I left Jenny in younger me’s care, and returned to the small room where our bodies were frozen in place. I was sitting on the bed with my eyes closed. Jenny, topless, sat beside me, staring at my face.
Objectively speaking, I don’t have an attractive face. It won’t make you throw up or anything, but I won’t be asked to model sunglasses any time soon. Sunglasses—another thing I needed to get Maurice to invent.
What Jenny found so fascinating in me, I had no idea. It was flattering, of course, but you end up taking these things for granted.
There was a time when finding a girl I liked, who liked me back, would be a miracle. One I’d grab onto and drag back to my cave, hoping no one had noticed there’d been some sort of clerical error at Miracle Ministry.
Now, I could see a half-naked girl watching me with what I could only describe as an adoring expression, and I was blasé about the whole thing. This is why when you consider your relationship with a girl it should always be after jerking off. Protip.
It also helped that her body had weird, throbbing vines growing out of it. Nothing like alien limbs protruding from your girlfriend’s back to keep things in perspective. My body, on the other hand, smooth and tentacle-free.
I floated out of the room, passing through the door without having to open it. The corridor was lined with tentacles of varying sizes, covering the walls like a very organic plumbing system. As strange as it was to be in this adjacent world, I was getting used to it. There seemed to be a valuable lesson here. Something about familiarity leading to something something.
It was kind of a bonkers system, when you stopped to think about it. Things you hate, that terrify you, slowly lose their hold as you get more exposed to them. Seems pretty sensible. Be wary at first, but get over your fear once you have hands-on experience. Evolution, you know us so well.
On the other hand, things you really like and enjoy, eventually lose their lustre and end up feeling boring and tiresome. Why? What useful application is there for being jaded? Hmm, Evolution? Stop playing with those hummingbirds and answer me. Where are you going?
I floated about, not really sure where I would find a bunch of dead gods. My plan, and I did have one, was to check out the old gods’ accommodations. Cthulu-style pyramids of doom would be my guess, but en-suite? Probably had terrible wi-fi reception.
In my current intangible state I was far less likely to get hurt. It was still possible, of course, but I considered it worth chancing for a quick peek behind the curtain. The fact I was willing to risk something like my personal well-being was an example of how much I’d changed. Death, pain, monsters in the dark—I’d had run-ins with them all, and while I wouldn’t want to make a habit of those sorts of encounters, I no longer had panic attacks over the thought that something creepy might be under my bed (apart from that crunchy sports sock that should only be handled with gloves).
Having said that, if I’d been in this sort of situation, faced the kinds of dangers I’d faced, all without any special abilities, would my experiences have left me more confident and able to handle myself? Probably not, seeing as how I would most likely be dead.
I noticed that the vines appeared in greater numbers in some of the corridors. On the assumption that more vines meant more people (living and/or dead), and that fewer vines meant areas people kept away from, I gave in to my inner hipster and headed in the less popular direction.
The corridors grew darker and I created a ball of light. Being able to do magic in this state was a big plus. Being able to do magic anywhere was a big plus. Why wasn’t I more excited about it?
I could make light and I could start a fire. And I could heal! Those three things made survival in the wilderness, even a fantasy wilderness, possible. Of course, anyone can live off the land, that’s what we were designed to do, but if you’ve ever watched one of those tv shows where they show you how to start a fire with twigs, it should be clear that not only is it very tricky, it’s also incredibly tedious.
I was capable of hunting an animal and skinning it. I could gut and clean a carcass. I could build a fire and cook it. These are all admirable traits in a person who can’t call a local pizzeria offering a two-for-one deal (not really worth calling them if they aren’t).
The thing is, I would much rather not have to do those things. Ordering out is better. And easier. I don’t value those skills outside of necessity. But I know I should.
I should also have been more excited about being able to float in the air. I could fly, for fuck’s sake. It wasn’t whooshing around like a superhero, but it was still pretty impressive.
