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The Way I Remember It
“What are you doing here?” Nate asks.
“What am I doing here? I brought you all the crap you told me to get you,” Derek responds, irritated.
“What?” Nate says. He looks through Derek’s bag. Inside are a chisel, a hammer, gloves, flashlights, a current meter, cable cutters, and a set of electrodes. “How did you get all this?”
“How did I get all this? What do you mean how did I get all this? You told me where and how to get it!” Derek exclaims, raising his voice.
“Shhh!” Nate says, checking down the hallway. Nobody is there. “Never mind; we’ll talk about it later. I guess we’re working together now.”
“Of course. We always work together on all your adventures. We’re partners,” Derek says, grabbing Nate in a one-armed side-hug.
“Oof!” Nate says.
Nate leads the way through the dark hallways. Small nightlights illuminate each pair of flowerpots, preventing the hallways from becoming too dark. In the shadows, the bumps on the pots look even more like faces, each with grotesquely huge eyes, ears, and teeth. Immediately, Nate realizes the flowerpots are the vestiges of The Mama-And-Daddy’s polyp-heads! He hadn’t realized this before. The gardenias’ stems were analogues of their tentacles!
The men walk past the boiler room and into the blue-tiled showers. The grout needs cleaning. “The engines should be on the other side of that wall,” Nate says. Derek takes the chisel and hammer out from his bag. “Wait,” Nate says. He looks out into the hallway to make a final check for security before closing the door. This makes it dark. Derek quickly turns on a flashlight. Nate takes the chisel and hammer and starts to remove the tiles.
The tiles are red! “Wow! History just changed again. This time I’m sure,” Nate says.
“What happened?” Derek asks.
“The tiles are red now,” Nate answers.
“They’ve been red for a month. They didn’t feel like cleaning the grout so they replaced all the tiles,” Derek says, “You know. You’ve been here.”
Nate looks carefully at the grout. It is certainly cleaner than he remembers. Ignoring this, he chips away at the first tile. It falls to the floor with a clatter. “Derek, see if you can find a mop or something to place underneath to catch the tiles.”
“Another one?” Derek asks.
Nate looks at Derek quizzically and follows his gaze downward. He sees a mop head already at his feet with a single, green tile settled upon it. He steps back in surprise. All the tiles are green. “History is changing faster here. We must be close; I was right!”
Nate hears a groan from his left. Derek shines his flashlight on a large object on the floor tied in rope. It is Sam, one of the security employees, tape over his mouth. “Hey Sammy boy, you’re awake!” Derek says.
“What happened?” Nate asks in surprise and agitation.
“What happened to what?” Derek responds.
“How did he get here?” Nate asks.
“You know Nate, your memory is starting to get worse,” Derek says.
“Oh, of course. History is changing more rapidly here. I forgot,” Nate says.
“What did you forget?” Derek asks.
“Huh? I forgot how fast history was changing,” Nate answers.
“No, I don’t think she told me,” Derek replies.
Nate sighs and returns to work. Another green tile falls off and hits the floor, making an awful noise. Where is the mop? Just then, a security employee bursts through the door with a flashlight. It is Sam! “Who’s in here?” he demands.
Nate quickly looks to where Sam should already be bound on the floor – but he isn’t there! Looking back up, he sees Sam slumping to the floor, stunned, Derek standing over him. “Don’t worry, I was in the army,” Derek says, grinning.
As Derek ties Sam up and places tape over his mouth, Nate ignores him and returns to work only to find that he is much further along than he was just seconds ago. With enough of the tiles removed, he takes the hammer to the wall and starts digging a hole. It takes little time before he breaks through to the other side. “Let me see the flashlight,” Nate says. Derek hands it off. Looking through, Nate sees machinery that looks like nothing on Earth. He quickly returns to tearing the wall down.
Squeezing between the studs, he leads the way into the mysterious room. Derek and Nate shine their flashlights all around. “You were right,” Derek muses, “Why would the facility have a secret room like this? What are these things?”
“Don’t touch anything,” Nate warns. Nate looks over every part of the machinery very carefully. Clearly, most of it is made of the same ivory-colored material of The Mama-And-Daddy. It has an organic, grown look to it. There are also metal boxes and wires. “I need my electrodes to probe into how all of this functions together.”
Derek and Nate squeeze back into the shower room where a gigantic spider-like creature happily munches on Sam’s body. Caught in the glare of the flashlights, it freezes, its unblinking eyes staring back at the men. It is black, with claws at the end of each leg, and a huge, round, shiny abdomen reminiscent of a snow globe filled with swirling, flashing colors. The men just stare.
