For a time there was only unbearable grief and it consumed her bodiless existence entirely, trapping her in a limbo void of logic or thought beyond the pang gripping pain of utter loss.
Gone was purpose. Place. There was nothing left after the collapse of the reality that was—
But how was she still here? Where was ‘here’? How did she even get to this point?
How much time had passed until she developed a concept of identity she did not know, but the spark of questions enlightened her mind to a sense of self and curiosity.
In a question of why she was in pain came the question of how she was in pain. If there was nothing, nothing at all, how was there herself? What saved her from an empty abyss of being trapped in the collapse she didn’t have an answer for, but she pushed the boundaries of her mind until a sense of breaking her sanity.
Sanity. She had a concept of sane and insane— logical and unreasonable. Slowly did her conscious build itself around these concepts of questions and answers. She had survived. And there was no way for that to be possible unless her existence dwelled in a reality beyond the collapse.
Cook opened her eyes to mind splitting brightness and thought deafening electronic blinking. It was a heart monitor, her mind wasted no time in recognizing and assessing it.
That meant she was in medical condition. Hospital. Clicking several feet away— twelve feet away. Casual heels. Approximately sixty degrees to her left. Probably a woman just under hundred and thirty. A nurse? Arriving in her room… Now.
“Whhrr…” The tube down her throat hadn’t been realized or taken into account, and Cook choked on it’s invading sensation.
“It’s alright, Miss. You’re in a hospital. If you can understand me, wink once.”
Cook winked slowly.
“Do you know why you’re here?”
“You were brought it last year and have been in a coma. Do you know who you are?”
Cook winked— then decided against it and covered it up with rapid blinking as if to panic. If they had to ask, and hadn’t used her name yet, it meant she was a Jane Doe. Meaning her blood sample and fingerprints had no match on their systems, making her practically inexistent.
“It’s okay miss, don’t panic, you’re safe and in good hands.”
A doctor came in seven minutes later and took Cook’s feeding tube out. But her throat was too dry and sore for her to talk yet, and her muscles so weak she couldn’t even handle a pencil. She’d gone from a bodiless limbo to being trapped in the hell of her own useless body. All she had was her mind, and she kept it sane with mental exercise and of recalling everything she could before the collapse and her apparent coma; refiling all the knowledge she’d obtained in her studies, recalling experiences among her work and remembering significant names. As well as meditation to hone her abilities and magic, like charging an ever running generator to full every day.
Months passed before she could even walk or write and Cook never spoke to anyone, leaving them with the impression she was mentally handicapped or emotionally traumatized. Regardless of this, and though the rest had given up, there was one staff member that insisted on communication and often spent much time alone with Cook; her doctor. There were days after he’d asked the basic questions that he’d sit in the room with her and simply watch her gaze out the window. Cook recognized the lust in his obsessive staring, and let him continue to simply enjoy her presence— it was probably the only thing keeping her in the hospital and not kicked out onto the streets.
At nights when the amount of staff on duty was thin, she would sneak into the recreation room and use the computer to search online for names from her past. It wasn’t for a few weeks before she thought to look up herself and found the articles on the arrest of a Jane Doe with striking resemblance to herself. It was easy enough to hack her double’s own email, the other woman of this reality using password recovering questions that were far too easy to an experienced occultist. It wasn’t until she found this other her that Cook began to dedicate her hours of deep thought and mental exercise to planning and plotting on how to fix herself into this world. One night while reading back and forth encrypted emails she saw the name of the receiver: Fairfield.
“Michael…” Her heart was pulled by a pang of pain that came from rage and jealousy— this other her had taken her place among the people she’d come to recognize as companions and even friends. Further digging gave her the contact information that could of put her in touch with the man whose name shared that with someone in her past— and that’s when the panic hit her. Cook went through files and encrypted documents for hours with the key words: Bill, William, Wright and Amendment. Nothing came up, and the hope she’d mistaken for panic became depression.
