Fetus in Fetu.
The two stood staring at the sleeping encampment, two tall men, but one so tall as to be called a giant. Both men were marvelous physical specimens, with hardly an ounce of excess fat between them. A massive blue moon stood in the sky, bloated and eerie, but beautiful, half of the celestial orb obscured by tall mountains. The men stood staring, looking away from the encampment on the plain and up, blinking at the moon. For many moments they stood staring at the strange blue moon. Finally, the giant looked down at the smaller man and smiled.
“I am remembering, everything,” he said. “It is coming back. Mostly. Or different versions.”
The other man did not look up at him, but turned his eyes away from the moon and looked across at the distant fire, and then could not look away from the encampment.
“This is High Vale,” the giant said. “Was it a game I used to play? I remember, but no, I seem to remember...or I...forget. It was a different life. But that doesn’t make any sense.”
The shorter man lifted his finger to his lips, glancing up at the giant.
The giant, grinned, nodding effusively, holding his hands over his mouth. It seemed they had been through this drill before, or something similar, maybe in another life. He remembered his real life, or his old life, or his life just before going through that circle of light. He remembered two circles of light, the first one—was it sparkling green? Or blue? But the one they just passed through—how long ago had that been? A year ago? A lifetime passed? A lifetime past? Or had it only been a few seconds ago? Or maybe he was only remembering moons, two moons, here, in this world. Wasn’t there another moon, here? Not in the sky right now, but a much smaller moon...? That was right wasn’t it?
“I am lying right over there, by that large fire,” Stacey Colton said, pointing to the fire and figures sprawled around it, only fifty yards away. “I can feel me. I am dying. Right now. That is why she brought me here, for this. To save me. To save us. So that I can finally die.”
“Let’s see, I remember, Stacey? Yes, Stacey. That’s a girl’s name, you know. But, Stacey I don’t know what you are talking about, man, you are talking crazy,” Joshua Bouwer said, doing his best to keep his voice at a whisper, but even at that volume, he was speaking louder than most men shouted in the act of losing their temper. A dog barked in camp. “It seems you are standing right here, not lying over there.”
“Joshua, please,” Stacey said, without looking away from the encampment.
“Sorry, I’m sorry, I forget,” Joshua guffawed, covering his large mouth with his extremely large hands.
Not looking away from the fire Stacey reached up and patted him on the arm.
“Why are we standing out here naked?” Joshua said, in his normal voice, hurting Stacey’s ears, it was that loud.
Several dogs barked in the camp.
“I guess I better go in,” Stacey said, talking as if in his sleep. “I better go before you bring the whole encampment awake and get us killed before I can get to me.”
“I don’t want to go in there naked,” Joshua said, stage-whispering, keeping it just quiet enough that no dogs answered in the night.
“Wait right here, and after I’ve talked to them, I’ll call for you, or send someone out with a blanket, or some clothes, though I doubt they will have anything that will fit you,” Stacey said, walking forward, toward the camp in his somnambulate shuffle.
“Don’t take too long, it’s chilly,” Joshua said, finally remembering to cover his private parts. He hunched over, and shivered. Then he glanced to the side. Funny, he didn’t remember that little tree standing right there, ten feet away. In the darkness, the little tree looked beautiful, shimmering, traced in faint silver light. And a very large fruit dangling there, nice as you please, right on the edge of the tree’s slender foliage, plump and juicy-looking, right there. How nice, free fruit, kind of fruity welcome basket. Welcome to High Vale.
Joshua distantly remembered something about this, but what? His mouth watered. The fruit looked like a pear, but kind of boxy, lumpy, kind of like a mango, or even a pineapple, but it looked good, no, it looked...good. The fruit looked...warm. He shivered, and took a step toward it, his arm automatically lifting. But he stopped, and looked out, and he remembered tall grasses waving slowly in the breeze, a beautiful day, and for a moment it was as if he looked upon that bright daylight now, but even so, it was the middle of the night, and it was chilly, and he was hungry, poor Joshua was always hungry, and there was what looked like a juicy pear, hanging right there, just two steps, and done. Boom, pear gone, in Joshua’s belly, that is all it would take. But why did he feel a twinge of...warning? There was the invitation, a memory of sugary juice filling his mouth, but also that cloudy warning circling his head. He moaned, softly, and took another step, fingers twitching, hands raising.
