Perchance to dream

Submitted into Contest #196 in response to: Write a story involving a portal into a parallel universe.... view prompt

2 comments

Fantasy Fiction Romance

One

I stood at the low, wrought iron gate and stared at the house.

Just another featureless three bed semi in a quiet suburban street. A house like many others, it’s anonymity spoiled on this night by the light and sound spilling over from it, escaping through the windows, seeping through the cracks around the edges of the door.

Raucous music, a hubbub of intermingled voices, the sound of people enjoying themselves, the sounds of life. In that moment my nerve almost broke - I would have turned and fled but it was too late, the door had opened.

“Who’s that?” a small, chubby dark haired woman called out. “Is that you Jonathon?”

I forced my face into the semblance of a smile, pushed open the little gate and stepped over the threshold with a deep breath.

“Hello Liz,” I answered. “Of course it’s me. Who did you expect, Brad Pitt?”

She threw the door open wide and a fresh blast of noise and light assaulted my senses. The attack on my morbid depression was intensified by touch and smell as Liz wrapped her arms around me, hugged and kissed me, her perfume filling my nostrils.

Again I told myself it was a mistake, it was too soon. Cary Ann had been dead only six months and I knew I wouldn’t get over her in six lifetimes.

“You look so different, I hardly recognised you,” Liz burbled in her usual way then took my arm in friendly possession and guided me through the crowded hallway.

Different? How much could I have changed in the week since I last saw her? Since she had cornered me at work and badgered me into accepting an invitation to this hideous torture.

We walked into the lounge together, into the screaming heart of the party where the stereophonic din mad my head pound in sympathy.

I smiled and nodded at people I recognised, people I would rather avoid simply because they were all friends or acquaintances of when I and Cary were a couple. Now they were constant reminders of the death of my only love.

Most of the people acknowledged my lukewarm greeting with a nod in return or a wave of a glass but they all stared at me oddly. I assumed I knew their reasons but it didn’t dim my anger, my rage at the unfairness of life.

For six months after the accident I had only left my flat to work or shop for food. Other than that I had become a hermit, unable to accept life without Cary Ann, afraid to take the option I really wanted to free my spirit to follow her into whatever lay beyond death.

So I spent my time alone moping, simply wishing over and over again that she wasn’t dead - thinking of nothing but being in another world, one where my beloved wasn’t dead. Until the wishing had become an unending litany in my waking mind - and the fantasy of another world clouded my dreams so that every morning when I woke I had to suffer the wrenching loss again and again.

“… beard?” Liz pulled on my arm and I realised she had been saying something to me but the music was too loud so I bent down to put my ear next to her mouth.

“Why did you get rid of your beard?” Liz shouted into my ear but still I thought I had misheard her. I’d never had a beard. Before she could repeat herself pointlessly yet again Peter, Liz’s husband came over and clapped me on the shoulder in a supposedly friendly greeting that I had always hated. He also leaned over and spoke loudly:

“Good to see you could make it Johnathon,” he shouted. “Where’s Carole Ann?”

I jerked back, feeling like I’d been punched and glared coldly at Peter, my rage bubbling up, boiling.

“Is this some kind of sick joke?” I roared at my erstwhile friend. If it was a joke it would earn him no laughter but maybe a broken nose.

The accident that took Cary Ann had left me with no one to blame - the truck driver had himself died of a heart attack which caused the tragedy. With only life in general to blame I felt all too ready to strike out at someone, anyone. At that moment the music stopped and Peter turned away to set another playlist going.

“I asked you why you shaved your bear off?” Lis spoke into the oasis of quiet that had appeared. I turned my angry stare to her.

I had always thought of myself as a straightforward, unimaginative type of person. Even dull - and the kind of persistent “wind up” that Liz was now indulging in had always grated on my nerves - combined with Peter’s very poor taste joke and the constant stares of the other party goers - I could feel the anger inside me ready to explode.

It was a bad moment for the evening to turn completely weird.

Two

“Where’s the music then Peter?” called a voice from the doorway, a voice that sent an unpleasant chill down my spine.

The crowd started shuffling around to let the newcomer through and at the same time a ripple of surprise or even shock spread out into the room. Moments later a bearded man stepped in front of me and Liz.

“Hello Liz, how …” The man began to speak but quickly trailed off into slack jawed silence.

In an instant I felt my heart accelerate and felt each individual hair on the back of my neck stand up straight. I was looking at a bearded version of myself.

“Who …? How …?” Liz spluttered, her eyes flicking rapidly between the two versions of me.

“Who are you?” I asked hoarsely, my mouth dry, a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“Johnathon Butler,” he replied. “Who are you?”

