Standing there, in the strange simulation of reality that was too vibrant, too real to be truly correct, I felt my fingers tighten around the cold steel of the crowbar that was leaning up against the half-torn-apart car. Gripping it so tightly that the beveled edges bit into my skin, I brought it up and swung it at the head of the thing that wasn’t quite my wife.
The crowbar swung true. It flew right towards Alexis’s forehead, and I felt a burning scream inside of me, a scream at the idea of doing this to something with the face of my wife, even if it wasn’t really her, just wore her skin-
The crowbar hit, sank in. It felt hideously horrible in my grip, as if I’d swung it, not into a person, but into some sort of gelatinous mass. Alexis’s head bent in horribly where the crowbar hit, but her whole body bent as though she didn’t have a skull, rubber in place of bones.
She stepped back, her face twisted and horribly skewed from the impact. Her forehead looked like a split melon, caved in nearly three inches. Her eyes rolled in their askew sockets, one of them bulging out preposterously. She could see in a hundred and eighty degrees, I thought wildly with a touch of panicked hysteria.
“Now, that wasn’t so nice, was it?” she said, sounding as if she was cracking a light-hearted dinner party joke.
I screamed. The crowbar was still in my hand, and I swung it again, another time, battering away at this monstrously twisted reflection of my love.
It hit again, another time. The second impact snapped her arm up, giving her another joint in her upper arm. The third hit took her in the neck, throwing out her back and making her head loll lazily to one side.
“Not nice at all,” the thing croaked out, its voice slurred and distorted. I must have smacked its voice box. It took another step away, holding out that shattered arm towards me like it wanted to take my hand for a dance.
“Stop it! Stop wearing her! You’re not her! You can never be her!” With each scream, I attacked again. I drove her back, until she leaned back against the wall of Nathaniel Hobbson’s house, looking like a half-melted Barbie, like the aftermath of a torturer’s victim.
There was no blood. Perhaps that was what made it so uncanny. She was twisted into a shape that couldn’t possibly live, couldn’t possibly even draw breath – but the dented chest still rose and fell, the loose eye rolled even as it dangled out of its socket, her mouth, jaw knocked halfway out of place, worked up and down.
“This is new,” the thing said, its voice so distorted that it no longer sounded anything like my wife. “No one’s ever said no before. It’s like refusing a drink of water in the desert.”
“No!” I shouted back, the crowbar slick in my sweaty grasp. “It’s choosing death over an iron collar around my neck!”
“And you all,” the thing said, but I hit it again before it could finish the sentence. I turned the crowbar around so I held it by the curved end. With both hands, I drove the straight wedge at its ribs.
I hit between the fourth and fifth rib, drove the bar into her. I felt it slam home in the siding of the house behind her, the only thing to offer any resistance. It went straight through her like she was soft dough, pinning her to the building, a butterfly tacked to a foam board.
“Such a loss,” it croaked. The whole world shimmered at the edges of my vision. At the corners of my eyes, color seemed to be leeching out of the surroundings, a watercolor painting tilted before it had fully dried. The color pooled together and drained away, leaving pencil outlines of objects that, after a second, began untangling themselves from their shapes.
I drew back, staring at the monstrous thing, still twitching and flexing in its tortured half-life. “Fuck you,” I spat out. “You could never be her. And I’ll never join this.”
Its mouth moved, but I didn’t hear it. Sound seemed to also be unraveling, dissolving into a faint buzzing. The whole world was coming apart, fading away.
Everything except the front door to the Hobbson house, I realized. Only that still held its shape, even as the color leeching approached it.
That was my way out.
I sprinted towards it, wrenched it open, stared in confusion at the inside of the house on the other side. Shouldn’t it lead to an exit from this fading world?
But as I hovered there on the threshold, I heard a faint sound from upstairs. A cry, a thump against a wooden obstacle.
I ran for the stairs, taking them two at a time even as my feet sank a disturbing half inch into the solid-appearing wood. They were coming apart, too. The walls of the house weren’t enough to keep out the dissolving world.
Upstairs. At the end of the hall, a door with a pink unicorn cut of paper and stuck to it with a piece of masking tape. I ran to it, saw the long bolt that slid home, keeping it shut from the outside. The bolt felt like jelly in my hands as I wrenched it open.
Sara was inside, her eyes red. She looked up at me, first in confusion, then with dawning awareness – and hope. “It said it was my dad,” she said, her voice small.
I nodded. “It said a lot of things. But we need to get out of here, honey. Can you walk?”
She nodded, rose unsteadily to her feet. “The door is the way out,” she said, stepping over the threshold of her bedroom.
I shook my head. “I stepped through it to come in here,” I said.
“Doesn’t count!” She was past me, heading for the stairs. I plunged after her through the dissolving house. The color was draining, now, vanishing from the wood-paneled walls. “You have to go through it the right way!”
Could it be right? The stairs were barely lines, now, and we plunged down them more in a fall than in a controlled descent. But there, at the bottom, the door still stood, although I saw its edges beginning to waver, slightly, the rest of the world’s dissolution finally starting to breach its barrier. It was closed, once again – had I closed it behind me when I came inside?
Sara grabbed the handle, twisted. I was behind her, now, with her. We opened the door together, pushing it as it stuck for a moment in its frame.
There, on the other side, was the whiteness. If we went through, would we be trapped back in that non-existence, fighting the oncoming tentacles once again, for another eternity?
Sara paused at the threshold, shook her head. “No,” she said. “No, we have to go through, not in between. Out the other side.”
I didn’t know what those words meant, but the whiteness shimmered, phased. It narrowed into a long tunnel through darkness, with a glow at the other end.
Sara still didn’t step forward. “No, not yet,” she said.
Another shimmer. We were running out of time. The rest of the house was gone, now, except for a few tangles of pencil lines on which we stood. The color was mostly gone from the door, now, and I could see its edges beginning to fray.
The view changed once more, and we saw the whiteness return. This time, though, it felt different.
It would have to be enough. “Time to go,” I told Sara, wrapping my arms around her waist.
She protested, tried to say something, but I had her, and we couldn’t stay here any longer or we’d be dissolved, too. Together, we plunged through the door.
But when I pushed, hard as I could, I caught a sliver of blinding light…
To be continued (still)…