Stacey strode forward in the moonlight, his eyes heavy-lidded, not noticing the sharp rocks poking his feet with each step. He aimed toward the fire and walked directly in that direction, stumbling over rises in the land, but he knew that just over there is where he was supposed to be. This was his destiny.
Everything he had lived up until this moment, it was for now. In this glowing blue light, he would finally meet his fate, thank God, oh thank God, this was such a better choice. He had been right on the point of making that grim decision, the one he never wanted to make, but was always drawn toward, the very choice that seemed inevitable.
He had not had a particularly pleasant life. He must have been clinically depressed, but he had never thought to ever talk to anyone about it. His life had been a slow, steady sadness, with short, crisp periods of sharp, jagged...almost grief. That probably wasn’t the right word. But that’s what it felt like, mourning, as if he constantly wept (without actually crying, he rarely wept) for something missing in his life. The sadness, the grief, it was all on the inside, buried deep, permeating every aspect of his sad life.
He felt that the best part of him was absent, that he knew it was there, that it existed, if only somewhere, but it had never been with him—it should have been with him, it was meant to be there, but it never was. And he had absolutely no idea, throughout his life, what these thoughts meant, but he always thought these thoughts. He always missed...something. He always longed for that someone, himself.
It was almost as if he knew he had a twin brother, out there somewhere in the world. They had been separated at birth. Sometimes, in dreams, he felt he caught snatches of that other life force, that other him, his twin, little glimpses of that other, better life, that happier person. Sometimes the miniature visions were so distinct, so clear, poor Stacey felt as if he might be going crazy, or had always been insane, seeing things in his head. For there was always a movie running in his head, and the hero of this movie was his other him, his missing twin, and that guy was like Indiana Jones, or a courageous Henry Rider Haggard protagonist, journeying, adventuring, fighting, and loving. The missing twin was a full man, whereas Stacey was only the shadow of a man.
In his youth, Stacey had toyed with the idea of becoming a boxer, he had even trained for it, but then he had dropped all of the practice, the whole idea, in his early twenties, because that dark premonition of hitting someone, striking another person—Stacey just never wanted to do that. It was too much. But he had such clear images sometimes, of fighting in the ring. He could almost feel his fists pummeling, crushing, driving an opponent down. He felt the incoming blows, sometimes, knocking him back, smashing into his left eye, and he could feel the ground rising, the floor striking him, and that electric cushion of non-feeling. And he decided that it must be the twin. The twin had become a boxer, while Stacey had stuck to his art.
Stacey had never even had a girlfriend. Oh he wanted one, desperately—he yearned for true love. But he felt that there was just too much of himself missing. In all his thirty years of life, he had never gone on a date. He was the thirty-year-old virgin.
And now he was here, in High Vale, a new world where anything was possible, and he is marching toward his destiny, where he will finally be made whole. The two pieces of him will now come together.
He thinks of the three creatures, his tormentors, left behind in the other world. And he smiles, marching in the night, feet moving him toward that fire, where he will finally know what he has always known. Before, it had been a fancy, but now he strides toward reality.
He had cast off the dark trinity, the jack-in-the-box nightmare, Bloody Marty, and Hissin’ Lewin, Sewey the slimer, and he smiles in the dark, drawn as a moth to the flame. He is free of the dark world. Yes, he realizes he had met all these grim creatures before, in other carnations, other bestial forms, sometimes Bloody Marty had been Bloody Mary, but just as ambiguous in gender, and sometimes Sewey was a very piggy man, or at least a little more manlike. But Hissin’ Lewin was never anything but the genderless thing.
“I am really free,” he says, not feeling the chill of the night.
Dogs answer him, rushing forward, snarling and barking, baying, but when they half-encircle him, they suddenly smell him and turn tail and flee, crying out in whimpering terror, dashing madly away with tails between legs. And Stacey marches forward, feet bleeding, gaze fastened upon the fire, and he is now only a hundred feet away from his destiny.
Small men rise before him, brandishing knives and spears, clubs, but they catch one glimpse of the tall, naked man striding purposefully forward and they fall back, as did their hounds. The naked man glows in the darkness.
“His ghost,” the small, dark men begin to whisper to each other, pointing, drawing away, their teeth chattering in terror. They had come flying from their bedrolls, from their wives and children, and now here striding amidst them came the terror of their worst nightmares.
