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  Table of contents Issue Twenty-three SUSAN'S ROOM

by
MARK W. PEDERSON
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very element that Clayton could picture became material and formed a dynamically adjusting room of wallpaper, carpet, ceiling texture, furniture, shelves, posters, and knick-knacks around him. He set a window where it should be and locked the fantasized door to the hall even though nobody else was home.



His recollection of this day was strong, and the details came to him effortlessly. He moved his attention around the room, checking his work as it appeared.



Along the walls like stoic prison guards, Sting, Bono, Billy Idol, and other music idols of the eighties watched over the room from their thumbtacked posts. What were meant to be stern but suggestive gazes thirty years ago, now looked more to Clayton like the barely restrained scowls of incensed stepfathers, or in the case of the band Poison, stepmothers. Taped to a mirror on the wall, a magazine photo of friendly, flight-suited Tom Cruise and another of Jon Bon Jovi, rocking a million faces with his smile, made their reduced appeals for the nice guys.



Below the mirror, a white-washed dresser with red stenciled French phrases on the drawers took form. The marble surface filled itself with the items that Clayton could remember, like the gold-plated alloy replica of the Eiffel Tower, standing coke bottle tall on a dustcover-less hardback copy of The Talisman, and the sparkling crystal tree on which Susan would hang her necklaces, bracelets, and rings.



Clayton made the bed. He roughed in the pattern of white and yellow daisies tumbling through a field of deep-marine blue that made up the bedspread, and the narrow over-fold of the sheet decorated with primary colored polka dots. When the top two pillows (on two stacks of three each) appeared they revealed the dots to be gumballs pouring from the shattered plastic globes of bright red dispensers. Then he brought the ragged brown teddy bear with one glass eye and a stitched-up scar across its belly into existence and rested it against the left stack of pillows, followed by Susan’s precious velveteen rabbit which he set laying sideways with its head in the bears lap.



He brought her portable auto-reverse cassette player she kept on the glass side table beside the bed into the scene, and then he made it play The Unforgettable Fire by U2. It had been the album that had looped over, and over the entire time he had been with Susan that incredible afternoon.



All of the familiarity would help lessen Susan’s shock when she materialized as her seventeen-year-old self. The sooner she recognized her surroundings the sooner she would accept them and the sooner things could move on. This is why the details were so crucial.



It had been cloudy that day, this day, and he recalled that a light sprinkle of rain would be heard hitting the window before too long. He looked through the orange aluminum blinds and outside the sky aligned itself accordingly.



His friend (at the time) Wade’s olive-toned Chevy pickup sat parked in the street in front of the house. That wasn’t Wade sitting in it though, just a stand-in, another accessory in case Susan looked outside.



Next Clayton opened the closet door and created an exit for himself. Once this encounter with his old girlfriend was over, he would simply kiss her goodbye, walk into the closet and back into his present-day life. He shut the door to the exit and hoped that she wouldn’t look inside her closet.



Now that the room was completed to the best of his ability, Clayton checked himself in the mirror. His twenty-year-old face, filled with natural confidence, looked back and nodded. Taped above Clayton’s reflected shoulder, Tom Cruise also thumbed his approval.



This would be the first time he tried this with Susan, the one that got away (as if he’d been holding her hostage), and first times were always tricky. An experimental trial that almost always ended poorly. He wasn’t too worried though, not when he had the luxury of starting over as many times as he needed to.



Clayton sat Indian style at the end of the bed and summoned her. The bear and rabbit rolled aside as the bed covers rose and the pillow dented as Susan gradually emerged from nothing. It wasn’t a fancy transporter effect of shimmering particles and lights, just a slow crossfade between an empty bed and an occupied one. In the background, U2 sang about things that one man had done in the name of love.



Once she was entirely present, Susan sat up and looked around the room. Clayton expected the usual disorientation and panic but there was nothing like that with Susan. She took it all in with casual distrust, “How did I get out?”



“What do you mean?” Clayton liked to respond with open-ended questions to get a better idea of how to proceed.



“Why am I here? Why does this look like my old room?” Susan looked at him for the first time. “You made this happen. You brought me here.”



Her suspicions were so close to the truth it startled Clayton, but they also sounded irrational enough to be reasonably deflected. “What are you talking about? You called me, remember? You said you had something important to tell me.” This was true. Today was the day that Susan had told him she loved him, which was why his memory was so clear and he was able to reproduce the scene so accurately. “You told me on the phone that if I hurried over, you would have a present for me, don’t you remember?”



