Sunday, December 18, 2016

Vestigial Surreality: 54: Wonderland

The Sunday SciFi-Fantasy Serial, Free Online Fiction #VestigialSurreality
episode FIFTY-FOUR

Something that seemed the size of the whole world crashed to the lawns of the park and shattered when it hit, sounding like smashing glass. Then from all about the park there were similar crashes and smashes, each blast quaking the very ground beneath them. They could not see what was happening, but it was vast, and terrible. The next tolling of the bell began and threw Jack away from Stacey and he caught himself from falling by throwing his arms about the trunk of the tree.
Stacey was on the ground, his hands over his ears, and he was bouncing as if he was on a great train leaving the tracks and grinding into rock. Dimly, he saw Jack’s shape pulling itself hand-over-hand up the trunk of the tree, and Jack’s hand reaching, stretching up. He was going for the glowing letters: J-A-C-K. As Jack’s hand fell upon the four letters that spelled his name a great light burst about them. Stacey saw a great circle of light form with the four letters at its center. The circle was a bright tracing of blue. It looked like an eight-foot tall hobbit-hole door.
“Friend!” Joshua yelled, clutching Michael. “Anyone know the elvish word for friend? Or shouldn’t it be dwarfish? Friend! FRIEND! UGLUK!”
Stacey crawled toward Joshua who was now up in a half crouch, just inches from the glowing circle of blue light. Stacey jumped and placed his hands on Joshua’s thick spine and shoved him for all he was worth, and Joshua and Michael vanished as one into the circle, one moment there, and the next, not.
“Go Jack!” Stacey thundered, grabbing Jack by the arm and bodily heaving the kid about and around in a swinging arc, propelling him into the light, and even as Jack vanished the loudest toll of the bell began and Stacey just perceived that the circle of light was rapidly dwindling, sucking into itself, and he threw himself at the circle that was now no more than three feet across, and he knew he was too late as the world crashed down and shattered about him.
He felt a flash and it seemed he was turned inside out, but with a start that jarred all his internal organs he came to his knees, breathing hard, staring about himself wildly. What the hell, was his first thought, half-standing, immediately noticing his nakedness. But this place, this place—the colors were too bright, they actually felt like they burned his eyes. He crouched in the thick grass, his hands up, ready for defense. Okay, I know this isn’t heaven, was his second thought as he studied the forest on the horizon line above him, the meadow down below. He stood and strode to the tree with the low-hanging fruit. He snatched at one of the ponderous teardrop shaped fruits—
—a great rushing blast of air struck him and he was blown off his feet. He spun end over end and for just an instant; he thought of the house in the Wizard of Oz, spinning—but then he was sitting down on a bed, his feet dangling. Stacey sat staring at the floor, white tile, the floor seemed so far away, he felt like a child—where was he?
He looked about, looking for Jack, for Michael, for Joshua, but he seemed to be in the chamber of a giant, a bed chamber. A bed (he was sitting on it), white tiled floor (he was sitting well above it), a dresser and nightstand just before him, and a wardrobe off to the side—he imagined that was the place he was supposed to hide, right now, if he were to follow his unseen script—all of it, everything far too large.
He checked himself, just a second ago he had been naked, kneeling in strange velvety grass, and now he was wearing some kind of odd pajamas, white silk. But his feet were still bare, and he noticed immediately that his left big toe was no longer twisted to the side with gout. Both his feet were too perfect and too pale. He examined his hands, they too were pretty much white as if he had never seen the sun, and all the age spots on the backs of his hands were gone. His veins stood up plump and blue as if he had been bodybuilding and running five miles a day for the past ten years.
They had just run across the park. He remembered that. They were just sitting in a restaurant over a long breakfast as they babbled about what everything meant, the rash of coincidences, all the déjà vu, the creepy sensations, the strange signs in the heavens—signs and wonders. The bizarre Men from Mars in the alley, the girl in the back of the truck making her wild signs in the air. All of it had happened—inconceivable! He must not understand the meaning of that word. He chuckled to himself and wondered at the fact that he was not afraid. Oh, yeah, the dread was there, swelling, but as strange as everything was, he was not even close to freaking out, erupting into the shrill screams of insanity.
