290. Vines of Communication

My insubstantial ghost body hung there, floating over the empty bed where my insubstantial real body should have been. I could still see the slight indentations where we’d been sitting.

I hadn’t expected to come back to find my body missing. One of the advantages of this power (one of the few advantages) was that only I got to move around when it was active, usually.

Not today.

Someone had come in and picked up two life-sized mannequins and taken them away. It must have been a bit awkward. I had been sitting cross-legged, with my hands on my knees. Possibly, if you had a lot of upper body strength, you could grab me by one of my arms and sling me over your shoulder like a backpack.

Jenny had been sitting beside me, leaning with her body half-turned. She’d also been topless, which bothered me. I can’t say why, exactly. There were far more pressing things to worry about, but for some reason the thought of Jenny’s boobs on view rankled.

I know, they’re just boobs. A woman breastfeeding isn’t a big deal. A woman sunbathing on a beach wouldn’t even turn heads in some places. And would get you stoned to death in others. It’s just weird.

My main focus needed to be on finding my body, not worrying about Jenny’s proclivities for whipping her old fellas out (a proclivity I quite enjoyed when alone). Was that all it was? A desire to claim ownership over her? These belong to me. Kind of pathetic, if that was true.

Normally, finding people in my current state wouldn’t be too hard. They left all these disgusting vines wherever they went. My own body didn’t do that, but Jenny’s did.

She had one attached to me, but that wasn’t much use when my body wasn’t here. But, unlike me, she also had attachments to other people. I could follow one of them right to her.

First, I checked the room for the wooden sword. I checked under the bed and even under the mattress, but no sign of it.

I floated back out of the room.

Why would someone take our bodies? If you needed somewhere to hang a couple of coats, Jenny would do at a pinch (or two), and I might make half-decent umbrella stand, but that was about it.

The corridors were lined with vines and tentacles, different sizes and different colours. If I knew what different vines were for, how they related to the people they were attached to, life would be so much easier.

Knowing a particular appendage reflected a strong liking, or if it represented an obsession or just a mild passing interest, would be a solid power I could put to good use. This mass of writhing tentacles everywhere I looked just gave me the power to view the world with unpleasant decorations stuck on top, like the high street at Christmas.

My problem was that I was an amateur. I hadn’t figured out how to use this power to its full potential, and I had no one to help guide me. Arthur had kind of helped, but he turned out not to be the Visitor I thought he was. By all accounts, he was really Joshaya, playing some game I didn’t understand.

My plan was to go back to the others. They were all connected to Jenny. If I could figure out which vine it was, I could locate her that way. I also had to remember to start putting name tags on the fuckers.

So much effort. It really shouldn’t be such hard work using superpowers. I floated along, back towards the arena, thinking of ways to make better use of this ability.

Back when Claire first realised she could read minds, she had been able to read me. Then, after some time-travelling shenanigans, she couldn’t. And later, after I’d skipped forward in time and come back, I managed to shout a telepathic warning to her.

This may all have been specific to jumping around in time, but what it seemed to suggest was that it was possible for people to connect to me (even Claire), that I could block them (especially Claire), and, given the right motivations, I could allow my defences to be deliberately violated (why is it always Claire?).

There was definitely a way to control it, I just didn’t know how.

I tried to think good, wholesome thoughts about Jenny to see if that would open me up. Nothing. Then I tried angry, violent thoughts. Got so carried away almost forgot why I was doing it. Still nothing. Then I thought about Jenny’s boobs, which were still preying on my mind (it isn’t creepy if they’re your girlfriend’s boobs which she enjoys you looking at, probably), and one of the vines lit up.

It was one of many, weaving in and out, glowing with a soft green light. If that was a link to Jenny, I’d made a stunning breakthrough. However, it also meant someone was thinking a lot about my girlfriend’s boobs.

The vine went both ways down the corridor, so I picked one direction and followed it. The vine was thick and throbbing. Who was so interested? The more I wondered, the brighter it got.