Susan wasn’t listening anymore. She had pulled the covers back and was looking down at herself, “Oh my God, I’m so skinny.”



“Yeah you are. You’re gorgeous.” The trick was to make her forget about her real life for a while. Sometimes charm did the trick.



She gave him a doubtful squint, “But I haven’t been this thin in twenty years.”



Clayton pretended to be confused, “Susan, you’re only seventeen. Twenty years ago you weren’t even-”



“No. That’s not true. I’m almost fifty and I’m… heavy. This is all wrong. This is not real.”



And sometimes things went better when he skipped the deception altogether, “What if I told you that you’re right and it isn’t real? Would that help?”



She just looked at him. Clayton had never seen so much suspicion on a person’s face before.



“What if I said, it isn’t real and it’s only temporary? Does that make you feel better?”



Susan continued to silently glare.



“And,” Clayton added, “not only is none of this real, and it’s temporary, but afterward you won’t remember anything. Like it never happened at all.”



Susan swung her legs over the edge of the bed and stood up. She kept a wary eye on Clayton as she walked to the dresser. In the mirror her eyes and mouth widened when she saw the young skin of her face.



“I’m not saying that that’s what is going on,” Clayton stayed sitting at the end of the bed, “I’m just asking if it would make you feel better.”



Susan’s reflection peeked over at him. She lifted the Eiffel Tower statue and bounced it in her hand as if testing its heft, then set it down again. She ran her fingers along the stenciled lettering painted across the top drawer. “Why does this say I eat the hats? It’s supposed to say I love the rain.”



“Yeah well, I failed French.”



She looked at him again through the mirror, “So you made all of this?”



Clayton nodded.



Susan leaned in toward the mirror and pulled the hair up from in front of her ear running two fingers through it, perhaps looking for gray strands. She patted the tight skin under her chin with the back of her hand. She cupped her breasts. She lifted her white blouse halfway up and whispered, “Oh,” when she saw her flat and toned tummy.



“How?” she asked.



“With my mind.”



“I don’t understand,” she stepped back, turned around, and looked at her blue-jeaned butt in the mirror, “are you saying that we are inside your head right now?”



“No, not exactly. This place is not real, but you and I are. It’s an ability I have.”



Now she looked at him with a new interest. “What is your name again?”



That hurt. “It’s Clayton. Clayton Bollinger. We went out for like six months. You don’t recognize this day?”



“No, should I?”



“Would have been nice. This is the day you first told me that you loved me. The first time we slept together.”



Susan’s expression changed to one of distasteful recognition, “Of course that’s what this is about.”



“No. No, that’s not what this is, I promise. It’s about nostalgia. It’s about feeling that first rush of love that we don’t get anymore as adults,” Clayton put a hand across his heart to demonstrate his depth of feeling, “I mean, it could be about sex too, if you wanted. But mostly I just want to relive one of the best days of my life. I fell so in love with you on this day, you don’t even know.”



“Well, it didn’t make an impression on me because I’m not feeling shit.”



Clayton considered leaving through the exit and starting over, trying a different approach now that he knew what her reaction would be, but Susan was standing between him and the closet and he thought she would most likely freak out if he got too close right now. He had been slapped, scratched, and kicked in the balls by other girls in these encounters before, and just because he could make a quick escape didn’t mean that the pain didn’t follow him home.



“How about I tell you how this day went originally. Maybe things will start to come back to you and you’ll remember how special it was. For both of us.”



“I’m not going to fuck you. I’m with someone for one thing, not really into dudes anymore, for another. Besides, you’re a kid and I’m a grown woman.”



“Not today you aren’t,” Clayton said cheerfully. “Right now, you’re seventeen and single, or not actually single because you’re going out with me. And the you that you are now was into me enough to say you love me, you just can’t remember yet. And if that doesn’t work for you, I’m really actually fifty just like you.”



“Almost fifty, I said.”



“Sorry, almost fifty.”



“And I’m not really fat, per se. I work out, like everyday. In fact,” Susan grinned, “my friends like to say that I got a body on me,” she laughed at this private joke until a loud snort embarrassed her.



