I will admit I hadn’t thought things through. The Intui grabbed my spike and the first thing that jumped into my mind was Perfect! Suddenly, the ideal situation had presented itself for testing. Science demanded action.
If I could get the belligerent lizardman to stab me (yes, this is how retarded my plan was) then it would reveal, possibly in a beam of light from the heavens with angelic choir backing singers, the true nature of my special power.
Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
My healing ability had made me somewhat gung-ho when it came to getting hurt and pain is one of those things you get less scared of the more you experience it. I could handle a couple of sharp stabs to the stomach, I had somehow convinced myself.
The gem tasted tangy as it went down. I probably should have washed it first. I didn’t worry about what the dwarf inside the stone would do to me once it was inside my body because of what Peter said. He had told me it was impossible for anyone to take control of me, my will being that strong and indomitable, and I had believed him, like an idiot.
In my defence, I was very tired. I hadn’t had a proper sleep in quite some time, meals had been patchy and a bath was long overdue. If that sounds like a bunch of excuses, guilty as charged.
The first thing that signalled that perhaps things weren’t going to pan out the way I had foreseen was the blurring of my vision. It was like looking through a steamed up shower cubicle. As my vision faded, I kept expecting the sharp pain of steel sliding in between my ribs, but there was no attack. The glass fogged up completely, and then turned black.
I knew it was a bad sign, but I still felt like I was in control. Maybe it wasn’t an automatic rejection of the mind control. Perhaps there’d be a battle of wills between me and the dwarf. I wasn’t even sure which dwarf I had swallowed. I knew which one I hoped it wasn’t.
Had Pete lied to me? Tricked me into handing over my body? It seemed unlikely he could have planned this in advance. More likely he was just wrong. Like I was. All the fucking time.
I still felt awake and alert. I had no sense of my body or limbs and had to assume they had been commandeered. I wondered what was going on out there. Without me there to take care of them, the others were probably panicking and ready to fall apart.
Then again, maybe I was being unfair. Maybe they were already all dead.
A sound somewhere in the darkness drew my attention. Movement in the corner of my eye. I had been in this sort of situation before, so there was no need to panic.
A short figure came walking towards me. At first I thought it was the dwarf, come to challenge me, or gloat, or, if I was really unlucky, offer tips on lovemaking.
Two in three chance of it not being him. Fingers crossed.
But it wasn’t a dwarf. It was me. The five year old version I had encountered in the Void who had saved us, reluctantly. The little shit.
“What are you doing here, Colin?” he asked in a small childish voice.
The best way to torment someone full of self-loathing? Stick him in a room with himself.
“Are you my superpower?” It would have been gutting to learn my special gift was the company of a five year old with an attitude, but the universe had a strange sense of humour. By which I mean it was an unfunny cuck.
“No,” said me. He blew his fringe out of his eyes. “I would class myself more as a symptom of your—our—increasingly fragile mental state.”
Nothing better than being psychoanalysed by someone with a Mickey Mouse voice.
“Is the dwarf in control of my body?” I was having none of his plural pronoun bullshit.
“Yes. In control of our body. What did you think would happen?”
I was getting the impression I was being called out for swallowing a dwarf-infested gem, and while I could see his point, I felt he was just as responsible since he was me.
“I thought I was indomitable, so the dwarf would be unable to dominate me.” It was hard not to get tetchy with the little twerp.
“And what made you think that? Because someone told you?”
“Are you saying I’m not indomitable?”
“Of course we aren’t. People convince you to do things you don’t want to do all the time. You wouldn’t be here otherwise, would you?”
The worst part of it was that he made a lot of sense. My will wasn’t that strong at all. Thinking back, I’d failed to stick with a whole host of things I had been determined to do, not least of which leaving everyone behind and going off on my own. Ah, how sweet life could have been.
But no. I had allowed others to beg, bully and cajole me into doing what they wanted. Because they were helpless; because they needed me; because I was a gullible fool.
Indomitable? How could I have been so stupid?
