previous: Strawman ch7: Mama
Remote entry log: ISP (redacted) signal mapped through Russia, Thailand, and the arctic circle. <complete action, post to reddit.>
Somehow, I still have my phone.
Unsure of how long I’ve been in hospital. The red-haired nurse, Charli, left for a while, allowing me a moment of sleep. I awoke to her sitting in a chair, flipping through a magazine. She doesn’t seem to care about what I’m doing; acting more as a guide than a guard.
“Yes, I’m your tour guide. Are you ready to get started, now?” Her words appeared on my screen at the same time as she spoke. “Just use speech to text, sweetie, it’s a lot easier.” The tall, imposing woman talked like someone who had walked my exact same path. This was not a big deal, at least not for her.
I flexed my hands, and there was no pain, but for whatever reason I was too afraid to sit up on my own. “Am I dead?”
Charli crossed her arms with a look of annoyance. “My previous answer will not change.”
I could recall what she had said, but it still made no sense. “It’s up to me?”
“Yup.” The nurse waved her arm like a magician, while still reading her copy of Vanity Fair. The once blank wall began to crunch and crumble. Three distinct colors appeared to be rising from the wall in the form of fungus. One was a red wooden pattern, the next was a similar texture but in an off-white color. They were doors, set just a few feet apart. In between was a different shiny surface, forming the shape of a sideways rectangle.
“Is that a dry erase board?”
“Yes, it is.” Charli stood up. The woman ran her fingers through her hair, producing a thick red marker. (From the inside of her scalp.) On the board she proceeded to write in blood red ink, “The needs of the many outweigh the desires of the few.”
“I don’t think that’s the quote.”
“What quote?” she asked, while shooting me a deadpan look.
Unsure if she was serious, I decided to just expel my knowledge. “Spock says to Captain Kirk, ‘Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.’ It’s from a pretty famous movie.” I sat up, meeting her gaze. My legs were on the side of the bed, fully prepared to walk in the direction of the doors. “You know, Star Trek?”
“All I know is you’re now sitting up.”
“Oh.” I looked down at my body. Charli was correct. Her little joke was all I’d needed to push myself up using my arms. “So does this mean you don’t believe in that quote?”
“No, I fully believe in my quote.” she tapped the board. “The needs of the many outweigh the desires of the few.”
“Because happiness is not a need, only a desire?” The moment I said the words out loud I felt like a self-centered asshat.
“But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s your decision.”
I wanted to ask how she died. Clearly Charli was a spirit; an angel, a demon, something other than human. “So, one of those doors leads to a world where Mount Rushmore gets destroyed?”
“Yes.” Charli was twirling the marker like a fidget toy. “And the other is not.”
“Ok,” I felt more nervous than I should have. “If I make the wrong choice, can I come back?”
“No, of course not. What do you think this is, a videogame?”
“Oh.” I felt my chest tense. My vision was flickering and I could feel the bile rising in my throat.
“I’m kidding. I’m coming with you. We might even run across a few of my co-workers.”
“Please don’t make me spell it out for you.” She was now fully admitting to being an ethereal creature.
“Ok, sorry. What do I need to do?”
“Pick a door,” she replied all too calmly.
I guess she would be calm; it’s not her soul on the line. “Just pick a door? Should I do eeny-meanie-miney-mo?”
Charli finally put down her magazine. “You can look around, stare, whatever you like as long as you don’t set foot inside.”
Finally, some useful information. “Ok, I understand.” I just couldn’t believe this was really happening. Moving slowly with my weight against the wall, I opened the first door. I tensed every muscle in my body, preparing for the worst.
It was a hallway in a hospital. ‘What? Why?’ First, I was confused. I forced myself to lean forward, peeking down the outside hall. The walls were white with blue and grey accents, and the floor was covered in fake wood panels (as opposed to the off-white speckled tiles in my room.)
The PA system crackled to life. “Attention Visitors and staff, please join us in the cafeteria for cake and coffee in celebration of the USMC appreciation day.”
‘The USMC? Was this a military hospital?’ I looked around the side, curving my head as far as possible until I could see signage. “VA medical center.”
As if replying, the PA screeched back to life. “We here at the VA celebrate military service men and women; past, present and future.”
That was when I slammed the door shut. I felt nervous, horrified. A wave of nausea hit my stomach and all I could do was cry.
I didn’t want to be trapped in that world, but I had no idea why. This very well might be a path back to my career as a government agent. But after all that had happened, I would be diagnosed with a mental illness, likely lose my job, then what would I do? In my state of hysteria, I had fallen backward onto my butt. Sitting comfortably on the floor, this moment of calm gave me a chance to finally breathe.
The door shut all on its own, while I dusted myself off. ‘Was this a trick?’ My mind felt dizzy, foggy. I was unsure of which door I had chosen first, so I just went for the red door. A hospital didn’t seem like a place that would make use of a door the color of blood.