“I’m Jonathon Butler,” I told him.

We stared at each other while the rest of the party stared at us. Nervous whispers slithered around the room and the scent of fear became apparent. Only one man spoke aloud.

“S’fucking good,” Terry Gee, drunk as usual, gave his opinion of the situation. “There’s two of the bastards.”

I turned to Peter.

“What’s going on here?” I asked him. “Someone’s idea of a sick joke?”

“Whose idea was this?” the other me chimed in. That pushed me over the edge and I lashed out, hitting him squarely on the nose which started bleeding profusely. I’m not really a fighter so it was sheer luck that I managed to hit him at all and he may have been bleeding but my hand was throbbing.

“What are you two doing?” a woman’s voice, “Stop this now.”

A woman’s voice that I recognised immediately, a face that was burned into my soul. She glanced briefly at me then turned to the other me with concern, dabbing at his nose with tissues.

“What happened?” she asked the other me in that quiet voice, a gentle American tang colouring the musical tone. I looked again at that face - serene, golden skinned with large, soulful brown eyes - and the long, softly waved auburn hair that fell to her shoulders.

Three

“Cary Ann,” I managed to croak before my voice deserted me and I sank to my knees, hands spread wide, begging for this to be true. Then the tears fell from my eyes, cascading down my cheeks.

“John what …?” She spoke to her Johnathon, looked at him questioningly but he could only shrug his shoulders. She turned to me and knelt down.

“Cary Ann” I said huskily, “I love you.”

“My name is Carole Anne,” she told me gently, softly. For long moments, an inch of time stretched impossibly long and thin we stared at each other. A brief, cold shadow passed over her eyes as if she suddenly knew why I was in such pain.

Slowly I stood up as an unbearably heavy weight had settled on my shoulders.

“Forgive me,” I begged her as I strolled to the door, barging through the knot of people and straight on outside into the crisp, cool night.

I felt my mind spinning, scrabbling desperately for grip but, finding nothing, spun again set adrift in a sea of surreality. Taking great, shuddering breaths I wandered aimlessly through the streets of Surbiton occasionally shaking my head as if trying to dislodge an idea that had become stuck in there or maybe just in denial.

I realised that I was heading back to my flat. Was it still my flat? Would she be there? Would I be there?

Images from the party flashed through my mind like a series of still photographs taken from odd angles or a dream that I desperately clung to.

I reached the old Victorian mansion that had been converted into half a dozen flats. The lock on the front door had been broken for months so I simply pulled it open and started up the stairs, sluggishly, my breath coming in short, short gasps as the tension that gripped me grew tighter as I came closer to my front door.

Four

The dark oak panelling on the walls, glassy smooth mahogany bannister that helped hold him up, the dark, wine-red carpet that muffled his footsteps. None of it existed for me as I reached the end of the bannister and faced the door to my flat.

“Shit,” I swore after my third attempt to make my key fit a lock it plainly wasn’t designed for.

I looked around, suddenly unsure but yes, it was the right building and the right flat. So who had changed the lock? Hope surged again bringing a fiery pain into my chest as I pressed the doorbell with a shaky hand.

I pressed twice more before I heard the sound of someone coming to the door.

The tension grew tighter, a giant hand squeezing my chest, my stomach churning.

The door began to open slowly and I shoved it hard.

“Ow, what the fuck?”

I stepped inside and slammed the door behind me. To find myself staring at the bearded version of me, favouring one foot where the door had apparently hit him - but it was his eyes that broke me, a look of pain that I recognised only too well.

“Where is she?” I screamed at him. “Tell me where she is.”

“She’s dead,” the other man shouted back. “A lorry ran out of control and rammed into her car. She didn’t have a chance.”

“No,” still shouting I shoved the other me backwards against the wall. “You’re lying. She was standing in a bus queue when the lorry went out of control. That was six months ago.”

“Why are you doing this to me?” the bearded man asked. “The woman I love is dead and you come here telling me insane stories. Why?”

Fear, crushed hope, pain and anger swirled together dangerously inside me like a bomb ready to explode and when the explosion came it was just as deadly.

“Because I loved her to.” I lunged forward and grabbed this other me by the throat, unreasoning fury brushing aside any constraints of civilization. “Because I’ve lost her once already and I cannot take losing her a second time. Dear God please don’t put me through all that pain again - how can I be expected to survive again?”

All the time I was speaking, more to myself or God rather than the man I was strangling - all the time my fingers tightened their grip, ruthlessly squeezing, crushing Adams apple into windpipe, cutting off air, killing.