“The Pugilist’s ghost! The Pugilist’s ghost!”
And now Stacey stood at the fire, the world whirling about him. He gasped for breath. He thought he must be suffering another asthma attack, but this was something else. He stands at the edge of the fur bed, pelts spread out before the fire, and the two huddled shapes beneath the fur blankets. One of the shapes is a slim woman, with red hair that shimmers in the firelight.
Stacey stares at her. Doesn’t he know her? Hasn’t he dreamed of her?
The red-haired woman snored loudly. And then she suddenly came awake. She half rose and checked on the other shape, beside her, she did it lovingly, stroking the other figure’s hair, and then slowly, she turned her head and looked at Stacey, met his eyes. And she barely managed to suppress her scream, throwing her wrist across her mouth. She sat up, and Stacey saw that she was dressed in some kind of slippery black catsuit, like spandex, or silk—no, that was not it, strangely, that seemed to be her skin. And he noticed that, uncannily, she was not fully human. She looked like a living doll. Lovely. Beautiful, haunting, and she stared at him as if he were a ghost.
“Emily,” Stacey breathed.
“Stacey?” she said, and then glanced to the form beside her. She bent over the figure, leaning close, placing her face upon the other’s, and then she sighed.
“Oh, I thought, just for a moment, that you had—” But she cut off, and sat up again, pulling the furs up about her neck.
Then a strange shape came scuttling over the furs, right across the two figures beneath the blankets, and rose up on its hind legs. Stacey started, his eyes widening, feeling surprise for the first time since he had come through that glowing portal.
“Michael?” he breathed, knowing the creature, despite its size and shape and appearance.
The creature came forward then and it was the most natural thing in the world to catch it up in his embrace as it launched forward, and Stacey laughed with all his heart, as the little meerkat man hugged him about the neck, chittering. Little winks of light shot out from the little man and circled him briefly like fireflies.
“You are well! Stacey, you are well!” Michael chittered, his cold little nose nestling against Stacey’s neck.
“I’m fine,” Stacey said, still laughing, noticing that others were gathering about the fire, it seemed hundreds of silent shapes, drawing close. For the first time in his life, he was free, he was okay, and the air rushed forward to greet him, to fill him. “And Joshua is here, too, we can send for him.”
“No, no,” Michael chittered, drawing back in Stacey’s arms, peering into his eyes. “I’m sorry, Stacey, but Joshua has died.”
“I know, I know,” Stacey said, head spinning. He felt dizzy, because all of this was so familiar, and yet, so entirely strange. He knew everything while knowing absolutely nothing. “But he’s back, it is Joshua, only different, younger, and taller, if you can believe it.”
“That is not possible,” Michael said, taking on a strange blue glow, very much like the color of the blue moon.
“It was the little girl, I forget her name, but she came and got me and Joshua. She said something about breaking rules and getting to Joshua through me, and then she took us to the park where it says Jack on the tree, and we opened up a portal, and just came through—or I don’t know exactly when it happened, years ago or just now, or maybe it hasn’t happened yet.”
“I have not met this little girl, but I have heard plenty of stories,” Michael said. “Please, take me to him. Take me to Joshua.”
Just then there was a terrible scream, ringing through the night. The whole encampment, which had begun to hum with excitement and fear, suddenly went quiet. The shrieking scream went on and on and was the terrified bellow of someone with incredibly powerful lungs. There was no mistaking that loud, irritating voice. But nobody had ever heard Joshua scream like that—possibly no one in the history of the world, or any world, had ever screamed like that.
Starting, Stacey turned and looked out at the night, eyes wide in shock.
“I know that voice! It is him!” Michael cried in a furious chitter.
“Oh shit!” Stacey barked, “I forgot, it’s the tree, the fruit, the High Vale initiation! In the belly of the beast!”
“The Great Serpent,” Michael chittered, leaping from Stacey’s arms, and he opened up great flaps beneath his arms and soared up into the air, out into the night, looking like an illuminated bat, leaving a trail of sparkling moon dust behind him that slowly dissipated and dissolved.
Out in the moonlight, a very tall shape sped furiously, pumping its long arms and legs, and something tremendous, just behind the fleeing shape, gave pursuit. Incredibly, the bellowing scream went on and on. There may have been a pause in there for breath, but it didn’t sound like it.
