Perchance: Part XI is the eleventh chapter in the ongoing Perchance serial. Many paths diverge, while unlikely ones intersect. Click here for the previous chapter.
“Joe, wake up.”
He lay deep beneath his blankets and sheets, his head buried between his pillows. He could hear the buzzing of his alarm. The jarring peals seemed palpable, a sour tune like sonic clamps grating against his eye sockets. He turned over to shut the alarm off. One of his fingers fell upon one of the buttons on his phone, although, with his eyes still closed, he couldn’t tell if it would be the Off button or Snooze. He pressed it.
He sat up. “I’m awake,” he shouted out to the person behind the door. Still, he did not open his eyes. He eased his legs over the side of the mattress. Daylight, a stale light, lined the shutters and beamed onto the beige shag carpet. The morphing orange glow threw itself against his eyelids.
Counting backward from sixty, he opened his eyes as he finally reached zero and stared at the empty dresser next to his bed. The wood was warped from the perspiration of so many cups of ice water. Reaching out, his fingers crawled across the surface like a spider, tracing over the cracked texture. It felt strange. Almost polished, although it had none of the luster of refinished furniture.
“Hurry up, Joe! We don’t want to be late!”
Joe lifted his fingers from the side table. “Just a minute to get dressed!” He slipped on his jeans, socks, and a fresh shirt, gripped the handle of his bedroom door, then let it go. He brought his fingers back up to his face, rubbing his thumb against his index and middle finger in small circulations.
He looked back at the side table. “I guess someone cleaned my room while I was gone,” he said to himself. He extended a foot back towards the table, about to leave the doorway, when the sour noise of his phone alarm went off again in his pocket. “So it was snooze,” he muttered, fumbling to turn the alarm off once and for all. Doing so, he turned back to the door and opened it.
The Night Mare stood at the entrance of the Lodging, her ringed eyes scrutinizing the impossible slash left by Mo’s machete in a certain post of the unprecedented porch.
The door opened to Mo within. Likewise, Mo opened her mouth to speak, but thought better of it and stepped back. The tension in both her firm eyebrows said enough.
The Night Mare brought her limbs through the doorway, mooring her clawed fingers into the inner walls. As they focused upon Mo, her eyes remained unchanged in their piercing vexation. “You are concerned that I might have been seen?” The question emerged from behind her sharp teeth, punctuated as she slammed the door behind herself.
Mo straightened her back, lifting her head up another inch towards the Night Mare’s gaze. “Why are you here?”
“Do you think that I only come and go at your whim, or at your necessity?” The Night Mare’s trembling lips formed a smirk. “Am I so unwelcome here, in the home that I gave you? Where is Cal? She appreciates hospitality.” Saying this, the Night Mare was the first to avert her eyes as she cast her now hollowed stare further up the hallway. Mo watched her. She knew the Night Mare well enough to recognize that it was atypical for her to be the first to break eye contact.
“Here.” Cal, gripping the archway, leaned headfirst out of the living room and into the hall. “You know that you’re always welcome here. You know that it’s not that we are unhappy to see you. But like Mo said, why are you here?”
The Night Mare did not immediately answer. Her limbs revolved at the joints, bending inwards in slow revolutions. She blinked. Her appendages caught themselves and snapped back into their prior rigidity. “You are going to help me retrieve a specific Iteration. You have experien-”
“And leave Joe and Sandra alone?” Cal interrupted her, already shaking her head.
“You are one of the few that I know of with experience in incorporation. I have no choice. As it happens, neither do you.”
“We can’t leave,” Mo scoffed, pressing each word a little more firmly. “It’s not safe for either of them. It would disrupt our program here. You don’t seem to appreciate that this is a delicate process! That’s the reason why I didn’t want you here right now in the first place!” Cal grabbed Mo’s wrist forcefully before she could say anything more.
“I appreciate your concerns, Mo, I really do, but I already have everything taken care of. You won’t be happy to hear this, but, as I meant to say earlier, Mr. Wood is currently in the care … the possession of Sangmar and my counterpart. And, her partner. Sandra has been shifted inward. Neither will suspect anything. As intended, they will blame it on the fog.”
“Are you out of your fucking mind?” Mo, her flashing eyes widening to the diameter of a light bulb, thrust her open hand against the Night Mare’s throat and rammed her towards the door. In long streaks, the Night Mare’s moored claws scarred the blue plaster of the walls and ceiling. The Lodging groaned. In the same motion, Mo drew her machete and held it to the Night Mare’s torso. “A shift inward: we could lose her! And you sent Joe to the Fifth? We are not even nearly at that stage of the program!”
As the point of Mo’s machete brushed against the Night Mare’s scorched flesh, Cal grabbed her by the shoulder and wrenched her backwards to the ground with her own weight. At the same moment, the Night Mare dropped one of her gnarled limbs towards Mo’s head, as though to strike her. However, just before making contact, the Night Mare stopped herself.
The Night Mare rose above them both, her arms pillars on either side. “You are clearly not in control here! The Lodging has already been changed! Do not pretend to know what you are doing, when I am the one who has to fix your mess! But things are getting worse, far worse than the temporary danger of one half-Lucid.” At that, the Night Mare withdrew her limbs back to her side and turned away. “Both of you have been permitted to forget so much. I let you. My counterpart let you. I have not been so lucky.”
Cal slowly got to her feet, her shoulders raised defensively. “Wendy, what happened?
The Night Mare’s arms swayed like seagrass, but her voice let some of her rage whistle through. “Walton destroyed one of ours in their world! I sent one of mine to deter him from his interest, his remembrance, but it seems that he knows more than we thought. He slaughtered her! Even the Lamplighters, they are no longer expressing certainties. We must do everything we can now, or we will lose more! I fear that this program cannot save us now. We are not fighting for acceptance anymore, but for our very survival.”
Both Mo and Cal did not know what to say. They watched as the Night Mare raised a hand to her unseen face.
“It’s strange,” she said suddenly, pressing the hand to one of her own cheeks.
“What is?” Mo offered. She looked at Cal with uncertainty, then back to the Night Mare.
“We could have had so many forms. We have had so many. But, even in their nightmares, they gave some of their monsters the ability to cry. It makes no sense.” The Night Mare turned back to them. Her hand was wet, as was her cheek. She clenched her fingers into a fist. “Another cruelty of their race.”
With her other arm bent behind her, the Night Mare reached out and opened the door. “We need this Iteration.”
The ground pulsed up and down beneath Sandra, as though something were pushing its way up from under the leaves. The moss and dirt seemed to breathe beneath her.
The soil’s diaphragm contracted a final time, and the flat earth swelled into a rectangular mound under her feet, a narrow island in a lake of hemorrhaged fog. She shifted to the edge of the heap, looking for any signs of movement in the direction of the clearing, watching for the woman’s approach.
“He’s gone,” a voice observed from behind her.
Sandra turned towards the voice, yet she was not confronted by a speaker.
Instead, a tombstone stood at the head of the mound, and it read:
July 17, 1995 – October 30, 2069