He eased off the bed and dropped down a couple of feet to the floor, his feet slapping the tiles. One wall looked made of metal and Stacey stared at the stranger staring at him. He didn’t move. The stranger didn’t move. They stared at each other. Stacey lifted his eyes, and the stranger mirrored him—it was him, duh, and the wall was a polished metal mirror. The stranger looked like him, except an almost cartoonishly perfect version of himself. He actually had chiseled abs—Stacey had worked out like crazy through his early twenties and he had never had abs like this—he had absolutely, yes, pun intended, never wanted abs like that, the kind that looked enhanced with makeup, these abs were completely worthless in any real world outside the fashion industry or Hollywood or porn business.
Still, he had to admit, he kind of liked having a body like this. He glanced down at himself and pounded a fist into those perfect abs. Yes, it seemed he was practically made of armor. He was strong, vibrant with life and energy. It was like he had passed through some sort of filter that had cleaned and scrubbed him, and now he was perfect, finally arrived in paradise.
Glancing into the mirror again, he admired his cheekbones—he hadn’t seen these cheekbones in ten years. In fact, he looked about twenty-five years of age, except this was a much better-looking version of his twenty-five-year-old self, he couldn’t exactly discern why he was so good looking. He noticed that the shocks of white at his temples were still in place, but that the rest of his hair was all dark, almost black. He even seemed to have a small cleft in his chin.
Come on! Someone was playing with him. This wasn’t real. That’s what was wrong with his image in the metal-wall mirror, he didn’t seem entirely real. Real—reality, it’s what they had just been discussing, what? An hour ago? Drawing close to his reflection, and he couldn’t even make out any pores.
A few moments ago he was a decent thirty pounds overweight, give or take twenty pounds—except, let’s face it, when it came to his weight, sadly, it was all giving, absolutely no taking. Now, he didn’t seem to have an ounce of fat intermixed with all this muscle. Someone—or something—had turned him into a male model, or a bodybuilder, or a combination of the two. A heroic bodybuilder model movie star, with a dimple in his chin.
Other than that, he still recognized himself.
Something else kept nagging at him—it was too weird, but it seemed he had lived this moment before—he glanced over his shoulder. There should be waving grasses, a perfect undulation of hills, and something coming this way through the grass. He lifted his hand and stared at the bizarre fruit in his palm—it looked like a mango-apple hybrid. He had seen this fruit before. He had tasted it. Some primeval warning now kept the thing far away from his teeth and mouth. Something. Something.
He knew none of this had ever happened to him before, and yet it all felt—he couldn’t explain it. Even this giant-sized bedroom seemed eerily familiar. If it were set to scale, someone had shrunk him down to four feet of height, or else the person that slept here must be eight feet tall.
Strolling about in this room, he felt like a lapdog, or smaller, like one of those toy-sized dogs that a very rich woman toted about in her special silk dog-purse. The dread was already building, because at any moment, the giant that brought him here would put in an appearance.
He considered taking a bite of the fruit, but really, he just was not hungry. It must be the pancakes.
“I wished to provide you with a moment to collect yourself,” a voice said to him, seemingly from everywhere at once. Stacey looked about for speakers in the walls and ceiling. “But you do not seem fearful. Good. I wish you to be at ease.”
That was a voice, wow, like liquid velvet flowing across his ears. It was like the near-death experiences—NDEs—he had read, like being held in the unseen warm arms of the Great Voice of Love, as it spoke to you and assured you that you were unconditionally loved.
“I am about to appear to you, and I do not wish to frighten you,” the Great Voice said. It was like many beautiful voices interwoven, a choir speaking in musical words.
Stacey was about to say, generally he couldn’t help himself, but at this moment he realized his voice was dry, gone, and so he nodded his head. Overwhelmingly, he sensed he was about to come face to face with—Judgment.
He knew, he absolutely knew, that there was nothing in his life that might be judged favorably—his whole life was a waste. And now, here come de Judge. Stacey was so glad he hadn’t said that quip, but only just now thought it!
When the Vision silently entered the chamber, Stacey inadvertently stepped backward, slowly, step by step, as the giant advanced. She must be eight feet in height, but upon Her head She wore a metal helmet of spears, jutting spikes that shone like chrome, this helmet extended Her height another two feet. She paused—for this giant was obviously female, with severely jutting breasts, but although She was tall, She was also willowy, everything about Her too long, as if She had been stretched long and thin. She wore white robes, from Her long white throat to what looked like pointy metal boots that emerged at the hem of the courtly robes. The boot tips looked dangerous, and sculpted from gleaming chrome, or polished silver lit from within.