Someone threw a blanket over Stacey’s shoulders, and he looked to see Emily standing next to him, looking almost as naked as himself in her shiny black catsuit skin. At moments she seemed entirely human, but in the next instant she seemed completely inhuman. It hurt Stacey’s brain, looking at her.
“What’s going on?” she asked, doing her best to not look at him as he arranged the blanket over his neck and shoulders to best cover his body.
“It looks like Joshua ate the High Vale fruit—again. He should have known better, as he’s been here before. Except,” he said, thoughtfully, shaking his head, “he has never really been here before, just like me, but it seems as if we have. I don’t know why I didn’t see the fruit, like I did before, when my...other me was here. I, I mean he, chose to stand and fight.” It surprised Stacey, remembering that, as he would have never faced that monster snake. He would have run, and he was not the best runner in the world, especially when the asthma kicked in, and nowadays, the gout. He flexed his feet, remembering the terrible gout pains jabbing up through his ankles, his swollen feet, and now, other than the cuts on the bottoms of his feet from strolling barefoot through the High Vale world, his feet felt wonderful, no trace of swelling or arthritic anguish.
“Whoever is out there,” Emily said, “they are running like the wind.”
“I see you, Pugilist!” thundered a terrible voice above Stacey’s head, he whirled, blanket flapping, to stare up into the gruesome visage of a terrible creature.
“Crood,” Stacey babbled, body going rigid in shock.
“I see you!” Crood said, still marked with that tell-tale bump the size of a goose egg in the center of his forehead, the giant pointed three massive index fingers at Stacey, and he certainly looked angry, but there was something else showing in that massive slab of pale face, something like...joy—and then the monster blinked and looked down by the fire. “I see you Pugilist!”
The crooden warrior giant glanced with puzzlement between the standing Stacey, and the figure under the furs. “I see you Pugilist, there! I see you Pugilist, there!” Comically, the monster kept looking back and forth, jabbing the fingers on his right hands at Stacey, and stabbing the fingers on his left hands at the figure under the furs.
“It is okay, Crood,” Emily said, “it is Stacey, he’s here to help—Stacey.”
The six-armed giant monster looked back and forth between Stacey and Emily, blinking his great bulbous eyes, puzzling over her words.
“What?” belched Crood, staring at the little woman automaton, incredulously.
“Oh I don’t know what I’m saying,” she sighed, cuddling in close to Stacey, wrapping an around his waist, and then she suddenly pushed him away as if he had pinched her on the butt. “I’m sorry, I don’t know what I’m thinking.”
“It’s okay,” Stacey mumbled, blushing as if he had actually pinched her on the butt. He would never do that, of course, although the image of taking up great handfuls of her, yes, those images were present, and he was grateful for the blanket to cover himself. It had felt like heaven when she put her arm about him and cuddled in close. In truth, even standing close to her was making him light in the head—yes, Joshua was out there, running from a nightmare, but Stacey couldn’t help but swoon with Emily near him, in that catsuit skin. He felt terrible about it, but there it was.
Joshua ran past, apparently circling in closer, giving the serpent a good chase, from the sound of it (and at some time in the past few moments he had ceased screaming to concentrate more fully on sprinting). Michael soared past ten feet above the ground leaving bursts of light beneath him, seemingly doing a carpet bombing between the fleeing Joshua and the pursuing god of this world. He must be trying to distract the monster from devouring poor Joshua, newly born into this world, and now facing—this. Then they heard the passage of the serpent’s massive body, undulating in the night, some of the powerful coils sliding perilously close to the camp in passing.
“Who come!” shouted Crood, striding forward to stand just before Stacey and Emily, facing out where the horror hunt progressed. The crooden warrior flexed all the great muscles of his many arms and his massive torso, and he roared a challenge into the night. There were not many creatures in existence that would not feel cowed by that roar.
“I might not want to be challenging what’s out there,” said a small man with a bulbous nose as he strode into the firelight to stand near Stacey. Stacey recognized one of the Men from Mars, except that he was different, this was not one of them, not exactly, but enough that Stacey received flash images from another world. A mass of feathers stood up and all over the little man’s head like hair, and flashed iridescent in the firelight.
