Finally, Bill woke up. It had to have been the most relieving thing that had ever happened in his life. Sure, he had had nightmares before, but they had never been so real. He could still remember the cold, sweaty flesh of Henry’s hand as they jumped into the rift.
It didn’t matter. He just had to shake it all off, as difficult as that would be. Today was his wedding, and it was going to be a joyous occasion and Henry was going to give his speech without destroying the human race. Maybe he wouldn’t give his speech at all.
“Word of advice, you should stop fainting, man.”
“Shit!” Bill felt his soul briefly leave his body as Henry’s head descended into view. His friend’s face loomed just a foot over his own, sporting an obnoxious, dopey grin. “What are you doing in my house?”
“This isn’t your house. It’s my mom’s, actually.”
“What?” Looking around the room from his station on the bed, he did notice a few inconsistencies that might distinguish this from his apartment. Namely, the fact that the room layout was entirely different. That and the fact that wall was made of red bricks whereas his wall was made of normal drywall because he wasn’t from the nineteenth century or a socially reclusive lumberjack.
“Come on, man. Get with the game. Alright, recap; One, Human race is gone, everyone’s dead. Two, you have a chance to save it if you can go through this island gauntlet,” Henry put his finger to his chin, trying to think of something else that had happened so far. Two items didn’t seem dramatic enough to warrant a full recap. “Three! We’re best buds.”
“I’m going to need a second to take all of this in, are you saying that-”
“Alright, if you’re ready let’s get started. Get out of bed, sleepyhead!” Bill was reluctantly tugged down onto the floor and scrambled angrily to his feet.
“Not yet, I need you to-”
“Let’s go, hug me.”
“What? I’m not going to… I’m not going to hug you.”
“Hug me, Bill.”
“You just don’t understand the drama of it all. You don’t get theater.”
“I’m not hugging you right now. It’s not happening.” Strangely, he felt he had to take a stand here. It was a strange hill to die on, but he felt that this was important. Set boundaries. He was not going to hug this man right now, fate of mankind on his back or not.
“Yes it is.”
As two burly, tender arms encompassed his body, he realized he didn’t have a choice in the matter. The first sensation was warm and tender. That was the hug. The second was the piercing agony of teleportation, a feeling not at all as cool as it seemed in the movies. Bill would go on to say that it was ‘actually the most terrible thing I have ever felt in my entire life, holy shit Henry why didn’t you warn me?’ To which Henry responded ‘it’s just like ripping off a band-aid’.
Finally, the whirring, slashing, cell decimating tornado that was teleportation subsided. He decided it would be wise to take five to lay on the floor and cry, entirely unable to open his eyes due to all of his muscles clenching in terror. Yet, as caterpillars emerge from their cocoons into butterflies, he soon emerged from his misery into a shadow of the man he had once been.
“That was actually the most terrible thing I have ever felt in my entire life, holy shit Henry why didn’t you warn me?” He shouted, possibly instilling a suspicious feeling of deja-vu in the reader.
“It’s just like ripping off a band-aid,” His companion replied tenderly, looking at him with a combined sentiment of loving care and complete ambivalence. “Plus, you didn’t feel any of that, you’re just remembering it due to the spot on accuracy of the reconstruction.”
“What?” It was mumbo jumbo beyond his comprehension, but he had a strange suspicion that it was mumbo jumbo that would piss him off to his very core.
“Yeah, you’re actually, like, totally dead now. You know teleportation doesn’t really work like it does in the movies, right? This is the new you. Science fiction authors are full of shit anyways. You know man, I hate science fiction so much. I mean, what’s up with all the space and the space ships and the-”
“Shut up!” Bill yelled, partially out of anger and partially because when Henry started talking about sci-fi he rarely stopped. “Henry you had better be speaking metaphorically! I swear if this isn’t another bullshit metaphor I will shit in your coffin! I’ll make your whole family watch and I will shit in your coffin!” It was arguably the least threatening thing to say to a supposedly immortal being, but it was all he could think up and he believed his tone got the message across. To sum it up; He was upset.
“No, you’re actually really dead ol’ buddy ol’ pal,” Henry bore the jovial, but terrified expression of someone who happened to be both jovial and terrified. On the one hand, he couldn’t actually be harmed. On the other hand, harsh tones were a little scary and his friend was very good at employing them in threatening ways. “Your real body, at least. You see, we copied the exact structure, atom for atom of that old thing, burned it to ash so there wouldn’t be any weird identity crisis, and then we went ahead and pasted it here with some weird magic shit that I don’t quite understand.”
“Oh! Oh that’s where the magic comes in! The magic comes in after I get hugged by a dude and burned to a fucking crisp? Why does it all have to be so technical until then? Did you ever think of just magicking me here and you know, maybe not fucking killing me?”
“No,” He thought for a moment, wondering if that would be possible. Yes it would. Not only would it be possible, it would be easy. Henry just never took the time to think it through. “Though I was sensing some homophobia there, dude. What’s up with the man-hug hate? If you’re going to be this hostile I think I’ll just head out for now. I’ll check in later when you’re being more reasonable. Maybe we can chat about this like adults.”