“Shit!” Derek exclaims before he and Nate run into the hallways. The spider gives chase. It runs very fast and the men are only able to keep ahead of it because the narrow halls don’t allow the spider’s legs to fully extend.
Running up the stairs into the main living dorms, Nate is surprised to see the hallways draped in webs and covered in dust. There are no beds in the rooms. It looks as though no one has lived here for a very long time. Clearly, the building is not used as a psychiatric health care facility in this universe. “This is the last time I let you talk me into sneaking into some haunted house!” Derek yells.
They run from hallway to hallway as fast as they can, wiping web filaments from their faces and sleeves. The spider races behind them, furiously ripping through the webs with its claws. They come to a sudden dead end at two large balcony doors. Derek struggles to unlatch them. The doors are stuck! Nate and Derek pound their bodies into them synchronously, causing the latch mechanism to tear out of the old, rotting wood.
Finally, the two men burst through the doors and onto the balcony. The spider is right behind them. Nate leaps over the railing and into the blackness below. From the corner of his eye, he sees the spider catch Derek at the edge of the railing by the back of the head, lift him up, and rip his arms off. Blood spurts everywhere. Nate hits the grassy ground and stumbles. Looking up, he sees the spider is not following. He leans against the wall and fights to catch his breath, heart pounding rapidly. He is too out of shape for this.
“Whoa! That was too close!” Derek says from right next to Nate, gasping. Nate steps back in surprise. He would have jumped or screamed, but he is too tired. History must be continuing to shift.
“Yeah, too close,” Nate gasps.
“What’s on your shirt? Are you bleeding?” Derek asks.
Nate is startled. He looks at his shirt and wipes his finger across it. It is definitely fresh blood. “This is your blood. I just saw the spider catch you. Then I shifted into this universe wherein you narrowly escaped. I must have brought it through with me,” Nate explains.
Derek stands up straight. “Nate, you’re talking even crazier than normal.”
“It’s the fifth-dimensional shift I’ve been talking about for the last few days,” Nate says.
“The what? You never discussed this with me,” Derek claims.
“You know…the reason everyone thinks I have a bad memory,” Nate reminds.
“You with bad memory? Weren’t you once on Jeopardy?” Derek asks.
“Jeopardy?” Nate says, “I take it we aren’t psych hospital wards in this universe. What is it we do?”
“Do? What is this about?” Derek asks.
“Humor me a second. What is our occupation?” Nate pleads.
“Well, I repair motorcycles and you’re an electrician,” Derek answers.
“And why are we standing outside this…mansion?” Nate asks.
“Did you hit your head? The blood is yours isn’t it?” Derek asks.
“I’ll let you examine me in a moment. Just tell me,” Nate barks.
“In our spare time, we investigate and photograph ghosts – or spectral phenomena as you call it,” Derek answers.
“Oh,” Nate comments. He looks up at the clouds reflecting the city lights and notices them suddenly jump across the sky. “Why is history still changing so fast? We’re further from the engines – unless the engines are on this side of the building now. I know there isn’t a higher rate of change in this universe or else you would remember my memory being bad. Oh, that’s right; if we have real jobs we wouldn’t have lived in this building so close to the source of the shift. It wouldn’t have affected me until now,” Nate mumbles to himself.
“Let’s get away from here,” Derek says, “That thing is bound to find us sooner or later.”
“We can’t. The Mama-And-Daddy is bound to catch up and eventually pull me back sooner or later. The rate of shift may lessen with distance, but as long as those engines remain intact there is a risk of shifting into a universe wherein I find myself right next to them. Given enough time, it will happen again just like it did before when I found myself living the facility. It’s already happened once,” Nate protests.
“The Mama-And-Daddy?” Derek says, “Is that the spider?”
“You should go home. This is my problem,” Nate says.
“Whoa! I can’t let you go back in there alone,” Derek says, “Let’s at least go home and get my shotgun.”
“Okay, but we have to hurry. I hope there’s time,” Nate comments.
Derek leads Nate to a white van parked in the driveway. They climb inside. “Wow, all this equipment is ours? This is exactly what I need,” Nate says.
Derek sighs. “That’s it. I’m taking you to the hospital.”
“No, there isn’t time,” Nate complains.
“You’re not well,” Derek insists, pulling out onto the street. Nate grabs a computer and set of electrodes and jumps out the door. “Nate!” Derek yells and stops in the middle of the road.
