Sunday, May 29, 2016

Vestigial Surreality: 25: Soul Mesh

The Sunday SciFi Fantasy Serial, Free Online Fiction, Mystery, Ancestor Simulation, Digital World, Data is Data

The catastrophe began when Seven received the insistent tone in her ear informing her that she had an emergency alert. For such a small time, she had been so happy, so full of hope. But in a few hours she would wish that she had never opened a window to receive the message. And in only a day from this moment, when the first insistent chime began, she would consider ending her life, so drastically had her very existence deviated from her hopes and dreams. But, if she were honest with herself, she knew the catastrophe began prior to the emergency alert—in reality, the catastrophe began the moment she lit into Stacey, oh the things she had said to him! How could she have made such accusations, called him such names, things she had never said before even to an enemy, let alone to someone who initiated such desperate feelings within her heart. She could only blame herself for the catastrophe. She could only blame herself for losing Stacey.
She covered her face with her hands. How could she? She had told him that he was not real. She had said that. Spit it out, wanting to hurt him, desiring to crush him.
Or, was there someone else she could blame, perhaps the alien creature she met in the hallway, just outside Stacey’s room—the insectile creature, Maulgraul—the woman with the too-large eyes and the haughty mouth? Was not this being to blame for the destruction of Seven’s very life? Truly, the catastrophe began when the deceitful plotter had first lit eyes upon Stacey, when he lay unconscious in Joshua’s arms, after the scorpion sting. Maulgraul was the true scorpion, the true poisoner. She was evil personified.
Wasn’t it Jack that declared that the woman who moved toward Stacey with such an expression of lust, that she was the beginning of trouble?
Yes, Maulgraul was the true enemy. She was the true serpent in the garden. Yes, the Dragon Queen was the daughter of lies, and she was the devil that locked Seven outside the garden, and now Seven was lost, pacing fruitlessly in her Inner Sanctum, banished from High Vale.
And for those tender few hours, after Stacey recovered, Seven’s life had seemed so enchanted. She had been so close, on the very brink, she had almost achieved the goal she had never even realized she so desperately desired. They had been so close, closer than Seven had ever thought two people might draw together, lounging so intimately in the sunshine, carelessly touching each other—she had never been so familiar with another person, never in her twenty years of life. Without thinking, she had pushed her fingers through Stacey’s hair, she had touched his cheek, she had even taken his hand and held it, and he had looked into her eyes and smiled with such tenderness. It almost killed her now, remembering that small, that extremely tiny sliver of time.
Clutching at her head, pacing in her Inner Sanctum, she berated herself—no, it was all her own fault. She was the one that had initiated the catastrophe, when she had spied upon Stacey and Jack, hiding in the bushes just above where they exercised and chatted, she had listened to their idle banter about women, burning with flares of anger, and what else? Yes, jealousy, she had burned with jealousy, listening to the playboy Stacey describe all the varieties of women he liked—sex, everything was sex with these savage men from an earlier time in the world. All their culture was about sex and objectifying women, and she had known that Stacey was that kind of man, the kind that seduced women, racking up his points in the game of seduction. Filth!
Such fury burned within her, she had actually desired him to die, right then and there, and when the scorpion attacked, she could have ended the drama right at the beginning, she should have struck immediately, for she had Jack’s bow, and in this world she had all the necessary skills to slay the attacking creature, almost instantly, but she had stayed her hand, she had watched as Stacey battled the creature. Yes, this is when her catastrophe began, because it was her lack of action that had led to Stacey receiving the scorpion sting. Truly, when the stinger entered Stacey’s back, it was almost as if she were the one that stabbed him. Because for just those few moments she had actually desired his death, this traitorous, evil man, this defiler of women. She had heard him admit what she had always known, that he had defiled women, many women—yes, he was the worst of men, so opposite to Jack, the virgin, the pure light.
She could have placed the arrow right in Stacey’s heart. Forget the scorpion. She should have slain Stacey.