Not the undead, they just had the single vine used to control them. The Pope? Possibly, but judging by the show he put on, he was more of a leg man, the hairy with muscles kind. That left Maurice and Dudley as my prime suspects.

Would they really think about Jenny like that? Claire was bound to pick up on it if it was Maurice. And Dudley had plenty to look at on his own bird.

I tried not to think about it, but it did make me feel uncomfortable.

The vines grew fewer, the glowing one still among them. I was headed away from the direction we’d come from. No people, dead or otherwise, and not much to look at apart from stone walls.

There was a door at the end of a long tunnel the vines took me to. I passed through it, expecting yet more tunnels, but it was a room. Simple furnishings, a closet, a desk with a chair, and a bed with me and Jenny sitting on it. Jenny was still sans top. I’m not obsessing, just making an observation.

A figure with its back to me was moving very slowly, arranging how we were seated on the bed. I didn’t have to get any closer to see it was Pope Rupert. And that he had a wooden sword in his hand.

There was only one vine coming out of him (and it wasn’t attached to Jenny), which was odd. All the undead had a single vine growing out of them, but I thought they would come back to him. Apparently not.

I was just wondering if he could see or hear me when he turned around in glacial fashion.

“You’re here,” is what it sounded like, but very slowly so the words were stretched and hard to make out.

It occurred to me that maybe things didn’t stop when I was in the adjacent world, they just slowed down a lot. And the Pope was in fact moving incredibly fast.

“You’ll have to talk more quickly,” I said. “I can’t understand you.”

“Did you see them?” It was better, but I was still guessing what he was saying. Longer sentences would be impossible to understand.

“Hold on.” I reentered my body. Jenny was sitting on the floor with my junior version with his head on her lap with his eyes closed. Some guard he was.

“We have to go.”

She stood up and Little Me tumbled off. He scrambled to his feet, the little perv.

“Couldn’t you have found some clothes?” I asked Jenny.

She looked around. “Where?”

I turned to the guilty-looking midget. “Like you couldn’t have conjured up a top for her.”

“She didn’t ask,” he mumbled.

“Never mind.” I grabbed Jenny’s hand. “Keep them covered, we have company.”

I took her back out. She didn’t even try to cover up, so I had to do it for her with my arm. Admittedly, her actual body was already on full display, but that still doesn’t make it alright.

“One moment,” I said to the Pope who was about to say something (eventually). I shoved Jenny back into her body, possibly harder than I needed to. She slid straight in. I returned to my own body, giving my younger self a dirty look as I passed through.

I opened my eyes. There was something very familiar in the way the Pope was staring into my face.

“You’re Joshaya, aren’t you?” I said, certain that I was right.

He nodded. “Indeed.”

“Joshaya, Arthur, Rupert… anyone else? You aren’t a troll are you?”

“Not something I’ve been accused of before.”

“I find that hard to believe,” I said.

“He’s Joshaya?” said Jenny. I put my arms around from behind and covered her breasts with my hands. “Does it really matter if he sees me naked? He isn’t interested, are you?”

Joshaya shook his head.

“That’s not the point. It’s distracting me.”

“Fine, give me your jacket.”

That was actually a better idea than my impromptu hand bra. I let go of her, and then grabbed back on. “Would you mind turning around,” I said to the Pope.

He exchanged a look with my girlfriend that I didn’t appreciate, and then turned around. I took off my jacket and gave it to her.

“They’re just breasts,” said Jenny. “We all have them. Even some men.”

“Not these ones,” I said petulantly. “These ones are…”

“What? Yours? I get it, Colin, I do and it’s fine. You’re experiencing what it’s like to be a man. It must be confusing if you’re not used to it. But you have to get over this hang-up you have. It’s not that important.”

Women just don’t get it. Once they do, I hope they’ll finally explain it to us.