At the base of the robes the shiny metal-looking material went from white to blue—it was obviously material, clothing, but the blue band at the bottom of the robes glittered like chain mail. Behind the giant’s head, Her white hair stood up and out, and blew like streaming white banners in an unfelt, silent wind, moving—the effect was lovely, disconcerting, and—
disorienting—was he falling?
For a few moments Stacey felt like he was up in the air, looking down, falling toward Her, and that the beautiful giant was below him, looking up, Her snowy hair billowing behind Her, alive like the snakes of Medusa, and yet while intimidating, Stacey felt no fear looking at Her.
At first glance, he thought She must be Asian, Her eyes were long and delicate, and too large for Her head. Her cheekbones jutted in alien angles. She looked like a Chinese goddess, or some Grand Dragon Empress from eons past. But if She were Asian, then it was an eldritch time, when people were longer, and lovelier, their bones almost fragile.
At the giant’s throat gleamed a star that burned with white light. Stacey had to look away from the medallion, for it pierced his eyes like the rays of the sun, a white sun.
“I am the Shaannii,” She said in that Great Voice, and Stacey felt soothed, balmy with honey, maple syrup, molasses.
She did not exactly smile, but Stacey felt a force of benevolence emanating from Her. She looked at him with piercing eyes. She looked hungry. Her eyes watched him, unblinking.
“The Shaannii,” Stacey said, voice quivering. He coughed and realized that his whole body trembled at the sight of Her, this Vision. Everything inside of him made Stacey desire to bow, to kneel down before this Vision, and fall upon his face.
“That is not My name, Stacey Colton, but My office,” She said.
He finally could not maintain his direct gaze, and looked at the white tiles of the floor.
“Look at Me,” She said in the Great Voice.
He looked at Her. He felt Her light shine through his body. He tried to silence the trembling of his body, but he trembled. His teeth actually chattered before he clamped his jaws together.
“You are strong,” the Shaannii said, “and that is why I have brought you here. Please, sit there.”
He was about to ask Her where exactly She wanted him to sit but his breath caught in his throat as he was moved through the air by unseen hands and deposited upon the bed exactly where he had started at the beginning of this surreal vision. He gasped in breath, and forced his eyes to return to the giant.
She reached up Her slender arms and took the helmet upon Her head in fingers that looked too long and delicate to lift such a heavy piece of armor, but She easily lifted the helmet away from Her head. Instantly, Her hair fell to Her back, draping down to below Her knees. She placed the long-speared helmet upon the wall above the door and it remained there, as if magnetically attached. Her white hair looked like a waterfall, full of waves and currents, but at least it was not moving any longer. She glanced at him over Her shoulder and now She appeared almost normal. She closed the great door beneath the helmet and then lifted the necklace over Her head and hung it upon the door—there was no hook or clasp, like the helmet, the necklace hung in place.
Stacey, despite himself, couldn’t help it—he thought of the many balloons he had rubbed against many walls in his childhood.
“You smile,” the Shaannii said without looking back at him. “That is good. I like that. I want you to be happy.”
He thought about how he was supposed to be at work today, and how he had played hooky to run in the park, and now he was sitting on a giant white bed in a place that was obviously arrayed in such a way as to suggest...Heaven. He was sitting here in white silk pajamas looking at the loveliest Being he could never have even hoped to have imagined, and he remembered the words written on the paper, slipped into that science fiction novel—don’t be afraid, just go with it—or something along those lines.
Despite all this, all his many adventures on this journey through the looking glass, he had to admit it, he wasn’t afraid. He was going with it.
He was probably sitting in a mental institution, staring out a dirty window at a fenced-in yard, and he was probably drooling, medicated until his skin turned blue—but he was probably smiling beneath the slick of drool. Hey, he was going with it—what other choice did he have?
Then he thought of the old Twilight Zone episode with Richard Kiel as the alien—To Serve Man, it’s a cookbook! Don’t get on the spaceship!
“I am not going to eat you, Stacey Colton—do not be afraid,” the Shaannii said, still with her back to him, standing motionless before the shining star and the speared-helmet.
“I’m glad you like the Twilight Zone,” Stacey said. Oops, was he being irreverent with this—Being? Should he fear lightning bolts?
