Perchance: Part XIII is the thirteenth entry in the ongoing Perchance serial, as stories begin to unwind their deeper meanings. Click here for the previous chapter.
I think that I know what our problem is, why none of this is working, Rebekah. I think that I’m trying to tell you who you are, or that’s what I thought I was doing, when I’ve really only been telling you who I am.
We’ve already tried this so many times. So many times. I’ve rewritten and written so many moments that fled from me. He left you, he left you. He’s gone. Yes?
I don’t know what other story I can tell you.
I can read you so easily, Rebekah, but it never occurred to me that you might also be capable of reading me.
I think I know what story I can tell you.
They all left you.
But I’m here.
Joe stood in the bathroom, the water dripping down onto the cracking tile. He had been “back” for a few days now, but this was the first time that he had actually been able to bring himself to take a shower. Each morning, he would turn on the water and sit naked on the floor, rubbing a wet washcloth over himself, until a little less than five minutes had passed. Until he would reach back in and turn the handle off. For the first few days, sleepless days of cold sweat, he couldn’t bring himself to step inside the tub.
Yet he was fine once he finally did. He had gripped the curtain like it was the only thing keeping him from sinking beneath the enamel. He stood motionless above the drain, barely even allowing himself the luxury of blinking. Just in case none of this was real. Just in case he should step in, close the curtain, and see that bulbous shadow interrupt the light. He was afraid, but as the cold water fell through his hair and down his back, other thoughts followed the flow into his mind.
The only shadow cast upon the curtain was his own.
He had stepped out and dried himself off, his reflection doing the same on the other side of the toothpaste-flecked glass. He watched his reflection for some time–and his reflection did the same–contemplated the edges, the wrinkles, the less-than-sharp lines, the rebellious tufts of hair that emerged from his head like the sun’s corona. He opened the mirror, reached behind it for his electric razor. The buzzing receded behind his ears, as he cut away thin swaths of hair above his neck. Then, he let it graze even further up, trimming in broad strokes along his crown. By the time he was done, it was difficult to tell if he had made any real improvement, but a wreath of light brown hair circled his feet.
The shed locks that actually hit their mark spiraled at the bottom of the sink drain, refusing to quite go under. Joe abandoned them and pulled on his clothes.
He shut the bathroom door behind him and made his way to the garage, staying out of the view of the office. He knew quite well how to tiptoe on the hardwood. By the time he pulled out of the driveway, his mom had come to the door and was trying to yell after him to stop, but he kept driving.
The shell of his house, receding in his rearview mirror, was just as he remembered it.
Only eight photos.
Then why couldn’t he remember her?
He knew where Laura lived, just a few streets over from his own. The frosted street signs led him in the right direction, further into the neighborhoods of Knob Hill. He recognized the row of faded strip mall storefronts, the random croppings of wooded half-parks, the constant lattice steps attached to every other house: not a single place out of place in his remembrance, except for that damn diner. When he first got back, there stood in the midst of the asphalt ocean of an oversized, desolate parking lot a solitary building that he could not remember seeing before. He remembered that the building used to be a Blockbuster, but both of his parents insisted that the diner with boarded-off windows had been there for a while. It might have always been there
Otherwise, not a single place out of place in his remembrance: he remembered riding his bike down these streets on the way to where her house should be. He remembered the time that he had broken his arm, when he flipped the bike and went flying over the handlebars; he remembered the uneven lip in the sidewalk that had knocked him off-balance in the first place. He remembered the empty house that he used to run by when he walked back home from middle school, because when he was younger he swore that he had seen the window shades move in the highest window, and a mangled face behind them. Even into his teens, he would still avoid looking at the house. He remembered the stop sign with a cartoon skull sticker below the O.
Not a single moment out of place in his remembrance: he remembered losing his first tooth right before Laura’s fifth birthday party, as he took a firm bite out of a particularly chewy bagel. He remembered setting out yard sale signs on the corner. He remembered the hours that he would just spend driving, following the narrow sidewalks, hoping to ‘get away from it all’ on four wheels.
Yet a single person was absent from his remembrance: Joe did not remember Laura. There was the vague amalgamation of a face that might be hers, but that might just as easily be a stranger. He could not remember the definite color of her eyes or the shape of her hair. He could not remember her mouth, when it smiled, when it laughed, when it frowned. He could not remember the sound of her voice, whether she spoke softly or loudly, deeply or with a ring. He could not remember the curve of her handwriting. He could not remember her favorite color, the sort of music that she listened to, the sort of music that she hated, her fears, the topics that really got her riled up or excited, her opinion on the proper way to pronounce gif, her insistence that Pluto is a planet. He could not remember how much they knew about each other.
