The face was horrifying, pressing out of the wall like the wall was made of plastic. It was a face in name only, covered in tentacles arrayed in a crude parody of eyes, nose, and mouth. The tentacles were long slimy things. Some ended in fingers, some in diamond shapes, some in what looked like the heads of snakes, snapping and hissing in a horrifying sort of 7.1 surround sound of nastiness. There were even two thick muscular tentacles erupting from where the eyes should be. They ended in bulbous nodules that looked, at once, like eyeballs, and yet, they were fleshy, oozy, and furrowed, like testicles after a particularly sweaty workout.
Danforth let out a scream like a cheerleader startled by a spider when he saw it, throwing himself backwards from the wall where it appeared. It howled and hissed there for a few moments, and then disappeared, slipping back into the wall as if it couldn’t quite penetrate the shrink wrap packaging that the wall made for it.
He hesitated, standing across the room from it, his breath coming in short, desperate gasps.
“Holy…,” he choked, even though he knew it was far from angelic. He’d been to church in his life, but he’d never believed in this kind of thing. He wasn’t even sure he believed it now. He’d been mostly clean and sober for years, except for wacky Wednesday with the gang. Could it be some reaction to the allergy medicine? That did something to your brain, right?
He stood there, in his Sailor Moon boxer shorts, trying to figure out whether he should go over to the wall and verify its solidity.
Well, it was the only way to determine if it was his brain or if he’d been dropped into some weird and scary reality show. He sidled over slowly, looking anywhere but the wall he was heading to. He might have even whistled.
As he got close to the wall, he dared a glance at it. The chipped paint revealed no hint of the strange scariness beyond it. It did not glow. It did not stretch. It did not heave with unearthly anger.
He gently reached out a hand that shook like a tree branch in a thunderstorm, fingers trying to curl back to the elbow. He willed them back out as much as he could, and edged forwards, his toes curling in sympathy with the fingers.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” someone said, in a rather high voice with the timbre of a drill instructor.
His hand snapped back. A glance confirmed all fingers were intact.
He looked over at the woman now standing in the doorway to his closet.
She had incredibly long, straight blond hair that framed a dour look, lips pursed and eyes narrowed. She stood straight, hands on hips, her stare burning into him, daring him to disobey or disbelieve in her.
“You…who are you?” he stammered. “And what are you doing in my closet?”
Her left eyebrow shot up in a bold arch and the dour look faded just a bit as she glanced behind her. “Is it a closet?” she asked. “Oh, dear. I hate it when that happens. No wonder you look disconcerted.”
He looked at her, then over at the wall.
She gave him a tiny, knowing smile. “You’ll want to step back from there. It might eat you.”
He stepped quickly away from the wall. She strode up quickly between him and it, glaring at him.
She looked a bit like a brand new substitute teacher on her first assignment. She was dressed rather fashionably and demurely for a figment of his imagination. A simple cut, navy-blue dress suit that ended at mid-calf, with a brighter blue shirt underneath. It seemed a little old-ish for her. He thought she must be somewhere in her twenties.
“It’s all right,” she said to him. “I’m a…detective.”
“Aren’t you a little short for a…detective?”
Her eyebrows furrowed. She looked down at her feet, then up at the ceiling of his apartment.
“Am I?” She huffed. “I thought this apartment was just small-ish. Rats.”
She ran her fingers through her hair. “I quite like the hair, though. Silky.”
She smiled at him. He couldn’t seem to help but smile back, brushed at his haystack of bed-hair. Despite being obviously bat-shit crazy, she was quite an attractive woman with pretty green eyes.
“So, let’s have a look here…” She examined the weird wall for a second, scanning it carefully, as if she were a handyman (err, handywoman, Danforth corrected himself in his head) here to fix a crack. She reached out slowly and Danforth couldn’t help but cringe, but she touched the wall boldly with a palm, rubbed it back and forth, this way and that. Then, she knocked. Danforth whimpered just a bit and cringed.
She turned to him, and tried to look him in the eyes, but his gaze kept traveling back to the wall behind her. It lurked behind her like a jack-in-the-box paused right before the last note.
“What’s your name?” she asked him.
“Danforth — Dan, really. My friends call me Dan.” He spared her a glance. That was his job, keep that wall from jumping out and swallowing the pretty girl that stood between him and it.
“Danforth,” she addressed him, “Was that the first time the wall did that?”
“Yes. The face with the tentacles, right? Yes, I mean, I think, I hope so. It’s the only time I’ve seen it. Only,” and here he gestured at her to move toward him with his hand, “Could you move a little further away. The tentacles…”
“Oh, don’t worry about it. It’s waiting for you, I expect.”
She grinned, as if it was funny to say that.
“Waiting for me? I…what’s your name?” he asked.
She got a solemn expression, seemed to pause to consider, eyes rolling off to one side as she thought. “Danforth…Dan…what was your mother’s name?”
“Elizabeth,” he said, without thinking.
“How incredible! What a coincidence. My name is Elizabeth, too. Liz to my friends.”
She paused to think again. “And what street is this that we’re on?” She waved a finger lazily in the air, as if gesturing to the space generally around them.
“East Umberland,” he said.