In desiring her man’s death, she had killed herself.
She had carried this guilt, when they struggled to save Stacey. The guilt pressed down upon her, as they raced back to the manor. All through the night, while everyone expected Stacey’s death, she had berated herself, tormented herself, because she was guilty. If he died, she died. It was all her fault. No one else was responsible. Only her. Forever, her. She was guilt personified.
There had been a reprieve, when Stacey opened his eyes. And they were together. Her guilt drew back. Even her despise of Stacey had abated, for that small while. It had slipped her mind, the terrible things she had known, the terrible truth he had admitted to Jack. She had always known Stacey was not pure, but for a golden few moments, she had not allowed herself to remember. She had cared for him and all seemed right in the world—at least in the fantasy world of High Vale. The Gamer World—where had she heard that? There was some distant memory of darkness, and a shadowed figure, and Stacey arriving, taking her in his arms—was that all a dream? Hadn’t he kissed her, and held her?
Then, when he woke in the morning, reprieved from death, he had kissed her again, in reality, and she had returned his kisses. So strange, that feeling, a human mouth upon another human mouth. She had never experienced such a thing before, in all her life. She had read about the practice, in history, and had always thought the deed to be such a disgusting perversion, a thing of lower life form, repulsive, and filthy.
Pacing in her Inner Sanctum, she summoned coffee and banished it, untasted. She pulled glasses of wine from the air, and then tossed them against the wall, to vanish. She felt wild, dangerous, and filthy. Because the kisses yet burned upon her mouth. She scrubbed her lips with the backs of her hands, and she wept, for she wanted the experience again, and again, she wanted it forever. She wanted Stacey, always, forever. She could still feel his hands upon her body.
Yes, she was Stacey’s girl, she had always been...Stacey’s girl. She knew it, even in her childhood. Every time she was scolded, the priestesses had rubbed the reality deeper into her soul—don’t be Stacey’s girl! You are such a bad girl, Stacey’s girl. They had drummed it into her, and she had always known it was true. She was Stacey’s girl. She was bad, defiled through and through without a man ever touching her. Yes, his touch was under her skin. He was inside her, he had always been inside her, living in her, Stacey, and she had always been Stacey’s girl.
And whatever else she did, she would always find her way back to him, to Stacey. She would always be Stacey’s girl.
In the hallway, just outside Stacey’s room, she had almost collided with the great skulking insect, Maulgraul. Seven carried the large bottle of wine and the two glasses, and these she almost dropped when they came face to face.
“Stay away from him,” Maulgraul snarled. “Do not seek to inflict your insanity on this good man.”
Seven, flabbergasted, had only stared up at the towering woman.
“You are not Stacey’s girl,” Maulgraul whispered, moving forward, her too-solid tower of a body shoving Seven backward.
Enough was enough. Seven shoved the bottle of wine against the woman, pushing her back—only, Maulgraul was not moved, not even an inch. It was like pushing against a brick wall.
“Little thing, you are pathetic. The women from your world know nothing. You know nothing of a man such as Stacey Colton. You worship the man of peace, Jack. But Stacey Colton is a warrior,” Maulgraul whispered.
If she had to do it all over again, Seven would smash the bottle over the woman’s head.
Instead, she tucked the bottle under her arm, and fled into Stacey’s room, and locked the door, her heart slamming in her breast.
Stacey reclined in the bed, drowsy, smiling at her. He had removed his clothes, and now snuggled on his side, in only his clean undergarment. And he stole her breath away. She couldn’t stop devouring the sight of him. Her breathing came raggedly, and she felt faint.
He moved on the bed, making room for her, and she stared down at him, her being splintering into thousands of shards of confusion. They stared at each other, for a long, pregnant moment. Seven listened—was the dark woman still lurking outside the door? Perhaps chittering, like a monstrous bug, extending its feelers into the cracks of the door, even now?
Stacey reached and she automatically placed the bottle of wine in his hand. He worked at the cork with his thumbs.