Clayton pushed his pitch, “Think about it, we both have the minds and experience of adults with the bodies and stamina of a couple of teenagers. Don’t you see the potential here?”



Susan sat down near the pillows at the head of the bed and looked over at the door to the hallway and the rest of the house, “Let me guess, I don’t get to leave until you get what you want.”



“No, not at all. If you want to leave, go ahead. You’re not a prisoner.”



“Not a prisoner,” Susan quietly repeated. She looked around the room and nodded, “It does feel good to be back here. What if I wanted you to leave?”



“I guess I would just have to start over and try it again until you learned to like me.”



Susan sneered, “So I’m stuck with you, in other words.”



“I know it seems like that now, but eventually I will figure out how to get through to you and you’ll feel totally different about it.”



“Don’t hold your breath.”



Clayton inhaled loudly through his mouth and puffed out his cheeks.



“Yeah, you’re a funny guy,” Susan bit at her fingernail. “So, are you going to tell me what happened that day or not?”



“Ok, you called me at home and told me to come over and to hurry-”



“Hang on, do you have any cigarettes.”



“No, why would I? You don’t even smoke. Or at least you didn’t back then.”



“I’m starting to think that there’s a lot that you don’t know about me. I smoked alright, just not in the house and not around anyone who made a big deal out of it. Anyway who gives a shit, I smoke now, and I don’t really care what you think.”



“Well, I didn’t make any cigarettes because I didn’t know. Sorry.”



Susan laid back and folded her arms across her chest, “Just finish your story. I called you and what happened?”



“You said you wanted to talk and to give me something. I asked what it was and you said it’s a surprise but it had a red bow on it that I could unwrap when I got there.”



“Sounds like a teenage girl alright.”



“I didn’t have a car back then so I called my buddy Wade and told him what was up. He thought that the red ribbon thing meant that you were talking about sex, although that wasn’t how I had interpreted it, and he wanted to help out so he picked me up and drove me here. In fact he waited outside in his truck for almost three hours in the rain while we did our thing, if you can believe it. At one point you waved to him from the window, so I thought it would be important to put him out there today in case you looked for him again.”



“This guy is out there now?” she pointed at the window.



“Uh-huh.”



Susan rolled across the bed grabbing her velveteen rabbit along the way and stood up in front of the window. She separated the blinds and peeked out, but she barely noticed the truck parked out front. “What the hell is going on out there? That’s not my neighborhood. Those houses don’t look right at all.”



“I put all my effort into this room. Everything outside is just what my subconscious fills in. Like a default world.”



She looked back at him, “Really? How far does it go?”



“What do you mean?”



“This world, how big is it?”



“I’m not sure. I think it’s as big as it needs to be.”



“That’s not an answer. If I walked down the street what would I see? Is the park down there? The drive-in?”



“Yeah, probably. I imagine there’s a rough version of the whole city, maybe the whole world.”



“Even places you’ve never been?”



Clayton shrugged, “I think so. I’ve seen enough of the world in movies and stuff that it’s probably all out there. I doubt it’s very accurate though. I don’t really know.”



She looked out the window again. “Was he as confused as I was?”



“Who, Wade?”



“Yes Wade, since you dragged him into this too.”



“That’s the Wade from thirty years ago. As far as he knows, everything is exactly how it should be. He’s just kind of a prop.”



“How come I’m not a prop? How come I know this is all wrong? Why didn’t you just conjure up the old version of me, back when I was all eager and willing?”



Clayton sighed, “Two reasons. First, as I said this isn’t just about that. I wanted to be with you, the true you. I’m trying to recreate a feeling, for both of us. And secondly, because in order for us to interact you need to be real, otherwise you would just be in here doing and saying the same exact things you did on that day, no matter what I did. It would have been like watching you on TV. If we tried to have a conversation with Wade right now he would be unresponsive because to him we never went outside that day, so he wouldn’t even see us. I would have to, as you put it, drag the real Wade into this world. Then he would be as confused as you were.”



She let the slats of the blinds snap shut and put a knee on the bed. She began petting her rabbit’s head between its long velveteen ears. “How do you even know that I’m real?”



“That’s a dumb question. Don’t you feel real?”



“I do. But what I am asking is, from your perspective, what makes you so sure that I’m not just part of your imagination?”



“An imaginary person wouldn’t be self-aware.”



“Oh, I agree with that, but I want to know how you are so certain.”