The red door opened with a click before immediately blowing completely open. I screamed as the wind nearly tore my arm from my shoulder. On the opposite side was a push bar, giving the familiar feeling of a fire escape exit. I did not expect it to fly open so damn violently. In an ill-advised moment of self-preservation, I took a step forward. No sooner did my toes pass the threshold, I was no longer in a hospital room. I was getting kicked out of a bar, forced in to a snow-covered alley.
I landed hard on my bare shoulder, causing street ice to trickle down my chest. I was dressed like someone on their way to a club; a sparkly black dress covered in sequins and lace. My phone was in my hand, that was all that mattered. Except this was not my phone; these were not my clothes. I looked for my purse, a clutch, anything with an ID card.
No, all I had was my phone.
I could hear the sound of traffic in the distance. Rubbing my arms for warmth, I walked to the closest parked car to examine the license plate. The first said New York, the second New Jersey. (Judging by my surroundings my educated guess leaned more towards NYC.) With nothing else to do, I started to scroll through my contacts. ‘Hiro, Ryo, Ponyo,’ all of the names seemed to be Japanese. Clicking on each profile, I felt a warm rush of joy.
These were characters from movies. ‘Ponyo? Was that a reference to the retelling of the little mermaid?‘ Whoever owned that number had to be worthy of being represented by the innocent little pink fish. I hit dial.
It rang once, then twice. “Hello, Grace is that you?” the voice was a little girl. She seemed concerned, friendly, maybe even a little hopeful.
“Do you need Papa to come get you?”
‘Did I?’ This felt like a mistake. “Yes please.”
I could hear her footsteps. It sounded like she was holding the phone close to the ground (or rather pointed at the ground.) She was hiding the call so I made sure to stay as quiet as humanly possible.
“Daddy,” she said in a whisper. “Wake up, it’s Gracie.”
I could hear her voice, her breath as she held the phone to her father’s ear.
Rey’s voice was soft, deep, with a hint of sadness. “Thank you, Maria. Can you ask her to meet me at the place?
“The place.” I knew the place, but to get there I would need to start walking.
Maria took the phone back, shuffling the device inside her pocket. I could hear her enter another room and shut the door. “Are you still there? I can stay on the line.”
“Of course. Anything for my best friend.”
“Your best friend?”
“I know you’re just my nanny, but I really like you. I’ll never forget you,” as she spoke, her voice drifted off. I could hear her trembling with fear.
“Is someone there?” I asked, pausing by a light post. I could see the parking lot from where I was. I just needed to find the entrance to the church. ‘Wait, what church?!’
I knew exactly what church; the shelter where I was forced to flee to, the first time Rey’s wife kicked me out. She hated me. But why?
On the phone, I heard the sound of an adult female shouting profanity. “If you leave this house, you will never see your family again! Is that what you want? Don’t you turn your back on me, Rey!
I heard a crash followed by screams. So many screams; male female, old, young. “Maria? Are you still there?”
“Yeah,” she answered in a whisper. “Papa’s coming for you. I’ll stay on the line as long as I can, but I got to go hide.”
“Thanks, Maria.” My mind raced; how old was she, how long had I been her nanny? Why couldn’t I hear Rey’s voice? The kindhearted older brother was gone, and in his place was a monster. ‘Why?’
The memories came to me in bursts, like bullets striking my consciousness. I had left South Dakota with Rey and his family. On the flight I sat with Maria, playing tic-tac-toe. She kept making the game board bigger and bigger. With every win she would reveal more information.
“Mommy and Daddy speak Spanish,” she said in her cute little voice.
“Do you speak Spanish?”
“No,” she shook her head, doodling on the paper. “I don’t like Spanish.”
Rey and his wife, Natalia only spoke Spanish when they were arguing. (And they argued a lot.)
They had paid for my hospital stay; the removal of my ruined uterus, and the lifesaving operation to put my organs back inside my abdomen. (Jamie had taken away my ability to have any more children; our daughter would be my only biological connection to this world.) I knew I couldn’t go to the police. Not that I even wanted to.
With that in mind, Rey somehow sold Natalia on the idea of keeping me around as a live-in nanny.
“She’ll work for room and board.
“For how long?”
“As long as she needs to.”
“So, we’re just meant to support her like a second child?”
Natalia was a traveling nurse and part-time model. She came from old money, living off a trust fund from her grandmother. The light-skinned Hispanic beauty met Rey during a Spring Break trip to South America. They partied through Brazil, on an orgy bus of attractive people in the height of their lives. After dating for less than a week, he propose to her against the backdrop of Machu Picchu, Peru. And she said yes. After all Rey was gorgeous; the face of a prince with the body of an angel. To deny him would have been the definition of insanity.