“I’m still so weak,” he mumbled, and it was obvious, he was still so ill, exhausted, but he managed to work the cork up and out of the bottle. She held the glasses for him and he poured the wine.
She sat on the edge of the bed and they sipped at their wine, Stacey propped up on an elbow, his eyes never leaving hers.
“What’s wrong,” he queried, placing a hand upon her thigh. “Did something happen, just now?”
“That woman,” she breathed.
“What woman?”
She didn’t speak, but scooted away on the bed so that his hand slipped away from her thigh.
He set his glass upon the nightstand, and then he reached and took her glass from her limp hands, and set it against his glass. She stared at the glasses, together. Her glass was almost empty, his full. He took her hand and pulled her toward him, and she resisted, listening, her heart thumping, but finally she lay down near him, her back against his front. He snuggled up against and around her and she was too conscious of him—conscious of all of him.
Seven was fully dressed, still in her boots. She wore her tight buckskin breeches, and a silk top, and nothing else, and his hands lightly explored her body. Why was he doing that? He shouldn’t be touching her, not like that.
She thought of the other women he had admitted to being with—had he touched them, even as he now touched her?
“It’s okay,” he breathed into her ear. “Just be here, with me. Just relax.”
“The women,” she said.
“Mmmm,” he breathed, obviously near sleep. “The women...”
She elbowed him, harder than she intended. He grunted and moved away from her.
“Seven?” he said, as she turned about to look at him, pushing herself up into a sitting position.
“Your...other...women, how many have there been? Hundreds?”
He blinked at her.
“What in the world?”
“Your...conquests, how many?”
“No, Seven, no, I was never that kind of guy, I was never after conquests,” he began.
“I don’t want to hear that. Just tell me,” she whispered, but she was suddenly furious, and she was surprised at herself that she wasn’t screaming into his face, because that’s exactly what she wanted to do.
“Well, it’s embarrassing,” he said, chuckling. “I’ve always been more like a woman, I guess, you know, in that department. I’ve always been the one looking for love—true love.”
“Is that what you call it?” she snarled.
“Look, Seven. Sandy. There haven’t been many, okay? I think five, tops, and they were all of them mistakes,” he said, closing his eyes, bringing up his hands to rub his temples with his palms. “Do you feel that? A hum?”
Five. He said five. But what she heard was...five hundred. Five thousand.
No, five million!
He reached to place a hand on her back but she slapped the hand away.
“I always knew it, forever, I mean it was in school, in the textbooks, the humiliation of it all, it’s actually written in the history books. Jack’s Casanova, that’s what they called you. The Saint and his Sinner. You are filthy, one of the filthy men. Disgusting, perverted. They warned me. And I knew it. Jack was the one I was supposed to study, not you.”
“Jack? What’s Jack got to do with it?”
“He was lucky, you know, very fortunate, that you died. If you had lived, you would have broken his heart,” Seven said, gasping, tears flooding her eyes. She had to remember, none of this was real, this man in the bed, he was not real, he was just a memory, or the recreation of a memory. It was absurd that she feel something that wasn’t even real, something that was a thing, a creation, code, flashing numbers, ones and zeroes. She had actually been snuggling here, in this sleazy adult fantasy world. A Gamer World! What was wrong with her? What had she been thinking? She wasn’t in love with this...thing.
“You see, none of that makes any kind of sense,” Stacey said, flailing his hands like a child. “If I lived...but if I didn’t live, how could I be any kind of...Don Juan—”
Casanova! Jack’s Casanova, the Sinner from the Saint. That was you, Stacey Colton. But you know what, it doesn’t matter, because you...are...not...real. And I’m not Stacey’s girl, do you understand that? I’m not Stacey’s girl, and I’ve never been Stacey’s girl. I don’t want any part of you, and I have never wanted anything to do with you.”
“Hey,” he said, putting his arms around her, “shhhh, just quiet down. It’s okay, I’m here. It’s me, Stacey. I’m here. I’m real. See, I’m real, Sandy.”
