Foreword note: I wrote this story in May of 2003, before I had shifted my attention away from fanfics and more toward novels with my own characters. As such, the majority of the characters are copyright and owned by Maritza Campos. The exceptions to this are Martin and Ginny, two of my own characters who first appeared in the fanfics and then in the webcomic Tangents, before I finally spun them off into their own world when I rewrote The Trip. As such, Martin and Ginny are copyright to me and all of that. Anyway, this is possibly the best of the fanfics I’ve written, so enjoy!
Tangential Worlds Presents
Transference, by Robert A. Howard
* * * * *
“You know, Margaret, you really should go see a doctor” April said. She held Margaret’s hair back as she looked at her friend in concern.
Margaret glanced up at her from the toilet, in front of which she knelt. “Please. You know what they’re going to say. ‘Drink plenty of fluids and get lots of bed rest’ or some nonsense like that. It’s just a stomach bug. They can’t treat viruses with antibiotics anyway, so why waste the money? Thanks though…” she gratefully took the wet towel from April’s other hand and pulling away from the toilet wiped her face and mouth down. “I’m sure it’ll go away in a day or two…”
“That’s what you said yesterday, and the day before. You’ve been sick for three days now, Margaret. I’m getting worried.”
Margaret smiled weakly. “If I still feel this wretched tomorrow I’ll go see a doctor. Still, thanks for making me soup… even if I wasn’t able to keep it down.”
April laughed “Well, that might have been because Marsha tried sneaking into the kitchen when my back was turned. I am pretty sure I caught her before she added anything to it, but you know her. If she has the chance to cook, she’ll leap at it.”
Margaret shuddered as a chuckle threatened to erupt into nausea again and swallowed hard. She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, liquid leaking from the corners of her eyelids, before opening them in amusement. “So you’re saying Marsha poisoned me, and it’s not a flu? Well that makes me feel better…”
April laughed, though she still looked concerned. “I’d say we should bring you to the hospital in that case and have your stomach pumped, but…”
“Yeah, I don’t have anything left in my stomach to pump. I’ll just lie down… I’m sure I’ll feel better when I rest a little.”
“Are you sure? I mean, I’m sure Mike wouldn’t mind driving you in the convertible… though he might insist you bring a barf bag along…”
“Yes, I’m sure. Thank you though” Margaret reached up and let April pull her up. She felt rather unsteady on her feet, and it did worry her. She didn’t want to be bothered with a doctor though. All she wanted was some sleep.
April helped Margaret into bed and started to pull the blankets over her when Margaret batted her hands away. “I’m not a total invalid you know.”
“I know. But my nursing you back to health helps me keep my bed for a little bit longer. Marsha’s afraid of catching whatever you have, so she’s staying out in the living room.”
Margaret shook her head in amusement and then pulled her bathrobe off before pulling the sheets over her. April rolled her eyes as she headed toward the door. “I’m surprised you don’t keep the robe on. I mean, what if you have to rush to the bathroom and one of the guys is over?”
“I should be okay. And they know not to look. Except Dave and… well, he’s seen me naked before. He wouldn’t stare.” Margaret’s face grew warm and she glanced away from her friend. “Why are you so concerned anyway?”
“Well… because I was going to bring Ted over to watch a movie tonight, and I don’t want him to get an eyeful of you, okay?” April’s cheeks flamed as she glanced back at Margaret, her arms drawn up under her breasts as she hugged herself.
Margaret laughed for a moment, or tried to before she started to cough. Her stomach roiled and then she swallowed hard and concentrated on breathing. “You sure you don’t want a doctor, Margaret?”
“It’s just my stomach feels queasy. Maybe Marsha did do something to that soup. I just need some sleep.”
“Okay, Margaret. I’ll… I’ll see you, okay?”
Margaret nodded and pulled the sheets up to her chest, leaving her throat bare. Her throat felt constricted, and she couldn’t stand the feel of anything covering it… better to be a little cold than wake up in half an hour feeling like she was being throttled.
As darkness descended upon her she had one last thought, that if she didn’t feel a lot better tomorrow, she was going to listen to April and go to the doctor’s… and then sleep overtook her.
* * * * *
Margaret blinked as she started awake. The room was a lot brighter, suggesting she had slept through the afternoon and through the night. Her stomach felt a lot better as well, and she stretched, enjoying feeling actually decent for a change.
She sat up and swung her legs around, and stretched again, yawning. Despite the sleep she’d gotten, she was still tired. It was tempting to just crawl back into bed, and after a moment, she crawled back into the bed and closed her eyes, letting sleep drift over her.
Margaret jerked awake at the blaring of her alarm, and she muttered a curse. She could have sworn April had turned it off so it wouldn’t disturb her sleep… her hand slapped down on the snooze alarm, silencing the vile sound. Her hand slid off the alarm seconds before a second hand smacked it, and she smiled to herself. The Queen of Quick Reflexes had been slower than her that time. She turned toward April’s bed…
Dave pulled himself out of bed, bleary-eyed and started toward the door. He barely noticed as Margaret instinctively clutched her bed sheets to her chest even as she drew her knees up. “What are you doing here?” she blurted out, her eyes wide. She blushed… he’d seen her in the morning before but still… Dave glanced back at her and she could see the shadows under his eyes. He’d slept poorly.
“What?” He blinked and shook his head “Don’t you remember? Mike and Marsha are living together now. I was forced to move in here.”
Margaret blinked and rubbed her eyes. Was this some joke? She glanced around “Where’s April?” It would be just like the girl to pull a prank like this on her, when she was sick. Though… she wasn’t sick. Not now…
“I don’t know, probably at her apartment. You really do need some coffee, don’t you. I’ll go brew some” Dave replied and turned to trudge out the door. Margaret waited until he was out of sight, and she scrambled for her robe. It wasn’t by the bed where she’d left it, but a long shirt was, and she pulled that over her head and pulled it down past her hips. Dave… something was wrong. He hadn’t looked that way toward her since she’d pushed him away during that trip when they’d gone over the cliff….
Something was definitely wrong. Unless it was just a dream or a nightmare… Margaret pushed tangled hair out of her face. She’d feel more awake after a shower.
She searched and quickly found her robe by a chair; Dave or April must have picked it up after she went to sleep… and then she blinked. The towel she’d been using was a blue one… but this one was white. She glanced around and then quickly searched her room. Dave’s clothes were in the drawers where April and Marsha’s stuff had been; her roommates clothes and belongings were all gone, not even stuffed in a closet. For a prank… a lot of thought had gone into this. If it was a prank.
She walked into the kitchen and glanced around. There were a couple pans on the dish rack, as well as some drying utensils. Margaret paused, staring at them. She’d hidden those pans to make sure Marsha wouldn’t try to cook after she and April had tricked her back together with Mike… she glanced at Dave, who was steadfastly staring at the coffee, watching it drain into the Mr. Coffee.
“Um, I was going to go take a shower. Do you need to use the bathroom first?”
Dave blinked at her in surprise. “Oh, um, thank you. Yes, I do…” he pushed off from the counter and headed to the bathroom. Margaret waited until the door closed, and opened the cabinet. Some coffee cups were missing, but her favorite was still up there, and she pulled it down and pulled the Mr. Coffee pot from the machine; it stopped brewing, and she smiled to herself. She’d insisted when April and Marsha helped buy the coffee machine to get one that would let them pour coffee without continuing to drain while the pot wasn’t under it. Though when Marsha tried to make coffee it always would jam and the whole filter would fill with water and go over… Margaret shook her head as she added half a teaspoon of sugar to the cup and then poured coffee into it before replacing the pot.
The coffeemaker sizzled a little and the smell of burnt coffee lingered. Some coffee had dripped onto the burner while she’d been reminiscing, but she ignored it and blew on the coffee until it had cooled enough to drink. She felt something fuzzy butt her legs and she looked down to the wide eyes of Chester. Dave couldn’t forget his fuzzy soul cat, not even for a prank. She smiled as she remembered Dave telling her about Chester… he’d been so unnerved when he told her, like he was half-afraid she’d be mad at him… she scritched Chester behind the ears, and the cat purred and batted at her hand.
She heard the toilet flush and glanced at the bathroom door as Dave stepped out. He just grunted and nodded at her as he pulled a coffee mug out and pulled the pot out from the dribbling spout and poured himself a cup of coffee. She waited as Dave took a paper towel and wiped the bottom dry and replaced the pot, and then watched in amazement as Dave sipped the coffee black.
He never took it black… “Dave, are you feeling okay?”
He glanced at her. “Hmm? What do you mean?”
“It’s just that… you don’t look so good. Maybe you should catch some more sleep… I can take notes for you in class.”
Dave’s eyes rolled and he shook his head “I can’t, I have to run errands for Professor Dover again.” He paused and then she heard a grudging “Thanks though” before he turned away, pulling bread out and putting it in the toaster.
Margaret shivered suddenly and finished her coffee, almost scalding her mouth in her anxiety to get out of there. Something was seriously wrong. Errands for Professor Dover? Why…
Margaret paused at the threshold of the bathroom and then turned back and eyed Dave. “You forgot to lower the lid, Dave.”