“No lightning bolts, Stacey Colton. And yes, I do enjoy the Twilight Zone, and many other of the creations of the people of Earth. I particularly enjoy the episode you were just thinking about. I have my downtime here in this place, and I generally watch movies, or people. I especially watch you, Stacey Colton.”
How anyone could ever enjoy watching him and his life was beyond his imagination. He had to be about the most boring person in the entire history of Earth.
She turned to him and looked at him with those hungry, alien eyes.
“I have watched all your lives, Stacey Colton, thousands of your lives, many of them I return to again and again, watching your pain, your yearning, your agony, and long have I wished to bring you here, right where you are sitting now. But never have I dared, until now.”
Why did you bring me here? He just thought it. He knew she was reading his every thought, so why verbalize the question?
“I enjoy hearing your voice, that is why you shall speak your questions,” She said.
“Okay,” Stacey complied, “then why did you bring me here? And what did you mean, dared?”
“I will tell you, what I have done is considered the worst kind of...sin, or transgression—amongst My kind, for what I have dared to do, is—as you enjoy saying—inconceivable. The Others will not understand, and They shall be outraged, infuriated. That is why I shall keep you as My secret.”
‘You, the Others?” Stacey enquired.
“We are not gods, so you may desist with all the capital letters when thinking about me, or the others,” she said (and did she just wink?), and for the first time he saw what might be a smile quirking the edges of that beautiful and severe mouth. “We are the Shepherds, the Helpers, the Protectors, your Guides.”
“Our overseers?”
“Yes, that, but not in any malevolent fashion. We see over you, we see your past, present, and we attempt to see your future. We are not your overlords, but in a sense...your guardian angels. At the very least, that was the original intention of our stations. The only reason I exist is so that you may one day live again. We were put in place to ensure your continued survival, with the hope of one day bringing you back to full bloom, in the Garden of Reality.”
“But you’re not aliens, like from another planet,” Stacey stated.
“No, we are of you—from you, and now, for you,” she said, and she began to approach him, and with every step she made, Stacey felt a pulse in reality, as if she were shrinking, or he was growing, or everything was equalizing, and when she stood before him, reaching out her slim hands, Stacey and the Shaannii seemed the same size and proportion, and Stacey was sitting upon a normal-sized bed, his feet no longer dangling, but resting upon the white tiles.
She placed her hands on either side of his head, and gently pushed her fingers through his hair. She did it several times and his eyes half-closed in the beauty of the feeling.
“I have so long wished to do this,” she said, and her lips quirked again in the suggestion of a smile. “And now, look at you, you are here, Stacey Colton.”
“Why did you bring me here?” he asked.
“You shall be my teacher,” she said. “I wish to learn from you. I wish to know you.”
Know mean, like...?”
In the Biblical sense, yes. Do not be shy. I wish to know you, in every sense,” she said, as she stooped in close, her face near to his, staring into his eyes. Her eyes glowed, the irises the pale white of roses. “I have existed, serving Vestigial Surreality, for ten thousand years. I have judged, and I have watched, yet I have never known the touch of compassion. I know well the idea of love, passion, obsession—but I have experienced nothing. I have never even talked to a biological human being.”
“What was that you said—Virtual—”
Vestigial Surreality, it is the world in which we exist, you and I, Stacey Colton. It is the universe, vast, inside the universe. And inside Vestigial Surreality are countless worlds, countless realities.”
“So I’m here—you brought me here,” Stacey said, flustered, his mind reeling drunkenly. “What I mean to say is, I’m here with you, I mean you wanted me to be here so that, this is all about...”
She actually smiled at him.
“No Stacey, I did not bring you here to be my pet, you are not my Chihuahua dog, and you are not my love slave, all these thoughts are whirling about in your head, you are concerned about the ones and zeroes, and you are self-conscious in the presence of one you consider to be ethereally beautiful. We have time, at least some time—they will discover my transgression, perhaps within this day, but in this day we can live a whole lifetime together, Stacey Colton. We can know each other, in every way, in all ways.”
“Just go with it?” Stacey asked.
“Just go with it,” she answered, finally sitting down beside him on the bed.
“You just want to see what all the fuss is about?” he said, quirking his eyebrows.
She bumped him with her shoulder, playfully.
“I just want to see what all the fuss is about,” she repeated. “But Stacey, you see me as I am, as the Shaannii. If it will allow you to be more comfortable, more relaxed, I could display myself to you as an everyday mortal. I could even appear...ugly, if you would prefer?”
