Perchance: Part XII is the twelfth chapter in the Perchance serial, as life emerges from thought-dead things. The Unsberg breeds life and death alike. Click here for the previous entry.
Through the room’s single window, Joe watched snow pile on the sill and mount against the pallor of lavender winter light, the dull electric lights within barely brighter.
The meeting with the forensic psychiatrist began ten minutes late. She hurried into the room, shut the door behind her, apologized, introduced herself as Dr. Wagner, placing heavy emphasis on the “Doctor” while practically whispering her own last name into the cold air. She was a slight woman, but with round glasses so thick her magnified eyes–an icy blue-grey verging upon pale violet–seemed ready to erupt beyond their wire rims and out of her sockets.
She started by asking him simple identification questions: his name, date of birth, what day of the week it was (because he had gone missing, but moreso because he was not on his school routine, this one took him a little bit longer to figure out), the name of the first president (for half a moment, Joe was tempted to say Nelson Mandela or रामवरण यादव because Dr. Wagner hadn’t specified the first president of which country, but he quickly thought better of it). He answered every question correctly.
Next, the evaluation shifted into more significant questions, which Joe was instructed to answer with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’:
“Do you remember what happened during the interval of your disappearance, from the morning of December 27th to the morning of January 4th?”
“To the best of your knowledge and belief, were all the details you provided in the original account of your disappearance accurate?”
“Have you seen any of the–in your own words–‘monsters’ in the last two days, since your return?”
“Have you felt threatened by any outside influence, in any way, during the last two days?”
“No,” Joe replied after a moment. Dr. Wagner took down an additional note next to the check box.
“Have you witnessed anything else unusual since your return two days ago, on the morning of January 4th?”
“No,” Joe said, more quickly this time. While he couldn’t be more specific, he knew that he was not telling the truth.
“During your disappearance, did you feel yourself to be fully in touch with your reality?”
“That is a tough one. Yes and no: it was strange. It all felt real, to me, but even I had difficulty completely believing it. But it had to be real.” Hearing this answer, Dr. Wagner’s pencil wavered back and forth between the two boxes, before finally checking ‘No.’
“In the last two days, have you felt yourself to be fully in touch with your reality?”
“Really? You can be honest.”
“I said yes.”
“Do you feel yourself to be fully in touch with your reality now?”
“Have you had difficulty connecting with others?”
“No.” Joe’s forehead tightened. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Have you had any anxiety attacks, or similar incidents?”
“No.” He shook his head, pressing his lips together.
“Have you experienced the effects of depression?”
“In the last two days?” The edges of Joe’s lips contracted. “Not more than usual.”
“You have a history of depression?”
“Not on paper.” He ground his front teeth together behind his closed lips.
“Has that depression caused you to think about harming yourself, or taking your own life?”
“Since I came back?”
Dr. Wagner looked at him skeptically, until her hesitant answer stumbled out. “Yes, let’s say that. That was the original intention of the question, as written.”
“Then no,” Joe interrupted. “I’m fine.”
Dr. Wagner put down her pencil, leaning towards him, watching him with those massive eyes. “Had you thought about harming yourself, or taking your own life, prior to your disappearance?”
Joe shook his head and blinked, holding his eyes shut for a moment. “I’m fine now.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” she said, without breaking eye contact. “You don’t have to be afraid to talk about it, Mr. Wood. This procedure isn’t just a formality. I’m here to help you, if you need help. I’m here to make sure that you see things the right way.”
“Thank you,” Joe murmured. His right leg shook, pivoting on the front of his foot.
Dr. Wagner waited for him to say something more, but nothing came. She tried to hide her frown, her disappointment, but Joe saw it. Breathing deeply, she picked her pencil back up off the table as she exhaled. “Almost done, Mr. Wood: by your own judgment, do you fear that you may be a threat to yourself or others?”
Joe knew immediately what he was going to answer, but he took a moment to think about it. “I hope not. I don’t want to hurt anybody.”
Mo and Cal pulled at the oars, the horizon drawing steadily closer. The nose of their dinghy scaled the waning crescents of each successive wave, having already bypassed the worst of the swells. A murky, impenetrable jade of bubbling imperfections, the water beneath them had long since lost its tropical clarity.
Cal peered over the side into the gurgling froth. “Wendy, you’re sure that we don’t have to worry about anything, down there?” Her rowing slowed. “In the water?”
With her stretched fingers, The Night Mare grazed the ocean surface. “No.”
“No, as in ‘no, we don’t have to worry about anything,’ or no, as in you’re not sure?”
The Night Mare said nothing.
Pressing her tongue against her cheek, Mo chuckled. “Rad. Totally great.” The late evening air continued to cool around them. “I guess I should have brought my fishing rod.”