I sat down on the ground I couldn’t see or feel and looked around. At least it was nice and quiet.
“How’s the girl?” asked me.
“Why are you asking me? Don’t you know everything I know?”
“Yes, and quite a lot more, but I don’t watch every boring thing you do.” I think he blushed but it was hard to tell with all the hair covering his face.
“Does that mean you know what my special ability is?” I asked the question because it had to be asked, but I didn’t really expect an answer. At best, I’d get some cryptic half-truth that would only obfuscate matters more. I may not be a genius, but I can spot a pattern when I eventually see one.
“Maybe everyone knows. They’re just afraid to tell you.”
“Because once they tell you, you won’t need them anymore.”
Yep. Cryptic as hell.
“I don’t need them now,” I pointed out.
“Yes,” he said. “You’re untouchable.”
“Oh for fuck’s sake. What does that mean?”
The boy peered at me through the strands hanging down over his face. “It means you aren’t connected to this world. No attachments. No connections. If you took a piece of paper that was thin enough, you could pass it under your feet while you were standing up. Does that make it any clearer?”
Sitting cross-legged on the floor I was about eye level with him. I reached out and lifted up the floppy fringe. He had his hands in the blue polyester shorts the nursery used to make us wear. He didn’t try to stop me.
“Why can’t I have a useful ability like flying?” I asked him.
He leaned back and the hair slid off my hand and back over his face. “You can. In here.” He floated up into the air.
Which was fucking creepy.
“Can you come back down? You’re freaking me out.” I’d seen too many horror films where the little boy was a soulless demon who killed everyone without the slightest remorse. I could totally see me doing that.
He floated back down.
“So I’m unconnected to the world. How does that help me? With anything?”
“Why don’t you go and see?” He said it like it was so easy. “You’re unconnected. Leave.”
I stood up. Leave? There were no doors, no handy signs pointing the way. Was I supposed to keep walking until I broke on through to the other side?
“Up, up and away!” I raised my fist in Superman pose. It was meant to be sarcastic, but it somewhat undermined my attempted sneer when I floated upwards. Which was fine, at least I’d be able to amuse myself while I was stuck in here, only I didn’t stop rising.
Suddenly the blackness surrounding me faded away. I was in a room. I was over a room. Below me was me; the full grown me. I was standing with my arms spread apart. The lizardman stood opposite me with the spike in his hand. Neither of us were moving. Everyone else in the room was in similar stasis.
But that wasn’t the most striking thing about the scene.
What really stood out, and I mean really stood out like a black eye on a five year old (how I wished…) were the vines.
They were everywhere. Thin, stringy ones. Thick, throbbing tentacles. Different colours, different textures. Some looked like plants, others like fleshy tubes. They ran from one object to the next. And the people, they had the most. Attached to them like spider legs, joining them together. Clumps around my group. Giant, binding ropes connecting the King to Laney, Maurice to Claire, Flossie to Dudley, Gabor to Roland.
Their closeness, their relationship to each other, was drawn out from them and plunged into those around them. I didn’t know what each connection meant or how it related to their relationships in real life, but it was all mapped out like one of those boards in a cop movie showing how each member of a crime family was connected to a terrible murder.
Short distances. Long and stretched out. They passed through walls and out the windows. Into the floor, up through the roof. It was kind of beautiful, and kind of disgusting. A cobweb jungle. Like they’d been kidnapped by aliens and I’d found them trapped and ready for egg insertion.
And in the middle of all this crisscrossing mayhem was me in an empty hole. Completely untouched by any strand.
I floated down, weaving in between the vines, trying my best not to touch them. I couldn’t help it though. They each felt different. Some were rubbery, some slimy, others so brittle they snapped at the merest touch. I didn’t even realise I broke one until I saw it fly apart and dissolve. Shit. I hoped it wasn’t important. But it did show I could affect them. Could I change the way people felt about each other? Change their relationships?