She tried to shrug out of his embrace, but he was very strong. She struggled a moment, breathing raggedly. Then she went still. And she smiled. She head-butted him, catching him full on the nose. He fell back, his hands at his gushing nose, so much blood, so quickly, just like that—for a moment, just for a moment everything had been wonderful, glorious, and now, blood. Stacey groaned.
She was glad that she had hurt him. Yes she was. She was glad that he bled. She was glad that it was—she that had produced that blood. She had blasted out, finally, for all the women he had hurt throughout his depraved adventures. She would make him pay.
He looked at her with bloodshot eyes, woozy, blinking.
“Men like you ruined the world,” she shouted, standing. She glanced to his shillelagh against the wall. For a moment—a fleeting moment—she considered taking up the weapon, swinging it, and smashing out his brains. Like chopping wood. Just swing it, bring it down, smoothly, she could picture the whole procedure. It would be so easy. No, but no, she wouldn’t be like him—a warrior—no, she was from Jack, a woman of peace from a man of peace. The Man of Peace.
“That humming,” he said, holding his gushing nose. “Ah, that’s breaking my head. Don’t you feel that? Someone’s shooting rays into my head. I feel it, frequencies, like cell phones.”
He was babbling. She stood, staring at him, almost reaching for the shillelagh.
“Seven, I think you broke my nose,” he said, rapidly blinking his eyes. And he laughed. “Do you know, in years of boxing, getting punched in the face, and I never got my nose busted? It really hurts, almost as much as my head.”
Without thinking she snatched up his full glass of wine.
“Here, let me help you, Stacey,” she said, teeth set hard together in a rictus grin. And she dashed the full glass of wine in his face.
Dripping, he stared up at her for a few moments. “It might have seemed like a good idea. But no, that didn’t seem to help too much. Maybe it was kind of refreshing.”
Then she was fumbling at the door, unable to work the latch, until finally she got it free and dashed from the room, slamming the door with all her might. She fled through the quiet house. She hardly realized that other people were here, probably a hundred of them, visitors, Six and his wife, Jack, Joshua and Michael—it all seemed foolish now. She should have never come here, to this stupid, absurd Gaming World.
She was outside, running. She saw men—the strange tattooed Dragon Warriors—turning to watch her flight. But she had to get out of here. She had to escape this place of illusions. She had to get back to the real world.
The warning chime sounded. She stopped, breathing hard, eyes unseeing. For a moment she forgot how to access the system. Then she thought of Old Ben. She slapped at her left shoulder and felt the tingle. She pulled open a window and saw the flashing signal, an incoming message. An emergency. She clicked on it.
Her mother’s face appeared before her in a perfect translucent hologram.
“Sandra, you must come quickly. Please do not delay. I am afraid I have terrible news. Please come now, daughter.”
And Seven stood in her Inner Sanctum, in her black sweats and footsie socks. For just a moment, she felt cold, out of that other world. She felt her hips, missing the tight, shiny buckskin. Surely, those had been the most repulsive clothes. But she had to admit, they had felt good on her body. And Stacey sure had liked the way she looked, that had been more than obvious. She could yet feel one of his hands clutching her. She might scream, at any second, and her head would explode. Was she crazy? Focus.
She called up a window to contact her mother.

The Sunday SciFi Fantasy Serial by Douglas Christian Larsen

Stacey leaned forward, pinching his nostrils shut. The bridge of his nose was a flare of piercing white light that just would not go away. He snickered. He used to brag about the fact that he had never had his nose broken, and now just look at who went and sucker-punched him in the face. The girl had actually broken his nose! High marks, there, the girl had skills.
He heard the door open, and close. Ah, she was back to finish the job. Well, let her. She could put him out of his misery. He heard the lock engage.
“You poor thing,” an unfamiliar voice with a strange accent spoke. Someone large sat next to him on the bed. “Let me see what that little girl did to you.”
