As Kit stepped through the portal, the world vanished in a burst of light. Blinded and disoriented , she staggered forward and immediately ran into something. She felt a moment of terror before remembering it was her boyfriend.
John hugged her, keeping her from falling down. “Told you it would make you dizzy,” he said. She could hear the smirk in his voice.
Her vision slowly returned, as if she had been blinded by someone shining a flashlight into her eyes at night. At first all she could see was plain cotton t-shirt. She pulled back a bit and looked up to see his smile and immediately blushed. She couldn’t help it. Every time he smiled like that – a knowing, slightly mocking smile, that said he know something you didn’t – she felt a flush from her face down to her chest and a weakness in her legs. It was his smile that had made her fall for him, against all common sense. After all, he was a skinny, outgoing, stylish, and popular guy with a thousand friends, and she was a pudgy, introverted bookworm whose best friend was her cat. She knew, from bitter experience, that she was better off not dating. But this time he fell for her, too, glasses, split ends, and everything.
The relationship had given her something she’d given up on in college – love. And large amounts of really great sex. She’d always been kind of indifferent to sex, never really wanting it like everyone else seemed to, but with John it was better then she imagined possible. After three months with him, she was totally in love with him. So when he suggested a camping trip she agreed, ignoring the fact that she hated camping. He’d also promised to show her a magic trick, which she thought would be something silly, like a card trick, or a position from the Kama Sutra. Instead she’d gotten two dead trees, bent together to form an arch in the middle of the woods, and a flash of light when she stepped between them, hand in hand with her boyfriend.
She looked around, and promptly tried to fall over again. Surprised, he still managed to catch her.
Kit was no longer in the woods. Instead she was standing on a large bridge over water. A dense mist cloaked everything in a grey, damp blanket, blocking the sun and sky, as well as anything more than fifty feet away. Standing right next to Kit and John were two pieces of wood which had been twisted into odd shapes. They bent towards one another, making an arch. Beyond the arch, the bridge ended abrubtly. She could see a hint of ground beyond it, with two pairs of footsteps visible. Completely confused, she stammered, “What? Where….? How…….?”
John chuckled. “Want the answers all at once or one at a time?”
She hugged him back. “All at once please. This is freaking me out.”
“OK. What happened is, we walked through a portal to somewhere else. A magic portal. Told you I’d show you a trick.” He smirked again. She flushed again, thinking, Jesus Christ I’m like Pavlov’s dog. No one else has this effect on me…..
“Where is a little more complicated. This is an in-between place, made to tie many portals together. If you know the way, you can get almost anywhere through it. As for the how….I have no idea. All I know is, you think a certain phrase while stepping through the portal, and you’re here.”
Kit realized she was staring at him with her mouth open and her eyes wide. She closed her mouth and thought Stop it, you idiot, you look like a retard. Suddenly she was irritated. “Come on, John. I’m not stupid. This is just….a hidden bridge or something. You’re tricking me, just like you said.”
John let go of her and stepped over to the edge of the bridge. “I’m tricking you, but not about the bridge. Think about it: a minute ago the sky was clear, now it’s foggy. We were in the middle of the woods, on dry land, no lakes or anything, and suddenly we’re on a large bridge over deep water. Not only that – look at the bridge. There’s no rails on the sides.” She did. There weren’t. “Look at the bridge itself. What’s it made of?” She looked down at a featureless grey surface. It wasn’t concrete or metal, wood or stone, glass or plastic. It wasn’t dirty or faded or scuffed or….anything. It was just grey, the exact same shade as the mist surrounding them. Uneasy, she asked him, “That doesn’t mean anything. I’m not an expert on bridges. It could be…I don’t know, some new kind of plastic or something. And they built it out in the woods to test it before they started selling it.”
He rolled his eyes. “People never want to believe.” He sighed. “All right, I’ll prove it to you, but we have to do something a little dangerous.” He gestured to her to walk over to him, near the edge of the bridge. She walked over and, insecure, grabbed his hand. “Lie down beside me,” He said.
They lay down with their only their heads poking out over the edge of the bridge. He pulled a rock out of his pocket and held it over the edge. “I grabbed this before we went through. Hoped I wouldn’t need it….you need to understand, this isn’t really a bridge.”
“But you just said –“
“I know, and I know it sort of looks like one. But it’s just a metaphor, an illusion to make traveling easier. The ocean below is also a metaphor, but not for the same thing.” He dropped the rock. The mist was so thick, Kit could barely see it hit the water.
Nothing. Kit asked, “What am I supposed to see?”
“Just wait. And be ready to run, if we have to.”
“John, what the hell –“ she was starting to get frustrated with this whole situation.
Directly beneath them, the mist was clearing. Kit noticed that the water was incredibly clear, clearer then she would have believed possible. Her vision was limited only by the dim, directionless lighting. Deep beneath the surface, huge shapes coiled around each other. Kit froze with utter and complete surprise as she realized how big the shapes had to be. The mist kept clearing, an expanding bubble of clarity centered on her and John. She felt a slight breeze. As she stared, stupefied, a cluster of long, serpentine shapes began rising to the surface. She realized that they were much, much larger then she had thought.