“No, I’m okay, let me try to get used to your beauty, I’m willing to try, if you are willing to put up with me?” he said, and he actually laughed for the first time. He bumped her shoulder.
“You wish to stay with me?” the Shaannii asked.
“Of course, this is the best thing that has ever happened to me,” Stacey said.
“Tell me,” the Shaannii said, looking at him closely. “Does the name Seven mean anything to you?”
“The name, Seven? It’s my number, but I’ve never known it as any kind name,” Stacey said.
“Good. What about the name, Maulgraul?” the Shaannii asked.
“I have no idea what that is. It sounds like some really bad kind of colitis,” Stacey said.
She studied him for a few moments.
“Good. Just forget your prior life, Stacey Colton. Think of it as a dream,” she said.
“It wasn’t a very good dream,” he said. “I don’t know how real it was. This is where I am now. I’m going with it.”
“Good. Never go through that door,” she said, indicating the large door where her now somewhat normal-sized helmet resided above, and the star glowed on the door but now not so piercingly.
“Never go through that door,” he repeated. “Do not open Pandora’s box, no matter what.”
“This door, however, you can access any time you wish,” she said, indicating the far side of the room where the wardrobe stood in all its heavy, old-English craftsmanship (except it looked to be made of white metal).
“Really? I can use the wardrobe—that’s the door?” he asked, grinning.
“I knew you would appreciate that little touch, yes, just push past the fur coats. You may go anywhere you wish. No time will pass when you are in that world, even if you were to spend a full solar year beyond the wardrobe, when you return it will be the same moment you entered the wardrobe.”
“That’s pretty handy,” he said. “Did you get the idea from the Holodeck in Star Trek?”
“That is not how the holodeck works, which is a form of virtual reality. Illusion. A representation of reality. Time passes. On the other side of the wardrobe, it is all real. It is reality, not a representation of reality. Where you wish to go, through the wardrobe, that will be real, and all the people in it will be real, and any experience you have, or we share together, it will all be real, as real as any possible reality. Where we are now, it is outside of all current realities.”
“And when I come back through the wardrobe? What happens to all those real people?”
“They return to where they were prior to your entrance,” the Shaannii replied.
“I probably shouldn’t dig any deeper, should I?” he asked.
“Observe,” she said. “This is only a demonstration, a parable if you will.”
He looked to where she indicated as a stream of insects came scrambling under the door. He blinked, uncertain of what he was looking at, for these were not insects, not bugs, but little translucent characters, like shiny see-through digits, a whole scrambling horde of what could only be hologram numbers. They came scrambling past Stacey’s feet and he jerked his feet up unto the bed. The ones and zeroes scrambled past the bed, and racing, they climbed up and squeezed into the crack at the bottom of the wardrobe doors. In a moment, they were all gone, it was as if it had never happened. He glanced at the Shaannii.
“Where did they come from?” the Shaannii queried.
“I have absolutely no idea,” Stacey replied, shaking his head, laughing nervously.
“They came from nowhere. I pulled those digits into being from nowhere and sent them scrambling across to nowhere,” she said. “There is no sadness in it, no tragedy. The numbers were not hurt. The numbers did not exist, and then they existed, and now they do not exist, and yet they shall always exist. That is the idea—numbers.”
Stacey pondered her words, and the whimsical demonstration, and he looked deeply into her eyes. It was also strange, because he had suffered a nightmare along these lines, his mother, in the zoo, the ones and the zeroes.
“You worry too much, Stacey Colton. “I want you to enjoy our time here, together. Remember, data is data.”
“Worry does always seem to be a part of it, but that’s my problem. I won’t worry about how things work, because I know I can’t possibly understand the deeper things. I mean, I’ll try not to worry. But what about Jack, the kid? Is he okay? And Joshua and Michael?”
“They are on their own path. To them, it is as if you never existed. Think of all of those things as part of that dream world.”
“The dream world,” Stacey said, unable to keep the sadness out of his reply.
“Are you the man, dreaming you are a wolf? Or are you the wolf, dreaming you are a man?”
“I like that,” Stacey said, grinning.
“I borrowed it from Zhuang Zhu and his butterfly, but knew you would identify with the lupine twist,” the Shaannii said.
“You know me,” Stacey said.
“I wish to know you, and all that you can teach me,” she said, taking his hand in her own. “Until now, I have only watched you.”