And competent hands took his face and turned his head up. He tried to peer through the white light but could only discern very large eyes peering at him.
“Just a broken nose—I was way overdue,” Stacey said, gagging a bit as blood washed down the back of his throat.
“Shhh,” she said, soothing her fingers along his nose—oooh, it felt wonderful. Such hands. “This should never have happened to you, Beloved. Maully is here, Beloved, Maully is here now.”
That was odd, Maully—he didn’t know who the hell she was, but there was something familiar about her, something utterly peaceful. Yes, the white light of pain in his nose receded, and the pounding in his head abated. He felt like something important, right now, had just occurred, one of those life-changing moments. He struggled to see her face through the pain but he was practically blind.
“Lie back, Beloved, I can fix this. This is no trouble,” the soothing voice with the odd accent whispered.
Stacey fell back, exhausted. He had yet to recover from his recent poisoning, and now, this trauma of Seven’s outburst, and he was done in. The broken snout didn’t help, not such a very much. Oh yeah, he wasn’t going to survive this. Just let him die, please, just let me die. Die, monster, die!
“Maully is here for you Stacey, Beloved,” she breathed, bodily moving him about on the bed, easily stretching him out. And then she covered his body with hers.
What the hell kind of nurse was this?
He opened his eyes, startled, and was overwhelmed by the closeness of her face, the strangest and most beautiful face he had ever seen, all cheekbones and eyes. She placed her mouth upon his mouth and he opened it to object, but then she was kissing him, and he felt his whole body was absorbed into her body, his entire being collected inside her. Underwater, outer space, floating in a vacuum, he expanded and contracted, moving in and out, hardly there at all.
Light filled him. He spun up high in the air, twirling about, his stomach remaining far below and he gasped, spiraling, higher and higher, colors flooding his vision—no, not his eyes—colors he had never seen before pervaded his entire soul, he washed, flooding, crying out, turning inside-out, outside-in, contracting and expanding, and rising, ever rising. Wind blew, loud, and louder, a maelstrom of screaming, shrieking winds. He spun through a wall of red, red deep and immersive, ruby, crimson, and then he tumbled into orange, pumpkins and sunsets and sherbet, and yellow, the sun, corn, childhood candy, his body alongside someone else, they gripped and held, and they whirled into a cyan, and then blue, deepest blue, and finally purple, darker and darker purples. He was riding the rainbow.
He was a little boy, and Maully was there, the little girl with the long face, and the black hair that cascaded about her body. Her big eyes, always watching him. They played, and chased each other. He knew Maully, his best friend, for years, and years, they adventured, gossiped, and planned. Wolf told her stories, and she listened, enthralled. You tell the best stories, Beloved, she ever told him. She was so serious, and he was the one always trying to loosen her up, make her laugh, because her laughter was so rich, it thrilled him, fingers drawn across the piano strings of his soul, her laughter, her sparkling eyes.
When they were older Wolf realized how beautiful she was, and for a time he was embarrassed around her, awkward whenever he looked at her, but she was always Maully, ever drawing him out of himself, like no one else could. They were best friends, and he ached to tell her that he loved her, had always loved her, and would ever love her. She was his Maully, but he knew that to her, he was just the orphan boy, her best friend, her playmate from childhood. The commoner who told stories and protected her from the Lordlings.
He was the orphan boy, passed from household to household, bestest friends with the Dragon Princess, his own dear friend Maully. She never treated him as a lowly one, beneath her, but always as her equal. He was a nobody, and she was everything, the highest of the highest, the future Dragon Queen. And he was the boy that was good with his fists, competing in contests with much older boys, and then men.
He saved her life, more than once, because she was too daring, always sneaking about the dragon pens, always leaping from the highest cliff into the smallest stream. She was the brave one, the daring one, and he was ever her protector, pulling her back from the very edge.