“That’s easy. I do this all the time with my wife.”



“You’re married?” Susan shook her head, “You’re married, but here you are trying to have an affair with an old girlfriend. Real or not, that’s fucked up, man. Does your wife know about this place?”



“No. Well, sort of. Me and her, we relive special days all the time, and she loves it. We can revisit our honeymoon or sometimes the night I proposed, or this one camping trip, any big day in our lives basically. She always has a blast. But once it’s over she has no memory of it, so every time I have to deal with her initial anxiety, but I’ve got that down to a science now.”



“How many times?”



“Hundreds. Maybe a thousand by now.”



“What about me? How many times have you put me through this?”



“This is the first time, I swear. I’ve been saving you. Today is one of the best days-”



“Best days of your life. Yeah, you said.” Susan laid back on the bed, propped up by her gumball pillows, “You might be lying to me. If I can’t remember, this could be the millionth time you’ve done this to me.”



“Does it seem like it? It’s not exactly going smoothly. You hitting me with all of these questions and doubts.”



“Excuse me for being curious, do you think this is a normal experience for me?”



“I’m sorry, I know it must be scary.”



“Scary? Hardly. Men don’t scare me anymore, and you’re just a boy.”



“I’m just saying that I don’t want you to be-”



“Do you know how long it’s been since I could do this?” Susan reached her arms and legs straight up into the air, touched the toes of her Vans, and laughed. She looked at Clayton again, “None of this explains how come you are so sure that I’m real, though. Don’t you ever worry that maybe you’re losing your mind? I know a woman that talks out loud to her dead daughter all night long. She doesn’t think she’s crazy.”



“I’m not crazy.” Clayton said.



“I’m not either but a lot of people think that I am. How would you even know, right?”



“I know I’m not because there is one little side effect. The next time you go to sleep in your real body you’ll dream about this day. The actual day. My wife wakes up all the time saying that she had the honeymoon dream again or the camping dream, and she has a nice warm feeling all day long.”



“So, I’m going to wake up tomorrow thinking about you then?”



“Possibly. Or just about being young and beautiful, which you are right now. I know it’s real because it affects her that way. Others too. Do you remember Janine?”



“Janine Cross? My friend from high school Janine? She’s the one who introduced us, wasn’t she?”



“So you do remember me,” Clayton smiled. “Yeah, that Janine. I’ve done this with her many, many times and recently she tracked me down on Facebook to tell me that she has dreams about me. That’s how I know it’s real.”



“Wait, you and Janine had a thing?”



“Before I met you, yeah.”



“Don’t tell me, you dumped her for me.”



“Not exactly. She caught the two of us making out inside the big pyramid at the miniature golf course the night of her birthday party.”



“Oh shit, that was you?” Susan sat up, “I remember that. I was totally into you that night. That’s the night you should have recreated, dumbass. You could have had me twenty different ways. I had a perpetual slip-n-slide going in my pants back then.”



“Really? But we never did it that night, I didn’t have any reason to think we would now. Besides, we both felt pretty crappy when she crawled in there looking for her ball and saw us kissing.”



“Yes we did. I think she eventually forgave me. She’s on Facebook you say?”



“Yes, but you aren’t going to remember to look her up later.”



“You could always send a friend request to me when we get out of here and I could find her on your list of friends. Which, by the way, would have been a much less sleazy way for you to reconnect with me.”



“Apparently you wouldn’t have remembered me.”



“Just mention that you’re the guy from the pyramid and I will.” Susan finally gave Clayton a smile. “Then we could talk the way normal people do, you know through email. You could ask me questions like, how did life turn out for you, Sue? Or, did you ever make it to Paris?”



“Did you?”



“Not yet, but I will.” She got down and disappeared behind the bed. “So just how detailed did you make this room?”



“As best as I could. Why?”



She popped back up empty-handed, “Nothing down there. Makes sense if you didn’t know about the smokes.”



“What were you looking for?”



“I used to keep some weed in a box down there.”



“You’re right, I didn’t know about that either.”



“Well, can’t you whip some up for us? How about some whiskey?”



“I don’t know. I’ve never tried. I wasn’t much of a drinker and I never smoked pot.”



Susan raised an eyebrow, “If you’re trying to get lucky kid, you’re going to need to be more flexible.”



“Ok, I’ll try. I guess we’ll need a pipe or something too.”