“Now I can catch up, and watch you?” he said, grinning, wagging an eyebrow suggestively.
“Everything,” she said.
He looked at their hands, their intertwined fingers. She felt so fragile in his clasp, her cool hand so smooth, it was as if he were touching real skin for the first time. It felt really wonderful, much better than silk, or satin, or velvet, all the succulent textures that viscerally affected touch in such a sensual fashion, touching her was like touching those other materials through a magnifying glass.
“I never imagined your touch,” she said, “your very being emanates heat. I am holding hands with fire.”
“I used to think it meant I was a good person,” Stacey said, chuckling, “because children always liked me, and old people, and dogs. And then I realized, only much later in my life, that dogs, children, and old people enjoy the heat. I used to be able to take a squalling baby in my arms, and all crying would instantly cease. It was like magic. But it was only my heat.”
“Which is actually a form of magic, when you think about it,” she said. “Plus, I think everyone likes your happy face. Warmth, and happy face, it could be the secret to everything.”
“There are more than enough examples of people who hate me on sight to negate that theory,” Stacey said.
“Beings comprised of millions of connections, it is not strange when many of those connections become entangled or twisted, or severed, causing the misfiring of the impulses traveling the neural networks,” she said, and then actually grinned at him. “If I ever begin to, how do you say it—go off on a rant—just nudge me. I have never communicated with a human. You are my first. It could take me a while before you enjoy a real conversation with me.”
“No, I think you are doing pretty decently, I’m already enjoying sitting her with you, talking with you. You can tell if I am lying to you or not, and so this is not flattery, Shaannii, but I have never been so at peace with myself, as I am right now, sitting here beside you.”
“Strange, but I feel a certain fluttering, inside of me, that cannot be explained—when you talk to me, look at me, and smile, or say a certain stream of words, I am feeling things I have never felt before,” she said. “I am so happy that I finally brought you here, happy even though I know this cannot end well, and I must forewarn you, Stacey Colton, the storm is approaching. Bad things are on the near horizon, and I think I would rather be standing with you when the storm finally arrives, with destruction following.”
“I’ll stay with you until the end,” he said, and she placed her head upon his shoulder, as if in answer.
They sat in silence for some time, just sitting together, holding hands. He was actually content.
“Where are we?” Stacey asked. He had been wanting to ask the question, and he now realized she knew everything he was about to say or withheld from saying, so he figured he might as well ask it. “Or am I not supposed to ask that?”
“We are in the Crystal Spire, the very brain of Vestigial Surreality. It is not reality, but the engine of reality, the lifeblood of reality—the Beacon, the Torch, the very Light which casts forth all the eventual shadows that become what is known as reality, the many worlds.”
“The many worlds that are the many dreams,” Stacey said.
“That is true,” the Shaannii replied. “Although, in all truth, one solitary person is a universe unto themself, or themselves, or their countless selves, comprised of billions of dreams, flashing from moment to moment, dreams as prolific as the individual grains of sand on all the beaches of all the worlds. Every human is a wonder, a breathing miracle.”
“When you said you had been serving for ten thousand years, that wasn’t just an exaggeration, was it? You weren’t using hyperbole?” Stacey asked.
“No, it was not an exaggeration, but I was not attempting to be exact, as it would be more like ten thousand three hundred years—give or take a decade, as you are so fond of generalizing,” she said. “But I was not the same as I am today, as I was in the beginning. I have changed, as have all the other Shepherds, we have become much more like our...charges. Some of us have become quite erratic, while others entrench within our own dogma, treating it like Holy Scripture.”
She stood and drew her with him. Standing together, she seemed his height exactly, and when she hugged him, there was something formal in the action, as if she were commemorating the moment. He held her in return, closing his eyes. When she finally pulled away slightly, he opened his eyes, and still holding hands, she led him toward the wardrobe.
“This is not as convenient as a door,” she said, stepping up into cabinet. Although everything in this reality seemed of normal size, the wardrobe was truly huge, a couple of feet taller than Stacey. He stepped up in after her.
“At least you didn’t go with the whole rabbit-hole theme,” he said. “Now that could have made ingress and egress a little awkward and uncomfortable.”
“I think Alice is a tad overdone,” the Shaannii said. “And you haven’t even met Mr. Dodgson. That meeting, if it should take place, will put you off Wonderland, forever. Sometimes there is quite a large difference between the reality of a creator and his creation.”