The one name she’d avoided looking up finally nagged her into submission, and she slowly typed in the phrase ‘William O’ Wright, Amendment’ into a search browser and found articles on a American icon put to shame by a woman known to him as Cook forcing him into isolation and retirement. The screen of the computer blinked and blurred, lights flickering over head as her rage bubbled over inside of her. As the light show went through the hall it aroused the attention of the staff, and Cook rushed to clear the history and hobble on her cane out of the recreation room back to her bedroom. She was so blinded with fury she barely noticed the doctor watching her silently from the end of the hall.
* * *
“I saw you out of bed the other night.”
He’d come in without greeting this time, and pulled a chair up between her and the window forcing Cook to look at him in her staring. What had been a silent moment of brainstorming was interrupted by the accusing glare of her young doctor: a fresh out-of-medical-school protege who should be flirting with pretty nurses, but had instead fallen in love with the medical mystery that was Cook. It took the hospital no time in baffling over her anatomy; the flawless body that on contact felt like the skin of a burn victim, with a missing heart replaced by a wad of silver that leaked into her bloodstream, and various bones that x rays proved to be intricately carved into like something from a druid folklore. But since Cook refused to talk, and eventually they were so scornful to her silence they wouldn’t listen anyway, no headway was ever made and staff lost interest.
Cook stared at him in her signature silence, unwilling to acknowledge his words with even a defence or denial. She just went unblinking for a few moments, then turned her head to look back out the window to continue ignoring the doctor and his visibly increasing anger.
Maybe it was just the sort of people she attracted, or maybe there was something about Cook that brought out the worst in others. Her face was forced to turn back to his when he secured a grip around her chin and craned her neck forcefully.
“I know you can fucking understand me you bitch. I won’t be treated like an idiot by some nobody with no one to even come claim her. We own you here. I own you. No one’s coming for you, so you better stop acting like a retard.”
It had to be something about her, as Cook knew better then to find it a coincidence weaker minded men could be so easily overtaken by their darker desires and temptations. In this case, she assumed a desire to be in unquestionable, life and death control. Too bad he went to medical school— he’d of been an excellent sorcerer.
Not quite willing to give up her comfortable and free living arrangements and access to resources, Cook just looked at him in the eyes and nodded the best she could while he had her face hostage in his hand. He told her ‘good’, and let go to catch his quickened breath, surprised by his own excitement. Cook was asked what she was doing at night on the computer, and shook her head at him.
“Well you won’t be using those computers anymore, but I’ll get you a laptop. You can use that for whatever research you’re trying to do.”
Cook knew what he was trying to do; the steps he was making towards gaining her co-dependency. It didn’t matter right now, because she knew how to play it in her favor. So Cook just nodded and stared, and kept staring until he was uncomfortable being so intently in her gaze and left the room. That night someone was stationed outside of her room, and Cook knew he was staying true on his word that she wouldn’t be using the computer anymore, so for once she spent the night waxing in and out of sleep and nightmares until the morning where she awoke to a package in her room. Using her walking cane she went to one of the tables where flowers would’ve been if anyone sent them, and opened it up to a dell laptop. Nothing fancy, just what she needed to get online and start recording her notes. A few hours into it she was back on the web and dedicating hours during her day to uninterrupted research and planning, saving all the information she could on this other ‘Cook’, as well as individual files for people who mimicked those from her past. Through emails she got names and contact information, and kept records of her theories and thoughts on these other clones. But her resources were limited, and Cook realize she was getting closer to the inevitable: having to leave the hospital, and observe or even control these others.
It was turning into a deliberate means of procrastination; her constant checking and rechecking for more information. She knew all she could: this other Cook grew up with a background similar to her own, eventually came to work for a ‘cloak and dagger’ company that had her offing capes until the day she met Amendment, but what was meant to be redemption turned into rejection and this Cook was burned then picked up by Fairfield to work in his occult department under Morgan and Markel— now in her place as director. There were other names she recognized too, such as Ulysses, Anna, Drake and Julia among ones she didn’t know such as Shilan and Weber. They seemed to be working on a project that would put them in the Empty Quarter in search for Irem. Cook didn’t need to look any of that up, she’d come across the story of the City of Pillars, she knew it’s connections to Atlantis among… other places.
“Damn it, what are you trying to do in there?” Cook needed to get out of here. She needed to get her hands on supplies and take her research to a level more in her specialty.