“Shut it,” Crood snarled, glowering back at the little man. And he roared his challenging bellow again, throwing back his bulbous head, with what appeared to be more than half his head cracking open to issue the roar. That mouth opened larger than any lion could have managed. It was the kind of mouth that could shred a large male lion into pieces, with only a few bites.
Stacey winced and Emily threw her hands over her ears.
And then Joshua came pelting into the firelight—he looked like a naked professional basketball player, thin, lithe, and furious—charging directly at Crood, who suddenly smiled delightedly and cast wide all his arms.
“Doggy!” Crood bellowed, and Joshua threw himself forward into that monstrous embrace, and Crood swung the giant man about—Joshua looked like a plush stuffed toy in the crooden warrior’s arms.
But then the serpent came.
All the Mars folk—they were like rough gypsies, and blackguard highwaymen—threw themselves face down, except for the few that fell like victims of poleax backward. The ground rumbled, and it sounded like the approach of a diesel freight train.
Stacey, otherworldly memories flashing, crouched down, his fists up, although he knew this was silly. Emily threw herself backward and covered the sleeper’s body with her own.
The serpent god wyrm, Oros Borealis came shrieking in, furiously loud hissing more piercing than three steam locomotives in Olde London, as it rose up, spreading its great hooded wings, looking like a king cobra, only a hundred times too large, its face split wide with long fangs extending. It rose twenty feet above the twelve-foot flat crown of Crood’s bald head.
Crood stood cradling Joshua, face slack with terror, and Joshua gripped tightly to Crood’s neck, his eyes clenched shut.
“You would deprive me of my jussssst food, crooden warrior?” the great serpent hissed, swaying hypnotically in the moonlight.
“My doggy,” Crood blubbered, actually leaking tears as he stood before the serpent, shielding Joshua’s body with his own vast back. And with a great gush the poor crooden warrior released his bladder, it boiled down his legs like a burst dam, and flowed into the fire where it sizzled and popped, casting out yellow bellows of steam.
“Your might issss nothing, crooden, before your God of Violence and War,” the serpent hissed, and even its voice paralyzed the assemblage. “I will not assssk you again, turn over my prey.”
“No!” Crood blubbered, crouching down, attempting to hide Joshua’s body with his own. “My doggy! Not food! No eat doggy!”
The snake hissed even more loudly, rearing up for its final, fatal plunge into the meat before it.
“No!” Emily shrieked, and there was Stacey, standing in his briefs, black shillelagh spinning in his hands, the side of his head gory in the moonlight and firelight.
Stacey, newly arrived in this world, gawked at his doppelganger veteran, and was able to see the man’s skull glinting red in the light of the campfire, the eye gone on that side of his head, the bone of the eye socket glaring and hollow.
“You will not harm Joshua, my friend,” Stacey said, his one good eye glaring, teeth set in a rictus snarl.
“Ahhhh, Pugilisssssst,” Oros Borealis hissed, suddenly contracting his hood, lowering his face to more closely examine his favored one. “What have you done to yoursssssself?”
“Believe it or not, it was my wife,” Stacey said. Emily, standing at his side, propping him up from behind, snorted.
“Yessssss, that one,” Oros Borealis hissed, now sounding conversational, and almost friendly. “Although if I am not misssstaken, sssssshe wasssss not quite your choicssssssse, wasssss sssssshe?”
“No, I guess you could say she pretty much raped me,” Stacey said, actually chuckling. “And then she tried to murder me.”
“Ssssshe believesssss herssssself a god, and attemptsssss to wresssst thissss world from me. Ahhhh, and what issssss thisssssss...?” the serpent hissed with interest, looking from the wounded Stacey to the healthy, younger model of the exact same man.
“The little girl brought me here,” Stacey said. “To save him. And to save me. And to save Joshua, as well.”
“Ahhhh, Manda, that little wretch who meddlessssss in my world,” Oros Borealis hissed. “But I ssssssee what sssssshe mussssst have planned, and perhapssss sssshe countssss on a little cooperation from me.”
“You and I have an understanding,” Stacey said, now flagging, and it became more and more obvious that Emily, holding him from behind, was the only reason he was yet upright.
“Ahhh, Pugilissssssst, do not misssstake me, I love thee, little heart of fire, but I owe thee nothing. Our accountsssss are long sssssettled. In fact, when I consssssumed the Vikingssssss, that was a little bonussssss, to show my affection, for thee, and only thee, Pugilissssst.”
