It was far more than a perfect day. No, Jack thought, it was more like a little slice of heaven. Lovely, that’s what it was, lovely. The sky was pristine, a pale blue, with only a whisper of high-flying clouds. There was bright sunlight, winking from a lovely cloud, perfectly placed. And the sweetest scent sparkled in the crystal air. Jack felt like screaming, he was so happy. Anne had proposed, and Jack, hell, he couldn’t say no, and today they were getting married. It was true, this Olde London was no Las Vegas, there was no inflatable Elvis standing by to say the words and pronounce you husband and wife, then wail: “Ya ain’t nuttin’ but a houn’ dawg!” But Arthur Conan Doyle was in attendance—apparently prior to anyone in this world getting around to knighting him—as well as Henry Rider Haggard, and that would just have to do, thank you very much. Of course, the actual authors were not attending his wedding to Anne, but their Proxies, puppets that looked and behaved just like their owners, and if their owners so desired, they might recline in their manors, close their eyes, and participate in the festivities (or not, they could and generally allowed their puppets to act the part as fill-in personalities for themselves). A Proxy could stand in as a witness, legally. Jack hardly knew the two gentlemen, but they were long acquaintances of Anne, who had for years run the messenger service between the Looking Glass and the Honey Moon.
Jack did not relish having reminders of Punchinello around, but what could you do, the diabolical genius had provided puppets to all of Olde London, and beyond. You couldn’t walk down the street without tripping over someone’s Proxy, or the omnipresent delivery puppets, messengers, bodyguards, and the gaudy prostitutes. Ubiquitous, that’s what they were. Funny, sad, but ubiquitous. Probably Frankenstein would step in and take over from the missing Punch.
Jack leaned over the balcony and looked down at the gardens. It was nice to take a breather out here—the quaint chapel manor was, well, lovely, as everything seemed to be, but he just needed to be alone for a while, just a short while—and he was amazed at just how lovely Olde London had become, since the demise of the Puppet Master. There was rarely fog anymore, except for a lovely mist in the evening, and Frankenstein’s steam cleanse of the sky seemed to be working, because there was rarely the gagging tinge of smoke in the air, that just a little while ago was all pervasive. Frankenstein was quite the hero of late, rolling out fantastic inventions to ease the burdens of the public, he was now accepted as one of the greatest living men, people were talking about him everywhere.
Ubiquitous. That word, again, ubiquity, it made Jack think of a Philip K. Dick story, one of the weird ones, where you hardly knew what was going on. What was it, Jack thought, realizing it had something to do with ubiquitous. Ubik, that was it! Jack almost called up a Google to go over the book, possibly download it, but lately Anne had done everything possible to keep him from using his—magic. She called it magic. At first he thought she was just joking...
...but something had happened to Anne while in the clutches of Punchinello. She was completely different, in every which way. Sometimes, just sometimes, he felt very odd in her presence. Like he was running through some frantic nightmare, not quite sure of what was going on. All the pounding, all the feverish kissing, her sucking mouth, their sweat, the flashes of images, moaning, and distantly, was that screaming?
It was nice, true, in a way, at least in a way, I mean all the lovemaking was fantastic, Anne had kind of awoken, exploded. She pulled Jack to her, like a vampire, and soon, no matter where they were, they were making love, sometimes very much in public—of course Jack did everything conceivably possible to keep them hidden, behind curtains, just on the other side of couches, and thankfully the small episodes were over very quickly, unlike their times in the hotel, which went on and on and on.
Up until their escape from Punch, Jack had been a virgin, well, practically a virgin, there was the thing with Anne in the Looking Glass. The...clenching, that had been wonderful, surprising and shocking, utterly unexpected, but it wasn’t sex, not exactly.
Last night as Anne snuggled in bed, singing—she was always singing—Jack stared at the ceiling, and felt, well, weird. He couldn’t explain it. It was like he just couldn’t get comfortable. He felt all blocky, almost as if he were made of wood. He had suddenly broached the subject of Anne’s clenching, as she had not repeated that practice, not once in the entire week since they had made their escape. But she just stared at him. Maybe she suffered memory loss, as Jack did, himself. He could barely dredge up memories from his time in the iron cage, sometimes he wondered if all of that were some dream, hardly a nightmare. He seemed to remember Stacey putting in an appearance, but hadn’t that all been fever dreams?
It didn’t matter. That’s what he told himself. Because they had won. They were victors. Now they were free.
But whenever Jack brought up the...before, their earlier time together, Anne always responded the same way.