It was just moving without having to use my legs, like those fat people who drive mobility scooters on the pavement. How impressed are you by them?
My light showed me a creepy tunnel where the darkness was barely kept at bay. Sure, I was a lot braver than I used to be, but that wasn’t really saying much. I floated along, listening nervously for the sound of, I don’t know, maybe a human sacrifice pleading for his or her life (see, didn’t even assume gender).
The silence was its own kind of audible terror.
There was an opening in front of me. No door, no guards, just a black portal. There were no signs, but it had that ‘Enter at your own risk’ vibe you learn to stay clear of in the survival game.
I reached out and felt a barrier. It wasn’t solid, exactly. It had some give to it, like a trampoline. Okay, like a membrane, but trampoline makes it sound more fun. Alien monsters don’t jump out at you from behind a trampoline.
My hand eased through it with a push. If I was here in my normal body, would I be able to do the same? And even in this body, would I be able to come back?
From here, it felt like I would be taking an irrevocable step. What if this was where it all ended?
What a sensible person would do, someone who was fighting the good fight for all the right reasons, was gather his forces, train them up in a montage scene, get matching outfits with slight differences so they didn’t look too gay, and then go in like a team.
Not me. Teamwork has never been my forte. Probably because of the team I’d been given to work with. If I had more faith in them, really put my all into making them the best they could be, superpowers tuned to the max, we could probably be quite a formidable force. But it would be a lot of work. Everyone could go to the gym and get super buff and healthy, but do they? No, they fucking don’t. And even with the slight adjustments to the outfits, it would still be very gay.
That’s not a sexual slur, by the way. I don’t think there’s some ranking system in liking vagina over penis. Gay men just have terrible taste. Cheesy, glitzy crap all over the shop—it’s like living in a curry house where they don’t serve any delicious Indian food. And the women aren’t much better. Waistcoat with a thin tie? It isn’t 1986, lesbians.
Admittedly, I may have been thinking about this stuff to put off taking that last floaty step through the portal. If Jenny had been with me, would I feel different?
It was a lot easier to be cocky when she was near me. A man afraid of spiders can step up when someone important to them is watching. Pride, shame, a desire to protect the ones you love...
The thing about irrational fears is that they can be overcome. The thing about rational fears is that they also can be overcome, but perhaps they shouldn’t be.
I pushed myself the rest of the way through the portal, glowing ball held in my hand.
On the other side, there was nothing. It was too dark to see outside my circle of light. I expanded its radius and the darkness just changed colour.
“Hello?” I said very quietly.
Now, if you’re trying to sneak into a place to have a quick look at the enemy, announcing your arrival, even very quietly, is probably not a great idea. But despite all my claims to have changed into a derring-do sort of geezer, expectation versus reality still contained a sizeable gap. I sort of panicked. Not the Argggh! What’s going on? sort of panic. Just a momentary loss of common sense.
At first it seemed that nothing would come of my slip of the tongue.
The air around me began to move, which was a concern since I shouldn’t have been able to feel the air in my intangible condition. It picked up speed and a screeching sound filled the chamber.
Coloured lights flew around, leaving trails like comets. Flossie would have loved it. Maurice would have made notes. Why was I thinking about them at a time like this? Even if they were here, they’d only get in the way.
The lights flickered and came streaming down, snakelike, and darkened. The screeching changed. It took on a note of menace, of hunger, and turned into a howl. I was caught in the middle of a vortex as the wind whipped around and around, cutting into me like the air was full of knives. Having someone here to get in the way seemed a much more attractive proposition.
A deep red glow appeared inside each of the shadows circling me. There was an explosion and light streamed into the chamber, blinding bright. The roar of the wind faded, but a cloud of black dust gathered in front of me. A red glow throbbed at its centre.
If this was the Golden God, he wasn’t very golden. It was quite an entrance, though. Any second now there was going to be some sort of booming voice, I could feel it coming. Not one to stand on ceremony, I decided to get in there first.