Michael came soaring in to land on Crood’s shoulder, and he stood tall (relatively), holding onto the giant’s ear hole to steady himself.
“Another one, yet another one that eluded me! I would sssssuppose that the young blassssphemer, Jack, wasssss pressssent, ssssave that I know he issss sssssafe from me on another world. But I weary of thissss, and thosssse thingssss the meddlerssss touch, Maulgraul and Manda. I will leave thee, Pugilisssst, but I cannot refrain from blesssssing thee again, Beloved. Enter the pool, Pugilisssst, with the doppelganger, and after, invite anyone elssssse that issss brave enough, or foolisssssh to enter with you. But be warned, anyone entering my ssssssacred pool ssssshall be changed.”
And the serpent, amazingly, bent back on itself and began to vanish, its vast body following in undulation.
The crowd of highwaymen sprawled upon the ground cried out as one and scrambled away as a great mouth appeared in the soil near the campfire, the ground withdrawing like living flesh to reveal a glimmering water source, opening wider and wider, extending and expanding. A great shining water flowed in that opening crevasse, a pool opening further until it actually swallowed the campfire in a great hissing mass of steam, revealing itself in the shape of a vast eye, thirty-five feet or more across from corner to corner, perhaps fifteen feet across at its middle.
Stacey, the doppelganger, went to the wounded version of himself, the self he had always known existed, somewhere in some other time and world, and he took up his wasted self in his arms, lifting him quite easily, and moved away from Emily.
“What are you going to do?” Emily demanded, walking by his side, pushing her fingers through the wounded man’s hair. The barely breathing Stacey blinked at her with his one eye, but he seemed beyond words now, dangling limply in his younger self’s arms.
“It is okay, I remember this part,” Stacey said, nodding to Emily. Then he paused at the very corner of the great eye. He looked back at Emily and smiled. “I am so glad I finally got to meet you. I knew you existed. I always knew it.”
And then Stacey stepped down into the water. It felt as if there might be steps leading down, or something like a ramp, but he strode purposefully into the waters, which were cool, but much warmer than the chilly air. And he looked lovingly at his wounded self, and his eyes welled with tears, for this was the self he always wanted to be.
“I love you,” he told himself.
“I love...” his doppelganger breathed.
They went into the middle of the waters, and Stacey was just able to touch the bottom, on his toes, with the water lapping at his chin, holding Stacey his twin up in his arms, until the bottom of the pool dropped out from beneath him, and the Staceys were sucked down into a whirlpool, bubbling, where there was light, and heat, and they spun faster and faster, Stacey held onto Stacey, until the current ripped them apart, and they flowed, sometimes back to back, other times head to toes, but they bubbled and churned, and the waters sucked them deeper, and deeper, identical twins.
Emily stood at the edge of the bubbling waters, as the surface writhed and frothed, and steam burst like a gasp above the eye, and the whole thing winked, throwing dirt and rocks, and Emily was knocked off her feet, and she tumbled away from the eye, and then came up, and she crouched, readying herself to dive in, to save the men she loved, but Joshua was there, pulling her back, and Michael was there grasping her other arm, and she fought them, at first, but then she calmed as the waters calmed, and the eye again winked, once and slowly, and then it was a pool of glistening waters, and the surface calmed more and became gentle, reflecting the light of the last edge of the blue moon, the Honey Moon.
“Can you see anything?” Joshua said, getting up close to the edge of the pool and peering in. “Should I go in to see if I can find them?”
“Do not,” Michael cautioned, poised over the edge of the water, staring into the dark depths. “If you are to enter, Stacey must invite you. It is what the serpent said.”
“It’s good to see you, brother,” Joshua said, smiling sweetly at the little meerkat man.
“It is good to see you, my brother,” Michael chittered, light emanating from his body.
Dasher came up to the tall man and beamed up at him.
“Dasher!” Joshua burst, hurting every ear present. “I remember you, there at the end! You tried to help me, when we saved Wolf the wolf!”
“Aye, I tried. You were some amazing beastie,” Dasher said, “no offense, giant, no offense!”
“No, I know, I wish I was still the ram dog, I don’t think I ever enjoyed food the way I did then,” Joshua said, grinning joyously, warmly shaking hands with the little highwayman.