“Let us not talk about that,” Anne said, and began to fondle him. He almost told her to stop. Sure, he loved this stuff that she kept unleashing upon him. But sometimes it just got to be too much. Just too much. She was always...at him, fondling, biting, sucking, and moaning. At first he thought it was just all part of the recovery process, for she had obviously been subjected to worse things than had he, and so he didn’t want to remind her of any of that, and so he kept holding his tongue, but she would not stop withholding her tongue, and every other part of her body, her being—she loved him completely, in every way she could imagine. He kind of felt sick about the whole thing, or at least some of the things she did, and made him do, well, everything, as if he had gone from being a virgin to a nonstop porn star. Yes, it was nice, as he didn’t think of...things...while they were...at it.
As Anne drifted into sleep, the night before their wedding, Jack had sprawled awake, conflicted, and uneasy. He heard night birds singing just outside the window. Yes, yes, they were lovely, the night birds, this hotel—lovely, lovely, lovely. That word kept popping up. Everything was lovely. Lovely was...ubiquitous.
He had crept out of bed and gone to the window seat. He sat and moved aside the curtains and stared out at the night. There was a minimalistic fog lying over the city, but it was—no, no, he would not think that it was lovely. Damn it, he thought the word even as he swore he wouldn’t. Yes, yes, everything was lovely, even going to the bathroom was lovely. They had these lovely French devices that actually washed you while you went. Lovely. Even that, everything.
He caught movement below, something flashing white in the night, just below on the lovely manicured lawns. He almost laughed. It looked like a large bunny rabbit, hopping through the night. At first he thought of Easter, but then he naturally thought of Alice, and the white rabbit. Then he caught a voice, an eerie child’s sing-song voice, wafting up from below. Was there a little lost street child down there? The city was making true headway in saving the lost children, finding them homes, and love. But that did sound like a child, singing. It brought gooseflesh to Jack neck and back. His hackles rose. Jack pushed open the window and leaned out over the window seat. Three floors below a shape huddled. That’s where the singing originated.
“...is all our life then, but a dream,” wafted the high-pitched eerie voice. Yes, yes, the singing was lovely, he thought, getting the ubiquitous word out of the way. The singing was eerie, but lovely. “Ever drifting down the stream, lingering, lingering in the golden dream...”
Jack felt like calling out, but he didn’t, he just sat there, body distended, stretched out over the cushions of the window seat, his neck upon the sill, and stared down, trying to resolve what he was seeing below.
“Is all our life then, but a dream,” the voice sang, “seen faintly in the golden gleam, athwart time’s dark resistless stream?”
Okay, that seemed familiar, was it a poem from an Alice book? He glanced back at the bed where Anne reclined, rumpled in the covers. He could just make out her—lovely—snoring. Sheesh, even her snoring was lovely. Yes yes yes, everything is lovely, okay? My bowel movements are lovely, okay?
He called up a window and did a quick Google: Is all our life then but a dream seen faintly in the golden gleam—and was not surprised to find hits on Lewis Carroll, but it wasn’t Alice in Wonderland or Through the Looking Glass, but something he had never heard of, Sylvia and Bruno.
Then his eyes were drawn away from the search window by movement below, something went charging across the lawn, and yes, it did indeed look like a white rabbit—a jack rabbit, a hare—except the thing was not running on all fours like any bunny should, but in full charge, running on two legs, just like a human, but smaller than a child, or thinner, scrawnier than a child, and far, far too swift.
Whatever it was, it scared him, and he drew the window closed, and moved the curtains back in place. It was like, yes, he had just seen the White Rabbit, pelting away in the night, the anthropomorphic bunny from Lewis Carroll. Hadn’t he even seen it check its pocket watch? Was it wearing a vest?
A jack rabbit, think about that. A Jack...Rabbit.
“Jack,” Anne called from the bed, “you are not doing...magic...again, are you?”
He closed his search window, guiltily. But she couldn’t see what he was doing. How in the world had she known? Yes, out of habit he had called up a search window—he kept reminding himself that he didn’t need to do that, it could all be done in his head—but Anne always seemed to sense it, regardless of his method. He tiptoed to the bed and placed his hand comfortingly upon one of her legs—and snatched back his hand. What in the world? The thing beneath the covers felt stiff and hard, as if Anne had brought a cricket bat to bed and stashed it toward the foot of the bed.
He went around to his side of the bed and stood there in the dark. His heart hammered in his breast. What in the world was going on, he kept thinking it, ubiquitously, like lovely, what in the world is going on, what in the world is going on, what in the world is going on.