And when they were older Wolf watched through the palace windows as she danced with the Dragon Lords, the thin men with their oiled moustaches, whirling her about in her shimmering, close-fitting gown. The young Lords gathering about her, preening in their military whites, full of medals, yearning to dazzle the future Dragon Queen, seeking to impress her, smiling at her words, complimenting her, fawning.
Wolf raged, stalking. He would smash them all, with his fists, for was he not the Pugilist? They all respected him, they all feared him, and yet they all looked down upon him, for he was not highborn. He could only look at the sun of his life, his Maully, but never touch her, lest he be consumed.
And then she was with him, soothing him—those foppish men, they mean nothing to me, Wolf. It is only you. Yes, Beloved, it has always been you. It shall always be thee. Forever thee. They embraced, and finally his mouth was upon hers, and he felt the world flow about them, they seemed to be encircled by great winds, yes, it will always be thee, Beloved, always, yes, mine, thou art mine, and I am thine, forever, always. Us, Beloved, forever, us, only us, there is no one else, there are none, there is none, only we.
Love Thee True.
There were arguments, great arguments. The Dragon Queen would never allow it, this mésalliance, never! But Maully was headstrong, and no one else ever talked to the Dragon Queen as did her daughter, the Lady Maulgraul, Princess of Dragons. For wasn’t Wolf the Pugilist of legend? Did he not escape the belly of the beast through prowess and strength?
No, mother, I tell thee, I am not worthy of him, my Wolf, my soul. But he loves me, and I shall never touch another man, only him, the Staceman Colton, it shall ever be him.
And so they married and their lives expanded, as one life, and Wolf was the ever-attentive husband, and Maulgraul the ever-loving wife, they adored each other, and soon there was a child, a son, Dane the strong. And soon another son, Gunnar the bold, and then twin daughters, Shallgrace and Shallfaith. And finally, another daughter, the light of the family, Shalwaian.
When the Vikings attacked it was always Wolf that lead the Dragon Warriors to victory, gathering deep scars on his body, nearly losing a leg in defeating much greater forces, always battling against the odds, always winning, always victorious.
Queen Maulgraul never repented her mésalliance to her legendary lover, the Pugilist. They grew old together and watched their children grow.
They suffered tragedy when Dane the bold rode out upon a dragon to meet the Viking raiders, and was slain by a treacherous arrow, fired by his own men, striking him in the back of the neck where his armor was open. And they knew not how they survived this death of their favorite son, the handsome man who so looked like his father.
And when their youngest daughter wished to marry her cousin, the strong and handsome Vicenti Dulance, son of the Lord Dulance of High Vale and the Lady Varrashallaine, they held the great marriage in the palace, and Six was there, smiling, embracing Wolf, and they discussed the long-ago days when Stacey had first come to High Vale, defeating these his own people that night, saving Six and his beautiful wife Varra. Varra, who had lived many years more, strengthened by White Champagne, dying during the birth of Vicenti, the boy now grown and married here today to Stacey’s daughter Shalwaian.
The two friends puzzled over their memories, for Wolf had come here as an adult, as Stacey Colton, brought through a portal, and yet he remembered all of his boyhood, in the Dragonlands, growing into a young man alongside the Lady Maulgraul.
Wolf, Stacey Colton, lived a long life, full of great and mighty deeds, but he grew old, and sat in the sun of the palace terrace, and Queen Maulgraul stood behind him, weaving her long fingers through his white hair, and Stacey breathed his last, expiring, full of love, and Queen Maulgraul retired from ruling, devastated by the loss of her one true love, and many were the nights the peoples saw her shrouded, floating through the mists, haunting the grave of the Pugilist.
Stacey opened his eyes, groaning, his head swimming. He felt like he was dying. But his mind rebelled, because he had died, an old man, and where was Maully? He glanced wildly about the room, throbbing in pain.
“Shhh, rest easy, friend, rest easy, Wolf,” a man said, sitting near him on the edge of the bed.
