes to its appearance when she grew it
she is proudly trans, with tattoos bearing the transgender symbol (⚧️) on several of her bodies, and views her abandonment of normal elements of the human body as just another stage in her transition

when the days grow shorter and the nights grow colder, she ventures to her storage locker to retrieve her winter body
its biological processes are designed to work best at an external temperature of 40°F or below, and its blood's freezing point is colder than the coldest temperature ever recorded in the state she lives in
during the summer, she keeps it frozen in a block of enchanted ice that feels as cozy as sleeping under a weighted blanket in the moment she experiences it between freezing herself and swapping bodies
with the block brought home, she lies down and switches to the winter body, relishing the cold on her skin
she basks in it for a few moments before shattering the ice with a spell to head outside

the first flakes of the winter slowly drift down from the sky as she steps out, and a smile crosses her face
the winter is her time to shine, and this year feels like it's going to be a good one

her wingèd body is not suited for this time of year, and she can feel it in every inch of her wings as they expand ever so slightly in the cold air
she can only fly for a few minutes before becoming too exhausted to continue and the body's magical strength not being sufficient to stave it off
(years ago, she attempted to design a winter flying body, but their designs proved too different to combine)

what she can do, though, is cross-country ski and fly along the ground, speeding but not soaring
she slides along, left, right, left, right, cutting a new path through the fresh snow as fast as she can
in any of her other bodies, she would not have even considered doing this, but this body doesn't just consider it; it yearns for skiing

exhausted after a long day of skiing, she swaps out of her winter body to her wakefulness body, leaving the soreness in her muscles and the tiredness in her mind behind
she finds it relieving to be able to do this, even more so than resting would

she fears that one year not too long from now, it won't stay cold enough for long enough to thaw this body out and wear it
that rainy winter will be a sad one, and she worries about how soon it will come
with the success of switching to a body thousands of miles away in Seattle and back, she's considered moving the winter body north or west to somewhere with colder winters and taller mountains, but she fears that she'd just be running away and that global warming will come for there too

one of her most ambitious and impractical project bodies is powered by a RTG and copious spellcraft, far more than any of her others, to animate rather non-biological materials
it stands several inches taller than her other bodies, which are already distinctly not short, with striking shoulder-length hair made of thin silvery wire
the body is constructed mostly of various plastics and brushed titanium, all of it distinctly warm from the heat of the plutonium RTG seeping to every part of her
back when she built it, she was obsessed with the idea of truly transcending biology and pushing into areas of dangerous magic that other witches had abandoned for a reason
she never wears it for long, something about its inhuman construction and lack of eating or breathing (it is sustained entirely by the RTG and magic, not off of food and water and air) making her somewhat uncomfortable
she's considered dismantling it, but she keeps it because of the sheer power of the idea, although the half-life of the radioisotope at its heart might end up making that decision for her

something about it unsettles everyone she's slept with while in it, even the goth girl who seemed fine with the body-changing thing
perhaps it was the Cherenkov blue glow of her eyes, perhaps it was the constant warmth, warmer than any flesh and blood girl, or, most likely, it was the body's hard plastic and metal construction not being at all comfortable to cuddle

when she switches back to a more biological body, she can feel the blood in her veins, her heart beating, and the air in her lungs for a moment before it fades from her awareness, a small reminder of what she leaves behind in that body
she immediately feels more comfortable; perhaps being made of flesh and blood has its advantages.


I would like to thank Else for inspiring this with a detail from one of her stories