“Just make a joint. Or some papers and I’ll roll it. But make the booze first.”



Clayton pictured a bottle of Jack Daniels and it appeared on the dresser.



“That is so fucking cool. I want your power,” Susan said, then grabbed the bottle and held it up. “The label is all wrong but the color sure looks good.” She opened the top, took a big drink, and spit it all out on the floor, “Ewk. What is this shit?”



“No idea. Maybe I don’t know how to make alcohol.”



“You do not.”



“Do you still want the other stuff?”



“Not if it’s going to taste like that.”



Just when he was starting to impress her too. “Hey, what about the music? This was your favorite album back then.”



Susan listened to Bono imploring her to stay, in this time, in a lie. “I can’t believe that I ever listened this jangly crap. Can’t you make some Kenny Chesney?”



“Is that country?”



“Yep,” she drawled.



“Then, nope,” he mocked.



Susan sighed and sat back against the dresser, “Wow, you really did make this room with just one thing in mind, didn’t you?”



This time he didn’t bother to deny it.



“You don’t have much imagination, Clayton,” she glanced around the room, “well, I mean obviously you do, but you’re using it to creep on little girls. Pretty sick if you ask me.”



“I don’t even know why I have to defend this. There’s no little girls or adults in this room. Nothing weird like that. We are both right around twenty years old right now, right? This is about as ideal as it gets in life, not to mention there’s the whole ‘nothing is real here’ thing.”



“It’s real enough for my pervert alarm to go off. This doesn’t seem like a place you just bumped into. You’ve been working on this trick for a long time, I bet. Probably since you were looking at your momma’s tits from the crib,” she shook her head. “When you think of all the other ways you could use this talent.”



“Well what would you use it for if you could do it?”



She put her hands up, “You know, I’m probably not any better than you actually. I could say that I would build a huge library and read everything in it, or learn how to play the cello, or take a stroll on a long endless beach, but I spend so much time alone these days that I don’t think I would do any of those things. I probably have a one track mind, just like you. But just so I understand, I can make any place I want, fill it with any people I want, do anything I want to them, and afterwards it all gets forgotten and there’s no consequences?”



“Basically.”



Susan closed her eyes, “There’s a word flashing in front of my face like red lightning, and it says REVENGE.”



“Ok, now my alarm is going off. Revenge on who?”



Ignoring his question Susan pointed the bottle of rotten whiskey at him, “Let me ask you something. In all the thousands of times that you’ve done this, has it never occurred to you that you could just take what you want? Why all the jibber-jab? You know why you’re doing this, why work so hard? You could have imagined me tied up and naked with a ball-gag in my mouth. Or if it doesn’t work that way you could crack me in the head with that Eiffel tower statue and go to town. Instead you’re trying to seduce me with kindness, like a little boy. That barely worked when we were dating,” she came and stood over where he sat at the end of the bed. “Yeah, I remember you Clayton Bollinger. You were the one who was always so nice and polite.”



“Well what’s wrong with-”



“I would have fucked you anytime you wanted,” Susan blurted, “if you would have only showed me some balls back then, take that either way you want. But you moved so slow,” with the hand holding her velveteen rabbit she walked two fingers lazily up his chest, “Sooooo sloooow. I was a normal horny teenager, you were the one with the hang-up.” Her fingers reached his neck and she flicked his chin hard, “Did you know I was screwing around while we were going out?”



“With who?”



“Oh maybe six or seven different guys. Frat parties mostly.”



Clayton felt sick from his guts to his throat. “But I loved you so much, I thought I was doing the right thing.”



“The right thing for a first date maybe. In fact, that’s what it was like going out with you, a six month long first date,” she thumped him on the head with her velveteen rabbit. “I’m sorry to burst your bubble about us, but that’s just the way it was.”



“Ok.”



“Ok what?”



“I guess I’ll go.” Clayton raised his moistening eyes toward Susan’s closet.



“Isn’t any of this sinking in? You’re the boss here. Why are you acting like a little bitch? You still want me don’t you?”



“I don’t know.”



“Of course you do. Look at me, I’m fucking hot. And so are you. You’re a football player, right?”



“Hockey. I was.”



“Whatever, you’ve got a killer body right now.” Susan almost took another drink from the bottle, stopped herself and walked it back over to the dresser. “I get it, you want different pussy. I had a husband, I know what men are.” She leaned in to the mirror again with her back to Clayton.



