Perchance: Part III is the third chapter in the ongoing Perchance serial, wherein our very ordinary protagonist begins to encounter the very extraordinary workings of a very extraordinary island. Click here for the previous chapter.
Cal removed a ring of old keys from her belt and used a simple, silver one to open the front door of the house. With a heave, the large plank of wood swung completely ajar, colliding with the wall and sending a wide echo into the space. Mo waved them promptly inside, locking them in just as the sun set.
Inside, Joe was surprised to see that the sizable home was completely hollowed out, except for a single, furnished bed in the center of the room, a series of log rafters that lined the ceiling two stories above his head, and a candle-lit chandelier. The grids of windows that he had seen from the outside hung emptily on the walls and, even in the nighttime, seemed to cast their own independent light into the room. Joe turned back to the three women.
Mo was taking off her vest at the door, and all three had taken off their shoes in the entryway. As Joe moved to join them, he watched in wonderment as Mo held the vest up with both hands at the collar and, when let go, the vest remained suspended in the empty air, hanging on some invisible hook. “How did you do that?” he asked.
Mo looked at him confusedly. Cal stepped toward him, looking in the direction he had. “What do you see?”
“She hung her vest up on nothing.”
“And in the rest of the space?”
“There’s nothing here but a bed.”
“Curious,” Sandra said with shining eyes.
“Curious! That’s all you have to say? What is going on? Are you aliens … or something?” Joe could not quite decide if he was excited or terrified by the last possibility.
The three women glanced at each other. Cal was the first to break the silence. “Not quite. Joe, this is going to be difficult to explain tonight. For now, make use of the bed that you see, get some rest, and we’ll talk in the morning.” The three began to make their way past him, further into the room.
“I don’t understand. Where are you three going to sleep?” he questioned, still gazing in awe at the floating vest. He passed his hand through the air around it, finding nothing to block his path.
“That won’t be a problem,” answered Sandra, sounding further off.
Joe heard creaking wood. As he turned to face the trio, Mo and Cal were gone. Sandra had stayed, yet she was taller than he had remembered. She had already been about his height, if not a little taller, but now she was a good meter above him. Then, he noticed why; Sandra was not standing on anything. Like the vest, her feet rested evenly on some insensible platform, raised off the ground. “Magic?” he managed.
“Still wrong. Good night, Joe,” Sandra giggled. She turned from him, pacing up the transparent steps. Then, she began to fade from view and, turning an unseen corner, disappeared entirely.
Joe stood there for a minute, utterly lost for words. He approached where he thought the staircase might be, but, reaching out, felt nothing but the empty air. Giving up after three attempts at catching the wind and talking himself through the reasons that they could not be ghosts, he finally yielded his weary body to sleep, slumping over into the bed. Above him, the candles in the chandelier went out one by one. The light in the windows faded. Joe closed his eyes and quickly, peacefully, almost too easily, dozed off.
The two matriarchs leaned against the railings of the inner alcove, a cylindrical opening situated at the center of the house, and looked down at Joe, sleeping.
The two had not yet spoken to each other, watching and waiting for Joe and Sandra to fall asleep.
“Do you think he’s really it?” Cal began in a whisper.
Mo did not look up. “Yes,” she uttered.
“Of course, the orb. And you saw the markings on his back.”
“The markings may just have been from the reef.”
“They almost certainly were. That doesn’t make them any less real.”
“But he’s just an ordinary person.”
Cal watched Mo, looking for some kind of emotional response. “But he’s an 880?”
“It seems so.”
“Well then,” Cal said, taking her hands off of the railing, “we’ll see what happens. Now we have to keep them both safe.”
“Indeed we do.” Cal moved to leave, but Mo continued. “And yet we’re also the ones who will have to put him in danger.”
Cal took a final look at her before she passed into their room. Mo lingered at the railing, illuminated by a sliver of the moon shining through the alcove’s elaborate skylight. She pulled out a cigarette and, lighting it, contemplated Joe. “Sorry, kid,” she murmured between exhales. Smoke drifted upwards from the burning embers, slipping through a crack in the skylight out to foggy, midnight obscurity.
Joe woke up healed and well-rested. He could smell the sweetness of the flowers outside and felt the warmth of the sun dancing on his nose and feet. He sat bolt upright, his mind snapping back to him. He rolled out of bed and onto the floor frantically. Now that he was more lucid, he needed to find a way out.
No one was visible in the house. After once again trying and failing to climb the invisible staircase, Joe moved as quickly as possible past the floating vest to the front door. He threw the unvarnished slab open and stumbled onto the vibrant island turf, rushing between tent after tent until he reached one with a half-furled entrance. Within, he made out the dark shape of Sandra, seated crisscross on a mat, her arms outstretched in a y-shape. “Come in, please,” she invited, after he had already made it several steps inside.
“How did I get here? How do I get out of here? Where the hell am I?” Joe’s voice trembled.
