DRINK IN HAND, I try to manoeuvre to the couch, but the carnival spinning around me pushes like a centrifugal force, and it keeps me in place. Music is exploding through my chest. Too much alcohol. I don’t like beer, it makes me feel bloated, I tell myself and I begin to giggle. Somewhere my girlfriend is orally fixated with her friends; in a parallel room she fawns over the artist with the guitar. No. She is my wife, and she is laughing hysterically with friends as she bursts forth from the elevator, leaving me embarrassed, dejected, and alone. That’s just like her to enjoy my awkwardness. That’s just like me to complicate my life and desecrate hers.
Faint and nauseous, I’m in the hallway and someone is in front of me: I remember flirting with her somewhere; she allowed me to stand too close and brush against her when no-one was around. Now she is so close that I can smell her. The perfume explodes into my lungs and invigorates my body. That crooked smile and gleam in her eye suggests that she can read my mind: she knows everything. Lust swells through my loins, and as I lean forward, I almost topple over her. Her hand is on my chest, steadying and frustrating me at the same time. She is playing with the green button of my shirt. Through her fingers, I can feel the music and her own electric presence. I want her, but remember something.
“Where’s your boyfren?” I slur.
I cannot seem to remember his name. He’s in the room somewhere, but he pretends not to care. I hate the confident bastard; no, I envy him.
“Boyfriend? Ha! He’s nowhere. By the way, he wants his skates back. He says they’re really expensive.” And then she leans into me fully. Her flesh presses against mine and I can feel her hair sweep across my face and neck. A voice purrs into my ear, “Meet me in the bathroom in three minutes.”
I feel her pull away, and she is gone.
I smile at my arousal and begin to stumble around, pointing my way. It is so hard to focus that I close my eyes to avoid the strain. I imagine that I am blind. Again, I giggle. Someone shows me a painting of a whirlpool, and as I try to reflect on its swirling colours, I become dizzy. The room spins around the image and I feel a magnetic force. It sends me to her like an asteroid drawn into a planet. I know that I am a slave and she my taskmaster, but I don’t care. Everyone is smiling at me and winking. Did they hear her or can they just read my lucidly amorous face? Should I go? Of course I will – because I am under her spell, and I have no choice in the matter. Her earthly power trumps my free will. Ayn Rand would be pissed, I think to myself.
“Good one Elwin!” It’s Mr. Ferret, my high-school history teacher. His ruddy, tanned skin serves as a garish back-drop for his gaudy gold chains; too much sun, I think. He leers and squeezes my arm, holding on way too long before I am able to spin away.
Empty bathroom. The door swings closed behind me and I am locked in a coital embrace. It is wonderful: the smell of her hair, the munificent weight of her body, and the warm, sweet taste of her tongue. I give in to her fervour, and I am drawn in. Pushing against her, my hands hungrily seek pleasure and squeeze her flesh. I am consumed. And instantly I feel overwhelmed with guilt. I can’t do this to my wife; I can’t do this with her – somehow, I know that it’s wrong.
“Helen,” I appeal, pushing her away. “We shouldn’t. We can’t.”
“Maggot!” The fury of her visceral voice sickens me.
She has changed, and with scaly hands erupting from a slimy cadaver, she slams me against the wall. She slithers into me and the foul stench of her breath sprays against my face like vomit.
Closing my eyes, I hear her hiss, “I will eat your first-born from the inside out.”
The twins. Oh my god, she’s going to kill my children! And then I scream as I’m consumed in fire.
Stephen Elwin awoke from the nightmare covered in a clammy sweat. The episode felt real and from another lifetime. It took several moments to realize that he was in bed with his wife. In this world. When reality sank in, he felt worse. The pit of his stomach ached.
“What’s wrong honey? Another nightmare?”
Joy’s beautiful and compassionate voice interrupted his thoughts.
“No.” His face glistened with sweat. “I mean yes, but there’s something else.”
“What is it?” she asked.
Her compassion turned to concern.
Stephen thought about what he had to say, and how it would change their lives. It would change this world, and so he hesitated.
Concern had turned to alarm.
Quivering, he drew in a breath, and in a cracked voice said, “It’s time. I have to leave.”
Into the fire, he thought to himself. Ash to ashes to ash. Even through the darkness, he could see the pained shock in her eyes. His perspiration evaporated. Suddenly, from somewhere outside the window, a light exploded into view, pierced the darkness and blasted through his pupils, blinding him. Stephen disappeared into the fiery light – into the past – leaving only darkness behind.
Joy was crying.