“I need you Jack, please get into bed, please, I so need you,” she crooned.
Damn it, he was raw, sore, he couldn’t just keep doing this. Sex was good, he loved it, and for a few days that’s all he could do and think about, but come on. Twice a day was great, and three, four times was...lovely. Yes, yes, she would provide various oils and lotions that soothed him, and made him feel good, and whole, and yes, would call him back to attention, but come on, enough was enough, wasn’t it? Seven times in a day, every day, wasn’t that enough? Could it ever be enough? Couldn’t it be enough? Did they have to do it constantly?
He wanted to turn up the gas lamp beside the bed, but he was afraid of what he would see there, lying in the bed, reaching out to him—perhaps a wooden arm extended, the wooden hands reaching toward him, wooden digits...clacketing...for him. If he turned up the gas, right now, would he see one of Punchinello’s featureless artist puppets, posed awkwardly in the bed, its faceless head, rising toward him from the bed?
Another thought occurred to him. Why not blow out the wee blue pilot light on the four gas lights in the room?
In this world, pretty much anything was possible, and the anything almost always turned out to be a vision from someone’s twisted dream gone slightly wrong, another nightmare. This world was twisted, and everything in it was twisted.
“They must be doing some kind of Lewis Carroll something or other out there,” Jack whispered, attempting to reassure himself.
“Oh, Mr. Dodgson,” Anne said, “Do not worry, Pinocchio is taking care of him.”
She must be half-asleep, mumbling from her dreams. Pinocchio. Jack smiled. It was okay. Everything was okay. He was getting married tomorrow, and he was going to meet Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of all people, and H. Rider Haggard. Jack had gone on reading binges of both authors, only a few years ago, in another world, reading all the Sherlock Holmes novels, and all the Allan Quatermain stories. Supposedly, Holmes and Quatermain were here, in this world, as well, just as real as their creators. Just like Dr. Frankenstein, the goodly mad doctor, who was bringing electricity to Olde London, Mary Shelley was here as well.
“After we are married, Jack, dear Jack, darling Jack, could we honeymoon at the Hunter’s Lodge? Will you finally take me there? Please?” she crooned in her sleepy voice.
She just would not let up about the Hunter’s Lodge, whatever that was. He kept telling her, twice a day and more, that he had never heard of such a place. She always smiled at him, as if he were having one over on her, just teasing, that naughty Jack, always teasing poor little Anne, having a laugh at her expense.
Now, just minutes before his wedding, looking down from the chapel balcony, he almost felt the twinges of a compulsion, to just reach out over the edge, and tumble down. Maybe it would all be over. Or, maybe, the thought tickled, there could be a portal at the bottom, just above that perfect lawn, and he could snap down into that seat in the outdoor place, Café Real, again, and Old Ben would be there with his smiling eyes, and little Manda, too intelligent and too quick, and even glowering Mr. Kronoss. They could order pizza, and red wine.
He remembered falling thousands of feet with Manda in his arms, plummeting from the Sentinel. Falling had saved him then. Perhaps falling now might accomplish the same thing?
What was he thinking? He loved Anne. He didn’t desire to escape from her, did he?
But something was wrong, with Anne, with him, with the whole world. It was like when he first met Stacey, how everything kept stacking up, all the coincidences, all the strange little messages, it felt like that again, except that Stacey wasn’t here. He wished Stacey were here, right now, that would make everything better. Stacey was his foundation, his grounding. Stacey would know what to do.
Jack held up his palms and studied the lines in his hands. He knew his hands. These were his hands. But his vision doubled, just a bit, and for an instant he saw halos about his fingers, as if perhaps he had consumed too much champagne at breakfast. Could be an oncoming migraine, he sure got those, although it wasn’t time, not yet. Maybe next month was Migraine Season. Was he drunk? Maybe. He never held his wine, not well. If he was not careful, he would burst into a fit of giggling, and that would turn into tears. Stupid. What was wrong with him?
He just felt odd, like everything was unreal, an odd sensation like déjà vu. It was all surreal, real, but just a little too crisp, as if everything was sketched by a cartoonist. Damn it, tears were forming in his eyes. He slapped his palms down on the balcony bannister.
Then he peered between his hands, there was something scratched into the wood of the railing. Odd. Had that been there, only moments before? He moved his index finger and traced the slight carving. It was a crude scratching, as if a naughty child had just come out here and etched the wood with the tine of a silver fork. As expected, it was a circle with another oblong circle about it. He wasn’t surprised. It was Saturn.