Dave’s eyes widened and he took a step back. “Um… I’m sorry, I’m tired, I forgot.”
Margaret nodded and then walked into the bathroom, shutting the door behind her. She turned on the shower and let the hiss of the water fill the room. She pulled off her robe and hung it on the hook on the door, and then pulled her shirt and panties off before stepping into the water, letting it surround her. But even as she scrubbed the sweat of the night off, she couldn’t shake the feeling that this was more than one of April’s jokes….
* * * * *
Margaret sighed as she rubbed her hair with her towel before she started brushing it. She’d not woken up, not even after pinching herself, so it was probably not a dream. That left April as a culprit. As for the pans… obviously April had forgotten to hide them after she made Margaret soup last night. Though why she needed more than one pan Margaret wasn’t sure… but it was easy enough to explain away.
As for Dave… he probably was grouchy at April because of the prank, and moving stuff while she was asleep. It must have taken several hours to move everything. Still… Margaret’s face grew warm at the thought, but it would be nice to have some time alone with Dave, instead of a few furtive times when the others were out, hoping that they wouldn’t come back. Like when April had walked in on them… Margaret’s cheeks burned in memory. That had been embarrassing.
She sighed. She hadn’t been alone with Dave since the holidays. After they had scrubbed the kitchen (Dave blamed Mike for most of it) and had set traps for the mice, they had had a few rather romantic nights together. Margaret closed her eyes and smiled to herself. They didn’t do anything though… she still hadn’t been sure. And she was afraid of repeating the same mistakes she did in the sunflower field… at least until New Year’s Eve.
April had fallen asleep on the couch in this apartment and she and Dave had gone next door after things had gotten a bit intimate…. April had teased her the next day, of course, but she hadn’t had proof. At least not until she’d walked in on them in the bedroom a few weeks later.
Margaret paused at a snarl in her hair and worked the brush through it, combing it a few extra times to make sure it was out before working on the rest of her hair. She wasn’t sure why Marsha had agreed to the joke though… Margaret hoped April hadn’t promised her she could cook… even over at the guys’ apartment. After what she and Dave had gone through to clean it… and Dave had promised to help keep it clean, especially after she had chided him on it; it would be a shame if Marsha had another of her spectacular kitchen disasters. She could barely boil water.
Margaret brushed her teeth and then looked in the mirror, brushing her hair over her shoulders. Dave claimed she looked great without makeup; she never enjoyed primping herself up, though it was fun putting on camo paint. At the thought she grinned, and the young woman in the mirror transformed into someone quite pretty. She turned and walked out the bathroom.
Dave had gotten dressed while she showered, and she saw dishes drying on the dish rack. She turned back toward him as he shrugged into his jacket. “Leaving already?”
“Professor Dover has some stuff I have to do. See you in class.”
Margaret nodded and then closed the distance between him and hugged him. “Thanks for the coffee. I did need it.”
Alarms rang out in her head as Dave stiffened under her arms, and she pulled away. He took a step back, his eyes haunted, and then turned and fled without a word.
Margaret shivered suddenly. Suddenly the thought of this being one of April’s pranks seemed less and less likely. She turned and rushed to the bedroom. She pulled out a dress and then paused, in thought. After a moment she returned it and pulled out some jeans and a sweater. She had to talk to April… but if this wasn’t one of April’s pranks… that left Him. It was best to prepare for the worse.
* * * * *
Margaret walked toward the college cafeteria. She had found April’s phone number in her day planner. The number was in her handwriting. A sour lump weighed her stomach down. Fortunately it wasn’t the nausea that had filled her the past few days, but still, Margaret half wished she could just crawl back into bed and wake up to find everything the way it should be.
She missed April. The girl could be a real nuisance at times, but Margaret had to admit she was becoming rather close to the blonde-haired girl. Her odd sense of humor helped make her from just being some bland little nobody, and hinted at just how smart she really was. Not that April didn’t do stupid things at times… and Margaret still wasn’t sure if April was all together at times. She talked to herself. She had arguments with herself, and lost them sometimes.
Margaret could understand talking to yourself… but somehow with April it was more than that. Heck, one time Margaret had watched April argue with herself… and it was like April was seeing something. Not that she had ever asked April about it.
Margaret glanced across the cafeteria… and then froze and swung her gaze back. It was April… but her hair… Margaret ground her fingernails into the palm of her hand and forced herself to remain calm. She’d had to cut it short after Waldo had burned it with some sort of energy bolt, at the new Dorms. It could be a wig… Margaret walked up to the girl, who looked rather unhappy. “Hi, April. So, how are you?”
April turned back at her and nodded. She didn’t smile; there wasn’t even a hint of a smile in her eyes. She looked haunted, not quite like Dave had, but instead like… something had died inside of her. Margaret suppressed a shiver, but kept her chair far enough from the table so she could bolt if she had to. Though that hadn’t stopped Satan from taking control of her body, if only briefly, in the dancehall, that night when she and Dave had gone on their first date.
“I’m okay. So, what’s bugging you?”
Margaret bit her lip and shrugged “Why do you think something’s bugging me? Can’t I just hang out with a friend?” She thought quickly and then decided to take a different tact on questioning April. Perhaps she could lead April on, find out what she needed without revealing her intentions. “It seems like it’s been ages since you moved out. I mean it’s been how long?”
April rolled her eyes “It’s just been two weeks.” A smile cracked April’s lips, revealing a glimmer of that sense of humor that infuriated Margaret at times, and yet made April a good friend. “Have you missed me?”
“No, of course not” Margaret rolled her eyes, smiling back to take any sting out of her words. “Though at least I didn’t have to worry about you leaving the toilet seat up.”
April snickered for a moment before the smile drained from her face. “I just… I couldn’t stay there anymore, you know. Not with him living across the hall… and Marsha…” April’s hands clenched up into fists, and Margaret watched almost nervously (not that she was nervous, of course not, she was just staying on her guard in case it was His influence) as hate and loneliness flickered across April’s face. Margaret had an odd feeling though that the “him” she had referred to wasn’t Satan. Suddenly she realized April had been talking and she tried to remember what she’d just said. “…she doesn’t deserve him and how can he be so blind… I… oh God…”
April grabbed a napkin and dabbed at her cheeks as tears started tumbling from her eyes. “I swore I wouldn’t… Goddamn him, why…”
Margaret’s lungs burned and she realized she’d caught her breath. Mike? April and Mike? But that was… she took a sudden breath, but luckily April didn’t notice, she was too busy trying to dab her eyes. She eyed April’s hair again and noticed how ragged it was. Maybe it was time to change the subject. “You know, April, you really should get your hair cut. It’s looking pathetic.”
April glared at Margaret through her tears “Gee, thanks, you know how to make a person feel better. After all the trouble I went through trying to keep my hair, you think I’m just going to cut it?”
“Bah. You know me better than that. Seriously, it would look good shorter. Look, I know a good barber, he owes me a few favors, he’d get you looking great! Then you could pick up someone else. Someone nice, not a jerk like Mike.”
“Mike’s not a jerk!” April snarled back and then blinked in surprise. “Oh God. I’m pitiful. I mean, he doesn’t even know… anyway, you’re one to talk. I mean, you had one of the nicest guys in the college in love with you, and you go and tell him you don’t love him! You know you broke his heart. Margaret?”
Margaret froze. …told him you don’t love him… suddenly it was starting to make sense. She turned back at April hoping that she hadn’t given away anything. “What’s between me and Dave is my business, April. I just think you’re wasting your time pining away for Mike.”
April rolled her eyes “I’m not pining away. I just wish I could throttle the two of them. You know, no matter what you say I’m not going to feel happy for them. Marsha’s a damn psycho, and he’s pathetic for staying with her.”
Margaret shrugged. “Meh, enough about this. So, how do you like where you’re living?”
“Don’t get me started. I wish I hadn’t let Roger blackmail me into moving in with him… he’s such an idiot…” Margaret continued to listen, letting her friend rant about her new roommate. She’s living with Roger?!? No wonder she’s at wit’s end, that goof is enough to drive Waldo and Steve insane… Margaret’s eyes narrowed as she half-listened to April complain about hairballs in the tub and how Roger blamed her when he was obviously to blame. I’m going to pay those two a little visit… and if they won’t talk, maybe I’ll start breaking some bones. That’ll make up for all the times they’ve tormented poor Chester, at least….
* * * * *
Margaret stood before the Gun Closet, her hand inches from the knob. She had stopped trapping the closet, but all at once she was getting this feeling along the back of her neck that if she touched that doorknob, she’d be in serious pain. After a moment she started to check the doorknob and area for traps.
The doorknob was wired, and there was tension on the inside of the door as well. It was unlikely to be anything explosive. If there was a mishap and her weapons exploded, it could possibly take out the side of the building. At the very least the apartment would be trashed, and April an– no. Dave. Dave was her roommate now.
Margaret closed her eyes for a moment and opened them. She felt a familiar icy calm fill her, but there was a sour pit in her stomach. She’d not felt this way in a while, since before she had worked with the others to save April’s soul from Satan. She felt alone… once she’d preferred this. She had believed she didn’t need anyone else, that the others were in danger because they had gotten close to her. She knew differently now.