The horizon came closer still; the sky was a dome, not an atmosphere, and the distant disk of the reddening sun wheeled downward on the skeletal framework of visible machinery. With each paddle, the water’s ripples dwindled until achieving a placid, gloomy sheen, ink resisting even the disturbance of their oars. The jade had become obsidian. Behind them, towards the island, the roaring waves continued to rise and fall, but out here the ocean rested in total silence, completely motionless. Mo and Cal stopped rowing. At the firmament’s lower arc, the full depth of the horizon unveiled by the absence of waves, dark fissures emerged: windows into darkness, into the Deep.
The Night Mare stood, drawing her hand from the viscous fluid. Suddenly, without warning, she leapt off the front of the boat. Almost ten meters away from the dinghy’s prow, her feet met the black, petrified water, no longer water at all: a solid plane, that reflected the sinking vault of oncoming dusk. At the point of impact, small cracks crept outward, accompanied by the debris of crushed salt. The Night Mare faced them. “We walk from here,” she hollered.
Cal’s mouth hung open in awe. “I always forget how beautiful the Edge can be.”
“Really?” Mo questioned her with a sidelong shrug. “It always gave me the creeps.” She stood, taking the hook of a small but heavy anchor in her rough hands. With all her strength, she threw it towards the crystalline shore, where the sharp edge dug into the thin floe and held fast. The chain dropped down in the space between, the closer links dipping into the viscous darkness. She took a hold of the chain’s length, and, after testing the hook’s grip, pulled end-over-end to draw the boat closer to shore. “I prefer to forget the fact that we live in a bubble.” Cal stood to help her, but the closer the dinghy came to the obsidian coastline, the more resistant the black liquid between became, ink coalescing into pitch. Eventually, even with their combined strength, they could not pull the boat any closer.
Approaching the prow, Mo was the first to jump. Her boots found solid ground, a fair distance short of the Night Mare’s superhuman leap. The cracks at Mo’s point of impact spread out further than those of the Night Mare’s. The ground was thinner there.
Cal stepped up to the prow. She bent her knees several times, repeatedly throwing out her arms and then readjusting her stance for the jump.
“Cal, we need to hurry up!” The Night Mare shouted, as the sun continued to plunge behind them on its swaying cables. Above the island, the brightest stars winked open.
Cal moved herself to the back of the boat, then, with a running start, launched herself off the front. Mo watched as Cal came crashing down near the same spot that she had landed. She heard the crackling of the crystal, the sound of the breach as water gushed upward, breaking a vacuum seal. Cal leaned forward, fell forward onto her front, her left shoe dipping into the blackness below the split fragments. Mo ran to her and grabbed her arm, dragging her away from the opening in the thin film, the only thing separating from the depths below.
“Are you okay?” Mo insisted.
“Yeah,” Cal managed, catching her breath. “Yeah, I-”
The Night Mare walked past them, towards the breach. Something had risen from the hole in the frail obsidian ice, a blossoming stem of the same oily liquid that flowed beneath their feet. As the Night Mare came closer, the top bloomed, revealing what appeared to be a massive pearl within, its spherical face a murky, pale powder blue. It was only as the pearl turned in its stalk that they saw that it was not a pearl at all, as they saw the veiny whites around the circle of glistening, kaleidoscopic silver. It was an eye. It was blind. It swiveled, searching, as roots of the clotted ink lapped at the edges of the breach, feeling over the broken fragments and fitting them together like pieces of broken pottery.
With an outstretched hand, not touching it, the Night Mare spoke to the stalk. “Everything is alright.” The eye wielded itself in her direction. “We’re sorry to have disturbed you. Rest again.” The roots paused, dropping the shards from their grip. “We’re sorry. Rest again. Rest again. It is not yet time. You must wait.” The bloom closed, wrapping itself around the eye once more. It bent to one side, then the other. The roots withdrew. Then, like the splash of a ripple, the stalk dunked its head beneath the surface and disappeared.
“What was that?” Mo asked.
“I’m not going to explain it to you again, when you’ll just forget it” The Night Mare muttered. She approached them and then continued onwards, towards the fissures at the horizon. “Onwards!”
Their primary star withdrew below the skyline of their world, as dusk settled in upon the dark, oceanic plateau. Stars twinkled in the reflection beneath their feet, the sparkling night below indistinguishable from the night above.
The next interview process, conducted by Detective Wingard, began with rote greetings.
“Good morning, Mr. Wood.”
“Hi. How are you feeling today?”
“Uh. Fine. Well, um, confused and,” and Joe could only describe himself further with a harsh exhale that tickled somewhere between a cough and a guffaw. He looked down at the table.
The detective pursed her lips, nodding slowly. “Alright.” She pulled a tape recorder from out of the front pocket of her jacket. “I understand. Believe me, I am too. That’s why I called you in here for another interview.” She put the recorder down on the middle of the metal table. “Alright,” the detective repeated, clicking the record button on the side of the device. “Let’s do this again. What were the names of the three woman who you met on the island?”
“Sandra, Cal, and Mo.”
“They never said.”