But what did it mean? Yes, yes, he knew the connection between Saturn and Manda, they had explained it to him, somewhat. He didn’t understand it, not fully, but Saturn was Manda’s sign. Her signature? Had Manda been here? Was she attempting to reach him?
His eyes flickered from the close-focus demanded while inspecting the scratched planet symbol, to something moving below, something white, flittering through the estate.
“Come...on,” Jack breathed, ready to giggle, but half-terrified, as the White Rabbit came tip-toeing along the edge of the chapel, sneaking from bush to bush, doing an elaborate—sneak. Jack smiled, despite himself. It was like there as a big red arrow above the rabbit’s head, with the caption: sneaking. It was tiptoeing on its big two back legs. The Jack Rabbit. The White Rabbit.
“What are you doing down there?” Jack called, again suffused by the surreality of it all, calling out to a fairy tale bunny. It was real, just there, up against the wall, like a prisoner attempting to escape.
The White Rabbit paused, comically, its head cocking up toward him. It appeared to a manacle around one eye. Manacle? That didn’t make sense. A manacle was the cuff on a chain that imprisoned you. He meant monocle, yes, that was the right word.
“Ever drifting down the stream—lingering in the golden gleam—life, what is it but a dream?” the rabbit called up to him in that bizarre falsetto voice. Well, it did have the kind of voice you would expect from a scrawny hare wearing a vest. Very creepy.
That was the song from last night, only now the White Rabbit wasn’t singing. It had kept its voice almost comically soft, pretty much screaming that it was being very, very quiet. It had pretty much whisper-shrieked the words at him, with over-done urgency. The house is on fire, but don’t panic, the sky is falling, the sky is falling!
Jack did a Google search, keeping it in his head this time. But those were not the same words as last night, very similar, but different. He had the words from last night in a clear bubble, floating in his head, and he added these new words to a new bubble. There was dream, and stream, and golden gleam, but this time it was from Alice.
Merrily, merrily, life is but a dream. That was row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Was that ditty from Alice, as well? No, that was a nursery rhyme, his head seemed to be going to pieces. Nursery rhymes, or lullabies, what was a lullaby? What was a Lullaby?
“Jack,” Anne called from above. She was in the tower, preparing for her wedding day. Jack glanced up, there was her lovely face, framed in a white veil, peeking out at him. “No magic, Jack! Not today, it is our wedding day, Jack!”
Jack glanced down, the White Rabbit was up against the wall, pressed there, flattening itself. Again, almost comically hiding, trying not to be seen. He looked back up at Anne. She popped her head back.
“Jack!” she cried. “Do not look at me! It is bad luck!”
“Okay, okay,” Jack called up, “I’m not looking. And I promise, no more magic!”
He hated using that word, magic, for his administrative control. Not only was it silly, but it was like they were constantly playing a game, as if Anne had no idea, that she had forgotten everything. She had blanked out everything. Her mind was almost a blank, except for love-making, and in that, she seemed to have memorized the whole encyclopedia of lovemaking, because she knew it all, and was never shy in giving him some new gift of her body.
Gift. Her body, a gift. She had used that word, when they had first left Punchinello’s lair. She had whispered in his ear, her breath hot: “Jack, Punch gave me the thing we have always needed. Our gift, Jack! And it is all for you, forever!”
Punchinello had made Anne fully realized, unlike in the Looking Glass, she now was equipped with all the equipment. Anatomically correct. But she had giggled and said: “Anne-oh-tomically correct!” And Jack had laughed, all life perfect, all life lovely, the world lovely about them. What a lovely, lovely dream.
And today they were getting married. He should be happy. This was the happiest day of his life, he and Anne, his beloved, joined together for eternity. Hadn’t she said that to him, in the Looking Glass? That their fates were twined, that she had met him, time after time, and had to clue him in, each and every time? That he was her one and only, and that she was his only love?
Life, what is it but a dream?
Jack glanced down at the White Rabbit. The thing had drawn closer, and was now gesturing furiously to a big hole in the lawn. Jack did a double-take. What in the world? That big hole had not been there. It was the kind of thing anyone would notice, with a big mound of dirt thrown up around it, but mostly on one side, as if the bunny had dug it, right then, but the White Rabbit was a good fifty feet away from the hole. Jack half-expected Bugs Bunny to pop his head up out of the hole, chewing on a cartoon carrot, winking a lugubrious eye at Jack as he said the trademark phrase: “Eh, what’s up, Doc?”