John grabbed her arm and dragged her to her feet. “Time to go,” he said, his voice tense. He practically dragged her along the bridge, away from both the portal and the shapes.
Kit could hear waves crashing behind them. There was a noise, somewhat like a foghorn, only much louder and deeper. It was so loud that Kit covered her ears, so loud that she could feel a breeze aginst her back. When it stopped, she looked back.
A pillar the size of a skyscraper was rising beside the bridge. Water cascaded off its wrinkled surface and out of holes scattered randomly across it. Each hole had a rough fringe of what looked like moss. It was a mottled dark green. It towered over them, hundreds of feet at least, and it was still rising. It bellowed again, every hole blasting sound into the air, and this time Kit could make out a word, howled in a register so deep it made foghorns sound soprano: “hunger.”
John dragged her into the mist, and it vanished.
Later, she went into hysterics, which made her feel much better. John, always considerate, held her until she was done. Afterwords, she blew her nose on her sleeve, and said, “Well, you were right, that did the trick. I believe you now.” He laughed out loud and kissed her. “I figured.” Her pulled her to her feet. “Ready to get going?”
Kit let him pull her up. “Go where? Aren’t we going back?”
“Nope. I want you to meet my mother.”
Kit felt a confusing mixture of emotions when he said that. At first, she thought, Ohmygod he wants me to meet his mother! He’s going to pop the question! I knew he was the one!
Then, We have to go through this bridge thingy to meet his mother? Where in the hell does she live?
Her second reaction seemed to make more sense to her, so she said it out loud. He started walking and said casually, “Come on, I’ll tell you on the way.”
As she caught up with him, he explained, “yeah, we have to go through here to meet my mom. The reason she lives through here is that I’m not strictly speaking human.”
Kit would have stopped and gaped at that, but John kept on walking briskly. Instead she snapped, “Don’t you think you should have told me sooner?”
“come on. What would you have said if I’d introduced myself by saying ‘hey baby, want to go out? By the way I’m not from this reality and am not human.’ You’d have thought I was on crack, at best. “
That was true, but “I’m still not happy about this. You drag me out here, saying we’re going camping, tell me you’re not human and you want me to meet your mom, and what the HELL was that thing!”
The last part came out in a shout.
John kept walking. “I don’t know what it was. I’m sorry you’re upset, but I couldn’t think of a better way to do this. And I’m sorry I lied about the camping.”
There was a long silence. Kit stewed. She was angry about having been lied to, but John was right about everything he’d said. Which, of course, just made her angrier. And all this supernatural stuff wasn’t making it any easier. How do you deal with something like this? Dump him? Go back? Keep going? Am I going to end up in a tabloid or something – “I married an alien!”
It was curiosity that finally got them talking again, nearly an hour later. “You really don’t know what that giant thing was?”
He glanced at her, seeming distracted. “I really don’t. As far as I know no one does. We just know that they are attracted to people on the bridge. If you throw something off the edge, or even just look into the water, they show up and start killing.”
She wanted to yell at him about that, but took a deep breath instead. Don’t be a stupid cow. Just go with it. “You said someone made this bridge. Or whatever it is. Who made it?”
“We don’t know that, either. It’s been here as far back as we have records. “
“And how far back is that?”
“About three thousand years.”
Another pause. Go with it, right. “Oookay, so….you’re not human. What are you?”
“Back in the middle ages, humans called my people Incubi and Succubi.” At her look of incomprehension, he went on, “They said we were sex demons and we would steal people’s souls.”
“Um…..should I be worried?”
John laughed so hard he had to stop walking for a second. “Ah….sorry….it’s just the way you said it was so calm….I’m sorry.” He kissed her. “No, of course you shouldn’t be worried. According to the old stories, we would suck the soul out of people by seducing and having sex with them. We’ve already had sex, so you tell me – how’s your soul feeling?”
He couldn’t help but smile. “Feels fine to me. Maybe we just haven’t been doing it hard enough.”
He smiled (she blushed!) and kissed her again. “Feel any soul suckage there?”
After a good fifteen minutes of making out – by which time Kit was ready for action right there on the bridge, giant monsters or not – John gently pulled her along. “Come on, we’ve got a ways to go yet.”
Kit kept possession of one hand. “Sooo….how big is your family?”
“Pretty big. But don’t worry, they mostly don’t live with mom anymore.”
“What’s she like?”
“Quiet…..I hate to be mean, but kind of fat. We love her anyway, of course.”
“Why do you want me to meet her?”
John gave her the smirk again. “Because I want to ask you to move in with us.”
Kit giggled. “You still live with your mom! I guess you aren’t too inhuman after all.”
He nodded. “We really aren’t. I’m sure you would have noticed any major differences by now.” He smirked and leered at the same time; Kit blushed and went weak in the knees.