“Henry don’t you fucking dare!” Yet it was too late. The man (using loose phrasing) disappeared into a puff of smoke. “Get back here! God damn it!”
Regardless of his protest, he was yelling at nothing. Nothing in this vast area of… Wait, what?
Seconds ago, he had been facing the edge of the island, staring at a similar view to what he had seen from the cliff before. However, while on the case of ‘where is everything else?’, he found that turning around revealed a much larger space than had previously been shown. Forming a quick pros and cons list in his head, Bill concluded that the number one ‘pro’ was that, at the very least he was still alive. Oh wait, never mind. There were no pros. The pros list was completely empty.
The number one ‘con’ was himself.
Not in any deep, emotional way. It was much more literal than that. Across a wide field of swaying green grass, a figure stood, his calves caressed by the overgrown meadow as it crept up to his knees. A backdrop of large, dark oak trees loomed behind him, the foreshadowing of a forest beyond. If Bill’s eyes weren’t failing him, this figure was Bill. Not him him, obviously, as he was where he was standing, but still him, which he found ever so slightly confusing.
After assessing the situation for a few moments, he decided that the best course of action was to go and talk to himself. There was always a chance that he was no longer himself and that that was him, and in that case he would need to find out who he was now.
“Hello?” He shouted across the expanse, trodding carefully through the grass and having to untangle himself from it’s grasp every few steps.
“Hello!” He responded. It could talk, that was a good thing. Well, it could be a good thing.
“Hey man, do you happen to know what the fuck is going on here?” How was he supposed to explain himself to himself? Was he as confused as he was right now, or did he know what was up?
“Yeah! I think this sign says you need to kill me or something!” Bill would have never expected himself to be so receptive to the idea of being murdered, but it did make things simpler if that really had to happen. Unfortunately, he didn’t want to kill himself, italicized or not. There was something morbid about murdering another human being, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. Leave the philosophy to the philosophers, he thought.
Finally reaching his other self, he saw the shoddy wooden sign he was referring to. It was barely legible, but with a good squint and some patience, he could read;
“Sorry, man. So sorry. But fuck you.”
“This doesn’t say anything about killing you.” Bill looked up at himself in confusion.
“Mm hmm, mm hmm, yeah, it doesn’t, does it? It doesn’t say anything like that at all, now that I think about it? Oh I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry. It’s just. I just. I want to get out of here! And she, and she said that if I help her she’d let me…!”
“Wait, what? I’m sorry, catch me up here. Why are you apologizing? Who is she? Better yet, who are you?”
“I’m just you, Bill. Just you. Just you, but with a lot more life experience. Too much life experience. I need this to stop, man,” His body double grabbed his shoulders, shaking him violently. “I’ve got to get out here. She said she’d let me leave! She said I could get out!” Bill was becoming increasingly scared of himself.
“Hold on, man! We are not on the same page! Just give me a second to catch up, okay?” He was not given a second to catch up.
He stepped back from himself, throwing his hands to his side and staring upwards into the maw of the star spangled abyss. His chin slowly dropped, parting his lips from the outside in. Then, almost imperceptible to the human ear, a sound crept gently out of the corners of his mouth. It came again. Then again. The repetitions only served to muddle Bill’s understanding further. It almost sounded like he was speaking backwards.
What he failed to understand was that he was not mumbling a word at all. It was a name.
“Can you… Please stop that? You’re freaking me the fuck out, man!” The noise continued to seep from his mouth, coagulating with it’s previous iterations to fill the air with a muggy fog. “Oh, what the fuck?”
Other Bill’s head snapped back down, settling his gaze on our Bill. He almost looked calm. Composed. Was he done?
Short answer, yes.
The ground beneath him burst open, chunks of soil flying through the air. Bill stumbled backwards, trying to cover his eyes and tripping over the overgrown flora that surrounded him. A gargantuan snake lurched up from the blown out hole, raising it’s reptilian head to the sky. In one smooth motion, it abducted Other Bill into it’s large fanged mouth and threw him into the air. In another, less smooth and rather weird to watch motion it swallowed him whole.
“Oh! What the fuck?” Now was not the time to be getting confused. Now was the time to run for dear life.
Bill frenziedly attempted to right himself, digging his hands into the malleable soil and launching back to his feet.
He slipped between the trees, low hanging branches scraping at his head as he sprinted by. The only thing he had in his favor was that the snake was too big to fit in-between some of the closely bunched trunks. That factor was against him as well as it confirmed that it was a really big snake.
And suddenly, Bill didn’t trip and fall on a stray root. Though, if he had it would be a surprise to no one. He was worried that just thinking about the common forest-bound cliche would jinx it into reality, but there were surprisingly few roots above the crinkling, dead leaves anyways.
Yet, even without falling down, he was unsure if he would be able to escape the swiftly slithering serpent. Perhaps it would trip on a root? It’s lack of limbs made placed such an event somewhere between unlikely and impossible, but impossible was hardly relevant anymore. The only real possibility for survival here was if Henry popped up with some magical supernatural garbage, but he had already professed to being almost useless.