Stacey blinked in wonder, because it was his dear old friend, the Lord of High Vale, Dulance. Six! But he was young again, hale and strong. The last time they had sat together, smoking cigars and quaffing White Wolf Stout (six had brought barrels of the brew named after Wolf, as a wedding gift), the man was old, white-haired, and stooped. Now here he was again, looking as strong as he had the day Stacey burst out of the manor to greet the raiding Dragon Warriors.
“What’s going on?” Stacey groaned, his whole body afire. His groin, particularly, ached, and throbbed. He smelled blood, and he vomited, retching, pouring out his entire insides in a gout of guts and blood and sour bile. “Where’s Maully?”
“It is even as I said,” Varra said, from the doorway. She was smiling, beaming at Stacey.
“Oh damn it, damn it all, I knew it,” Six grunted, shaking his big, shaggy head. “As soon as she pulled up stakes and fled the Great House, I knew she had pulled some such trick! She meshed him, didn’t she?”
“Yes, even so,” Varra said. “But remember, Husband, it is how I bonded with thee. I caught hold of you, and you never let me go!”
Despite himself, Six smiled up at his wife. There was no denying that, he had never been sorry for the soul mesh he shared with Varrashallaine, his wife. It’s true, their lives were very different from the dream they dreamed, but he could never wish for anything other than this woman, and their life together.
“What’s going on?” Stacey demanded. He felt like he was being pulled apart and put back together in all the wrong ways. Someone had put his head where his belly should go, and mixed up his arms with his legs. His lungs seemed to be strapped to his back. “Where’s my wife, where’s Maully?”
“Seven was called away,” Six said. “And apparently Maulgraul slipped in as soon as the way was clear, and she meshed you. I’m sorry, Stacey, but in the long run, you won’t be sorry. But Maulgraul left in the middle of the night, apparently right after draining you.”
“Draining me,” Stacey groaned, “what’s that supposed to mean?”
“I mean you won’t be able to walk for a week. You’ve just had the most intense lovemaking you will ever experience, even if you live to be a hundred years old, and I mean a hundred years old with all bionic parts!”
Stacey didn’t like the way Six was chuckling, like this was all some kind of joke. Damn it all, his wife couldn’t just leave him like that, fleeing in the night!
“My sister, the Lady Maulgraul, has chosen you, Pugilist. She knew you the moment she first saw you. She has been waiting for you her entire life,” Varra said, and Stacey noticed the woman was no longer on death’s door, she looked hale, and gorgeous, and sparkling with life.
“For better or worse, till death do you part,” concluded Six.
“And she...left? Where did she go?” Stacey demanded, trying to sit up. Six pushed him back down upon the bed.
“Back to our lands, to the palace, hundreds of leagues away,” Varra said, eyes sparkling.
“I’m going after her,” Stacey said, and began to sit up again, but again Six pushed him down, and they struggled, and Six laughed out loud.
“I told you, Husband,” Varra said. “They will not be kept apart. Much like you and I.”
“You’re sure a strong thing,” Six said. “I was a dead man, pretty much literally, for an entire week after my soul mesh.”
Varra came forward with a glowing orb or purest light in her hand.
Stacey blinked. It was bright, the thing in her hand, and it took his eyes many moments to adjust before he discerned a glass of bubbling liquid. It looked like liquid light, as the brightness emanated from the pale drink.
“Drink this, but slowly,” Varra said, offering Stacey the glass.
“Yes, slowly,” Six said, licking his lips, looking with a peculiar hunger at the glass in his wife’s hand.
Stacey took the glass, and sipped. His body flooded with fire, good fire, calming, soothing, and it felt as if his muscles actually grew about him, swelling with power, his head clearing for the first time in what seemed years.
“Holy—” Stacey began, in wonder, but then glanced to Varra. “I mean, wow, that’s some good bubbly.”
“White Champagne,” Varra said, proudly. “From far away.”
“Do you think I might—” Six began, reaching for the glass in Stacey’s hand.
“Husband!” Varra chided. “We’ve talked about this. It is not for you.”