On a night the moon was waxing, close on full, Cook sat on her bed with legs crossed and candles stolen from the supply closet, having taken a handheld mirror out of the bathroom and covered the surface with a thin layer of water. She broke a black pen, and used the ink to make a dark surface. It was all makeshift and created a poor scrying condition, but it was just going to have to be better than nothing. With ritual induced clairvoyance Cook looked into the dark surface with her mind’s eye, watching as the clouds in the flowing ink part to reveal almost cinematic like images of the other her in a large study among a vast collection of manuscripts and relics that made Cook squirm with jealousy. The sloppiness of her spying did not go unnoticed by the other, but that didn’t stop Cook from spending hours at a time simple watching the others, memorizing her routine and interactions with others until the strain of the flawed magic caused her eyes to bloodshot and bleed. Migraines becoming so frequent shortly after, that the doctor prescribed her medications to sooth the pain but also make her increasingly more docile. This put more delay in her progress until she was able to convince him the meds weren’t needed, and she could get back to work.
Procrastination came to a screeching end the night Cook realized there was no safety in her staying at the hospital. The red flags had been there from the beginning as Cook noticing the gradual change in her doctor’s aggression and control, but she’d underestimated her apparent effect on weaker minded men. — Maybe this was why she liked the naive and jaded so much. On a night dedicated to sleep Cook awoke to her body breaking into panic, choking out desperately for air and crawling into something soft but suffocation smothering her face. Even with the lack of oxygen to her brain, there was no denying the feel of a pillow being shoved on her mouth and nose, nor the weight of a body pressing between her legs and against her chest.
Should of seen this coming. Her conscious mind calmed her subconscious response of fight or flight. And I had thought he was above this old clique. There was no way for her to speak or scream for help, let alone vocalize a spell so she instead laid stiff under the pillow over her her face, and weight against her body, like a corpse in the bed. Doctor or not he still had to check her pulse, then tore the pillow away afraid he’d gone too far in his blind assault, but what he found wasn’t anything he had expected. The stone expression that had always accompanied her features was contorted into a sardonic smile, vibrant blue eyes piercing fear into the pit of his stomach but before his chance to pull away she tossed him onto his back as if he were a doll in her hand and mounted his lap.
“You were correct before, dear doctor; I can fucking understand you.” He watched a spiced mix of horror and fascination as her hospital gown wrinkled and folded in her fingers up over her hips. “I can understand a lot of things. Like pleasure and pain. And I can do a lot of things. Like…” Her stomach and breasts were bared before him in the dim room, muscles outline with a slight tone and skin void of any blemish or imperfection. His fingers were too clumsy to finish the job they’d started of removing his belt, but Cook was cool and calm, working in a slow pace that made time drag on but got his pants down and shirt up.
Cook handled the progression and pace, controlling the ultimate outcome of her twenty minutes on top of the doctor before the familiar sight of the fawn-colored sea that was streaked here and there with explosions of deeply coloured orange waves. The building climax finally broken like the glassy surface of the fawn sea; with typhoons and a pulse of pleasurable waves rippling out over the deep orange streaks. And as each wave rose and fell within its short lifespan they brought with them a tumultuous rush of sensations piggyback riding on a stream of rhythmic memories. Their essences unwrapped into pigments of a poet’s ideal; threads coming loose and showing within them how the other’s life would be, could be - had been. And from it, a pattern slowly began to blossom, petals slowly unveiling enlightenment to the very foundation of existence. That which all Gods kept hidden with a bitter sense of pride – for who were we to think we could take from them, the very source of what little power they still had over us. But then, much to the amusement of the same Gods, the sea begins to calm losing its momentum and it’s fury. Waves of pleasure began to settle into a calm ripple, a shadow of the moment. In the wake of the fading bliss and ecstasy of enlightenment Cook could feel the tingling from her root chakra in the base of her spine up through each like an unwinding vine spotted with flowers like colourful beads. As her mind’s eye and crown blossomed her innate abilities and connection with her spirituality returned to full bloom.