Standing there, she looked so good to Clayton that despite all that had gone wrong, he still wanted to make this work. “Did he cheat on you? Are you divorced?”



“No, actually I’m kind of a famous widow. You know you really should have done some homework on me. So, are we going to do this or not.”



“Are you sure?”



She dropped her arms and turned around, exasperated. “See, there you go again. You have to take what you want. This is Clayton’s world, you made it. Clayton’s rules.”



“Alright, get undressed then.”



“Oh my God. Really? You have to do better than that. Get up off your scared little ass and tear my clothes off. Slap me around. Punch me, you pussy. Burn me. Stick things in me. C’mon, what gets you off?”



“Jesus, none of that stuff,” Clayton said, horrified. Once again he glanced at the closet door.



She shook her head, “It’s ok, Clay, I’m only messing with you. You’re a nice guy. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m sure your wife is perfectly happy having nice polite sex every other Wednesday night or whatever. I mean besides your psychic rape sessions, but it’s ok, really.”



“Why are you trying to make me feel bad? I did this for both of us. I thought you would like going back to a time when we were both happy. Everyone else does.” Clayton could feel tears starting. “My wife tells me every time to keep doing it even though she won’t remember. Janine loves it, she doesn’t even resist, she just treats it like a dream. And there are more. A lot more. Nobody ever likes where their lives ended up, I’m offering an escape. You’re the only one who ever got this mad. The only one who ever got mean. Why can’t you just enjoy it?” He looked at the closet again.



Susan followed his gaze. “What’s in my closet, Clayton?”



“Nothing.”



“Must be something, you keep looking over there. What is it?”



“Nothing. Literally nothing. I kept it empty on purpose.”



“So why do you-”



“It’s how I get back home, that’s all.”



“The way out of here?”



“I know what you’re thinking but it won’t work for you. It’s another thing I tried with my wife.”



“That’s alright, I’m not really in a rush to get back. So you want me to have fun?”



Clayton nodded.



“You really want me to enjoy myself?”



“Yes, of course I do. I love… I mean, I loved you.”



“I’ll need some things.”



“Like what?”



“Make me some black lipstick. And a scrunchy for my hair. And a pair of these,” she pointed at Tom Cruise’s mirrored Aviators, “can you do all that?”



“I think so. Anything else?”



“Yes, but not yet.”



When she saw the requested items on the dresser Susan gave him another smile, “It’s an impressive trick, Clayton.”



She put her hair up in a ponytail but instead of painting her lips she put the tip of the lipstick next to the corner of her eye and drug a long black teardrop trail down her cheek. Her reflection winked at Clayton before putting on the sunglasses.



Susan came over and pulled him up from his sitting position on the bed and they stood face to face. “So, what do you think would happen if you killed someone in this world?”



“You’re serious?”



“Uh-huh. I don’t mean me. I mean one of my neighbors or my dad when he gets home from work. What if you and I murdered someone?”



“Why?” Clayton’s concerned expression looked back at him from both lenses of her sunglasses.



“Curiosity. To see what’s doable here. Just indulge me, what do you think would happen if we burned down the house across the street?”



“I don’t think that anything would happen. I’d go back to my life and you wouldn’t remember doing it, so… nothing.”



“I might dream about it though.”



“You might.”



“Let’s try it.”



“No way.”



“Why not? You just said nothing would happen.”



“You won’t get the reaction you want. These aren’t real people. They wouldn’t be afraid or feel any pain.”



“Are you sure?”



“Pretty sure.”



“How can you know, have you ever tried to hurt someone over here?”



“No, of course not,” Clayton’s two faces were offended, “but I have tried to talk to people here and they don’t react. They just go through the motions.”



“Still, might be fun to watch that bitch Mrs. Paulson doing her housework while she’s burning alive. Or we could go kill your friend in the truck.”



“God, what’s wrong with you?”



“What’s wrong with you? You’re the one with all the power you’re afraid to use. C’mon, make me a big butcher knife. I want to go stab your friend Wade,” she crinkled her nose and her lips pulled back to show both rows of her teeth. It took Clayton a moment to recognize that Susan was smiling.



He stepped back, “No. No way.”



She stepped forward, “Afraid of seeing a little blood, hockey boy? Wait, would there even be any blood?”



“Yes, there would be.”



“How do you know?”