“It’s not Hell, if that’s what you’re thinking.” Sandra was completely unmoved by his desperate tone.
“Don’t play games with me. Did you drug me?”
“I’m not. And I didn’t.”
“I said, get up.”
“No, you don’t tell me what to do.” Thinking, she fired back, “you sit down.”
Lost for words, Joe stormed out of the tent. “Can’t anyone help me?” he yelled, kicking over a pile of sand beneath his heel, but stopping himself before he damaged any of the flowers. He watched the sky, the nearby tents, and the empty lodge, before settling his gaze back onto the ground. He planted his feet, turned, and reentered the tent.
Joe knelt across from her. “Sit,” she repeated. He glared but mirrored her crossed legs. “What is this?” he scoffed.
“A civil discussion. Who were you before you came to the island? What kind of person are you?”
“I don’t get the question.”
“I just want the truth. For example, you might call me an old soul. I’ve always been on the island. I never knew my parents, and I’m lonely here, but my nans take care of me. They’re all I have, all I’ve ever had for as long as I can remember. Don’t get me wrong. I love them, but I’m afraid they’re hiding something from me, something dangerous.” Sandra had spoken slowly, but now her words quickened. “And I’m afraid it might get them killed. And then, then I’ll be more alone than ever.” The more she spoke, Joe noticed her eyes begin to tear up. Unwillingly, Joe felt sad for her. “I’m sorry. You’re the first person I’ve really had the chance to tell all of that to,” she acknowledged, and, despite her apparent dejection, she managed a smile. “I trusted you with that, Joe. You can trust me.”
Joe mustered a half-smile himself, but not a warm one. He endeavored to push down any sympathy he felt for her, choosing to think of everything that she had just said as a waste of time, a means to delay him from finding a way out. Still, while something about her original question felt juvenile – even if her response was not – it was also familiar, and therefore shaded genuine; it was the kind of question you asked yourself as an introspective, existential teenager, the kind of question that he and his friends used to ask each other less than five years ago, but that he never asked with the same frustration or interest anymore. He had not had a heart-to-heart in some time, and he could not help but feel some nostalgia for her honesty. “Well, let’s see,” he offered, “I’m an average student, good at history, had some interest in literature or psychology, majoring in international studies, went to college at, well, it doesn’t really matter where because I graduate in less than a semester. But I’ll be continuing with an internship in New York in the summer. I like musicals and any movie made by Steven Spielberg, except 1941. I used to play soccer. I’m a dog-lover. I gave up playing the violin in the fourth grade. And I don’t like talking about myself.” He stopped. “Is that enough for you? Now, will you answer my questions about how I get back home?”
“You didn’t answer the second question. Not really.”
“And what was that again?”
“What kind of a person are you?”
Joe rolled his eyes. “A good enough one. An ordinary one. An annoyed one. An impatient one.”
“Getting closer, but those are just adjectives.”
“Then I don’t know what you want from me.”
“Yes, you do. You know exactly what kind of person you are.”
“No, I really don’t!”
“Try! Really? What makes you a real person?”
“How do you know that you’re real?”
Joe stood up. “I don’t have time for this!” He ran from the tent and made his way back towards the empty lodging, shutting himself inside. The door had no lock. His feet echoed forward into the vacant, wooden shelter, a cold skeleton of an interior. He was looking for something, some explanation for what was going on; if he could find that explanation anywhere, he felt that it was somewhere inside this hollow house.
Out of the corner of his eye, Joe noticed that something had changed, but what could it be? The architecture was the same, and the bed rested in the same spot. Joe backtracked to the left side of the door. The room was neither larger nor smaller. All the windows were still firmly shut. As to be expected, Mo’s vest hung on an ornate, wooden coat rack. A coat rack? Joe heard the door open behind him. The coat rack. He turned, bewildered, watching as Sandra entered.
“I can see it now,” he said, blathering onward. He squinted at the apparatus, backing away on weakening knees. “I can see the coat rack. I couldn’t see it before. It was – it was invisible. Why? Why can I see it now?” In unexpected shock, he sank to the floor, sitting as he had in the tent.
“You do understand though, Joe. That’s the point. At least, I think it is.” Sandra stepped up alongside him, taking his hand in hers. He clutched it. “None of this makes sense. I want to go home,” he whispered. As he did, the room seemed to brighten, with the same kind of glow that Sandra had brought to the tent when he first met her. The brightness caught in his eyes, and in the flash, he thought that he saw the house warm and well-adorned, with rooms, walls, a staircase. Between newfound tears, the vision blinked away from his sight. “I want to go home,” he said again, rubbing his face.
“I know you do, Joseph. And you will, I promise. But first, come with me,” she said. “Trust me.” Joe squeezed her hand gently, and she helped pull him to his feet and towards the door. “Let’s get you some breakfast. You have a lot to learn.”
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