Nate runs back to the building and reaches for the doorknob just as the door leaps two meters to the left. The house is built differently in this universe. He reaches the door and opens it just as Derek runs up behind him. Entering the main lobby, they see it is full of spider webs, the threads all the way across the wide room. “Wow, what kind of spider could have made this? It must be huge,” Derek says. He chuckles.
Nate is not sure if he is joking or truly doesn’t remember. He is afraid to ask. “Let’s go downstairs,” he says, “And be very quiet.”
“Okay,” Derek says cheerfully, lighting his flashlight. “No ghosts yet.” The men quietly make their way down the stairs to where Nate thinks the showers should be. The layout is completely different now and he quickly realizes to his relief that there is no wall needing to be torn down. He finds himself in some sort of strange laboratory, covered with dust and spider webs. Derek shines his light on some strange electronics and a computer at the end of the table. “Somebody’s been here. These are clean. Didn’t the owner say she never went downstairs?” Derek asks.
“Uh…” Nate says, unsure how to answer. “I don’t remember.”
“Hmm,” Derek responds, shining his light around the room. Nate spots the engines. He and Derek walk toward them. Suddenly, ribbons of light surround the men. Unsure what is happening, they freeze in place for a second while the light condenses and materializes into a spherical cage.
“Who are you? What do you want here?” calls a voice from the darkness and Alisha steps up to the cage. She wears all black, including a tall, pointed hat, and her hair is frizzy. The wart on her nose is even larger than before.
“Alisha? What are you doing here?” Nate asks.
“I asked you first. Are you with the FBI?” Alisha retorts.
“No, we investigate paranormal phenomena. I’m Nate and this is Derek,” Nate says.
“Don’t tell her my name,” Derek objects.
“Oh is that it? Investigators?” Alisha says, cackling, “Well my name is Abby and you’re my pets now!” She walks to the new computer and turns it on. Nate sets down his equipment. Derek tests the bars of the cage. It is quite solid.
“So you’re Abby in this universe. I admit this is a timeline I didn’t expect,” Nate mutters to himself.
Abby returns to the cage. “What do you know of timelines?” she asks.
“Listen, I don’t know how to explain this, but those machines behind me are overlight drive engines and they’re emitting neotemporal reactance waves creating a fifth-dimensional shift. I need to stop it,” Nate says. As he speaks, the universe shifts again, the bars of the cage changing shape and the wart on Abby’s nose moving slightly upwards.
“Oh, so you’re the one I brought here,” Abby says, cackling.
“What?” Nate says.
“I knew something was strange about this building. I could see it in my cauldron. When I moved in to study it, I discovered that it was an ancient spaceship infested by spiders. These spiders had drained its magic, mutating in the process and becoming dependent on it. When the energy started to run out, they resorted to cannibalism until only one remained. Peering deeper into my cauldron, I discovered that the ship had the ability to twist reality, but I couldn’t figure out how to harness this power. Fortunately, I discovered the means to bring someone to me that could figure it out – someone who had been in the ship before – by reaching into parallel timelines where history had run differently,” Abby explains.
“You phase-locked the modality to my world-line-pattern,” Nate says, “This has all been a grand scheme to capture me inside the Mama-And-Daddy by sacrificing spacetime continuity itself.”
“Indeed, and now you will let me release the magic still stored in the engines,” Abby says, the spider webs changing configurations behind her.
“No,” Nate says.
“Oh, you don’t have a choice,” Abby says.
“I’m not helping you,” Nate says. Derek disappears out of existence. The webs and bars continue to change shape.
“You already have,” Abby says, holding up a lock of hair. “Your DNA should activate the core quite nicely.”
“How did you get that?” Nate asks.
“You’re a smart boy. You can figure it out,” Abby says, “You gave it to me of your own free will. We were working together. Then, sensing when your present self shifted into this universe and knowing that this version of you would cause trouble, I was forced to encage you,” Abby explains as she pries a plate out of the wall. Succeeding, she places the hair upon it and slides the plate back. Instantly, the building begins to hum. “There, it shouldn’t be long now,” Abby comments.
“You’re making a big mistake. The causal interface is unsustainable,” Nate claims.
“You’re lying,” Abby says. It was true; Nate was lying. He could think of nothing else to say. The ship hums louder. All the lights turn on. The flowerpots begin to change into polyp-heads with faces, the flowers becoming tentacles. Reality flickers all around at an ever increasing speed. The light fixtures change position and design. The spider webs shift position and then disappear altogether. The wallpaper changes to white paint to red paint to brown panels to steel ribs.