She lashed out with the ball of her foot, kicking off the doorknob and then bounding back. The door slammed open and a spring-loaded two by four slapped into the ground. Margaret started forward and glanced into the closet, but no other traps were immediately evident, and she saw no signs of a timer.
The trap was obviously made by her. A car battery sat to one side, the leads yanked off the terminals when the door had flung open. The spring-trap was also obviously her handiwork, but she didn’t remember building it.
Chester was on the other side of the room, wide-eyed, and she sighed and walked over to him, patting him a little. “Sorry, Chester… I should have warned you. You okay?” The cat shivered in her arms for a few seconds and then the shivers turned to purrs as she patted him. She brought him to the bedroom and put him on her bed. He batted at her fingers as she scritched him, and then curled up. “Poor Dave… I bet he probably jumped a mile and doesn’t even know why.” Margaret sighed and then returned to the closet.
The Holy Shotgun was in one corner, and she lifted it out and sighted along the barrel. She still wasn’t sure how it worked. When Satan had first appeared at the new Dorms, it wouldn’t fire. She could remember Satan’s taunts about using an unloaded gun on him, and she had tried regular bullets afterwards. Not that they did any good against the Beast either.
But once Satan had grabbed April’s soul… the gun fired again. It had been like the time Roger fired it at Satan… and Margaret could remember a sense of… purpose… of… she wasn’t sure. Weeks later she still wasn’t sure. But she’d emptied the shells into Satan before that… it was almost desperation that lead her to fire upon the Devil. But it worked.
Even so, she took a few bullets along anyway. If Waldo and Steve had summoned the Devil, then maybe if she broke enough things, that would drive the Devil off. She took out a pair of paintball pistols as well. It stung when the pellets hit, and she doubted Waldo and Steve would know the difference.
She looked in on Chester, who was stretched in some awkward pose licking himself. Chester paused to look at her and she smiled at the furry extension of Dave. I wonder what Dave senses when Chester’s cleaning himself like that… I’ll have to ask him sometime. “Well, I’m going to go beat up Waldo and Steve. Wish me luck.” Chester blinked at her and then returned to grooming himself.
Margaret turned from the room and headed out the door.
* * * * *
Margaret glanced down the hallway; no one was in sight. That wasn’t surprising. Waldo and Steve might have been morons, but they did have a one-track mind, and that was continuing their occult activities. Margaret smiled suddenly. Her upstairs neighbor, Martin, would often come down here to vent. For all of his being a witch, he had a rather violent dislike of people “meddling in things they shouldn’t” as he would put it.
Margaret sighed as she quietly approached Waldo and Steve’s apartment. She’d known Martin for much of her life, but after her parents had died and she’d been put in foster care, she had grown away from him. He kept acting like they were old friends, and their friend Ginny wasn’t much better. But he refused to be pushed away. He at least gave her breathing space… but Martin’s shadow never seemed far away.
Martin’s dad was cool though. She smiled at the memory of Mr. Hunter teaching her how to sight along a rifle barrel, and how to properly shoot a pistol. To be honest, Martin’s dad probably would roll his eyes if he’d seen her in some of the fights she’d been in with the others. He didn’t approve of the “John Woo” style of fighting, saying it was just showmanship and disrespectful toward the guns. Though Mr. Hunter was also a little daft, thinking that objects had their own spirit…
Margaret glanced at the holy shotgun and then knelt before the apartment door, taking out her lock picks. Maybe Mr. Hunter was right about that. With some things at least. The door took only a moment to pick, and she stood slowly, holding the shotgun ready as she slowly turned the doorknob.
Every time she’d… paid Waldo and Steve a visit in the past, she’d kicked in their door and gone in guns blazing. No doubt if the two heard her kicking in the door they’d already be scurrying for cover when she went through the door. Inside, she could hear chanting, and her stomach clenched for a moment, until she heard Steve suddenly curse.
“Damnit, Waldo, you mispronounced hre’laith again! If we’d been trying to summon Nyarlathotep for real, do you think he’d look kindly upon us casting it wrong?” Margaret peeked around the corner and saw Steve berating Waldo, who was looking down, his shoulders slumping. A thin bottle and something fuzzy was on the ground by their feet, and a circle was drawn on the carpeting.
“I still don’t understand why we had to use my fluffy slippers to do this. And you got ketchup all over them, too!” Waldo’s voice was sullen. Margaret smiled and slung the shotgun over her shoulder, taking out the paint gun pistols instead.
Margaret stepped into the room, firing twice at Steve. One pellet hit Steve on the top of the head, splattering red paint through his hair, the other on his chest, and Steve toppled over, a surprised look on his face even as his eyes rolled up into his sockets. Waldo screamed and fell backward, and then screamed again as he noticed Margaret standing there.
Margaret turned a pistol on Waldo. “Talk or you’ll end up like Steve.”
Margaret fired a pellet at Waldo, just missing. Waldo swallowed and twitched but he stopped babbling and stared at her with wide frightened eyes. Steve twitched but wasn’t moving. Margaret wasn’t surprised. Paintball pellets hit hard. The idea had been a spontaneous one, but it seemed to be working… but what she’d heard confused her. Why would Waldo and Steve be trying to summon something out of Lovecraft when they were working for the Devil?
“Tell me, Waldo. What did you two do?”
“What? Um… we were summoning Nyarlathotep, or practicing to do it rather… we didn’t do anything! You killed him! Can I have his horned hat?” He turned toward Steve and gestured as he babbled, and Margaret quietly slid the safety back on one of the pistols while he was distracted. “He’s got the best eeeep!”
Margaret pointed the pistol right between Waldo’s eyes. “Okay, maybe I should have killed you, and left Steve alive. He’s at least got a brain in his head… oh, I’m sorry; he used to have brains in his head. I just splattered them against the wall a minute ago, didn’t I.” Waldo’s face grew pale, and Margaret was amazed that his jeans hadn’t darkened. He must have been made of sterner stuff than she’d thought. “Tell me, before I shoot you. What did… He do. What is He up to?”
“He? Oh, you mean Saeeeep!” Margaret had drawn the second pistol up to point at his head. She wasn’t going to risk Him appearing if His name was mentioned. She wasn’t sure what the rules were in that situation, but better not to take chances.
“Yes, Him. Talk or die, Waldo. What are his plans?”
“I don’t know! We’ve not seen him since the new dorms blew up! He doesn’t tell us stuff anyway, just what to do… argh, a zombie! Noooo, save me please!” Margaret glanced over and noticed Steve starting to stir. She glanced back at Waldo and grinned. “I’ll let you deal with the zombie. I hear if you pour salt in their mouth and sew their mouths shut, it’ll stop them…”
Margaret backed quickly away. As soon as her guns were pointing away from Waldo, he started to move, but it was to rush toward the kitchen. Margaret grinned as she turned and hurried out of the apartment; the smell of the place was starting to make her nauseous. As she holstered her pistols (clicking on the safety of the second), she bumped into something. She looked up even as she backed into the doorjamb of the apartment and then sighed. It was Martin.
“Damnit, Martin, you scared ten years off my life just then!” She scowled up at the taller red-haired man, who was holding a wiffleball bat over one shoulder and looking amused at her. Sometimes she just wanted to smack that amused look off his face.
In the background she heard Steve sputtering “Gah, why are you pouring salt in my mouth, Waldo! gah! Stop it!”
Martin glanced at the apartment and smirked. She couldn’t help but smiling as well. “Um, maybe we should get out of here? Leave those two to their antics?” Martin said, and she shrugged and started down the hall. Martin fell in step behind her. “Haven’t I told you, Friday is my day to beat up on Waldo and Steve? What am I going to do now that you’ve put the fear of God into them?”
Margaret shrugged. “Go to the gym and beat up on a punching bag. That’s what most sane people do. I’m surprised you haven’t been arrested yet, you know.”
Martin shrugged. “I don’t leave bruises, and I have several friends in the department. It’s their word against mine, and few people believe them. So… I couldn’t help but overhearing you grilling those two… is there anything I can help you with?” Martin stopped at the elevator and pushed the up button. Margaret paused at the elevator as well.
“Um… no, it’s nothing I can’t work out on my own, Martin. Thanks though.” She started down the hall to the stairs. If she got onto the elevator with Martin, he’d keep bugging her. This wasn’t about friendship now, it was eldritch, and Martin never let go of anything eldritch if he could.
Martin watched her walk away. “You know, Margaret, sometime you’re going to have to trust other people. If you push people away all your life… ah, never mind, you’ve heard me say this a hundred times. But if you need to talk… you know where I live.”
Margaret turned toward Martin and blinked in surprise. The door dinged then and slid open, and Martin walked in without looking back. The door slid shut, leaving Margaret alone.
“But Martin… I do trust people… you know that. Why… why doesn’t anyone…” Margaret whispered, and then turned back and started up the stairs. Maybe he could help… but there was someone she had to talk to first.
* * * * *
It was getting dark, and Dave still wasn’t back. Margaret paced in the living room. The problem with visiting Roger was that she didn’t know where he lived. Whatever had happened to the world to change everything but her… she didn’t know. She’d even broken down and called Martin, but there had been no response; Martin was probably working. Assuming he was still working as a security guard, instead of something else.