Looking backwards into the maw of the very sharp toothed, very large mouthed, very menacing snake, Bill had trouble keeping up morale. This was where he was going to die, wasn’t it? I know I’d bet my money on it.
Glancing back one last time, he discovered that this grim thought may never be realized. It appeared that the snake was no longer chasing him. In fact, it’s head had been entirely replaced by a tremendous metal object, and a stomach churning puddle of viscous pink chunks. After turning around in full, he noticed that the new head was not a head at all. It looked to be an arrow of some kind, but he couldn’t imagine a bow big enough to fire it. Strange carvings ran up and down the shaft, depicting… Depicting something, presumably. Perhaps Bill lacked a sculptors eye and thusly couldn’t appreciate the etchings, but to him they just looked like wiggly shapes. Like what a child would draw if you gave them paper and a crayon.
The amateurish carvings below stood in stark contrast to the intricate statue atop the arrow; A gruff looking man, immortalized in bronze, with an absurdly ornate eye-patch and a silly detective overcoat. Stranger yet, he found that this statue breathed (a rather uncommon trait in metal).
“Hello?” He called out, mildly upset that he hadn’t noticed before. “Dude I know you’re a person. Or I think I know. I mean, if you are a person then say something cause otherwise I’m not really gonna know. You know?”
“Yeah, yeah I’m here. Just give me a second to get down.”
The man’s voice was low and raspy and his limbs lacked the ability to climb. Given his clunky, awkward movements, Bill would have believed that he had been a statue at some point. This was just him growing accustomed to leading a human life. While one foot planted itself in the crevices of the huge arrow, the next missed entirely, sending him tumbling down into the mucky mess of snake brains with a groan and a thud.
“So… You’re Bill, huh?” The statue asked as he sloppily raised himself, stumbling multiple times and coating himself in yet more snake sludge with each attempt. It looked like some kind of terrible modern art project. Take the coat and drop it in a museum, it’s an exhibit. On second thought, they would take the man as well.
“Yeah. I think so.” Now that he could look closer at the snake brain and bronze paint covered figure, he found that it looked just like himself.
“Me too,” New Bill groaned. “I bet you have a couple questions, right?”
“A few.” He replied. He was still in shock from the whole ‘almost getting eaten by a snake thing’. Finding a second copy of himself only served to make it worse.
“Come with me.” And so he did. He didn’t have the energy to protest. If there were giant snakes roaming around, he didn’t want to be left alone anyways.
“Shh!” His bronze self shushed him sharply. “Just wait a minute. You don’t want to make too much noise around here.”
If anything, this guy seemed like a veteran of this place. It was probably best to trust his word. Even if he walked like he had spent his life till now on four legs.
As they journeyed through the forest, the stress started to trickle out of Bill’s mind. He imagined it as a malicious black grime, pouring out of his ears in tiny waterfalls. His head was clearer now. He could think. Not that it did him much good.
No amount of thought could explain what was going on. World ending events, gauntlets, clones, snakes, magic, demi-gods. None of it made any sense at all, but it still felt good to think. Now that he could take a moment to look around, the forest was actually quite peaceful.
It was quiet and painted in a variety of luscious greens and browns. Bushes speckled what little space there was to walk, their weak arms brushing against the two as their feet crackled on the fallen leaves below. Light tumbled down through the tree branches overhead, the filtered remnants grateful to shine on the calm, wooded domain.
Minutes ago he was being chased through here by a rampant reptile. It was hard to believe that in those minutes passed it had gone from the hurried frenzy of a high speed chase to this serene calm.
“We’re here.” A large tree stood before them, much thicker than the rest. Walking around to the side, they came upon a large circular opening that gave way to a hut-like space within.
The bronze man ducked into the hollow, seating himself around a fire pit dug in the center. Bill followed cautiously, looking around the carved out abode. Brown-white wood stared back at him from all angles, faint scratches etched on every inch of wall. Like the drawings on the arrow, they couldn’t be found to resemble anything.
“Sit down.” Forest Bill patted the ground beside him.
Bill sat, but not where indicated. It seemed to him that that would be quite uncomfortable. There was a whole circle around the fire pit, why would he sit right next to this guy? He decided to sit across from him instead.
His host snapped at the pit and the wood within burst into flames. That definitely seemed odd, but so did everything else about this guy.
“So… Analprincess…” Bronze Bill whispered wistfully.
“What?” The two exchanged glances that made it quite clear they were both in very different stages of this conversation.
“You want to know about Analprincess, right?” He probably did, no doubt. There had to be a great story behind that nickname. It just seemed like a story for another time.
“I’d prefer if we focused on this island. And why were both Bill, and why I got chased by a big snake, and how you killed that snake, and the fire thing, that was a little weird and, uh, and yeah I’ve got a couple more questions, but that should start us off.”
“Hmm,” His other self’s painted head nodded knowingly. “Then you want to know about Analprincess.”
“I really don’t think I-”