The White Rabbit did an elaborate show of cranking up its big feet, spinning them in motion, and then zooming toward the hole. At the last second it made a huge leap, and sailed an arcing dive into the hole. Jack stared. After a moment, the White Rabbit popped his head up, just like Jack had thought Bugs Bunny might do. It gestured at him, with both paws, beckoning, tapping its wrist, it’s time, come on, come on.
Jack smiled. What? Was he supposed to dive from the balcony? He could probably make it, and he had just been considering jumping. But could he do that? Leave his Anne? Of course, he was not going to leap off the balcony and aim for that hole. What a ridiculous idea. Still, the hole was pretty big, if he held Anne in his arms they could both fit into that hole.
He considered for a few moments what it might have been like, in his previous world, going to school, kind of liking that one girl in his classroom—he couldn’t quite remember her name, was it Genny? With George Alaska sitting sprawled in the little desk next to him, half-baked, as usual. What would it have been like, if he had looked up from his sheer boredom, and seen this freaky White Rabbit creature come scampering across the school lawn? Make the same gestures, dive into a hole—what would that Jack have done?
Jack would have quietly excused himself, and gone outside to investigate the cartoon-looking rabbit hole, that’s what he would have done. He straightened his clothes, tugging at the tails behind him, dusting off his lapels, and headed back into the chapel. He wound down the staircase, hoping to avoid any encounters with Doyle and Haggard, or the bizarre priest with his too-big smile and strange, glittering eyes, and feeling like he was making exaggerated sneaking motions, like the rabbit before him, he headed out of doors, onto the lawn.
The hole was still here. But why wouldn’t it be? Holes don’t just disappear, do they? But then again, holes do not magically just appear, either. Jack peered in. It looked deep, the edges incredibly smooth, as if Jules Verne had been here in one of his burrowing steam machines. Jack had caught a glimpse of Mr. Verne, just this week, when he and Anne had broken away from their lovemaking to scrabble down a few scones and a cup of tea (Jack could not, for the life of him, find anyone or any shop that provided real coffee). The author was strolling along with his face buried in a book. Jack had wanted to get close, just to see what the book was, but Anne had been almost frantic to get him back up to their room.
Even standing here, Jack was sore, and felt almost serrated inside his trousers, and stood with his bottom pronounced, hoping to keep the fabric of his pants off his crotch. He hoped gangrene didn’t set in.
Jack glanced up and was surprised to see a thin and elegant man strolling past on the street, just fifty feet away, his nose buried in a book. The coincidence of it, thinking about Verne with his book, and now seeing this man—a very familiar looking man, dark-haired with sharp features, with his face buried in two books—he literally had two books up before his face, one in each hand, thumbs wedged into each book, his eyes darting back and forth between the pages, his eyes doing the most amazing dance Jack had ever witnessed, even from this distance. This guy was reading two books while walking. Jack wondered if he was chewing bubble gum, as well.
Jack almost called out, taking several steps away from the hole. Didn’t he know the man?
The man glanced over at Jack and did a double-take, snapping his books closed.
“Jack! Is that you, has he let you out for a walk?” the man said, staring at Jack.
Funny, Jack was sure he knew the man, or at least knew of him, because he not only looked familiar, but he looked famous, like some historical figure (and that was no surprise on the Honey Moon, in Olde London, as you were just as likely to bump into Mary Shelley as you were her literary creation, Frankenstein, either the doctor or the creature, or perhaps both, strolling arm in arm).
Jack stood dumbly, staring at the man. The man approached, snapping his books up under each arm, reminding Jack of a gunslinger returning his weapons to holsters.
“I am sorry,” the man said, extending a hand, “but I do believe we have not actually met. But I did see you, often, when I visited Punchinello’s Theatre.”
That was it! Jack remembered. This man had passed by the iron cage, many times, and always gazed in sadly at him. He always appeared just about to say something, but always turned away. This was Nikola Tesla, the inventor and Frankenstein’s enemy, it was funny how Jack hadn’t remembered. He blinked his eyes. He seemed to be feeling drunk again, or at least woozy. His vision swam a few moments and he noticed Tesla staring at him.
“Mr. Tesla,” Jack said, finally accepting the man’s outstretched hand. They did not actually shake, but held their clasped hands, quietly a moment, and then Tesla snatched back his hand.
“I see,” he said. “I am very sorry. I had wished there was something I might do for you, but Monsignor Punchinello is a very difficult man to reason with, as I am certain you are quite familiar.”