Likewise, Diana and Paul hadn’t been home. She could only assume they’d been working the streets, and she didn’t want to try and find them. She wasn’t exactly sure where she would start looking, in any event. Not to mention what Dave would say if he found out she was looking for a prostitute on the streets. Margaret rolled her eyes. Dave always did have a problem of blowing things out of proportion.
Finally she sighed and put on her jacket. After a moment, she slid a knife on the inside waistband of her jeans, and pulled out a pistol, checking to make sure the safety was on, and then headed to the door. She locked the door behind her and paused, her fist an inch from the guys– from Mike and Marsha’s apartment. With everything else that had changed… she was nervous to ask Mike and Marsha for help. Satan might have subverted them… or she might even be interrupting something intimate.
Margaret smirked suddenly and knocked. It was the least she could do for April, after all. After a minute, the lock clicked and the door swung open an inch and a green eye peeked out. “Oh! Hi, Margaret!” Marsha said and the door shut for a moment and she heard a chain rattle. She pulled the door open wide and gestured with a hand. “Come on in!”
Margaret took a hesitant step into the apartment, glancing around. It looked like Marsha had started picking up after Mike. There were no more piles of papers in the corner, and the haze that was normally in the air was mostly gone. “I’m only here for a sec… I was wondering if you could tell me what Roger’s address is.”
Marsha’s face fell. “Oh.” She sighed and then her face hardened. “Why don’t you ever want to spend time with me anymore? I mean, we live across from each other but we only see each other at class! And you spend more time chatting with Diana than me.” Marsha’s face twisted slightly with jealousy, but Margaret suspected it was more because the red-headed girl had dated Mike for a couple of days a few months back.
Margaret sighed and rolled her eyes. The last time Marsha had let her jealousy get the better of her, Diana had almost died. It was ironic to see the situation reversed, with Marsha able to control her emotions (somewhat, at least), and April the irrational idiot. However, Marsha’s comments did suggest that despite what had happened to the world around her, at least some of her friendships hadn’t changed. She’d never gotten close to Marsha. Her self-preservation instinct (and desire to avoid Marsha’s cooking) was the primary reason, but there was also the fact that Marsha was downright freaky at times.
“Look. I need to ask Roger something, and Dave’s not home, so I can’t ask him.”
“Well, why don’t you ask me? I can help you; we go to the same classes. And what’s up with Dave, aren’t you two hitting it off?” Marsha smiled suddenly. “I get it now… you want to ask Roger about Dave, is that it? I knew you would fall for him when he started living with you. Hah, and April had been trying to get you two together for so long, won’t this be a bee in her bonnet?”
Margaret blinked in surprise and suddenly felt annoyed at the dark-haired girl. “Forget it. I swear, everyone’s acting crazy today…”
Marsha recoiled as if slapped. “Well, don’t bother asking for my help, then. You can sure be a bitch at times.”
Margaret clenched her teeth as her fingers twitched into a fist. She turned and walked out, the door slamming right behind her. Dave was at the door, trying to unlock it. “Dave!” He turned toward her, and she winced at how worn out he looked. “Um… I was wondering if you can tell me where Roger moved to. I misplaced his address.”
Dave blinked. “He’s with April.”
Margaret rolled her eyes “Duh. I know. I misplaced the address. I’m not sure of the exact number and don’t want to wander around looking.”
“Oh” Dave opened the door and plodded over to an end table, where he took out a scrap of paper and wrote down on it. “Here you go.”
Margaret nodded. “Dave? Don’t worry about dishes or anything. Just… just get some sleep. You don’t look good. There’s something in the fridge you can warm up for dinner if you want.”
Dave looked surprised and then nodded. “Thanks. G’night.” He turned and walked toward the kitchen, pausing to lean on the kitchen entrance. Margaret took a step toward him and then stopped. She knew, somehow, if she went to him right now, she’d only make things worse.
Turning back to the door and heading out was one of the hardest things she’d ever had to do, and her eyes burned with unshed tears. She rubbed her face angrily. Roger’s damn rock better have answers like he claimed it did….
* * * * *
Margaret paused before the apartment door. It wasn’t too late to turn around and go back. And it was tempting, tempting to go back to the apartment, crawl into bed, and wish that this entire day had been just a bad dream. Her gut feeling was that when she went through that door… that things were going to change.
She shook her head. If she was afraid of change, she’d never have listened to Dave; she’d not have gone on a second date with him. She’d not have become lovers with him. It was scary, sure. But it was better than the alternatives. Margaret knocked on the door, and after a moment knocked again, harder.
“Hold on, I’m coming” she heard through the door. It was April’s voice, and Margaret relaxed a tad. She had to admit she was also nervous in case she had the wrong door. Dave was rather tired. And it all seemed strange. April was her roommate, along with Marsha. Mike, Roger and Dave lived together. But now… they were separated, and it was like they were drifting apart, almost every one of them. Except Marsha and Mike, probably.
The door opened and April gave Margaret a puzzled look. “I thought it was you. What are you doing here?”
Margaret blinked. “How’d you know? What, do I have a distinctive knock?”
April’s lips quirked up in a brief smile. “Well, yes. But I actually looked through the peephole to see who it was.” April gestured at the hole, and Margaret blinked in surprise. Her old apartment didn’t have anything like that. Margaret relaxed a little at that. She had been surprised at how quickly April had opened the door. Anyone could have been there. But she wasn’t being as foolish as she first appeared to be. “So, what brings you here?”
Margaret shrugged and walked in, closing the door behind you. “You’re going to laugh… but I need to talk to Roger.”
April rolled her eyes. “Oh great. What for?”
“I need to talk to Fluffy.”
April started to laugh, and at the serious look on Margaret’s face clutched her stomach as she started laughing louder “Oh god, you sound almost serious there! Fluffy! Heeheehee”
“I am serious. Don’t you remember, after the chemistry class, when we became ‘superheroes’ and blew up the new Dorms?”
April tried to get a hold of herself, but little giggles still escaped, and her eyes shone in the light. “Ah, sorry, sorry. Heeheehee oh god… ah huh huh… um… yeah… and Roger accidentally blew up the dorms after we set those bombs. I still don’t know why we were doing that… you and Dave were the only ones who knew what was going on.”
Margaret grabbed April’s shoulders and gave her a short shake. “Look, April, something weird is going on. And I know this sounds insane, but Roger claims he knows things through that rock of his. I need to find out what’s up, and if that means talking to his rock…”
“Whoa… okay, okay… sheesh… I swear, you’re getting as loopy as the rest of them.” April blinked and sighed suddenly, shaking her head. “Then again… I mean, if the Devil is out to get you… I suppose… hold on. Roger! Get your furry butt out here now!”
A voice came out from the bedroom. “My butt is not furry! That was your hair on the bed, not mine. Maybe you should look into women’s Rogaine or something…” Roger said as he walked out the door, and paused as he saw Margaret sitting there. “Oh, hi Margaret. I’m afraid I never did learn what Dave’s ticklish points were, I didn’t really want to know, so I can’t help you out.”
Margaret rolled her eyes and walked rapidly to Roger, grabbing his shoulder. The younger man was often an idiot, and could start rambling on at the drop of a hat. “I need to talk to Fluffy. You said that the rock has answers. Well, I need answers, and now.”
Roger’s eyes lit up in delight. “Oh, Fluffy! Oh yes, he does know everything. For instance, he told me that Professor Dover was going to put several new theorems on the next quiz, he only went over them once and he thinks he can catch us napping by having the–”
“Roger, stop rambling. Bring me to Fluffy now.” Margaret loomed over Roger. It wasn’t easy, Roger was just about her height, and his hair stood out above him like a large lump of yellow styrofoam, but she had practice, and Roger was a little intimidated by her anyway. Actually, most of the guys were. She smiled, and Roger gulped.
“Um… this way, please. Fluffy, we have a guest!” Roger walked into the bedroom, where Fluffy was put in the middle of the bed, his stuffed coyote plushy leaning against the rock.
April snorted as she followed them in. “Haven’t I told you not to put that rock on the bed, Roger? Get it off.”
Margaret turned toward April. “Not now, April. You can yell at him later.” April blinked and then nodded. She heard April mutter something under her breath about all her friends being insane, and she sighed. She knew how the blonde-haired girl felt in that regard. Because everyone had gone insane today. Including April.
“Fluffy says he has the answers you need, but first you need to give him a hump massage…”
Margaret pulled out her pistol and pointed it at the rock. April gasped and took a step back and Roger quickly stepped between the rock and the gun “No need to be erosive! Okay, he’ll answer your questions, you don’t need to give him the hump massage first!” His eyes were wide, and she could see him suppressing his own anger. Margaret closed her eyes and put the gun back into her pocket.
“Sorry, it’s just been a stressful day, Roger. Okay. My first question is this. What the fuck has happened to the world around me? Everything is different, changed. Except me.”
Roger blinked and glanced at Fluffy. He looked back at her, with a puzzled look on his face. “Fluffy says Transference.”
Roger’s face smoothed and he smiled, nodding. “Yes, Transference. Your soul has been transferred with the soul of Margaret from this world. The world is different because you aren’t Margaret. Not our Margaret.”