A splash of cold water shocked me back to reality. I tripped on my feet, and nearly fell over when a bright red BMW pulled up in front of me. I caught myself by placing my hands on the passenger window. This was Natalia’s car.
The window rolled down, allowing me a glimpse of the driver’s face. Even behind a pair of sunglasses, Rey’s smoldering eyes pierced through the darkness. His lips parted for a single sensual breath. “Hey.”
“Hi, um, thanks for coming.” That was when I noticed the blood. There was so much blood, it was as if he had come straight from dismembering his wife’s body. Stains that I had mentally attributed to shadows were actually dried, caked gore. ‘Was that a tooth?’ A sane person would have thought twice before getting in a car alone with such a man. Not me. Never me.
His hand was on the gearshift, but he was not speaking. The moment my body was mostly in the car, Rey made a violent U-turn. In one swift motion, I was knocked into the seat, the door shut and Rey pulled away from the curb, driving abnormally fast down the crowded street.
If he was on drugs, the side effect seemed to be heightened focus. We drove in silence, both of us staring out at the mess in front of us. He maneuvered the vehicle down the sidewalk, plowing over trash, bodies, whatever. With the windows up the car was practically soundproof.
I closed my eyes. The sound of the carnage was nothing more then the patter of rain. This was nice. I kept my hands on my lap, allowing him to stay focused on driving. Then he reached for my hand.
My eyes flickered open. We were heading to the freeway. “How’s Maria?”
“She’s good,” he said with a nod. “No thanks to her slut of a mother.” Rey puffed out his lips, offering a kiss to the night sky. “She’s a good kid, with a great future ahead of her.”
“I’m glad.” There was a second half to his statement. Maria had accomplished greatness despite her mother. “None of this is your fault.”
We drove past a sign marking our direction. We were heading towards the Canadian border. Rey chuckled, his smile showing the first genuine sign of life. “So, what do you say, Grace? Should we?”
Now I was confused. “Cross the border into Canada? I assumed that’s what we were doing.”
That was when he aggressively pulled off the road, nearly slamming into the median. A wave of car horns rippled over us, as several vehicles struggled to swerve.
I waited for him to speak, but no words came. “What?”
“I want to hear it from you.”
“Yeah, let’s try for the Rainbow Bridge,” I muttered, assuming that was what he wanted me to say. ‘Don’t worry, Rey, you’re not alone in your madness.’
Rey paused with a look of confusion. “Rainbow Bridge?”
“The US-Canadian border is called the Rainbow Bridge. Let’s go there.”
“And do what?” he asked staring straight ahead.
“I don’t know.” Was I meant to say I loved him? That I wanted to be with him? “We don’t have to stick together. We just need to be someplace else.”
Rey took a moment to nod. “That’s the first thing you’ve ever said that makes sense.”
“So, does this mean we can get back on the road?”
Rey nodded, again in silence as he sped up, driving around other vehicles, pedestrians and possibly police. Bullets were flying. Glass, stone, metal (and who knows what else) was colliding with the vehicle.
I lifted my hand, touching the windshield. There were cracks everywhere, some the size of coins while others were much larger. ‘How was the car not breaking?’
At some point I expected the glass to shatter, but instead the surface was becoming more and more opaque. By the time we crashed through the first check point on the American side of the border. I could barely see what was the road and what was the pedestrian walkway. If we made it onto the bridge, we would have to outrun the police.
“I think we should stop.” The words came out as a whisper.
“On the bridge?” Rey asked. With how fast he was going, we were nearly across.
I could hear sirens. “I want you to run.”
There was a moment of silence as eh made a sharp turn. “Bullshit, I’m not leaving you.”
I couldn’t tell if he had actually stopped the car. The whole situation felt surreal. “It’s just not right.”
“Nothing of this is right.” Rey blinked causing a single tear to journey down his sculpted, unshaven cheek.
“Your wife isn’t dead,” I muttered, assuming that was still true. “You’ll go to prison but not forever. You’ll have a chance to be there for your daughter. I know that’s what you want.”
He needed to turn himself in, to atone for his deeds and then find his way to South Dakota. ‘And then what? Will he meet you again, as Razor?’
No. He would not. I would make sure of that.
I glanced at Rey’s hands; he was no longer holding the wheel, in fact the car was in park, but the keys were in the ignition. He wore no seatbelt. ‘Where was it?’ An idea was brewing in my head.
‘Why?’ I was asking myself, as I saw a very particular scene play out like a movie. ‘Why would you do that?’
I looked at my hands. Yes, this was really about to happen. “I’m sorry.”
In the half-second it took for him to turn to me I grabbed his seatbelt with both hands, wrapping the shoulder strap around his neck. With my arms locked I was staring into his eyes.