Was it a minute? Two minutes? before I realised what I had done. It was an eternity, separating me as a basically good man from me as a murderer. I stared, horrified at the lifeless thing in my hands, the weight of the dead body hanging from my adrenalin pumped arms and suddenly I couldn’t hold it any longer. The remains of Johnathon Butler hit the ground with an echoless thud.

I quickly looked over my shoulder fearfully, guilt already burrowing into my head but the front door was shut tight. Every time I looked at the body I felt that I might vomit so I ran to my bedroom to hide, climbed into my bed.

Perhaps I should call the police but how could I explain what had happened? The longer I left it the more difficult the explanations. But I was tired, so tired - all I wanted to do was fall asleep, to wake up in a world where I wasn’t a murderer, where Cary Ann was still alive. Another world, a better world.

I was awakened by the slamming of a door and was instantly overwhelmed by guilt. Had the police burst in? Had someone discovered the body? I looked to the bedside clock but couldn’t make out what time it was - the numbers seemed blurred, badly printed and there where too many of them. I rose softly from the bed crept to the bedroom door and opened it a fraction, just enough to see into the lounge. The handle felt odd, warm and soft to the touch and the door itself moved too slowly but what I saw in the other room made me forget about everything else.

There, by the sofa, shaking her long, (slightly darker than I remembered) hair free of the ponytail that she wore to work. Cary Ann.

Five

Opening the door wide I stepped through and walked to my beloved, determinedly pushing thoughts of murder and bodies out of my mind.

She turned around and looked startled for a moment then relaxed and smiled.

“Oh Jothan,” she exclaimed. “You frightened me half to death. What are you doing home so early?”

“I want you,” I whispered hoarsely. “I need you.”

I took hold of her blouse, fingers stumbling over unfamiliar closures, gave up and simply ripped it from her body. Again I hesitated over the strange design of her bra, waited long enough for her to press a hand to my chest and back away a pace.

“Wait,” she said softly. In that moment I almost felt that I would take her by force but saw that she wasn’t refusing him as her bra fell to the ground quickly followed by her skirt and panties. Naked, she stepped back to me.

Lips touched lips, tongues probed frantically into each other’s mouths and a vast hunger overtook us both.

Later, another eternity consumed by passion, the two of them lay together on the floor of the lounge, her head resting on my shoulder, my arm holding her in a protective embrace.

“Mmm,” Cary Ann murmured through a haze of sweaty contentment. “You must come home from work early more often.”

I smiled, afraid to speak as if that might break the spell of whatever magic had given me this second chance. Gently, so softly I trailed my fingers down her cheek - felling the velvet softness I thought I would never touch again. I rested my hand against the pulsing beat of life at her throat, it’s slow and easy rhythm enough to bring a lump into my own throat.

I moved my hand, exploring once more the contours of her collar bone, sliding on down to her breasts, squeezing a quickly hardening nipple between thumb and finger. She looked at me with a mischievous smile.

“Again already?” she laughed. “Is this the same man who forgot to kiss me goodbye this morning?”

I froze, flames of desire quenched by the cold waters of reality. All the buried fears and questions re-surfaced to chase each other endlessly around my mind.

Was I going mad?

Maybe I was already locked in a padded cell for the criminally insane while my deranged mind sought refuge in this fantasy?

Had I found my way into another continuum, another - parallel - universe?

Was there yet another Jonathan Butler around?

Cary Ann sat up and looked down at me.

“Jothan, what’s wrong?” she asked. “It was only a joke, I know you’ve been working hard lately.” The she smiled brightly again “I bet I know what it is - you forgot to pick up the milk.”

I just smiled.

“Never mind,” she said, getting dressed. Looking at the torn blouse she grabbed my shirt instead. “I’ll nip down to the corner shop and grab some. Back soon.” as she disappeared out the door.

It seemed only moments later that I heard the screeching of tyres and the screams of people. I rushed to the window and looked out but I already knew what I would see. A lorry, overturned, the massive weight of the container it was carrying crushing Carry Ann. I could just see her head and shoulders underneath it.

I stood by the window for a while but I knew what I had to do.

I went to bed, breathing deeply and softly, thinking about a world where my beloved was still alive.

The End.

May 04, 2023 14:55

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

2 comments

Martin Hull
08:15 May 12, 2023

Thanks for your kind words and I promise not to stop writing.

Reply

Show 0 replies
F.O. Morier
08:55 May 11, 2023

Heyyyyyyyy… it said romance The ending is so sad! If anybody asked me _ I would have sworn this was written by a woman . Okay - enough ! Good work ! I love your story ! Sad ending and all ! Please don’t stop writing ! Looking forward to your next story !

Reply

Show 0 replies
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.