“Erm, hi there. Joshaya sent me.”
It seemed like the best way to excuse my uninvited presence. Friend of a friend. Second best way was to leg it. I had my eye on the exit. Roughly. Hard to tell where the exit was exactly.
The cloud seemed to hesitate. “Joshaya sent you?” The voice was indeed booming, but curious.
“Then he sent you to die!” Full boom, turned up to eleven.
Part of the cloud extended towards me. I put up my hand... and healed it.
This was my plan. My opponent was a god, and whether I believed in divine beings or not, it was undoubtedly a powerful being. More powerful than me, for sure. But it was also undead, and my years of training in the RPG milieu had taught me that healing caused damage to the undead.
I also knew from what Jenny had told me about her being able to take Joshaya’s emotions away that they weren’t invulnerable to our powers. So here was my play.
My hand glowed a soft, harmless yellow. The black cloud touched it, and recoiled, howling in pain (I hoped).
“Sorry,” I said. “Didn’t mean it.”
Obviously I did mean it, but not in a bad way. I just needed to stop any misunderstandings before they occurred.
“What do you want?” said the cloud, sounding a little peeved.
“Joshaya says he’s sorry for killing you all, and wants to bring you back.”
“Then why doesn’t he come here himself?” said a voice from off to the side.
“He can’t. Something to do with the Pope and the place being full of undead. You’re also undead, which he finds a bit, erm, troubling. Any chance you could stop being undead and just go back to being alive?”
It was a long shot, but they were gods. Miracles were supposed to be their thing.
“We cannot,” said the cloud. “Not until we are released.”
“The Pope? He’s got my friends. If I help you, will you help bring them back to life?”
“Help us? You will kill him?”
“No. I try not to kill people. They tend to get very upset, especially if you miss.”
I floated a little higher. The lights, of which I counted four, including the big one, backed away from me. They were wary, but only because they didn’t know what I was capable of. Once they knew, they wouldn’t be so worried, so best to be quick.
Once I was above them, I could see the single tentacle attached to each of them. Similar to the ones sticking out of the other undead, but bigger. Much bigger. It would take some effort to hack through them.
“I think I can free you. I have this wooden sword… I forgot to bring it.” I didn’t actually know where the wooden sword was, but Jenny did. With that, I’d be able to slice through the appendages.
A good idea? Can’t say I cared. It would either kill them, or make them grateful enough to bring me back to life. Either way, seemed like a reasonable outcome.
“Can you wait here while I get the sword?” My intention in including them in the decision-making process was to make them feel more involved.
“You will come back?”
“Yes. Only, can you not, with the wind and the howling? I mean, I know it’s important to keep up appearances, but it’s hard to deal with in this state. I get blown about all over the place.”
The BBC (big black cloud) hovered closer. I held my ground. Good thing I couldn’t piss myself while out of my body. At least I hoped I couldn’t, or the cloud was about to get rained on.
“You are dead, and yet not dead.”
“I know. I have no idea what to put myself down as on forms. Do you think you can return my life to me?”
“Can you return me to the light?”
“No problem.” I may have been overselling the likelihood of success. “I’ll be back in a bit.”
I floated away, slowly, smiling. I have quite a creepy smile, I’ve been told (by everyone in my group) so I kept it dialled down. I waved as I left the room. I think one of the red lights waved back. Or winked.
It seemed like things were going well. Once again, I’d saved the day without having to fight anyone. Jenny would be a bit upset at being left on the bench, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, apparently. Although I’m pretty sure absence is also when 99% of affairs take place.
I floated merrily down the corridors, back to the room I’d left my body in. Hopefully, Jenny had the sword with her. She usually always had it on her person, but I’d inspected her person very thoroughly and hadn’t seen it.
These things never go smoothly, so I was expecting some kind of obstacle to overcome. Perhaps a trek back to the inn to get the sword. What I didn’t expect as I passed through the door into the room was for both my and Jenny’s bodies to not be there.