He leaned back, opening the door. Rey fell out, rolling on to the ground. I didn’t wait to see the results, instead, I floored it across the bridge, to the Canada side. I could barely see out of the windshield, but I could tell what was water vs what was street. With the last of my strength, I drove off the bridge crashing into the dark abyss below.
As the car hit the raging river, I was fully prepared to die. All I had to do was wait. The car would fill with water, I could simply close my eyes and drown. Maybe I’d get lucky and take a blow to the head, and then I figure my body will wash up somewhere in Maine, getting picked apart by lobsters. (I always loved lobsters. It would be like a circle of life.) I’d gladly die in the ocean, returning my body to the earth, just as long as I don’t get eaten by a shark. ‘Don’t be an idiot, there are no sharks in Niagara Falls. You’re just going to be smashed like a can of soda.
My body froze as I sank like a stone. The violent river forced the car to the bottom, pushing me along a set path. At first no water was entering the vehicle. This had me a little pissed off. The last thing I wanted was to die of starvation, trapped in this impermeable tomb.
‘Just wait for the car to stop.’
I wasn’t panicking or even breathing. Perhaps I was a little to calm. I noticed the keys were still in the car, allowing the headlights to cut through the darkness of the water.
I thought I might close my eyes, but sleep refused to come. So, I settled for enjoying the view. I found myself trapped in a state of stasis watching fish of all shapes and sizes rocketing past. Long silver bodies glided past with a true elegance. And then, a creature swam up to my window. It was a pink, mass, with two big blue eyes and a bulbous snout. At first, I saw spikes, similar to a puffer fish. The creature pressed itself against the glass, moving, crawling, changing. The creature’s eyes pulled together into one shimmery orb; one glowing eye staring in to my soul. It started to spin like a pinwheel. Its body opened up revealing an octopus-like shape. Although it had no mouth, I knew it was smiling.
“What do you want from me!”
The suction cups, flexed and pulled, creating a series of popping sounds. Between the small bursts of air, the mass expelled a single word in a low, gurgling breath. “Ma.” It was laughing.
I braced myself, waiting for the creature to break the window. There was a click, followed by a pop; stab, splat.
The pink pig-fish exploded into a mess of flesh and blood. I had never felt so grateful to be behind a window.
A redhaired figure emerged from behind the gore. Her green eyes glowed through the silence. ‘Charli.’ I reached my hand to the window, pressing my fingertips to the glass.
The woman nodded with a wide customer-service smile. She locked eyes with me, point downward towards the door. Did she want me to open the door? Was it even possible?
I took a look at my feet there was a small amount of water trickling in from behind the pedals. (I had to at least try.) I grabbed the door handle and gave it a pull. My vision was covered in red as the force hit me like a ton of bricks.
I felt Charli grab my hand.
With astonishing amount of strength, she yanked my arm. I closed my eyes as I landed hard on the floor of (what appeared to be) a restaurant.
I pulled myself to my feet, narrowly avoiding a waitress. “Sorry.”
Charli was sitting at a booth, near a window, overlooking a red-orange sunset. She was dressed like a reality star; someone who just went shopping in New York (or even Hollywood.) Her pencil skirt was green, the color of a mermaid tail, while her top was salmon pink. She ignored me, pulling out a compact to check her makeup while I took a seat.
Adding some extra shimmer to her cheeks, Charli’s face was glowing with a heavenly light. “How are you enjoying your sashimi?”
‘Sashimi?’ I looked down at the mass of pink flesh that had suddenly appeared on my plate. Unlike actual sushi there was no effort to make it look like anything other than a sea demon. I screamed, knocking the meal to the ground. The mass of flesh landed with a wet flop.
Charli laughed, and soon the mass began to melt into the floor, vanishing completely. “It’ll be back.”
“What is it?”
“What is what?” she asked, looking out the window. “Ontario is so lovely this time of day.”
“The thing that keeps following me. The thing that calls me, ‘mama’?” Both of those statements made no sense; that thing was a demon who caused an act of terror. For me to assume this was all about my life, my choices; that was just egotistical. ‘Right?’
Charli paused, reaching for a nearby cup. “Here’s what I know; your ex-husband and your daughter released something that doesn’t belong here.”
I wanted to point out that Jamie was never my husband, but I had some doubt as to whether or not that was true. “Can I choose to walk away?”
“You can, but I know you won’t.”
She was, of course correct. “Did I save Rey?”
“Rey?” Charli rolled her eyes as she took a sip of tea.
“Nothing. I just thought you’d be tired of chasing your own tail. Anyway, I found your phone.” She slid me a Ziplock bag covered in sand. Inside was my phone, with a full battery. “You’ll probably need a new charger.”
“Thanks.” I took the opportunity to bury my face in my notepad log, adding details as needed. I pray this will still be posted.
If you love someone, you have to let them go. The time has come to stop chasing my tail. I need to go after the thorn in my side.