Her joints popped and gave throughout her body as she stretched like a large, powerful cat, then looked down at her devoured prey. The Good Doctor’s body was still twitching in the spasm of his own orgasm though any sense of sensation had long since left his comatose mind, eyes glazed over like the milky surface of an opal. Cook made the smallest and most half hearted gesture of apology, flinching at the pitiful sight of a man that’d bitten off more than he could chew. She took his lab coat and wrapped it around herself, wasting no time other than to check his pockets for his wallet and anything else she could use.
She tucked her head low and left the room door closed, locked from the outside, before escaping through the hall into the elevator. From the sliding metal doors it was a home stretch, and Cook found a pair of keys in the lab coat pocket that triggered the lock to a porsche.
Things were looking up.
* * *
From the single bedroom bachelor pad Cook got whatever cash, credit, left-behind girlfriend’s clothes and locked away handgun she could find to flee with, knowing his apartment would be under police investigation in only a few hours. It had been days since Cook’s drive through downtown Rhode Island where she paid someone off to switch her license plates then headed into Boston for a night before she was in New York the next day to recover decent clothes and provisions for a rode trip into Detroit. She had no I.D. or license to get on a plane, so driving was her only option.
Sitting on the hood of the stolen porsche, Cook was alone with the night and stars, bundled in a thick coat and blanket that she used for speed naps in the back seat when the driving was getting to her. Often in the form of crippling headaches. In a few hours she’d be in Detroit, but there was something she needed to know first.
The name of the screen of her simple flip phone was staring at her expectantly. A rock of anxiety had swelled in her stomach that made Cook sick— not because of her nervousness, but because she was even recognizing these emotions. She had thought, she had hoped, that when her heart died so would of the baggage of these other sensations.
Leave it to this damn bastard to be what kept her humanity. The irony was uncanny.
Cook hit the green phone call button, and waited for the ‘calling’ to become a ticking of numbers indicating that it had been answered before she put it to her phone.
Her lips parted— and then she froze, ears filled with a buzzing that made her deaf to anything on the other end of the line. She coiled and the phone slipped out of her hand, body rolling off the hood with a thud in the dirt. When she finally recovered from the episode she realized her nose and mouth were heavily bleeding, and her head growing more and more swimming. By the time she crawled back into the bar Cook was overwhelmed and passed out in the open door. This wasn’t good.
* * *
It didn’t take a genius to remember the simple logic that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. Cook was trying to force her way into a preoccupied space, and though she was essentially a duplicate of the already existing object the space itself was not attuned to her existence the way it was for the other, thus the other was being favored.
Well fuck. She was dying.
In the mirror was a stranger; a woman with shallow eyes and pale skin spotted with yellow bruising. Constant blood from her nose and mouth had stained the skin of her face and neck, and she’d already gone through so many shirts it was just not worth changing them anymore. Days were hard on her, the three she’d been spending in Detroit, she spent most of her time sleeping in a single star motel bed quickly running out of cash and resources. At this point, she was entirely out of options, and Cook refused to just roll over and die like this.
Having bummed a cigarette from the woman downstairs (who thought Cook had some awful disease and wouldn’t approach without a napkin over her mouth) Cook filled her bathroom with smoke as she sat in the hot water of the tub, fingering her phone. The name that’d show up before was back up on display again, it’s straight lines in the four letter name looking impatient. Fisk. Cook took a deep breath, and put the dialing phone to her ear.
“Hello, my dear Michael. I’m in trouble. … I need your help.”
* * *
“What the fuck do you want? This had better not be some last minute complication about the translation. We are -going- to Irem. I don’t give a fuck what your boytoy says, Cook”
She couldn’t help it— she laughed at the ridiculous of her situation and had to find her voice again. “Wrong one, Michael.”
“No, I’m not hearing this. I have enough ghosts and guilt haunting me. You died. I saw the line break at Peregrine. I saw it. Fuck you. I don’t … . just … no.”
“We were in that small, smoky Preatoria club and you were just about to put a gun to my head because I was going to push the wrong button. I told you I wasn’t like Alice because I wasn’t afraid to die—that I was willing to go to the other side and find out everything I could about that world too then I’d come back and tell you all about it.” A moments pause, then she added. “… I know how this sounds.”