Michael scampered up Joshua’s leg and the tall man, wrapped in a blanket, seized the little meerkat man and swung him up to his shoulder. Crood, the crooden warrior giant, stood watchfully over Joshua, smiling down, reaching out one of his monstrous hands, but not quite patting Joshua on the back.
“Did you realize that you are black, Joshua?” Michael chittered.
“Yes, Stacey told me, on the other side, isn’t it wonderful?” Joshua said, bellowing laughter. “I wish I had a mirror. Do I look like Michael Jordan?”
“No, not much,” Michael chittered.
“I am so happy, now,” Joshua giggled. “All my dreams have come true.”
“Yes, you always wished you were black,” Michael chittered.
“Yes, or American Indian, that would have been the best! Ooh, or maybe Chinese, wouldn’t that be cool? Of course, Indians from India are great, do you think they would let me change, like every week or so?”
“I doubt that is how it works,” Michael chittered.
“But don’t you like being a...what exactly are you, Michael?” Joshua said, looking Michael over intently, studying him.
“I do not know. But I am content. I suppose I was a little insulted at first, that the system chose to interpret me this way, that I had no choice in the matter, but honestly, I love raccoons, and meerkats, flying squirrels, and hobbits, and really, all of the light, it is wonderful, plus I love the fireworks, and the soaring from tree to tree, and healing people, and I love it that I don’t have the canes any longer, just these,” he chittered, displaying his drumsticks.
“Can you lay down a beat?” Joshua said, grinning, giggling.
Michael rapped him a couple of times upside the head, and Joshua held up his hands.
“I know, I know,” he said, “not a good time. Maybe after Stacey is back, then we could make some tunes, wouldn’t that be cool?”
Michael rapped him once again, just for good measure, and it actually made an appropriately loud bongo sound.
“Do you think my head is hollow?” Joshua queried, and then bellowed laughter.
“Funny!” Crood bellowed, and their loud irritating voices were oddly matched, and Michael refrained from rapping Joshua upon the head again. He just barely managed to contain the blow.
“How long have they been down in there?” Emily whispered, kneeling at the edge of the pool. The surface was now entirely still. Stars reflected perfectly, but the Honey Moon was now beyond the mountains.
Crood reached down and scooped Joshua up in three of his arms, and plunked Joshua down upon his own shoulder, holding him much the same way that Joshua held Michael, still riding upon Joshua’s shoulder. The meerkat man chittered with mirth, he was actually riding upon the shoulders of giants, upon giants.
“Something is rising,” Michael said, peering into the pool from the great combined heights of both Crood’s and Joshua’s very tall shoulders.
Emily moved back a bit.
A body rose to the surface, face down.
Emily made as if to enter the water.
“Wait!” Michael called from above.
And Stacey lifted his head, slowly, from the waters. He pushed back the wet hair from his face and glanced about wildly for a moment, then stood abruptly so that the water was at about his chest level, and he bent forward and vomited up great gouts of clear water. He finished coughing, clearing his lungs loudly. Then he glanced up and met Emily’s eyes, and he smiled.
It was definitely Stacey, except that he had two good eyes, only with a very large and very deep scar that ran from up in his hairline, down over his forehead, through his left eyebrow, and then down through his cheek all the way to his jawline. But it was Stacey, and it was obvious that he knew Emily.
Stacey reached out his hand to Emily, as all those watching were quiet, not making a sound. Emily grasped his hand and tried to aid him in rising from the waters, but instead he pulled her toward him.
“Join me, Emily Brontë,” Stacey said, and she resisted him, at first, but then, staring deep into his eyes, she allowed herself to be drawn into the waters.
“Remember, Stacey,” she said, “I am but the template of the woman. I am not the woman.”
“Don’t worry, Emily,” he said, “you can breathe under these waters.”
“I’m not worried,” she said, smiling, “as I don’t really need to breathe, Stacey.”
When she was up to her hips he pulled her to him, and he grasped her to him, and their lips met, and slowly, they submerged, and the waters covered them.
“I think we can go now, and rest,” Joshua said. “I’m sure they’ll be fine.”
“Yes,” Michael chittered. “Set out some blankets for them, and build up a fire near the furs again, but perhaps on the other side. We can return in the morning, I think.”
“Funny little people,” Crood said.
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© 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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