*

VOW OF CONTRITION  by DF Lewis

 

Alan was ankle deep in something he’d’ve preferred to have avoided.  Yet Alan, when he realised that — to obtain Rhona’s forgiveness — he needed to negotiate some slimy spillages she’d left in her wake, decided to remove his sock and shoe with the aim of hopping towards her known location. 

 

This wasn’t an alien land.  Nor was it home. It was a cross between two worlds: the first being the sane environment of Earth where he’d been raised into its logical effects, the world of his earliest memories of being bred by similar critters to himself; and a second world, one with  barely predictable motives (the motives of  the environment itself, of its inhabitants, even of visitors to that world as they became slowly absorbed by being infested by it).  These two environments had merged in Alan’s mind and he had ceased to be aware of exactly which world he now inhabited.  Was he at home or was he visiting?  Rhona was common to both worlds so her presence here proved nothing.

 

Common sense told him that he now inhabited the second world, the alien one; yet it had slowly and imperceptibly gathered to itself characteristics of his home world, a world which he loosely called Earth.  For example, he was treading over floorboards, listening to birdsong, and the wailing of wind in a chimney.  Yet the floorboards were covered with a clear slime nearly two inches thick.  Even comparisons of size were made by Alan in terrestrial terms.  The land that held his footprints intact was a gooey one, more akin to adhesive than slime, yet slime was the nearest he was able to reach its meaning with his newly restricted word-stock.  On Earth he had been a wordy man, even been a writer of some literary note, yet now, he discovered himself searching for the correct words for any set of happenings.  Call it slime, then. Even if, back home, he might have called it something else.  Carpet pile perhaps. Or tiny specks of earth. Or even rat droppings.  Yet here, in his present predicament of place, time and  perceived ownership of mind, it had to be slime.  He did not even debate it with himself.  The word was sacrosanct.

 

He was able now to discern Rhona at the far end of the hall.  Except it may not have been a hall at all, since there was a 4-poster bed somewhere along its length.  She was recognisable as Rhona, since he desperately held onto a snapshot of her from Earth.  He kept glancing at it and comparing the facial marks of the pretty woman there frozen with the more ripply version at the end of the hall.  However, this method of identification and attempted self-conviction on Alan’s part did not allow comparison of Rhona’s respective voices.  On Earth, he recalled her voice lilting and pleasant to hear, as opposed to some other women he had once known back home.  Yet, here, he heard only slimy croaks emerging from her lips.  Words formed in the throat or a bit lower and then set loose by the lips, with no intervention of the lips’ vocal implements.

 

“Alan, go away.  I can’t… I am not the person we once knew.  I am danger…”

 

Alan was not diverted by this mask of her real personality.  He knew it was Rhona, despite the slimy vowels and, incredibly, even slimier hard consonants of her speech.

 

He decided to respond vocally himself.  He hadn’t attempted this before here in this hybrid world of barely known forces of earth.  Not only did he have to dig deep for the correct words, he needed also to dig even deeper for a voice that might carry them towards Rhona.  He noticed that she now lolled on the bed, beckoning him with the crook of a little finger.  Fear was the most normal emotion for Alan to feel in this predicament.  Yet, strangely, he sensed an ill-characterised bravery growing in his loins, together with a passion and desire for the body he recalled to be Rhona’s.  Yet first the speech, the one he owed her, to complete his pretensions towards contrition.

 

“Rhona … I love  … I always loved … nothing can come between … nothing or nobody.”

 

There he’d said it.  He sighed with relief … except the sigh was more a phlegmy wheeze than a waft of expended air.  The toes of his hopping foot were now webbed with the consistency he’d once called slime.  Seemed ages ago now. He needed to wield his other foot to prevent  losing balance.  An ill-balanced mind – as his certainly was – needed at least the resistant force of a firm physical stance.  He placed the other foot – still shod – to the floor.  The sole of the shoe immediately dissolved into the same soft land on which it trod.  As did the sock.  Yet the flesh of his foot stood firm.  That gave him more grit of conviction.  He gave a swift sideways look at the window in the hall.  Via it he was able to see trees similar to those he’d seen all his life growing on Earth.  And *in*  Earth.  As if life was a twofold process, exterior and interior, and this applied to everything, even stone and wood.

 

By now – amid another torment of  thinking – Alan had reached the side of the bed, where the drapes had been yanked wholly together.  Rhona’s voice – still not predicted and  recognised from his earlier experience of hearing it – managed to thread its way between the drapes — becoming tangled in more slimy appendages of tangible visibility.  A voice that Alan might see negotiating its phonetic path towards his ears with every vowel of the alphabet.

 

“We are not here at all.  So go away, Alan, and nobody will know or see any difference. “

 

Alan scratched his head – yet felt only the slime that he considered to be his own brain.

 

“Why not go away, then?” Alan managed to say – despite the feel of his fingers to his own brain having managed adversely to affect the mind’s powers of thinking as well as of speech.  “Nobody able to notice any difference.”  These last words he managed to emit were more like birdsong than homo sapiens vocalisation.   He smiled.  As he yanked the drapes of the bed aside.

 

And then one heard only slime gargling, at the grinding interface of two worlds emerging via the deep throats and chimneys of non-tenable reality into the possibility of carnal, if not cranial, congress.

 

A single photograph floated to the floor and melted into a wafer of thin clear slime.

 

Slowly vanishing into the floor.

 

“I love …”

 

He failed to end his vow.

 

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