“You never asked?”
“I didn’t think about it.”
“And how did you get to the island?”
“I … don’t completely know. Like I said last time, there was a light in the wash near my house.”
“Did the island have a name?”
“I never saw a name, and the women never told me what it was called. I don’t even know for sure that it was an island.”
“Then why did you call it an island?”
“Most of it was surrounded by water, from what I could tell on the map.”
“The map that drew itself?”
“It didn’t draw itself. That’s not how it worked. It, it needed to be shared. You needed at least two people to see it, at least parts of it. I don’t know what a third person might be able to see. I think it worked in the same way as the Lodging.”
“Ok. Sure. How did you get back from the island?”
“I’m not completely sure of that either.”
“It seems like there’s a lot that you don’t know. Were you drugged? Is that a possibility?”
“By them? I don’t know.”
“Have you taken any kind of illicit substance in the last week?”
“No. And I sure as hell wouldn’t take something to give me this bad of a trip.”
“No, alright, ok.” The red light on the side of the tape recorder blinked on and off, on and off. “Listen, Joe, I’ll give you this: you’re consistent. But the story you told us, to put it mildly, is impossible to believe. I can’t act on any part of it. No leads. I don’t know if or why you aren’t willing to tell us the truth about-”
“I’m gonna stop you there,” Joe’s lawyer interrupted, crossing her arms. Her name was Eve Mizuno, a talented defense attorney who still retained her Minnesotan accent even after living in Colorado Springs for the last twenty years. “Are you suggesting that my client is lying?”
“Are you suggesting that your client spent nearly seven days on an island inhabited by strange women, monsters, and a house with invisible furniture?”
Joe said nothing, only staring at the light on the digital recorder. Joe’s lawyer readjusted her watch around her wrist. “My client has clearly been through something traumatic.” She looked towards Joe, almost expecting an objection, but none came. He looked at the tape recorder with such intensity, it seemed that he was no longer listening to them anymore. “You cannot make such severe accusations.”
Detective Wingard braced her fingers together, cracking the joints of her thumbs. “Under normal circumstances, I would agree with you, Ms. Mizuno.”
The light on the tape recorder stopped blinking, lit without interruption.
She pulled several large manila folders from her bag under the table. “But Mr. Wood’s disappearance is not an isolated incident.”
The recorder began to shake on the table. Somehow its tremors did not make any sound, even against the hollow metal frame.
Detective Wingard, watching Joe, laid out several photographs in front of him.
He was not looking at the photographs. He was looking at the recorder, which Wingard had knocked to the edge of the table with her files. Like an egg, the casing had begun to crack open, from the inside.
“What are these?” Eve growled in disgust. “Why are you showing this to my client?”
Eight-legged, claws emerged from inside the casing of the recorder. With wide eyes, Joe watched as the device scuttled off the edge of the table and out of sight. Neither Wingard nor Mizuno seemed to notice it.
“Your client doesn’t seem surprised to see them.” Wingard slammed the table with an open palm. “Mr. Wood! Focus!”
Gripping the table in shock, he looked up at her, then down at the photographs. Dead bodies: eight dead-bodies, broken, torn, ghastly in the flash of a forensic tech’s camera. Strewn across ruffled carpets or soaked bed sheets.
“Between December 27th and January 4th, the dates that you were missing, Mr. Wood, three families were sexually assaulted, tortured, and murdered in their own homes. The perpetrator, or perpetrators, appeared to be specifically targeting families of three: two parents and an only child. The last attack occurred just two hours before your reappearance.”
In spite of the bruising and dried blood, Joe thought that he recognized the faces of two of the victims.
“Notice something, Mr. Wood?” Wingard probed, noticing where his eyes had fallen. “I think you know those particular individuals: Mr. Ray Esther and Mrs. Grace Esther. The mother and father of one of your close friends, as I have been made to believe: Ms. Laura Esther.”
Joe nodded. Seeing this, Eve blurted, “Mr. Wood, as your lawyer, I advise that you not respond to any of this.” She turned to Wingard. “Unless you’re charging my client, we’re done here.”
Wingard smirked. “I’m not charging him. Not today. He may not even be the perpetrator. If this was a kidnapping though, as he suggests, perhaps it was at the hands of our murderer. Perhaps his delusions hold some clue to the attacker’s identity. So, for his protection and his family’s, I can offer a police escort.” She began stacking the photographs back into her folder. “And to keep an eye on him.”
The second the detective finished speaking, a flash of motion and a crunch burst on their left. Everyone turned to look. On the floor, the digital recorder had been crushed and smashed apart, shards of brittle plastic and fake metal. The red light faded.
“What the?” Wingard breathed.
“Mr. Wood,” Mizuno said, standing quickly. “Let’s go.”
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 below her boots.
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
Sandra passed her hand over the name on the stone in disbelief. In that single motion, something changed:
July 17, 1995 – April 21, 2018