“So, how much farther?” she asked.
“Should be almost there, actually…just need to find the right path.”
“Path…?” Barely visible through the mist, dozens of other bridges joined theirs. They didn’t all look the same. A couple were identical grey. One was pale, nearly white, with what seemed like holes in it. One was darker, nearly black. A cold draft vented from it, barely noticeable. Several others had gates or doors mounted on them. She walked over to one gate, made of wrought iron, with intricate filgrees all along the bars. It was mounted on a pair of plain brick pillars, standing tall in the mist. Kit’s first thought was, this is stupid, you can just walk around. She remembered the monsters in the water, and thought, No it isn’t. In the middle of the gate was a polished brass plaque with an inscription. Beneath several lines of squiggles that she assumed were other languages, there was a sentence in English:
Zarathustra and Sons: Professional Paranormal Eliminators
John walked up behind her and kissed her neck. A thrill went through her. “Ready?” He murmered in her ear.
“Well, when you put it like that…” He took her hand and led her over to a large, battered wooden door. It wasn’t in the best repair – extra boards had been nailed over it, and various chips and gouges marred its surface. It was covered in symbols and words, mostly in languages Kit didn’t understand. Two words, near the bottom, were in English: Keep Out.
The door opened as soon as john touched it. They stepped through, a blinding white light hit her, and John grabbed her again to keep her from falling.
“Uh….Another….portal?” Kit was proud of herself for realizing. I’m starting to figure this out.
“Another portal,” John echoed, “this time off the bridge.”
Kit took in her new surrounding with mild surprise. Compared to what she had already seen, this was a letdown. It was a simple cave – cylindrical, about seven feet high and seven feet wide. Chisel marks were visible on the walls. Every few feet crystals were embedded in the wall; they glowed with a soft red light, painting everything in blood. A sweet, cloying scent was very strong, and it irritated her nose. Kit clung to John. “This isn’t what I expected…”
“I know. Let’s go meet mom.” John pulled her down the tunnel, his grip on her hand now vise-like.
Kit started to get dizzy. She felt as if she couldn’t think straight. With every breath, the stench assaulted her. “I don’t….” She mumbled.
John ignored her and pulled her deeper into the warren. Kit was dimly conscious of passing a junction with doors, going through a midsized room filled with shelves and cabinets, passing a few people in the tunnels…she tried to pay attention to the people they met – John’s family? – but she was too out of it to get a good look. She saw a blond girl, pretty, in jeans and a tank top…..a naked man……a pair of legs walking along with no body above the waist…
John pulled her to a huge door. “Straighten up.” He smirked, the expression that always said, I know something you don’t know. “Time to meet mama.”
The door swung open, revealing a huge cavern. The lighted crystals were everywhere, dying the scene within shades of blood red and scab ochre. The cavern was dominated by the pale veined sluglike thing that lay in the center. Slime oozed down its flanks, collecting in a shallow pool on the floor. It towered a good three or four stories above the cavern floor, nearly to the roof. Ramshackle wooden balconies extended from the chamber’s sides to the creature’s flanks, where small appendages moved restlessly. Shadowy figures moved along the balconies, tending to their Mother.
Kit screamed until her breath gave out. John dragged her before Mother’s front side. Kit saw that the creature’s front was covered in eyes and lips, all of them human, none of them in any sort of order or pattern: clusters of blinking, rolling eyes of every color, drooling mouths muttering nonsense sounds. John leered at her, than addressed it. “A new one for you, Mother!”
Mother stared at Kit with all her eyes. Her mouths opened, inhaled. Somewhere inside Mother, vast lungs worked. It exhaled, and spoke, all the mouth shaping words separately, so it was as if a chorus of voices said, “Good…”
Kit lost control of her bladder. She tried to fight, to scream again, to beg, but the scent was everywhere, in her nose, in her brain, sedating her. She could barely think. Another man stepped in front of her and punched her in the face, knocking her to the ground. Hands carried her up stairs. Her head lolled to the side, a trickle of saliva running from her mouth. John grabbed her hair and forced her to look. Mother’s flank extended beyond her field of view. The protrusions she’d seen before were directly in front of her. They came in pairs, each with two segments joined by a normal-looking joint. They flexed restlessly. There was something in between each pair of limbs, a small triangle of hair and folds of flesh.
John said, “Do you see? Do you get it?” He giggled. “See where you’re going to join the family?” He pointed to an empty spot. There was a large horizontal slit there, fringed with tiny tentacles or cilia. As they pushed her closer Kit saw them reaching out for her eagerly.
One of the large limbs bumped into her from the side. At its end was a human foot. Looking past the foot, over the leg embedded in Mother, she saw the damp tangle of pubic hair at the junction of the endlessly moving legs. Kit understood then why the legs came in pairs, and why they all merged with Mother’s form just above the waist, and what was about to happen. Somehow Kit was able to scream one last time, a heart-rending howl that tore her throat and spewed blood from her lips, before they put her in Mother’s hungry mouth.