“You’re an awfully detailed hallucination.”
“Look at your phone, my dear Michael. Ask a stranger to if you have to— this call is real. And I—… I need your help.”
“—-Fine. What do you need? And no, I’m not going to fucking Caracosa.”
She laughs. “As we both known, it’s simple logic that two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time. I’m trying to coexist alongside a duplicate in the same space, and apparently that space is favoring the previous occupant. — So I’ll cut to the point: Her or me, Michael? In the end is going to be your call. Because I can’t do this alone.”
“You understand me. Not much of a choice. What do you need?”
She was silent for a moment. He probably caught her off guard. “I— I uh, I need to need a way of getting my hands on very specific items and information. I’m not in a… condition to do it alone. You can’t do it because your face is recognizable. Do you have anyone within Ascension I could use who she doesn’t know? They don’t need to be good at anything, they just need to be competent.”
“You won’t want to use someone inside of Ascension. The politics are different than they used to be and most of them feel, justly, that I’m slipping. But I’ve someone you could call. I’ll send a text with the number momentarily. Just say you’re an associate of mine.”
“Alright. I won’t say much more about it. I—” She was interrupted by a hacking cough like her lungs were trying to make a wet and violent escape. When she calmed down her breathing, Cook was watching blood drip from the corner of her eyes and nose into the bath water. “Sorry, I’ll be going. — And… thank you, Michael. I’m glad I didn’t lose everything with the collapse.” Click.
She spat out what may of been a couple teeth and already knew her hair was thinning tremendously. This associate better be useful, because Cook wouldn’t get another chance.
* * *
Prudence was immediately concerned she’d walked willingly into a trap, having been blinded by the kindness extended to her by Fairfield and her own still living naiviety. Stupid stupid stupid. The woman sitting in the dull lit motel room was pushing forty in an unflattering manner and smelt like cheap nicotine and blood. Prudence’s brawler beaten knuckles went white as she balled her fists, not willing to go down without throwing a few punches in and dealing a bit of damage regardless of what she was put against.
“Oh calm down, girl. I’m not even remotely in the mood to deal with an overaggressive brawler. Michael said I could use you.”
“Who the fokken shet is Michael, lad—”
“You will address me as Ma’am, and I am referring to Adam. Now don’t interrupt.”
The blood boiled in her veins that visibly strained on her temple and neck, Prudence feeling the trembling inside her body that always came with flashes of red like she was stepping into a mist. If it was just hand to hand she could take this dying woman, she knew she could, but Prudence knew Cook’s skill wasn’t in physical conflict. Over their heads where the smoke from Cook’s cigarettes and cigarettes before was building up visible images were carved into the wisp of white that hung to the ceiling and placed out scenes like a clouded movie reel. The living smoke showed images of a better version of Cook among recognized individuals, sometimes in groups and sometimes in more intimate settings that Prudence didn’t want to watch. Then there was what could’ve been memories, because they appeared first person with hands shown in the vision often touching the face of an incredibly handsome man with a boy scout smile and chiseled face— but these images were few and small and buried under more and more clouds that played scenes like surveillance footage.
“Now listen very carefully,” Cook started speaking again, leaning back deeper into shadows, “I am going to ask you to do me several tasks that need the utmost discretion. I will give you the means and create opportunities that will make sure you succeed towards my benefit.”
Then she went on to explain the logic of two things not being able to occupy the same space at the same time, and Prudence felt like she was being lectured in school. Prudence left feeling no more comfortable with the situation then when she first showed up, and left to seek out the only person she could think to give her insight. But he was sending her right back to the source of confusion with a note practical pinned to her shirt.
“Said once ya’ memorize it to burn the fokker.” Prudence produced a set of matches in a box, and slammed it down on the table Cook was sitting at before she recreated distance between the two. Prudence didn’t want to catch whatever it was Cook had kicking her ass.