Daddy starts to gurgle and then says very slowly in a low pitch, “You missed mealtime. You missed mealtime six hundred thirty-six thousand two hundred eighty-five times. It’s time for punishments.” Electrical arcs form between Mama’s polyp-head and Daddy’s polyp-head.
Abby continues flipping switches on her computer. “Once we lift off, it will be too late,” she cackles. A countdown displays on her computer screen, the font continually changing. Twenty… Nineteen… Eighteen…
Nate searches his pockets for anything that might help him escape. He finds nothing. Now speaking normally, Daddy says, “You’re a bad witch. Touching the engines is against the rules.” Mama and Daddy fire a lightning bolt at Abby.
Abby merely stands still, cackling loudly, completely unaffected. “I’m the captain now!” she cackles. The countdown continues. Nine… Eight… Seven…
Suddenly, a gigantic spider appears, scrambling wildly, and tears Abby in two. “Aaaaaah!!!!” she screams. The lightning bolts hit the spider, blistering and smoking its back, but it does not stop. Seeing Nate, it races towards the cage and rips it open. Nate narrowly escapes death by rolling underneath its legs.
The countdown continues, but Nate cannot reach the computer or the engines for fear of the spider. Four… Three… Two… The spider chases him from the room. As he runs through the halls, every polyp-head activates next to him as he passes, making hissing noises and sparks arcing. Rounding a corner, he sees Derek.
“Get down!” Derek commands. Nate falls to the floor and Derek fires his shotgun at the spider following him, blowing open a hole in its cephalothorax. Green guts splatter the walls.
Nate gets back up. Derek is more muscular now than he remembers and is now orange-skinned. “Derek?” Nate says.
“What?” Derek responds.
“Hold still for punishments!” Mama and Daddy speak together.
Derek blasts the nearby polyp-heads with his shotgun, and they explode. “Let’s get to the engine before this thing blows!” he exhorts.
Derek and Nate run back past the dead spider to the engine room, pre-emptively blasting active polyp-heads as they go. Derek’s shotgun changes into a laser blaster. His clothes change style from felt jacket to silvery jumpsuit. Returning to the computer, Nate is relieved to find that the countdown sequence was set longer in this universe. Eighteen… Seventeen… Sixteen… As he shuts it down, he sees a fast-moving blur in the corner of his eye. Abby, alive and well, rides a flying broomstick across the room and knocks Derek unconscious to the floor. Taking his laser blaster, she points it at Nate. She now has red hair and her nose is longer. “I knew you would turn on me!” she yells.
Nate jumps behind the engines to hide. Seeing a hatch, he opens it. Inside sits a crystal as large as a basketball. Recognizing it as a warp crystal, he knows it is the most common energy source for overlight engines. Knowing Abby will find and kill him in seconds anyways, he braves the heat and the fatal dose of radiation he is sure he is getting and grabs it. Reality alterations pulse through his hands ever faster, tearing at his fingers. He changes form, growing feathers, scales, fur, slime, and extra digits in rapid succession. It burns. Breaking the crystal free from its clamps, Nate pulls it out of the engine and smashes it to smithereens on the floor before blacking out.
Nate wakes up sweating. He is back in his room. Needing to use the toilet, he gets up and opens the door to the hallway only to find he is no longer in the facility, but in an apartment. There is a television, empty pizza boxes on the coffee table, and laundry strewn all over the couch. He looks around for the bathroom. Finishing his business, he suddenly sees himself in the mirror. He looks different! His hair is brown, longer, and curlier. His face looks younger. His nose is bigger. Taking full notice now of the rest of his body, he realizes he is also shorter.
A knock sounds at the door. Tentatively answering it, he sees it is Derek, his complexion and musculature back to normal. “Hey, Nate. I’m returning your manuscript. I finished reading it. You should publish it right away; it’s very good,” Derek says, handing Nate a stack of papers.
“Oh,” Nate comments. The title across the top reads: The Spider, The Witch, And The Spaceship.
“Also, I just saw your parents shopping. They told me to remind you that Thanksgiving Dinner is at four. Well, I’ve got to go to work. I’ll call you,” Derek says, walking off.
“Uh…okay,” Nate says.
“Bye,” Derek says and leaves. Nate closes the door and sits on the couch. Curious, he starts to read the manuscript. He doesn’t remember writing it, but he is pretty sure he knows what it’s about.