“What th– why has this happened?!?” Margaret clenched her fists. This wasn’t answering her questions. This was just raising new questions and leaving her confused.
“Fluffy says that you have to make a choice, in your own world. You’re being shown what it would be like if you turn your back on your friends and try to go it alone. ”
Margaret paused. “Hmm. Okay. My third question is, who is responsible?”
Roger blinked. “Um, you asked your three questions already.”
“Don’t hurt us! Fluffy says you asked what Transference was! That was your second question!”
Margaret scowled at Roger, who looked a tad frightened at her. It was amazing that someone who could turn into a seven-foot-tall bundle of muscle, claws and fur could be afraid of her. But then again, she could easily kneecap him and then kick him where only his girlfriend had touched him before. “I see. Well, the way I see it is that Fluffy didn’t answer my first question fully. Thus he’s negating his part of the deal and won’t get a hump massage.”
Roger blinked in surprise “What? No hump massage?”
“You can give one to him if you want. But he didn’t answer all my questions so he’s not getting anything from me. Though if he keeps insisting, I do have some sandpaper in my jacket pocket…”
“Eeeep!!! No need to be erosive, I’ll give him his hump massage, thank you for your time, goodnight!” Roger rushed them out of the bedroom and slammed the door shut behind them.
April blinked and glanced at Margaret. “Um… what’s going on?”
Margaret sighed and plopped down on the sofa. After a moment April joined her, though keeping most of the sofa between them, as if afraid Margaret was going to turn into some monster and attack her. Margaret closed her eyes and then started to talk.
“When I woke up this morning, April… everything was different. I mean… well, not for you. But for me. I mean… I was sick last night. I’ve been sick for a couple of days… and you were helping me out. You’re a good friend.” Margaret turned toward April and smiled. April smiled back after a moment, though she still looked a tad scared. “Anyway… you and Marsha were still living here. Well, not here. In the apartment, with me. And I’ve been dating Dave, you were dating some guy named Ted… and of course Marsha’s with Mike.”
April tensed up for a moment and then laughed softly. “So… you and Dave got together? What changed your mind?”
Margaret smiled and blushed. “Well, it was New Year’s Eve… you’d fallen asleep on the sofa… and Dave and I… well we just… you know, New Year’s Eve?”
April blinked and started to grin. The grin faded into confusion. “But… Dave was down his folks for the holidays. Remember? He got money so he could go back… and found Blue was there, and I accused him of sleeping with Blue and found out it was just that he tried on Blue’s underwear and…” April stopped at the look of shock on Margaret’s face. “Um, you did know about the underwear, didn’t you?”
Margaret shook her head. “Um… first I’ve heard of it… and… Dave didn’t go home for the holidays. At least… not my Dave. We’ve gotten rather close… or we had… and then I woke up and… damn it, April, do you know what it’s like to be so close to him, but not be able to touch him? I hugged him earlier and he flinched away from me. I mean… what kind of monster am I here? What did I do to hurt him?”
April sighed and shook her head. “You aren’t Margaret, are you. I… I thought you were kidding… you told him you don’t love him, Margaret. He vanished for a couple of weeks. And when he came back, you shot a pumpkin off his head and you didn’t seem worried he was gone… God, this is all messed up. What are you going to do?”
Margaret sighed and shook her head. “Well, I can’t stay… I mean… I have my own life to get back to. And so does your Margaret. Just… don’t worry about it, April.” She smiled and patted April’s arm “Either I’ll get home… or you’ll be stuck with me. It doesn’t concern you though. And… thank you.”
April blinked in confusion. “What?”
“Thank you. You’ve been a good friend. I know I’m not the easiest person to get along with… but you’ve been there for me when I needed you. I don’t know if… if your Margaret ever told you that… but it’s true.”
April smiled suddenly and leaned over to give Margaret a hug. After a moment, Margaret hugged her back. “You sure you have to go back? Maybe we can brainwash Dave into falling for you… nono, you’re right… but how do you plan on getting back? I mean, you didn’t ask Roger that…”
Margaret sighed and sat back. “Well… I know someone who might be able to help. I hate going to him… he makes Roger look normal, almost…”
“You mean Martin, don’t you.”
Margaret nodded. “Yeah. Martin.”
* * * * *
Margaret walked down the hall, her footsteps sounding loud in her ears. She’d returned home… to the apartment, and finished her homework, and studied for a bit as she tried to pass the time until Martin returned from his job. He usually got home a little after one in the morning, but he’d stay up until sunrise before getting to sleep.
It had been tempting to just go to bed, but Dave had been tossing and turning; she didn’t want to risk waking him up. Besides, then she’d have to wait ’til almost noontime to talk to Martin, and she wanted to get this over with as soon as possible.
Transference. That’s what Roger had said, though she couldn’t quite figure out what it meant. The thought that she’d switched places with… with this Margaret seemed unfathomable. All she wanted was to get home, even if she was feeling ill, and see her Dave again. Finally, she had looked up at the clock and it had jumped from just past midnight to 1:30 without her noticing.
The hall was dark and silent as a tomb. Margaret’s hand slid into the pocket, but the knife and gun weren’t there; she’d put them back in her gun closet when she’d gotten home. Margaret bit her lip and glanced around. The hall lights had been stolen, probably by Martin; the idiot never did remember to purchase new light bulbs and even as a kid he’d just steal one from a hall lamp to put in his bedroom. Martin’s mom used to yell at him about it, before she’d died.
Margaret paused before Martin’s apartment door and raised her hand to knock…. The door swung open. Margaret stepped back with a gasp, and she heard a gasp from within. After a moment she glared at the red-haired man standing in the door (though his eyes were wide as well) “Haven’t I told you not to do that to me? Damn… you almost gave me a heart attack!”
“Do what? I was going out for a walk, I couldn’t concentrate. And Ginny’s staying here again, so I can’t just exercise inside, I’d wake her. You almost gave me a heart attack. What are you doing here at this time of night?” Martin sounded a tad testy.
“Walk, hmm? Okay. We’ll walk together… I need to talk to you.”
Martin glanced at her out of the corner of her eyes and closed the door behind him, locking it. He started down the hall, and she matched him, stride for stride. She felt no better now that someone was with her. Instead, it half felt like she was in some horror movie, and she half expected someone to leap out at them and attack her. Her hand twitched, and she wished she had a knife or something. Just in case.
They paused at the elevator and Martin pressed the button. The elevator dinged loudly, the doors sliding open, a pale sickly light flowing out of the elevator, filling the opening with an unhealthy yellow light. She swallowed and glanced at Martin. “Maybe we should take the stairs? You said you wanted to exercise…”
Martin blinked in surprise and then shrugged and turned from the elevator, toward the stairs. “Come on, then. I swear, you feel as jumpy as a squirrel. What’s bugging you?”
Margaret closed her eyes for a moment, collecting her thoughts even as she started down the stairs, feeling them with her feet. The stairs were darker than the hall had been, the only light coming from narrow rectangles under each door. She could barely see Martin as a pale outline over a dark shape. Now that she was there, she didn’t know where to begin. What if he thought she was crazy? What if he couldn’t help?
She shook her head and forced herself to speak. “I’m going to tell you something that you’ll think is crazy, I’m sure.”
“Short trip” Martin quipped, and Margaret smiled. The gloom lessened in the air, and she realized she’d been psyching herself up for something bad to happen. Martin added “After everything that’s happened, Margaret, do you truly think you can say anything that would make me think you’re crazy?”
Margaret gave a short laugh “Yeah, I think this will. Martin… last night, I was living with April and Marsha… Dave was my boyfriend, and things were pretty good. Other than me having a stomach bug for the past couple of days, that is. Today… everything was different, the world’s changed around me. Nothing’s the same… and when I talked to Roger about it… well, to Roger’s pet rock, he said it was something called Transference… that I’d switched souls.”
Martin stopped on the stairs and she sensed his turning his head to her. The glimmer of his eyes in the darkness was the only thing she really saw, beyond his outline. “You love proving me wrong, don’t you, Margaret. Except… that explains why your aura is so… changed. I noticed it earlier… outside Waldo and Steve’s.”
Margaret’s knees felt weak and she grabbed the railing and lowered herself to sit on the stairs. Martin moved beside her, and there was a sudden burst of light as he flicked on a lighter, the flame dancing in the darkness. His face was pale beyond the flame, his hair flickering red in the light. Margaret swallowed and hugged herself. “I… I was afraid that…” Margaret shook her head.
“That you’d gone crazy? Or that I wouldn’t believe you?”
Martin rolled his eyes. “Please, Margaret. You know my dad. Well… actually, do you? I mean… what else is different? I mean… are we friends in your world? Is… did your parents die?”
Margaret nodded, closing her eyes. She took a deep breath and then let it out slowly. “I… was talking to April earlier… it seems like everything changed during the holidays… Dave went home for the holidays here. But with me… he stayed because he didn’t have the money to get home. And… we got closer then. I guess… I guess I didn’t do that here. Or I pushed him away or something.”
“Gah!” The light went out and she could hear Martin blowing on his hand “Damn that got hot… ow ow ow… sorry. Um… heh. I guess you want my help in getting back home?”