And it was a guilt. How could he have forgotten her, someone who should have been one of his best friends, whom he should have clearly known more about? Was he that forgetful, or had his time on the island distanced him from his memories so severely? Was he really that bad a friend?
She was an absence, a hollow cavity, and Joe felt the emptiness in his chest as he struggled to breathe normally.
Joe’s car stopped in front of what should be her house, white wooden paneling with a red door.
Joe’s mind skidded over the black ice, without control, without destination, weightless. It felt the half-frozen mud slush seep into his boots, just below his knees. Across the street, beneath an elm tree that he was still not quite sure he would walk to, he could almost see himself burying himself in the snow, up to his waist.
Eight photos: if three families of three had been killed, why were there not nine photos?
Only eight photos: and none of them had been Laura.
Joe pulled his phone out of his pocket. He scrolled down through his contact list to a completely empty text chat. The cursor blinked at him above the keyboard.
Laura, are you still out
Are you alive?…………
New snow spun downward from the low-hanging fog, silently perching on Joe’s wide shoulders. Joe’s misty breath scattered the air. A blizzard was approaching, and the sky darkened rapidly overhead.
Just as he was about to put his phone back in his pocket and get back in his car, three grey, hopping dots appeared in a text bubble on his screen.
Laura, or someone with her phone, had responded:
Once you read her name, you
cannot escape. Your soul is now
bound to the Challenge of
A long time ago, when she was
still just a child, MORTHYRIA’s
orphaned sisters were tortured
and killed, without cause. As the
youngest, only MORTHYRIA
survived; in the midst of the
slaughter, one of her sisters helped
her through an open window, and
MORTHYRIA crawled away on her
hands and knees through miles of
marshland, through expanses of the
Deep. As she rambled onwards
through the wilderness, searching
for help, MORTHYRIA lost her
way. Days passed, weeks passed.
Starving, on the edge of apparent
death, MORTHYRIA collapsed
into the swampy mud. On the edge
of annihilation, she had collapsed
next to the bush of the ancient spider
Sangmar pitied the child. She swung
out of her dwelling and wrapped the
child in a blanket of her silver silk.
She brought the child the fruit of her
home-bush, nursing her back to sentience.
As she fitfully awoke, MORTHYRIA
kicked and struggled inside her sticky
cocoon and looked upon Sangmar
with fearful eyes.
“Worry not, child,” clicked Sangmar,
“If I wanted to kill you, I would have
done so already. Do not flee.”
With one of her pointed arms,
Sangmar slashed through the web
and set MORTHYRIA free.
MORTHYRIA stood to run, but
Sangmar only watched her with her
eight primeval eyes. “I will not
hurt you,” Sangmar whispered.
MORTHYRIA began to cry,
sinking again to the ground. Sangmar
asked her why she cried, and
MORTHYRIA told her of her lost
family, of the violence carried out
against them. Sangmar quaked and
said, “I too know your pain. Since I
first entered this world of ours,
hatching from my egg, I have watched
men hunt and curse my species at the
mere sight of our forms. I have known
the causeless hatred of men. But I
have survived. And I will teach you
also to survive. Rise, child, not yet
And MORTHYRIA rose, and
learned the skills of Sangmar.
She learned to knit strings and
weave the strategies of her mind,
her brain and hands alike unmatched
spinnerets. She learned to catch
her food in tangled nets. She
learned to rest her body against the
world. She learned to kill for her
own subsistence. She learned all,
except how to entwine her own
destiny, a strand beyond her past.
Sangmar watched her pupil grow,
yet still the young woman wept in
“Why do you cry still, child?”
“I cry in grief no longer, but in anger,
in rage,” MORTHYRIA replied. “My
family was taken from me, as so many
of your own have been taken from you.
And yet still those men wander the Earth.”
“What would you do, child?” Sangmar
uttered through her fangs.
“I would kill them, avenge our dead.”
“And only then would your tears dry
up?” MORTHYRIA nodded in reply.
“Then let it be so, but carry my spirit
with you. I am old, but your strength
and my wisdom could be enough to find
justice in this cruel world. Become my
true child, MORTHYRIA, and be free.
Consume my flesh, and we will become
one blood, one flesh, one being enough.”
As she would have with her own children,
Sangmar, the ancient spider, allowed
herself to be consumed for MORTHYRIA’s
continuation and purpose. MORTHYRIA
slowly devoured her truest mother. The
two became one. Fangs emerged
from behind MORTHYRIA’s teeth, and her
eyes multiplied in her head. Her fingers
branched to eight on each hand and
sharpened to a point. Her skeleton
bristled out of her spine and shoulder
blades, a thin exoskeleton. Her new
incarnation complete, MORTHYRIA
crawled up from the darkness
of the Deep.