“My wife fell off the bed on one of our honeymoons and cut her head open, bad. There was blood all over the room.”



“What did you do?”



“I got the hell out of there.”



“You left her to bleed?”



“Well, I really don’t think that this world continues when I leave.”



“But you don’t know for sure?”



“How could this exist without me?”



“What if you never left? How long do you think this place would last? What’s the longest you’ve kept it going?”



“It’s hard to say. I have spent a whole night in here before, but in reality it’s only a few seconds.”



Susan dropped her head and looked at him over the top of the sunglasses. “You’re kidding. We’ve only been here for a few seconds? Man, once again you’ve failed to realize what you have. You’re telling me that you could probably live an entire lifetime, or longer I bet, or maybe even a bunch of them and go back without losing any time in your real life. How can you not do crazy shit?”



“Honestly, I never thought about it. I don’t want to hurt anybody or watch things burn. I just want to feel love. Is that really so strange to you?”



“Strange, no. Boring, very,” she pushed the aviators back up and poked him in the chest with a finger. “Let’s go cut Wade. I’ll bet you anything that he doesn’t bleed at all. Seriously, if I’m wrong you can do anything you want to me. Anything, Clayton. Think about it, all those nights after our dates when you went home with blue-balls because you were too scared to make a move, I’m sure you came up with all kinds of things you wanted to do to me,” Susan stepped back, lifted her arms and slowly twirled. “Well, here I am. Here’s the body you fell in love with. Hey, I’ll even act like I used to, the way you remember me. I’ll pretend I’m a virgin if you want. What do you say, all you have to do is let me kill Wade, who is not even a real person.”



“But what if he does bleed, or scream. You wouldn’t have to live with that but I would.”



“He won’t. Your wife only bled because she was real, like me. I would bleed, you would bleed, but Wade won’t. I know I’m right.”



“Why do you want to kill so badly?”



Susan seemed to ponder the question for a moment, “Because I’m not allowed to in real life. The same way you aren’t allowed to screw teenage girls. But there’s no laws over here, is there?”



“Alright I get it. But if he starts screaming I’m out of here.”



“I’m ok with that. You’ll still look me up on Facebook won’t you?”



“I’m really not sure that I will. You’re kind of scary.”



“See what you think, after we fuck. Sorry, you probably prefer calling it making love.”



“I’m sorry Wade.” Clayton whispered, but you did want to help me get laid, he added in his head, and a thirteen inch butcher’s knife appeared on the dresser.



“Nice.” Susan picked up the knife from the surface of the dresser and ran her index finger across the blade. “Ouch, sharp.” she pulled back the bleeding finger and stuck it in her mouth.



“Sorry.” Clayton said.



“Mm-mm,” she shook her head and pulled out the finger, “don’t be sorry, sharp is good. Here taste,” she ran the bloody tip of her finger over his bottom lip then shoved it into his mouth and licked her own lips. Then she handed him the knife, “Now I want to taste you.”



“Moo mahm me moo muh mahmehph?” he said through a mouthful of finger.



“Just a little, like I did.” she was petting his tongue back and forth and slowly sliding the finger in and out of his mouth.



“Mi mo mahm moo.”



She pulled out the finger. “What?”



“I said, I don’t want to.”



Susan unbuttoned her blouse and took it off. She squeezed the tip of her finger and let blood drip and roll down the inner side of her left breast. It pooled at the top of her bra staining the white cotton. She stuck the finger back in his mouth.



“Do it.”



Clayton cut his finger open. Susan grabbed it and put it in her mouth. They stood that way for almost a minute tasting each other’s blood before she took the knife from him and pulled away. “Let’s go kill Wade.”



Outside, Susan twirled around on the lawn. “I missed the sun so much.” She did a cartwheel. She jumped and grabbed a big branch from the tree and laughed as she hung from it. When her laughter became snorting she stopped abruptly, let go of the tree, and covered her mouth with a hand.



Wade’s truck was parked facing the wrong direction and the driver’s side door was next to the sidewalk. Together Clayton and Susan approached the window and watched Wade bobbing his head to music which Clayton thought might have been Styx although he could only hear the muffled bassline. Susan opened the door and Styx it was.



Wade did not react, he continued to nod his head and mimic drum fills on the steering wheel with his hands, while softly singing along with Dennis DeYoung about the Grand Illusion. He looked at his watch once, turned his head toward Susan’s bedroom window, and waved just as he had that day three decades before.