When Prudence finally left again, expected to come back the following morning, Cook was left alone with the slip of paper she immediately recognized as some form of personal note by the penmanship. The language too she could recognized, though not fully understand, and among the persian dialect Cook further noted how complex the direction was and exotic the apparent components necessary were. It was clearly an advance piece of work that outdated much of what had ever passed through her hands, by someone with resources clearly not human and beyond common comprehension.
It really was the perfect gift.
* * *
A frilly scarf, fitting for the time of year, was wrapped up around her neck, her arms and tattoos covered by long sleeves like the long dark jeans down her legs. The beanie slipped down her forehead and close to her eyes was to hide away the blue, delinquent styled mohawk that she knew would get her attention. Once she took out the piercings, and stood with her hands in her jacket pockets, Prudence was confident she’d be able to easily move through the city without attention. In the slums of detroit no one noticed her enter through the emergency exit of a motel, or cared that she’d be using the service shaft to get to the top floor, and certainly none knew she was hiding against the wall over the buttons waiting for the ding of her arrival. A gun nosed in with it’s barrel then swung right to check the empty corner, but Prudence was fast and lucky, wrapping her arm around her greeter’s neck to pin her back and smother her face with the soaked cloth. After a few seconds of struggle she dropped onto the elevator floor completely out cold. It would make getting her downstairs into the garage and into the car waiting for her that much easier.
* * *
On the floor and walls were painted pentacles arranged so that their aspects conjoin at the center of the room where the bed had been pushed to. Laying out, bound by the ankles and wrists was the woman who’d greeted Prudence with a gun loaded by paranoia. There was one other person in the candlelit room; someone inside a rotting vessel that seeked to take the place of her duplicate, and with the help of a mutual contact she now had the means to do just that. By the end of those few hours the two women were alone there was only be one left, still bound to the bed waiting patiently for when Prudence knew it was safe to come back in and untie her— and avoid stepping in the smear of blood staining the carpet like a murder scene chalk outline.
* * *
Cool, stale wind brushed up along her flawless skin as it glowed like a dull winter star out on the fourth floor balcony. Erect around her were the cities massive shadows spotted with dull, bleeding squares of light and occasional neon veins, greeting her as a faceless audience in silent awe to her rebirth.
Prudence nearly tripped over herself when she caught sight of the naked woman leaning over the railing with an ecstasy shaped smile like she were riding the biggest, longest high. “— Shet, lady, put some fokken clothes on!” She looked past her shoulder onto Prudence and watched her slug off her own coat to drape onto the lithe but womanly pale frame.
“Really now, Prudence, nudity is a perfectly natural thing.”
“Ain’t exactly in a fokken natural place, yea’? — Jesus.” By chance she’d glance into the open door and seen inside the motel room made into a satanic love nest for Crowley. It could’ve been the flickering candles or smell of dirty blood that got her attention to glance through the door’s opening, but it was the tingling hand on her cheek that brought it back onto the other. “— Shet.. you’re… What happened to Tit— Cook?”
“I’m right here, Miss Reel. I’ve been reborn. No missing heart, no severed shoulder, no bones carved with hexes or cobweb scars. Touch me.”
The tingling was warm, nearly burning in contrast to the cold air on her skin, like sticking toes in warm water. It wrapped around her wrist and forced her wrap knuckle hand to calm Cook’s cheek, leaving Prudence so caught off guard and struggling between punching her in the mouth or fleeing that she froze.
“Ahh… You can’t feel it, can you?” Her eyes lit up, the white expanding as they widened like the gradually showing rows of bleach white teeth in her moving smile. “I used to have a scar down my face after being thrown through a window. Now all that’s left of it…” She lead Prudence around and away by the shoulders, standing her in the doorway of the room that leaked dim yellow candle light onto their faces. Cook squeezed her shoulder enthusiastically and giggled, the body shaped stain in the floor staring right back at Prudence accusingly.
She’d done this. Someone just died because she’d agreed to do this.
And now she was babysitting some crazy bitch bare ass nude and giggling like someone had said penis in a third grade class.
“Come along now, my dear Prudence, and don’t have such a face. It was a matter of survival. She didn’t stand a chance, you know. The odds were stacked against her— as soon as I had opened my eyes those months ago she was on borrowed time. All she was doing was… keeping my seat warm.”