MORTHYRIA hunted down her
sisters’ attackers and punished
them each, one-by-one, carving
a single letter of her name into
each consecutive victim. Thus, she
began to weave her final web.
Eventually, only one of the
attackers eluded her. She broke
through the window above his
bed, the cracked glass branching off
in tangled fissures, and descended
upon him with a venomous, hollow
smile, teeth bared to rip out his
throat. But the man had prepared
for her arrival, hearing of the
retribution enacted against his
companions. With eyes open, the
man’s wife handed him a dagger
to plunge deep into MORTHYRIA’s
heart. The blade landed.
shrieking onto the floor, but
she did not lose her footing.
Rising in her final moments, she
pointed one of her bony fingers
towards the man and rasped,
“Remember my name! Mark it,
murderer mine, for indeed you
are mine!” Pulling the dagger from
her bosom, MORTHYRIA carved
A, the final letter, into her own
chest. “MORTHYRIA: know this
name, although you have already
forgotten the names of all my sisters!
Remember it well; it is your doom!”
Thus, MORTHYRIA’s mortal
form died. However, MORTHYRIA’s
pain had festered beyond herself,
transcending time and space,
by the silver cord of nine letters.
Her web was complete, knit
from drained cords, empty veins.
In blood, her final revenge,
her insanity, grief, and passion
became a new venom to anyone
who knows her name, who reads
or hears her story. The last
murderer became the first victim
of her curse. Less than a week after
MORTHYRIA’s death, tangled in
her curse, he tortured and killed his
Send this story
to at least nine other people, or
will appear seven nights from now,
possess you, and do the same to you
and your family, as was done to her
and hers so long ago. You cannot run.
You cannot escape. You cannot flee
Even if he had been standing in the middle of a desert, Joe still would have felt a frosty fear scrape into his spine. But he was already shaking. The sky bent closer to night, the grey firmament fading to a purple hue beneath the endless stream of pale sleet. The windows inside Laura’s house remained darker still.
Joe turned and got back in the car, looking all around him for any movement in the limited visibility. Only shadows lengthened. Once his seat belt was on, he locked the door and turned on the dashboard light.
He thought about his reply, but another chime already sounded:
PR4200. J3. Check it out.
We first found Michael Thompson when he was three years old. He had a nightmare, one that would remain with him for the rest of his life. It was a recurring event, a repeating algorithm. Eventually, the particulars faded away, leaving only the imprint of a single entity.
We were with him when his grandmother died a month later, and he first learned the nature of death.
We were with him on his first days of Kindergarten, as he imagined the adventures that might exist beyond the playground gates.
We were with him when he first snuck out of the house to smoke a cigarette.
We were with him the second time too.
And the third time.
And the three-hundred-and-seventeenth time, when the ash fell on his shoes and only the smoke overwhelmed the smell of alcohol on his breath.
We were with him when he got his first job.
We were with him in the world where he ceased believing in God.
We were with him in the world where he bought a typewriter, and, after two months, never used it again.
We were with him on his third anniversary.
We were with him in the world where he found out that his wife was pregnant.
We were with him in the world where they lost the baby.
We were with him when his wife had twins.
We were with him a week after his twins’ third birthday.
We were with him in the world when he crossed the street on his way back to the apartment, ice cream sandwiches in hand, without looking to see if a car was coming.
We were with him in the world where a car was coming.
This is the world where he dies on February 19, 2017.
But his dreams aren’t dead yet.
The Bishop still lives.
Joe laid in his bed, still dressed. It was midnight. Laura had not responded to any of his dozens of follow-up texts. He stared at the screen, waiting for something, anything.
A light filtered through his window, a faint orb. He stood up on his mattress, in a mixture of both excitement and fear. Had something returned for him? He grabbed his clock off his side table, clutching it in forcefully in his fists.
Had they returned for him, to answer all his questions? And what had happened to Sandra?
He came closer to the window.
The orb shifted, but it was not what he had hoped it to be: a hole had been dug in the stormy sky. The moon watched him through his window.
Joe returned to his bed and sat on the edge, cradling his chin in his hands.
“Why did this happen to me?” he muttered to himself. And was it really over?
“I know who I am. I know who I am. I know what’s real. Everything is going to be okay.”
The ground pulsed up and down beneath Sandra, as though something was 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
“No.” She whispered to herself, her breath catching in his esophagus. “What does this mean?”
The same voice spoke again, this time to her right, the fog mounting and blossoming from the trunks of the endless evergreens. Fading off into the distance, the bark columns had become the frothing pillars of some ponderous, pale temple, the dark, starless sky its celestial vault. “It means that we have some time to chat. Eighteen hours, give or take a few days, but it won’t feel like that much time. We need to hurry.”