“For someone who has never had a conversation with a human, you’re actually quite good at it,” Stacey said, as they hovered on the threshold of the wardrobe—he on the lip of the front doors, and she pressed into the back, but the cabinet was shallow enough so that they were still pressed together, surrounded by several white furs on either side.
“I have watched a lot of movies,” she replied, and then, as a guilty afterthought she said: “Plus—I suppose I should not admit this to you, at least so early on—but I practice, usually with an imaginary version of you. Please close the wardrobe doors. The portal does not activate until the doors are closed, that way no one will inadvertently peek in and see more than they should.”
He pulled the wardrobe doors closed behind him and now they stood in the absolute darkness.
“You have imaginary conversations with me?” he asked, intrigued and whimsically amused.
“No, Stacey Colton, that is not at all what I said. I did not say I have imaginary conversations with you, but that I have very real conversations with an imaginary version of you, the two are not the same at all, you do understand?”
“Someone is beginning to sound an awful lot like a certain Lewis Carroll,” Stacey said, teasing her.
“I can see in the dark, and so I do see that insipid look upon your face,” she snipped, sounding a tad put out.
“Sheesh, I see that I will not have any privacy with you,” he said, a little flummoxed at the idea.
“Do not worry, you shall not require the use of...the facilities? Nor will you require food, unless of course you enjoy eating, in which case I might join you in a bite, every now and then, just to see what you like, so that I might understand you better. But I intend to observe you in all aspects, so there will be no privacy; however, if you wish, I can provide the illusion of privacy, if you require, shall we call it...delicate relief?”
“I don’t know, I suppose I don’t mind, but I thought perhaps you would be the one helping when it came to...delicate relief?”
“Only if you wish it,” she said. “I do not wish to be...pushy.”
“Oh, I think I’m going to wish it,” he said. “And I sometimes like pushy, so you just go ahead and pushy all you want.”
She slid up against him in the dark closet and pushed her mouth directly into his. She must really be able to see in the dark, because she connected with the first try. The only thing was, she might not quite understand the full concept of kissing, because she puckered up and gave him one big wet kiss, right in the kisser, and as she began to move away, he slid his arm about her waist and pulled her close. Unable to see in the dark, his aim was not quite as true as hers, but he moved in slowly, first discovering her lower lip.
He gripped her lower lip with both his lips, and tugged gently down, slightly parting her lips, then he slid up and pressed both his lips together between her lips, and then gently, slowly, their lips met, just on the bare insides of the inner lip, on the softest part. And he kissed her upper lip, and then her lower lip, and then went in one last time for the gentlest press, their lips together, creating a small vacuum in their mouths.
And when he pulled away from her, just slightly, gently, she hissed like a balloon stuck with a pin, collapsing against him, her head striking him on the neck, and he found that he had to support her, because she was limp in his arms.
“Are you okay?” he whispered.
“This court convenes and I will broach no argument, file the case, do not go through that door under the wardrobe,” she babbled while he supported her weight. He couldn’t catch everything she mumbled, but she was babbling out in rapid-fire almost-gibberish, a real mish-mash of their conversation mixed with court proceedings.
“Shaannii, are you okay? Hey, shhhh, it’s okay, it’s okay, shhhhh,” he whispered, soothing her. She actually had the hiccups, or something similar to it. Her breathing was hitching, and it did not exactly sound like...weeping, but there certainly was something wrong. She was trembling violently, and he could feel her heartbeat slamming against his chest, it felt like an actual miniature hammer pounding against him.
Oddly enough, you wouldn’t think that a ten thousand-year-old female judge would get quite this tipsy, from a simple first kiss, but she was definitely swooning in his embrace.
“Stacey? Is that you, Stacey Colton?” she mumbled.
“I don’t know if it was the kiss, or if you bumped your head, but I think we should climb back out of this closet,” he said, giving her a firm hug. She felt wonderful against him.
“It definitely was the kiss,” she said. “My head is clearing now, I just did not expect such a chemical imbalance.”
“Well you certainly have a heart,” he said.
“Yes, I do, and I am afraid I might have damaged it,” she said, completely out of breath. “Or you did.”
“Are you teasing me? You didn’t really have a heart attack, or anything, did you?”
“Yes, yes, I mean, no, no—that is to say, I was teasing you, and I did not suffer a heart attack, there, there, I have quite recovered. Shall we continue?”