“Can you help me?”
There was silence for a moment and then she heard something slap against something hard. “Sorry. I just nodded. Yes, I think I can help. It might take a little bit though… and I’ll need you to do something first.”
Margaret opened her eyes into the darkness. She could still see Martin’s outline and she reached out; they fumbled until she had his hand. “What is it?”
“I’ll need to imprint your aura onto a crystal… that way you can get back home rather than staying with me while I work the spell. It won’t take long.” Martin stood, and she pulled on the hand, standing herself. “I know you don’t like magic that much…”
Margaret half laughed and half sighed. “Do you blame me? But… thank you, Martin.” She started back up the stairs after him.
* * * * *
Margaret locked the door behind her and pulled her jacket off, folding it over a chair as she walked toward the bedroom. Martin wasn’t sure how long it was going to take, and she didn’t want to stay up at his apartment. Of course, she wasn’t sure where she would have slept in any event; Ginny was in the spare bedroom, and Martin was going to be in and out of his own room so it would be impossible to sleep there in any event.
She took off her sneakers and snuck to the bedroom. The room was dark; Dave was resting fitfully, and she paused over him, brushing hair out of his eyes. He whimpered softly, rolling on his side, and Margaret sighed, hugging her arms to her middle. She couldn’t touch him even in his sleep.
Margaret turned to her bed, pulling her shirt off, and then removing her jeans and socks before crawling into bed. She finished undressing under the covers and turned on her side, her eyes burning, as she tried to relax enough to drift off to sleep. It wasn’t until Chester jumped up and curled up beside her that finally she could relax enough to let the darkness claim her.
It seemed like she’d just closed her eyes when a faint ringing intruded into her consciousness. She heard someone get up from the bed beside her, and she drifted, half-asleep, until a hand touched her shoulder and shook her. “Get up. It’s for you.”
Margaret blinked her eyes and looked up to see Dave, who looked bleary-eyed and annoyed. “What? Who is it?”
Dave shrugged and sat in bed. “Martin. Said he had to speak to you. I should have made you get the phone.” Dave closed his eyes and sighed, and Margaret looked around until she spied her robes on the chair at the end of her bed. She glanced at Dave, who looked like he was about to fall asleep sitting up, and scurried out of bed (ignoring Chester’s unhappy meow at being disturbed), holding her blanket to her chest until she got to the robe and shrugged into it.
She walked out of the room to the phone, and lifted the receiver to her ear. “Hello?”
“Hello, Margaret, it’s Martin. I did it. I found your home… and my counterpart there. We believe we can transfer the two of you back to where you belong.”
“Thanks, Martin. I’ll be up in a little bit… I was asleep.”
“Okay. No rush, I still have to prepare things on this end. See you soon.”
Margaret heard the phone click, and she sighed and hung up the receiver. She turned and walked back into the bedroom. Dave still sat on the bed, his eyes shut, and she swallowed and looked away. How could this other Margaret live with him like this? He was in so much pain, and it was her… it was Margaret’s fault. This Margaret. She started gathering clothes together, putting them on the chair. A shower would help her wake up. And Martin didn’t need her to rush.
She turned back toward Dave. “You should get back to sleep, Dave. It’s Saturday… why don’t you sleep in? Or does Dover need you today as well?”
Dave shrugged, and Margaret twitched. She took two steps to stand before him and grabbed his shoulders, giving him a shake. “Damnit, you’re not going to do yourself any good moping around like this! If my Dave acted like this I’d smack him upside the head.”
Dave’s eyes opened and the confusion showed. “Your… Dave?”
Margaret sighed and released him, sitting down hard on her… on Margaret’s bed. “That didn’t come out well. I know I’m to blame for the past day… it’s just when I… arrived yesterday…” Dave’s eyes narrowed and she could see the pale gleam of a laser blast beginning to build. “I’m not the Devil or anything.”
“What then. An angel?” She could hear the cynicism in his voice and she laughed, her own cynicism matching his.
“No… look, let me explain it. Then you can say I’m crazy.” She sighed and thought for a moment, and then decided to start at the beginning. “Two nights ago I was feeling rather ill. April was helping care for me. She and Marsha lived in this apartment with me. You lived with Mike and Roger, across the hall.”
“I… I don’t understand.” She could hear the tiredness in his voice, and the confusion.
“I don’t either. I woke up… and everything had changed. You were living with me. April’s gone crazy and thinks she loves Mike.” She heard Dave’s snort of derision and let out a short chuckle herself. At least she wasn’t alone in thinking that as being crazy. “The world had changed… but I had not. I confronted Waldo and Steve about it… thinking they did something… but they hadn’t. Finally, I asked Roger, and that rock of his… and then went to Martin for help. Martin thinks he knows how he can get me home.”
“That’s nice. So, who are you anyway?” She could hear the sarcasm in his voice. He didn’t really care that she could go home. Not really. She wasn’t sure if it was the exhaustion or the pain he was in.
Margaret shook her head. “I’m Margaret. I was Margaret there. It’s just… not like your Margaret. I…” Margaret paused for a moment and her eyes grew distant. “I love you. Well, my Dave. I… Dave?”
Dave’s face had scrunched up and his fingers clenched his boxers. “Why the fuck does this happen… I’ve wanted to hear that, for so long… and it’s not even to me! Not really!” Suddenly he was rocked back. Margaret was on her feet, her hand stinging from where she’d slapped him, and she brought her hands up to her face, half in shock. She hadn’t even realized….
She shook her head, tears streaming from her eyes “Damn you, do you know what it’s like to be here and being unable to even touch you?!? I don’t know what that bitch did to you–” Margaret caught Dave’s hand as he stood and swung back at her with his hand. They struggled for a moment and suddenly her lips were on his, she could feel the hot splash of tears shared as they kissed, holding each other close, her hands pulling at his shirt even as his hands pulled her robe open, his face blurry before hers with her tears even as she pulled him close to her, falling back onto her bed with him on top of her.
All sense of time faded as he joined with her, and she panicked for a moment, thinking that she was cheating on Dave… cheating on her Dave… but the thought was swept away in the emotion and passion, and soon, too soon the world grew bright and there was only the moment.
* * * * *
Margaret sighed, cuddled against Dave’s chest. He was still partly on top of her, and he breathed softly, having fallen asleep. He wasn’t a skilled lover; she couldn’t help but compare him to her Dave, and she chuckled at the thought, because he was Dave. Just… not hers. She bit her lip as guilt started to swell, and she shivered.
Dave stirred and opened his eyes. He lifted a finger to her eyes and wiped away a tear that was beginning to form. “I didn’t hurt you, did I? I… I didn’t…”
Margaret sighed and laughed softly, holding Dave close. “No. I just… I just was feeling guilty… like I’m cheating on… on my Dave. But… you are Dave. It’s just so… strange.”
Dave sighed and she could see tears starting to form in his own eyes. “Why did I have to find you only to lose you?”
“Oh Dave…” Margaret kissed him softly and then taking his shoulder rolled so she was lying on top of him. “I… I wish she loved you. Maybe… maybe in time she will. Or you’ll find someone else. Just… just think of this as a dream…” Margaret kissed Dave again, more passionately, and blushed as she ran her fingers along his chest. She sighed as she rested against him.
Martin could wait to send her home a little bit longer.
* * * * *
Margaret knocked on Martin’s door, her face a bit flushed. Martin had been waiting for hours. She didn’t regret making him wait… but still. After a moment, the door opened and Martin stood there, staring down at her. After a moment he said “Took you long enough.”
“I had to say goodbye.” Margaret’s cheeks reddened after a moment, but Martin’s eyes grew friendlier and his lips quirked up into a small smile.
“It takes time to say goodbye properly. Well, come in, we’re ready to proceed. Assuming she’s not being sick again.” Martin shut the door behind her and led her toward his bedroom.
“She?” Margaret glanced over at Martin.
“Your other self. Poor dear can’t keep anything down. I was half-thinking you were spending your last hours enjoying good health and the ability to keep stuff down.” Martin sounded amused.
“Um… yeah. Heh. Wait, I’m still sick? Damn, I hope she was smart enough to go to a doctor…”
Martin grinned and glanced at her “Would you?”
Margaret sighed and her head drooped. “Great… well, I’ll just make an appointment for today. It’s been four… no, five days now. Um…” Margaret blinked as Martin pulled open his closet door, revealing a body-length mirror. “What are we going to do?”
Martin shrugged. “You, Alice, are to step through the Looking Glass. As is she. If things go well… then you’ll switch bodies and be back where you belong.” At Margaret’s skeptical look he added “If things don’t go well, you’ll bounce off the mirror and get to hit me. But it should work.”
“I… don’t suppose you know what caused this? I mean, what’s to stop it from happening again?”
Martin sighed and looked back at her. “I have no idea. But considering you woke up and was still here… Roger told you that you have to make a choice, right? So it’s probably got something to do with that.”
“What choice?” Margaret asked and then blinked. The reflection had changed. Martin was wearing jeans and a t-shirt instead of the black slacks and sweater he was wearing here… and Margaret’s reflection… Margaret swallowed. She didn’t look very well. There were shadows under her eyes that reminded her of Dave, and she hoped that he’d been able to fall back asleep after they’d showered together. Margaret forced herself to focus on her reflection, rather than let herself think back. This wasn’t her world.