The thickest of the connectors looked like even an axe or electric saw wouldn’t make much of a dent. Some relationships were unbreakable, it seemed. Others were unravelling before my eyes. I had no idea what they represented. Something as simple as annoyance fading away, or maybe a jealousy slowly forgotten. It would take a million years to figure it all out, and even longer to work out how to use it to my advantage.
It was so engrossing, I almost forgot I was flying around the room. That was the least amazing part of it.
I reached out and touched Jenny’s face. My hand passed through her. The tentacles I could touch, but everything else was ghostlike. I went round poking things (with my fingers, you perv) to make sure and not one thing allowed my touch. I did notice one thing, though. Wherever two objects touched, there was a black ooze between them, like tar or glue.
I floated back to Jenny and examined her more closely. She had connections to everyone, even those she had only just met. Other than me, they all had. I was looking for one connection in particular and after a painstaking search, found it. A single, blue thread, almost invisible, fine as fishing line, went from Jenny’s chest to mine.
Not quite untouchable, then.
It looked very fragile. I couldn’t resist placing a finger on it, and then sharply pulled it back, bleeding. I could bleed in this form? And Jenny’s thread was that tough?
I circled myself and saw another attachment, but this one went from me to me. A black cord went from my backside to the base of my neck. I didn’t like the look of it.
I grabbed it and it writhed under my touch. I resisted the urge to let go and pulled. It didn’t budge. I twisted it and dug my nails in, but it made no difference. What I needed was something sharp enough to cut it.
Jenny’s thread seemed the ideal thing but how could I use it when I couldn’t even touch it?
I floated over to Jenny, flying coming quite naturally to me, and checked her over. The wooden sword hung from her belt, but I was able to touch it. I pulled it from her but the black, sticky goo remained attached like chewing gum.
I was able to stretch it all the way over to the other side and slashed at the cord running down my back.
It sliced the cord in two, sending the loose tentacle snapping back, flailing. I cut the other end just to make sure. The stubs sticking out of my neck and bum shrivelled up and disappeared.
I let go of the sword and it floated back to Jenny’s side. Interesting.
The Intui Chief had numerous strands stretching out from his body, disappearing through walls and out the door. In his hand he held the spike. It had black tar squished in between the handle and his hand. I touched the goo. I pinched a small amount between my fingers and stretched it across the room.
The first time, I got halfway before it broke like a rubber band. The second time, I took it a lot slower and managed to get a thin, black string to my outstretched hand. I wrapped it around my wrist. Might work, worth a try.
I didn’t fully understand what this power was or how to use it, but I liked it. It had potential.
Getting back inside of myself proved fairly straightforward. I floated into my body and the darkness returned to claim me and then I was with my younger self again. And he had company.
The dwarf was short but not bearded. He had a grim look on his face and his arms folded across his broad chest.
“Shut him up,” I said. My youthful self raised a hand and the dwarf’s mouth closed. Judging by the startled look on his face, not by choice.
“This should be interesting,” said me.
“Yes. I’ll be going, then.” We exchanged nods. I’m not sure if that meant we were best buds or what, but we had come to an understanding at least.
I willed myself back into my body and opened my eyes at the exact same moment I’d left. I pulled my hand towards my chest, and the spike flew out of the lizardman’s grasp, shot across the room, and stabbed me in the palm of my hand. Not quite what was planned, but close enough.
“Witchery!” he shouted.
“A deal’s a deal,” I said, pulling the spike out with a wince. “Look, if you don’t want to follow me into battle that’s up to you. I won’t force you. I’ll make you the same offer as I make everyone else. I’m going to do what I think is best, you do you. You can back out whenever you want, no hard feelings.”
The Intui seemed confused by my style of leadership. As most people were.
“The rest of you, we have to get going. Things are looking up.” I healed my hand.
Everyone was confused now. They’d never seen me so positive. I stopped in front of Jenny and place my hand on her chest. Okay, her breast, but not in a pervy way. There was no silk thread joining her to me, but I knew it was there. She looked at me with a curious tilt of her head. I kissed her on the nose. Time to go elf hunting.