“Yes, yes,” Jack said, pushing back the memories. He didn’t want to think about his time in the cage. “That’s all over now. We got out. It’s okay now.”
Tesla stared at him for many moments.
“You do not know,” Tesla said, after a lengthy quiet. “I had thought that perhaps you did know, were participating with that mad man, in some experiment, ah, but now I see...”
Jack shook his head, taking a step back. He didn’t think he wanted to know what this man was talking about. Everyone knew Tesla was half nuts, and slipping. Rumors had it that he was in love with a pigeon, or some other type of bird. But Jack knew anything was possible in Olde London.
“You are familiar with the Proxies?” Tesla said, stepping forward, matching Jack’s step away. This man had the sharpest eyes. His pupils seemed to bore into Jack’s head, like drills, or Verne’s digging machine.
“You mean the surrogate puppets?” Jack said.
“Precisely,” Tesla agreed, not looking away from Jack’s eyes, not blinking. “You can always tell them apart from their hosts, by a certain gleam of gold, a momentary flash, really, but you can always see it, if you look into their eyes.”
“Really?” Jack said, feeling stupid. Who was he, to be standing here with this famous man, actually looking down on him, thinking he was crazy? This was one of the greatest minds in history, with all the genius quirks, and there was a certain, deep empathy to the man. It didn’t matter, Jack reminded himself, that this was not the real, biological man, but just a game-world copy, because in fact, it very much was the man, zero for zero, and one for one. Data is data, Jack told himself. He looked at Tesla with new hope—maybe Tesla could help him?
“This life is but a dream,” Tesla said, leaning close, not looking away from Jack’s eyes.
That was a coincidence, right there, Tesla saying that. Just like the White Rabbit, the Jack Rabbit, and the nursery rhyme, the song, row, row, row your boat.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Jack said.
“No, you would not. You could not. It is not your fault, young Jack—that is your name? Monsignor Punchinello spoke of you often, and your...lady friend. Was it not the authoress, Anne Brontë, or at least her similitude? There was much flux and discussion as to her nature, and point of origin, for none of Monsignor Punchinello’s handiwork is even close to her genius construct.”
“No, I mean yes,” Jack said, babbling. Tesla would not look away, and held his gaze. Jack doubted he could look away even if he tried. But he had to get away, he could not stand here talking to this crazy man, this genius, he had to break free, go back to Anne, they were getting married today.
“Jack!” Anne called down from the chapel tower. “Jack please come back inside the chapel, now, Jack! Please do not talk to that man, and do not look at me, Jack, it is bad luck!”
“Lullaby,” Nikola Tesla said, peering up at Anne.
Eye contact broken, Jack felt released. Had Tesla hypnotized him, or had him under some kind of spell? His eyes were magnetic. Jack blinked, and glanced up at Anne, waving.
“Lullaby?” Jack said, hadn’t he just been asking himself that, what is a lullaby?
“That is not your...lady friend. Jack, that is not Anne Brontë,” he said, gravely, now looking anywhere but into Jack’s eyes. “That is not even your automaton, I am sorry to tell you.”
“What do you mean, of course that’s Anne,” Jack said, holding his head in his hands. He felt as if he were about to be sick. He mad certain that he was leaning forward, lest he vomit. He didn’t want to mess up his nice wedding suit that Anne had picked out for him. Anne would never forgive him. They had hardly been apart since the moment Jack came into his own powers, accessing administrative control, and freed her from the table just before Punchinello could slice her apart.
“That is what is known as a Lullaby, or brothel puppet, an expert at satisfying man’s carnal desires, and in this case, it appears she is the mortar that is holding together your dream castle,” Tesla said, wearily, as if he knew he was wasting his time, as if he knew he would be unable to break through Jack’s reality.
Jack knew reality. This was reality. Anne was reality. Tesla thought that Punch was still alive, still controlling things. But Jack had administrative control. He knew what was real, and what was illusion.
“Would you let me help you?” Tesla asked, quietly, stepping close to Jack.
Jack stepped back, he wouldn’t look Tesla in the eye. The man was some kind of magician. A mentalist, or practitioner of animal magnetism.
“I’m getting married today,” Jack said, “it’s the happiest day of my life. I can’t stand out here talking. I’m getting married.”
“The Law does provide for the sick men of today to marry a Lullaby...and perhaps, even worse things, but you are not getting married today, Jack,” Tesla said, taking another step toward Jack as Jack retreated, slowly.
“Why?” Jack said, his heart surging in his chest. He might drop dead of a heart attack at any moment. What was this Tesla character doing, anyway?