“Have you two finished?” asked the Pope of fake identities.

“I don’t know why you’re in such a rush,” I said with more irritation than usual (yes, even more) thanks to being lectured on things that were beyond my control. “What the fuck are you playing at? Why did you move our bodies?”

“Calm yourself. There’s is a perfectly reasonable explanation.”

I paused to hear this perfectly reasonable explanation. “Yes?”

“It’s for your own safety. Once you let them in, they know where you are. They can come for you. Tell me… You saw the other gods? You really saw them?”

“Yes. They’re behind the portal.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful. I’m so relieved.” He stood up with hands clasped and held to his chest. “I never believed the day would come when someone would be able to pass through the portal and come back alive. You’re the first one. The first one!”

He seemed pleased. I wasn’t sure which was worse, that he had expected me to die, or that he had most likely sent others before me who hadn’t made it. The guy was clearly a psycho. Mind you, he was a god of death, so username checks out.

“What do you mean, ‘they can come for me’?”

“There was a chance they would be able to follow you out. Then they would possess your bodies. I didn’t want to risk it, but you seem fine. Any dark pit of evil inside you, like your soul is rotting?”

“No, no more than usual.”

“Excellent. This is better than I imagined possible. Your special ability makes it hard for them. You are the perfect one for this task.”

“But why didn’t you just tell us in the first place? Why did you put me through all this?”

“I couldn’t. Don’t you see? I couldn’t. If you knew what I was doing, they would know too. I had to keep you in the dark, guiding you slowly. This is all my fault, I know that, but I’m doing my best to make amends. They wanted to die, understand? And I was the only one who could do it. There’s no great pleasure in eternity, even with the power to do what you wish.”

“Then why bring them back?” said Jenny.

“I was lonely,” he whined. Who knew the god of death would be such a little bitch? “I brought them back, used my powers in ways they should never have been used...”

“You brought them back undead,” I said.

“Yes. I couldn’t bring them back all the way. I was close but… They were deranged, unable to control themselves. I had to put them where they could do no harm while I worked on a cure.”

“So, all these undead people you’ve been collecting,” I said, “they’re what, your trial subjects?”

“I thought if I could perfect it on them… And you’ve seen how good they look. Hardly any decomposing, as long as they’re stored somewhere cool. But now you can reach them, perhaps you are the one who can deliver the cure. We have much to discuss.”

On the one hand, it was good there was an endpoint in sight. Unfortunately, it was more than likely my endpoint. I didn’t trust this god. He gave being two-faced a bad name (and an extra face). But he wasn’t the type to take no for an answer.

“I already know how to free your friends,” I said.

“You do?” said Joshaya.

“Yes. Give me my sword.” Jenny coughed. “Give me her sword.”

He looked at me, eyes slightly narrowed, not convinced he could trust me. Welcome to the club.

“Hey, if I end up dead, you’ve still got the others to work with. We’re all Visitors. You can do your experiments on them. But let me try this my way and maybe we can all go home early. I need them to bring me back, remember.” I held out my hand.

He handed over the sword, which clearly meant he thought I would die during the attempt. Well, technically I was already dead, but deader.

I could have asked him why he’d gone about this in such a roundabout fashion, but he would only feed me more bullshit. The undead gods hadn’t seemed as bad as he was making out and I was inclined to see what their offer was once I explained what was going on. He was right about one thing, my ability made me perfect for the task.

“Right, first I just need to speak to the others, sort out the line of succession in case I don’t make it back, you know, say my goodbyes, tell them what I really think of them.”

Pope Joshaya nodded understandingly. “This way.”

Jenny stood up and my jacket fell open showing off her stomach and way too much side-boob. “And could you not flash everyone when we get there?”

Jenny frowned at me. She probably thought I needed more lecturing on how we should share the natural beauty of a fine pair. It could wait until we saw the others and I figured out which of those two gits had been thinking about her fine pair a bit too much.

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