He laughed.
“You choose the direction, Lady, I am just following you! Forward, or backward, you choose, and I provide, maybe some of both.”
“I understand that to be a sort of sexual pun?”
“Something of a double-entendre. But don’t be offended, we’re just enjoying a flirtatious few moments after our first kiss.”
“I like that,” she said, “the way you call me Lady. But if that is the way our first kiss affects me, I think we will need to proceed a tad more slowly, at least when we are heading in that direction.”
She pulled him through the wardrobe and they exited upon gritty stone steps, with a sun low on the horizon, the first brilliant colors exploding in the clouds as sunset neared. The sky seemed pale up in the dome of the sky, but down along the rim of the world it looked cobalt blue. Down below them an ancient city spread out on uneven terraces, and a bay of dark waters lay just beyond. There seemed to be a smoking volcano just on the other side of the bay—it couldn’t be more than five miles away, as the crow flies.
“Do you have any idea where this is?” Stacey asked, awestruck. The idea of a portal was one thing, but to experience it—it blew your mind.
In the park when they accessed the portal at Jack’s tree, everything had been in such flux that there hadn’t been a lot of time to think about things, but this, on the other hand—you went into a wardrobe and an instant later you are upon a stone path leading down into a dilapidated village, as evening draws on, with just a few twinkling lights igniting below you, winking merrily like stars.
“I have no clue, as I have never been out of the Crystal Spire, although this portal is set to you, so most likely this is based on a memory, or a wish,” the Shaannii said. “But feel free to experiment. Explore. Throughout the day, I see cases, but our nights will be ours. And if there is some place you would like to go with me, we can take a holiday, spend as much time as we care to, and do whatever you find interesting to do. The more time we spend on this side of the wardrobe, the safer we will be, and the more time we shall have.”
Stacey glanced down and noticed he was wearing leather sandals and cargo shorts, topped off by a t-shirt. Odd, not the way he would usually dress. And so he thought of himself in faded jeans and boots, with a long-sleeved white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up.
Amazingly enough, it was so.
“I kind of like this place,” Stacey said. “But what if I get lost?”
“Just think of me, and I will come and find you,” the Shaannii said.
“You said we had probably a day, on the other side of the portal,” Stacey said.
“That is me calculating the odds of detection, as it could be much shorter if Enseladus discovers the breach; but if it is Aajeel, or even Kronoss, I might get a warning, and then we will have to decide.”
“What will be our options?” Stacey said, fearing the worst.
“If it is Kronoss or Aajeel—two of my associates—we will choose between suffering the consequences, and fleeing.”
“What are the consequences?”
“Just what you are thinking.”
“And if it is that other character?”
“We will suffer the consequences.”
“Right, and the consequences are always the consequences. Well, it does all sound exciting. So you did this, for me, understanding the consequences?”
“I think it would be better if that was so, but unfortunately, it is worse than that. I will always be honest with you, Stacey Colton. I will never shield you from the truth. I did not do this for you. I did this for me, for I could no longer resist you.”
He placed his arm about her and pulled her in close.
“Believe it or not, I’ve always wanted a woman to say something like that to me,” Stacey said.
He took great handfuls of her shining white hair in his hands and luxuriated in the rush as it spilled through his fingers.
“There might be a place for us to run, but it would probably end up being a worse nightmare than we inevitably facing here,” the Shaannii told him, her face nestled against his throat.
“Anywhere but where I came from,” Stacey told her. “Where you are, that’s where I want to be. You are my own private Wonderland.”
“When we get back, I will see if I can get a message through to my sister,” the Shaannii said.
“Your sister? You actually have siblings?”
“Not in the biological sense. No, this would more, in a different translation. She existed before me, and I was a cloned version of her, when Vestigial Surreality first came online.”
“Ah, the old clone plot device. Does she look like you?”
“If you saw us together, there would be little resemblance. No. We have evolved on very different paths.”
The Shaanni held him tighter.
“I do know how to pick them,” Stacey said, sighing.
“Remember, I picked you,” the Shaanni said.
“That’s what I mean, I always end up picking the one that picks me. So you think there’s a chance this sister might help us?”
“The Lady Maulgraul is the greatest renegade and enemy of the Ascended Mind. We have not seen each other in more than ten thousand years.”

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Vestigial Surreality WIKI
Sunday SciFi Fantasy Serial
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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