“Liz West,” she said, extending a hand with a shopgirl smile. “Detective. At your service.”
He took the hand, gingerly, by the fingertips, and shook politely.
“Now, listen.” Here she started to pace. “I need your help with this one, Don. Dan. Danforth. This one is just a little too much for me because he knows I’m here, and if he knows I’m here he’s not going to show his…face…”
She looked at him, head cocked to one side. “You’re not afraid are you? Big strapping young…”
She looked him up and down with a slight pause at the Sailor Moon boxers.
“…man like you. Interesting pants by the way. Very colorful.” She continued pacing. “I’m sure all those hormones, testosterone and the like, make you just want to grab a…you don’t happen to have a cricket bat or something? No? Oh, well, it was a thought.”
She stopped, looked him in the eye, shook a hip in a kind of robotic impression of a sexy move. She arched an eyebrow again, opened her mouth just slightly.
“Basically,” she said, in a husky voice. “I’m going back into the closet and I need you to touch the wall.”
He must have looked horrified. She frowned at him.
“I’ll protect you.”
Danforth considered this. He didn’t believe any of it. It had to be a dream. That was it. A dream. The whole thing. And if it didn’t get more pleasant after he stuck his hand into the jaws of certain doom at least he would wake up screaming, wash the cold sweat off, and go to work at his dead-end job. He could get back to his normal, scheduled daily depression. Life as per usual.
“All right,” he said, with a firm nod.
“Great!” she said with a little hop, turned, and marched back through the closet door, which closed behind her.
He looked at the white wall, staring hungrily back at him as only a blank wall can.
He took a breath. Wake up screaming, he told himself, and stretched a hand out to the wall.
With a whistling scream like the ripping wind of a storm the face appeared again, tentacles slamming out at him like a hail of fire from a machine gun loaded with snakes. He felt their cold sliminess grip his arm and start to pull as the thing howled in hungry anger. There were tiny burning sensations all up his arm where the suckers of the tentacles touched him. A cold numbness began to creep up his arm, not the cold of being exposed to freezing cold for too long, but the cold of his arm actually feeling like it was beginning to disappear. He realized he was screaming, flailing, stamping his feet, trying to pull away with all his might, even if meant ripping his slowly freezing arm from his body.
The closet door lashed open and Elizabeth West, Girl Detective (Lady Detective, he corrected himself, even through all the fear) stormed over to him. She winked at him, grabbed a handful of tentacles from his arm in both hands, and pulled.
The testicle tentacles turned and glared at her, ballooning up in what could only be fear. They shot back to the head, bobbing warily as the face started to slip back into the wall.
“Oh, no,” Elizabeth growled. “You’re not going back to being a wallflower. Time…to…dance!”
She threw her whole weight back, yanking hard, and there was a loud, slurpy pop!
The next thing he knew, Danforth was sprawled on the floor next to his bed, head spinning. Elizabeth stood in the middle of the room, brushing slime from her hands. Before her, bobbing slowly above the floor, was the…thing. It was a globe, about the size of an exercise ball. It was covered in tentacles and veins and some sort of flowing mucus, and it smelled like, rather like most of the things currently in Danforth’s refrigerator if they were all mixed together in a warm room. Danforth gagged.
“All right, you,” Detective West said to the thing on the floor, “I told you no more of that kind of thing in this dimension.”
“Why should I listen to you?” the creature whined at her in an echoing, screechy voice. He sounded a bit like Danforth’s foppish uncle. “Who made you boss of where I get my kicks?”
“You just watch it, speaking of kicks, or I’ll give you a kick in your—”
She glanced over at Danforth, and with a pleasant smile, finished with, “—eyeballs.”
The thing squealed slightly and rolled and spun in the air, the ‘eyeballs’ retracting close to it.
“So sorry about all of this,” she said to Danforth, with the same pleasant, insincere voice of a returns desk employee at a store. “I’ll have him out of your way in a second. You wouldn’t happen to have a towel?”
Danforth goggled at her.
“Oh, never mind.” She grabbed his comforter from off the bed and scraped at the goo all down her arms.
“Thanks for your time,” she nodded and smiled to him. “Sorry about the mess.”
“Don’t let her take me! You and I could have some fun!” The globe creature started to bob closer to Danforth, a desperation apparent in its flailing tentacles. “I’ll bet you’ve never experienced a totally empathic link before! I could give that to you! I promise to only eat a few of your neural pathways!”
Detective West grabbed the thing by one of the ball tentacles and started dragging it away. It yelped and bobbed after her through the closet door.
“Shouldn’t you wipe his memory?” the globe thing asked.
“What, you don’t want him to remember you? Ugh, that’s so like your kind. I don’t have time to cover up just so you can stay in politics. Besides, it makes for a more interesting universe this way.”
“Remember me fondly, you know, if anyone asks!” the thing shouted as the closet door closed behind it.
Danforth sat on the floor for a moment, considering. He let out a loud scream, but didn’t wake up. Or did he? Perhaps this was a wake-up call. Perhaps his grey world, the daily grind, the soul-crushing routine, was about to get a lot more interesting.
He took a shower, changed into the Spider-Man boxers, skipped the allergy medicine, and left for work, whistling.