Martin patted her shoulder softly and said “I’m sure whatever it is… you’ll choose well. Just step forward… and the Transference will happen.”
“You hope” Margaret had to add, a smirk on her face as she glanced at the red-haired man beside her. He laughed and nodded, motioning her through.
Her reflection was stepping forward with her, ironically they’d chosen the same outfit, the pink “Die!” t-shirt and jeans. Margaret wondered for a moment what would have happened if they’d had different outfits… her hand touched the cold glass, and then she was surrounded by a grey mist. There was a white rectangle before her, and another girl. Beyond the rectangle, she could see two shapes… one she knew was her body, still in the real world, or what passed for it.
Within, her reflection stared coldly back at her. “Before you go through, I should warn you about something” her doppelganger said, and Margaret blinked in surprise. She forced herself to remain calm, despite the sudden cold chill running down her spine.
“What? What’s wrong?”
The other Margaret shook her head and said “You’re pregnant. Back there.” At Margaret’s dumbfounded expression the other Margaret shook her head and snorted. “Well, at least I know now you weren’t delaying because you didn’t want to come back.”
“Are you sure? I mean…”
Her other self nodded. “I had April pick up one of those self-tests. She’s the only one who knows. How could you be so stupid? I mean, how do you know it isn’t Him? I hope you’re not going to have it.”
Margaret swallowed and took a step back. The other Margaret sneered at her and started forward. “I better go before you change your mind and try to stay in my body.”
“Wait!” Her other self paused at the threshold of the mirror and looked back at her. “I… I don’t know what you’re doing over there, but you’ve hurt him… Dave, badly. It doesn’t have to be that way, you know!”
Her twin sighed and shook her head. “I burned that bridge a while ago. Besides, if I let him get close to me, the Devil will just kill him. It’s better for him to hurt now, rather than…” Her face crumpled for a moment and she shook her head.
“But we beat him! Alone we can’t… but if you work with friends…”
She looked back at Margaret with cold contempt. “You can’t beat the Devil. You can only delay him for a little bit. Well, good luck with your life. Just don’t tell me how to live my own.” With that, she started through the mirror.
Margaret sighed and stepped quickly to her own mirror, the mirror home, and stepped through… and the world was filled with light.
* * * * *
Martin helped her to her feet. “You okay, Margaret?”
Margaret swallowed hard. Nausea filled her, and her chest and throat ached. Margaret shook her head “N– no, sorry… I… I think I’m going to…”
Martin lead her quickly to a basin, where she started to cough, her stomach knotting up. Nothing came up though, other than an unpleasant taste, and Margaret leaned back onto her knees, gratefully accepting a paper towel from Martin and wiping her mouth. “If… if I’d remembered how badly I was feeling, maybe I’d have stayed back there” she said with a brief smile, which faded as she swallowed back more nausea. She paused and then glanced at him. “Did she… did she tell you?”
Martin shook his head, but smiled. “No, but I guessed. You know, I have an herbal remedy that will alleviate the nausea, and won’t hurt the baby. It’ll take just a little bit to brew up some.”
“Thank you, Martin.” She accepted a hand up and walked into the living room. Ginny was waiting in there, looking nervous, as was April. Margaret smiled back at them, and they both sighed together and then glanced at each other. Margaret snickered at the sight and sank into a soft chair, one that the other Martin didn’t have in his apartment. She glanced at April again. “Um… sorry about all that. I…”
April shook her head and smiled. “Don’t worry about it. You never were a good patient, after all. Um… what about… her?”
Margaret shrugged and swallowed. “She’s gone back where she belongs. Poor Dave… he’s forced to live with her, you know. And she… she hurt him badly. You know, she had the audacity to chew me out about… about me…” Margaret paused. It seemed so unreal. Pregnant? Her? What was she going to do? What would Dave do? Her Dave, that is… though in some ways the other Dave was hers as well. Margaret closed her eyes and shook her head. What would Dave say when he found out that she cheated on him? “Does… does Dave know about me?”
“No. She kept him at arm’s length when he visited… but he thought it was just that you were sick.” April paused for a moment and then asked “So… what are you going to do? About… you know.”
Margaret sighed and shook her head. “I’m going to wait for Martin to give me that witch’s brew of his, and then… then I have to talk to Dave, I guess.”
April smiled and nodded, her short hair a refreshing sight, and even as ill as Margaret felt… it was good to be home.
* * * * *
Her stomach had finally settled as Margaret left Martin’s apartment, April by her side. She’d been quite interested in finding out what had happened to Margaret in the other world, and Margaret fed her tidbits. It had been fun watching April blush when Margaret told her about the other April’s fixation with Mike, and she realized that the same seeds had lie dormant in her friend. She couldn’t see what was all that interesting with Mike though. His nose was too big, and he had arrogance enough for the Devil and then some.
Still, she kept quiet about some things. What happened between her and the other Dave… Margaret sighed as April unlocked the apartment door. She didn’t know what she was going to do about that. Dave… her Dave, deserved to know the truth. Even if it drove him away.
The door behind her opened and she turned and he was there. Margaret turned back to April and said “Go on ahead. I’m going to talk to Dave for a bit.”
April grinned and winked at her. “Yeah, right. I know what you two are going to do, and I just have to say… get a room! You’re bad enough to cause insulin shock!” She skipped out of Margaret’s reach, as Margaret glowered at her friend.
“You’re thinking of Ted and yourself, April. I swear, I don’t need sweetener in my coffee anymore due to you two. Now shoo!”
April grinned and shut the door behind herself, and Margaret turned. Dave… her Dave… was there, and she hugged him tightly. He blinked in surprise and put his arms around her. “Hey there. I guess you’re feeling better, then?”
Margaret stepped back and Dave let her. He’d learned early on that she wasn’t exactly physical in expressing emotion; she didn’t like being held for long, though she’d become more spontaneous with expressing affection. She stared into his eyes, unshadowed eyes, they shone with a spirit that had been missing from his counterpart. He hadn’t been beaten down, through exhaustion and loss of hope.
“Martin gave me something to settle my stomach.” Margaret suddenly gave a wry smile “It’s chronic though, so I’m going to have to drink that stuff daily for a bit.”
“Oh? What’s wrong?”
Margaret sighed and looked around. Finally she glanced at the door behind her and then back at Dave. “Let’s walk. I bet April has her ear to the door again.”
“I do not!” came through the door, muffled, and Dave laughed. Margaret joined him and took his hand in hers, walking down to the stairwell. She sat on the stairs and Dave joined her. The stairwell would echo, but if she kept her voice down… well, some of it was going to stay between Dave and herself. The rest… well, everyone would know, in a few months.
Margaret shook her head. Where to begin? It was an odd reflection of what she’d gone through before, in the other world, and it almost seemed like a dream. Dave waited patiently, until finally Margaret spoke up.
“I understand you visited yesterday… I guess you sensed something was wrong?”
“Well, I figure it was because you were… wait, you understand? You were there.” Dave gave her a confused glance.
Margaret grimaced. “Um… this is going to sound crazy… but, no, I wasn’t. Or I was, but it wasn’t me there.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Neither do I… okay. When I woke up yesterday morning… everything had changed. Marsha had moved in with Mike… April and Roger had moved to an apartment to get away from Mike… and you’d been forced to live with me. And… and we weren’t… we weren’t dating or anything.” Margaret looked at her knees. He deserved to know the truth.
“That’s weird… I don’t remember that happening. You sure it wasn’t just a dream?”
She glanced back at him and smiled suddenly. “Ah Dave… you know, part of the day I was wondering just that? But… it wasn’t just me. I… switched places with that other Margaret. She was me… while I was her. We… just fixed things a little bit ago… Roger said– that world’s Roger, that is, that it was Transference, whatever that means. I guess our souls got switched, like one of those idiot Disney flicks.”
Dave blinked. “We? So Martin can verify this then? Not that I don’t believe you! It’s just it seems so… weird.”
Margaret laughed softly, her laugher echoing through the stairwell. “After all we’ve been through, you think it seems weird? I think it’s commonplace for us.”
Dave laughed as well. “True. So… then I take it that… your counterpart was here yesterday? That explains why she didn’t want a hug, and here I thought you were just afraid I’d catch what you had.”
Margaret smiled “I don’t think you have to worry about that.” Her smile faded and she sighed. She’d delayed long enough. “Dave… when I was there… I… I cheated on you.”
“What?” Dave’s face went blank in shock.
“I… I slept with the other Dave.” Margaret closed her eyes and hugged herself. He deserved the truth. Even if….
“Oh. Well, you thought it was me, right?”
“At first… but… oh Dave… she’d treated you– him like… well, remember how I used to treat you, when I was pushing you away? She… she never stopped doing that. She told him she didn’t love him. Stupid bitch…” She opened her eyes, and Dave swam blurrily in front of her. She blinked rapidly to clear her eyes and scrubbed tears from the corners of her eyes.
Dave looked puzzled. And hurt, a bit. “So… you cheated on me. With myself. Oookay. That’s weird even for us.”