Stacey sipped more of the delicious nectar, and his vision improved, all the aches in his body diminished, and he felt a new sense of purpose flood his soul. He was off to chase down his wife—they had been separated too long. He needed her. He needed to touch her. He ached for her.
“Calm down, you besotted Wolf, you’re getting a boner,” Six snapped.
Stacey blinked at him, drawing the covers close about him, and then burst into laughter.
“I’m married, I can’t believe it!” he snorted. “It’s like the High Vale version of Las Vegas.”
“Las Vegas,” Six breathed, savoring the name with wonder. “That place was destroyed by a nuclear bomb, years ago. And then there was the Great Earthquake, and then the volcano. And the plagues. And then—”
“—really?” Stacey interrupted, unconcerned, sipping at the White Champagne. “Must have been the wrath of God.”
Six recollected. “Right, that’s right, it was long after your time, Stacey my good man.”
“Hey,” Stacey said, looking queerly at Six, “do you remember, when we were old men? At the marriage?”
Six looked thunderstruck. “Yes! My boy, Vicenti! And your daughter, Shalwaian!”
He was looking about himself, as if he expected the happy couple to come strolling in, the grandkids giggling and laughing about them.
Stacey hunched in the covers, finishing the last of the White Champagne. Despite the wondrous feelings of strength and vitality flooding him, he felt very sad, remembering his old age, and death, and his sad Queen Maulgraul, hovering over his tomb. Such a life, such a life, such a life.
“That was all real, wasn’t it?” he breathed, tears forming at the corners of his eyes.
“I remember all of that, too,” Varra said, wiping at her own eyes. “I died in childbirth.”
“We all remember it. That’s the magic of a soul mesh, it shows you the future,” Six said, sadly.
“A future, not the future,” Varra corrected. “And it allows us to experience the life we might have lived, and should have lived.”
“Kind of like Destiny, only in reverse,” Six said, blinking, lost in his own recollections of a time that had not yet happened, and perhaps never would, at least not exactly as they had once lived it, long ago.
Stacey remembered Dane, his boy, carrying him about the palace. It had always been difficult to separate them. His dear, sweet little boy. Laughing Dane, the kid was always laughing, always smiling, such a good soul. And he remembered when he brought Dane home, pulled upon the litter behind his own horse, the still, quiet Dane, handsome and pale, slain by friendly fire. Dane, the Dragonrider, the first in many generations.
“Well, I’ve got to go,” Stacey said. “Let Jack and the boys know where I’ve gone. Maybe you could pull together a small packet of food and water for me, I’ll be travelling light.”
“I’ll come with you,” Six said.
“No, I had best meet up with my wife, alone,” Stacey replied, climbing out of the bed, holding the blankets about him. He noticed that Varra was withdrawing from the room, very slowly.
“Fare thee well, Brother,” Varra called from the door.
“Fare thee well, Sister,” Stacey replied easily, grinning at her. He looked at Six and Varra, fondly, his in-laws.
And a half hour later Stacey loped easily along the ruts left by Maulgraul’s great carriage, his backpack on his back beneath his great cloak, his shillelagh twirling in his left hand.
He didn’t know if he would ever see them again, Jack, and Joshua, Michael, Six and Varra, and...Seven. He thought of Seven, checking his nose. Sure enough, the tell-tale lump was there, where it broke, right in the middle of the bridge of his schnozzle. What might have been, oh that strange, strange girl, and her schizophrenic ways. There was something about her, that Seven, and he just couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was, but there definitely was something about her.
He loped tirelessly, swinging the shillelagh like a propeller before him.
What a world, oh what a world—reality, what a concept.

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Vestigial Surreality by Douglas Christian Larsen

Illustrations by Harrison Christian Larsen, story by Douglas Christian Larsen
© Copyright 2016 Douglas Christian Larsen. Vestigial Surreality. All Rights Reserved by the Author, Douglas Christian Larsen. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited, but please feel free to share the story with anyone, only not for sale or resale. This work is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental (wink, wink).

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