“The Law does not allow a Proxy to marry, a man must be present, and may not legally marry through a puppet,” Tesla said, staring blankly at Jack. “Do you understand my words, my meaning? A Proxy cannot marry.”
“So what are you saying?” Jack demanded, now growing angry, stepping toward the other man. “That Anne is using a Proxy? That she’s not actually here?”
“No, I am not saying that. The thing up there waiting for you to marry it, is not your Anne, but a brothel puppet. That creature is not a Proxy. I am talking about you, Jack,” Tesla stood there, straight and very tall, not budging an inch, his eyes boring again into Jack’s head.
“What about me?” Jack said, thinking again that this man was a wild, insane lunatic. He belonged in an asylum.
“Let me help you, Jack. Please. I cannot free you, but I might be able to wake you, if only for a moment,” Tesla said, still not moving.
Breathing hard, Jack considered, and almost nodded assent. Because, he had wanted help. When he first recognized Tesla, he had hoped that the man might possibly be able to help him. Because he knew there was something wrong, but he just didn’t know what it was, exactly, what was wrong with the world. Everything felt wrong. Even standing here, it felt wrong. The daylight felt wrong. Lovely, yes, but wrong.
“Please Jack, let me help you, if only for a brief interlude,” Tesla said.
Jack gulped and swallowed, hard, and finally nodded, tears filling his eyes.
“Stare into my eyes,” Tesla said, his dark pupils expanding, nearly taking up all of his irises, as he bored into Jack’s soul. “Do not blink.”
Tesla’s face drew near. Not blinking, Jack stared into his eyes. The eyes seemed too large. Heat seemed to emanate from those icy blue eyes, it was cognizant dissonance, eyes with far too much pupil, hot blazing eyes that appeared icy cold. Liquid nitrogen, splaying into Jack’s face, burning away the doorways to his soul. Jack felt detached, swimming free, Tesla’s face going hazy. But Jack did not blink. He felt one of Tesla’s hands gripping his jaw. The other hand rose up between their faces, Tesla’s palm flashing white, and then Tesla slammed that palm into Jack’s forehead.
Jack saw stars. He blinked, as his orientation changed.
He was lying upon his back, what, the room was brightly lit, and a light shone in his face. He blinked. The light was searing and white, piercing into his brain. He struggled, but his arms were pinned down. His legs were pinned down. He tilted his head up, felt the restraint holding his head in place, and he rolled his eyes exaggeratedly to the side. Things came into focus.
He sees Anne there, her blue eyes staring. She lies in pieces, upon the shiny table top. Her scalp has been removed from her head, her glorious auburn hair removed. Her skull is open, the top removed. He sees the pieces of her head spread neatly about. Her brain is out and quartered, and it looks blue, fibrous, with a netting of very red veins inside it. There is no life in her beautiful eyes. They stare, those eyes, like glinting shards of blue glass, too dark, too dark. And her body is there, open down the middle, as if unzipped, her black catsuit skin looking the same, only now she is spread wide, through her chest, straight down between her ample breasts, down to where her legs meet, Anne is open to the world, arms removed, legs removed, the pieces all spread neatly in an orderly fashion, with labels attached to every piece.
Jack stares through the sides of his bulging eyes. His Anne. She is there. Or it is not her, but just what remains after his Anne has departed.
“The biological is aware and awake,” a deep voice says. Jack recognizes the voice, but cannot place it, the disembodied voice. Who is it? “I pray the Lord his soul to take.”
“What is wrong with him?” Punchinello says, that deep, insidious voice unmistakable. He almost sounds pleasant, as if he is discussing a batch of cupcakes he has in the oven. “The child truly has some kick in him. I have my best Lullaby on him, and he refuses to remain in his golden dream. I tell you, Nose, people are such ingrates. You do your best for them, and they turn up their chins and make such pouty, pouty faces. Why do I persist? Ah, a puppeteer’s toils are never done, I tell you they are never done.”
Two hazy faces appear before the light, eclipsing it, but they are black, faceless, blobs moving toward him.
Jack blinked. Tesla stepped back from him.
“That is about all that I can do,” he said, backing away. “Remember. I am so sorry, young man. But do not give up hope. Remember. And fight him. Do not give up hope. Life is but a dream.”