Without warning Susan shoved the knife into the side of Wade’s throat with a quick backhand swing. The blade poked out the other side of his neck. There was no blood. Wade continued to enjoy the music, the knife moved with his bouncing head.



“Told you.” Susan said.



Clayton’s heart pounded and he felt like he could throw-up. “Ok, you were right. Let’s go back in now…”



Susan pulled out the knife and stabbed Wade in the stomach. No reaction. She twisted it with both hands. Wade air-guitared along with the solo. She punched the blade into his crotch, three, four times, laughing until she snorted again.



“Ok, Jesus that’s enough,” Clayton said, “you’re like a psycho.”



She glanced over her bare shoulder at him, “Maybe violence makes me horny.”



“It does?”



“Maybe.”



Susan left the knife in Wade’s crotch and turned to Clayton. “So now I’m wondering what would happen if you killed me?”



“I don’t know, and I have no intention of finding out.”



“That’s good. I wouldn’t want you to really do it. I just want to know what you think would happen. Would I wake up in my old out of shape body back in my cage, or would I die in the real world too? Like falling and hitting the ground in a dream?”



“I really don’t know. If I had to guess I think you would wake up at home. Why did you say cage?”



“Just a metaphor.”



A light rain began to fall. Behind Susan, Clayton could see Wade reach out and turn on his windshield wipers. “Let’s go back inside; we’re going to get wet.”



Susan kicked off her Vans. “Uh-uh, let’s do it right here on the grass. I love the rain, remember?” She pulled her jeans off. There was a red bow and ribbon around the elastic top of her black panties.



“Are you sure?”



“A deal’s a deal. Strip down, little boy.”



Clayton pulled his R.E.M. t-shirt over his head and threw it to the ground. He popped open the buttons of his 501s and let them drop to his ankles. He shivered when the rain hit his skin. Or maybe he had already been shivering.



Susan smiled, “You have to turn around while I take off the rest, ok?”



“Yeah right, like you’re shy,” Clayton laughed.



“That’s the rules. I’ll tell you when you can look.”



He turned and faced the house. From Wade’s truck, Tommy Shaw tried to warn Clayton that he was fooling himself, but Susan’s voice was louder, “Ooh, it’s chilly out here, you should see my nipples. No, don’t turn around yet.”



“You’re killing me here, Susan.” Clayton hugged his arms and bounced on the balls of his feet.



She giggled and said, “Ok you can look now.”



He turned around. His excitement turned to confusion. “Hey, you didn’t take off your-”



Susan pulled the knife from behind her back and ripped Clayton open from the top of his boxer shorts to his chin. He fell forward into the grass, but not before his guts did. His hands landed in and slid through the mound of slippery intestines.



“Get to the closet, Clayton. It’s your only chance,” Susan laughed and began to swirl and dance around him, “I don’t think you’re going to make it though. The details are amazing, look at that. Is that your kidney? Very impressive.”



Clayton crawled toward the house, he felt like he was in a dream and then remembered that he almost was. Only it was a dream with only one way out. Why was there no pain yet, he wondered. He crawled faster, but he was losing his blood and vital organs too quickly. When a fallen organ burst open under his knee, he gave up and rolled onto his back. Oh, there’s the pain.



Susan squatted down next to him and stabbed the knife into where she correctly thought his heart would be.



Clayton watched the rain roll down Susan’s bare skin and mix with the blood that had sprayed her. Then he watched himself die in Tom Cruise’s rain speckled sunglasses.



Susan watched as well, and waited to see if the world would cease to exist or not.



endmark





Paris was nothing like Susan had imagined it would be. Nobody spoke the language correctly and the road signs and storefronts all translated into random nonsense. However, it always rained and at least Clayton had gotten the Eiffel tower right. Best of all, no one seemed to mind that a beautiful young American girl dressed only in her underwear danced through the crowded streets bloodlessly slicing and stabbing everyone that she saw.



   
   

 

endmark



Mark Pederson lives in Reno, Nevada with his wonderful wife Shelley and their two beagles Bender and Choopie. He has written a 120,000-word novel called The Tirefly Failsafe, and recently completed the first draft of a second much better novel. He also writes short stories. His short story The Mountain was long listed for the Bath Short Story Award last year.



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