“I’m so sorry… it just… happened.”
“He didn’t… hurt you, did he?” Dave’s eyes grew harder and Margaret realized he was blaming himself – his other self, thinking that he’d…
“No, Dave. Don’t you think I can take care of myself? It’s just… I felt so bad for y– him… we were fighting… and it just… I’m sorry.”
“So you slept with him out of pity, is that it?” Dave’s voice held a tone of anger, and Margaret sighed. She deserved his ire.
“No… not pity… it’s… he’s you. And yet… I couldn’t touch you. I couldn’t be with you. Before I knew it wasn’t just a dream, I tried hugging him and he flinched! I mean… I love you. And to see you like that… I didn’t mean…” Margaret closed her eyes and took a deep breath, getting a hold of herself. Her stomach was starting to knot up again. It was so unfair, doing this to him. But… he deserved to know. He needed to know.
Dave paused and then she felt his hand on hers. “You know, I think that’s the first time you’ve ever said that?”
“What?” Margaret looked over at Dave, confused.
“That you love me. I’ve wanted to hear that… it’s just… this is a lot to swallow. I mean… wouldn’t you be angry if I had slept with her? That other Margaret?”
Margaret couldn’t help herself, she started laughing. “Oh Dave, I think she’d have gelded you if you’d tried. I know I shouldn’t have. Yes… I guess I wouldn’t be happy if you had. But…” Margaret sighed. “I can’t even say I’d forgive you if things had been reversed. Or it would take a while, at least. If you… if you want to call it quits, I understand.”
Dave closed his eyes and sighed. She quietly watched him, watched the emotions flicker across his face, though the only light came from the doorway, and it was hard to tell what emotions were there. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, Dave opened his eyes and looked at her. “My mom once told me that loving someone means forgiving them for their actions. I think she was referring to the time my dad forgot to buy an anniversary gift… but it probably holds here too. I mean…” Dave sighed and looked down. “Yes, I’m angry. But… I do love you. And… the whole thing’s crazy. I mean… you cheated on me with myself… and you weren’t even in your body when you did it. I… I don’t know what to think. But… yes, I forgive you.”
Margaret smiled hesitantly “And here I thought I was going to have to treat you like a prince to get you to forgive me.”
Dave grinned suddenly, though she could sense his unease. “Well, that might help, Margaret. Well… shall we head back?”
Margaret paused. “Dave? There’s something else…”
Dave looked back. “Um… well, I’ve been in a forgiving mood lately… how bad is it?”
“Er… depends on what you mean by bad. But… you know how I’ve been sick lately?”
Dave nodded “Yeah. I’ve missed you… wait. You– you’re not dying or something are you? Do you have to see a doctor? I mean, is that why you went and saw Martin?”
“No! No it’s not… I’m pregnant, Dave.”
Dave’s face paled in shock. “Pre– pregnant? How?”
Margaret rolled her eyes. “You should know. You were there.”
“I mean… oh God… are… are you going to have the baby? What are you going to do?”
“We, Dave. It’s our baby. I… I want to have it, I think. It’s time I stopped running. I mean… yeah, I had all those dreams and such… but maybe that won’t happen. And… I want you with me.”
“Well… yeah… I mean, I can get a job… maybe go to college part-time to help pay for things… if we start saving now… my mom might still have some of my baby stuff, I can ask… I’d be willing to just pay child support if that’s what you wanted, you know…” Dave started babbling and Margaret reached over and put a finger to his lips.
“Shush, Dave. I want you with me. Until death do us part.” Dave blinked and she kissed him. “If you want to, that is.”
“That’s a big step… God… I mean… I’ve dreamed of that, I’ll admit… but… are you sure?”
Margaret nodded. “Dave… I saw what I could have turned into. Yes, I’m scared of what could happen… with those dreams and that I might lose you… but I can’t let fear rule my life. And I love you. I do.”
Dave smiled hesitantly and hugged Margaret. “I know. It’s just… a big step. And all at once. I just need a little time to think, okay?”
Margaret nodded. “It’s okay. I’ll wait.”
Dave stood and helped Margaret to her feet, and they walked back down the hall to their apartments. Margaret couldn’t help but wonder how the other Dave was doing… she leaned her head against Dave’s shoulder and he put his arm around her side.
“I love you, Dave.” It got easier saying it each time.
Dave smiled and kissed her gently on the lips. “I love you too, Margaret.”
* * * * *
Margaret sighed as she looked at the test. It was still negative. She’d triple-checked it to make sure, and used a different exam for the third test… though if Satan was that determined, he probably could make any test, even a doctor’s, appear negative. Not that she had anything to worry about from Dave. He’d barely batted an eye when she’d returned.
Margaret walked into the apartment, half-expecting the worse. If that idiot had gotten herself pregnant without even living with Dave, she didn’t want to think of what she’d done finding herself with Dave in the same apartment. Fortunately it had been only one night… she’d have to put up with Dave’s moping again at most. Hopefully.
She checked on her gun closet and found the traps had been sprung. The doorknob was actually loose, and a scuff-mark on the knob suggested that someone had kicked it open, but not before the battery had been disconnected. Margaret’s eyes narrowed and she quickly checked her inventory, but outside of a couple of paintgun bullets, everything was there. It had probably been her. She reset the traps and shut the door before heading to the bedroom.
The bedroom was cool, both windows opened, but outside of that, everything was where she’d left it. In fact, the bed was made. Dave was in his bed, asleep. After a moment, she walked over to him and shook him awake.
Dave blinked up at her bleary-eyed, and she felt a momentary bit of regret for waking him. He’d not been sleeping well at all. “Oh. I see you’re back. What do you want?” he asked.
Margaret paused as she decided what to say. Knowing was too important just to drop it. “She told you, I take it?”
“Yeah. And she didn’t wake me up to tell me, either. Martin’s phonecall did that” he said, sitting up in bed. He was wearing a t-shirt and boxers, but the cynical suspicious part of her mind reminded her that he could have changed afterwards.
Her eyes narrowed and she frowned down at him. Dave didn’t notice. He was rubbing his eyes. “Did you two do anything? The idiot got herself pregnant and I need to know…”
Dave looked up at her and she stopped speaking. His eyes were slits, and she could sense his annoyance. “Oh yes, we were like bunnies, Margaret. All day and all night, we couldn’t keep our hands off each other. In fact, I was sleeping just now because I was too tired. From staying up all night with her.” Sarcasm dripped off his words, and Margaret shook her head and turned away.
She resisted smacking him one, though her hand twitched. “I was being serious here. You know what’s going to happen… if I got pregnant…”
“Ah. Well, no we didn’t. But it’s none of your business anyway. It’s not like we’re a couple or anything.” Dave shrugged and got out of bed.
Margaret watched him walk out of the bedroom, and called after him. “There was no need to be sarcastic, Dave. I just needed to know. Look… why don’t you go back to sleep?”
“Can’t sleep. I’ve been woken up too many times today. I’ll be okay.” She a door close behind him and a minute later the hiss of the shower started up.
Margaret shook her head and glanced at the test again. It still read negative, and she sighed and threw it in the wastebasket with the other two. Dave hadn’t lied. She smiled for a moment. It was nice to know that he had enough respect for her not to take advantage of the situation. Either that or her other self had behaved… but considering what she’d been able to get out of Martin and April… okay, interrogating Waldo and Steve for information, that was logical enough. But she’d revealed the truth to too many people.
She heard a knock on the bathroom door. “Are you going to be in there all day, Margaret?” Dave asked. Margaret picked up the two boxes and tossed some toilet paper on top of the test strips in the wastebasket. She hid the strips under her bathrobe and pulled open the door.
“I’m done. Don’t be so impatient” she said. Dave just grunted and walked into the bathroom, shutting the door behind him. Margaret sighed and headed back to the bedroom.
* * * * *
(Special thanks to Tokhra, for a most beautiful and delightful picture of this scene…)
* * * * *
Epilogue the Second
Blue sighed silently as she watched the dancing wind down, and the bridesmaids and other women gathered around Margaret as she prepared to toss out the bouquet. Blue stayed where she was seated, at the edge of the throng, with her mother beside her. It was bad enough that Dave had gotten married to Margaret… but no one dared approach her with her mother looming behind her.
The only reason she’d come was her mother had brought her along, and because Mike had been best man. She knew it was just an idle daydream, thinking that she could win Dave’s affections… but it still hurt, seeing him dancing with Margaret. Her daydreams were shattered. She’d even toyed with the thought of standing up when the minister asked if anyone had reason to protest the wedding… but she didn’t want to ruin Dave’s happiness. Besides, her mother would have killed her.
Margaret was smiling happily as she tossed the bouquet high into the sky. She probably did it on purpose, from what Blue could tell, the girl lived to make people work harder. The bouquet tumbled in the air, and hands rose up to grasp at it… it bounced off April’s hand… and dropped into Blue’s lap. Blue looked down at the bouquet and blinked in surprise.
Hazel Green leaned over Blue’s shoulder and then turned back to Thaddeus. “Remind me to put a female guard on Blue’s room for the next two weeks?”
Blue closed her eyes and winced. This just wasn’t her day….