“What is happening?” Jack said, blinking about him, there was the lawn with the absurd rabbit hole, there was the chapel, and there the steeple, and there, opening the doors of the chapel, oh but there are all the lovely, charming people, his bride in her full regalia, coming to gather him into her arms, she was so beautiful it was like she floated, in her white hoop skirts, the tight silk on her lovely torso, the puffy sleeves, she looked like whipped cream approaching, and there the gentlemen, Doyle and Haggard, smiling, holding dainty tea cups upon saucers, each of the men smoking long cigars. What a wonderful, glorious day for a wedding.
Jack glanced away from the approaching wedding party and saw the thin, tall man striding purposefully away, the books tucked up under his arms. Nikola Tesla did not glance back.
But what had that been? What, what in the world, what had Tesla just done? It seemed that Tesla had shoved him into some dream state, a fugue state, where he saw the most outlandish things, his Beloved, Anne, in pieces.
Tesla was crazy, everyone knew it, and now he was trying to pass on some of his insanity to Jack, but Jack was not fooled, he knew reality.
He was exactly where he wanted to be, with the woman of his dreams, and he was getting married.
“Darling, come, please,” Anne said, seizing him under the arm and spinning him toward the chapel, and yes, it was time to get married, the happiest day of Jack’s life, he was such a lucky man, he only wished that Stacey were here, to be his best man.
Doyle stood staring at the absurd rabbit hole as they passed him.
“In a moment, dear Anne, in just a moment,” Doyle said, beckoning Haggard to his side. “I say, what manner of beast might have created such an absurdly perfect hole?”
“Lucky for us, I say,” said Haggard, “that it is rabbit season, for we might return here with our rifles and bag us a treasure, what say?”
“Oh, my dear man, honored Haggard, I believe it is duck season,” said Doyle.
“No, on the contrary, my good Doyle, it is rabbit season,” said Haggard.
Jack paused on the threshold of the chapel, looking back at them. What they were saying, it seemed familiar, like some sort of play. He thought of the White Rabbit, poking its head up out of that neat hole, chomping on a carrot. Eh, what’s up, Doctor Frankenstein?
“Duck season,” said Doyle, sounding a little bit miffed.
“Rabbit season,” said Haggard, giving the older, taller man a little push.
They turned on each other, their voices raising, arguing the killing season.
Jack would have liked to see how it all turned out, because didn’t he just now see something shining from that hole? Some reflection, a bright wink of light? A golden gleam? But Anne pulled him into the chapel, and the weird priest was up there, smiling beneficently, reaching out his hands to them as they approached.
“Ubiquitous,” Jack said, smiling at the priest.
“Thank you, Darling,” Anne said.
Something nagged at Jack’s mind as they took their places before the priest, holding hands. He glanced over the priest’s head, and for just an instant, not even a second, but Jack thought he saw wires glinting light, hanging down, reflecting and moving, but looking, and he saw that was an absurd notion, for the chapel had a nice dome to it, there were no wires, no strings, and twenty feet above their heads was stained glass, panels going all the way around the dome like orange slices, with all the heavenly scenes depicted in mosaic glass: there was Gepetto working on Pinocchio, and a beautiful depiction of a Punch and Judy show, it was lovely, and breath-taking depictions of the old Thunderbirds television show, and Jack recognized both Howdy Doody and Charlie McCarthy. All the saints. Lovely.
“Focus on me, Jack,” Anne said, squeezing his hands.
Wow, he really was getting married, he thought, staring at her lovely face through her wedding veil, his lovely Anne. He glanced out at the congregation and smiled, because now it was full, the chapel, every seat taken, all the puppets were there, smiling, sitting so still, they stared with rapt delight at Jack and Anne, on the day of their wedding. Manikins and mannequins and articulated dolls, ventriloquist dummies, hand puppets, all their friends! This was all perfect. Lovely.
“Is it lovely, Dear?” Anne whispered, leaning close.
“It is,” Jack said, leaning in close so that their foreheads touched. “It is all lovely, our golden gleam.”
He could be happy, couldn’t he, he wondered, as the priest began the marriage ceremony. Jack thought he recognized the words from the wedding in The Princess Bride, but that couldn’t be right, could it? No, this day was so beautiful, it was as if he were lost in a dream, and he hoped he might never wake from this dark, resistless stream. No, he wouldn’t remember those weird scenes that Tesla had attempted to force into his mind, all of that was nonsense. Jack knew what was real, and he would cling to this happiness, forever.
Still, smiling at Anne, he couldn’t help but feel a slight twinge of...he wasn’t sure what to call it. But that big rabbit hole, just outside the doors, that hole seemed so inviting. But that was crazy, because he certainly didn’t want to get his pristine wedding suit dirty, did he?
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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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