A Dreamscapes Story
by Alicia VanNoy Call
When I get Celia's note on Friday afternoon, I'm not sure what to think. It's penned on the back of a receipt and scotch-taped to the fridge and it says: Meet me at this cabin for a romantic weekend. Let's rekindle our fire! XoXo! And it has directions. We weren't what you would call a fiery couple, even at the beginning, so I'm really not sure what to think.
But I don't think it's a plot to murder us. Of course I don't think THAT.
I send her a text. She doesn't reply, as usual. So I shave, turn off the coffee maker, put my email on autoreply, and gas up the car. I get a little lost on the drive, but a guy walking his dog next to the winding road points me in the right direction. By the time I'm pulling onto the unpaved road leading to the cabin, the sun is nearly down. The cabin sits back in the trees, with an awning of black branches curled overhead. Lightning bugs brush the tall grasses on either side.
I pull up to the front of the cabin and park sideways in the gravel. I've got my bag with a change of clothes and a dozen roses for Celia and when I climb onto the porch, I can see through the screen door into the living room. There's a sofa and two chairs around a fireplace and a little lamp on a side table. I can smell cinnamon potpourri. Celia is sitting in one of the chairs, her back to me.
“Celia,” I say through the screen, but she doesn't move.
So I open the screen door and set my bag by the coat rack. The coat rack has one coat on it, Celia's, black.
I cross the area rug to Celia's chair and stand behind it and say, “Celia,” while I put my hand on her shoulder. Her head kind of tips forward and then it tumbles down, bleached hair streaming, and bounces off her knees. It comes to rest on the hearth, eyes open and staring, lips parted in surprise.
I yelp and hold the flowers in front of me like a shield.
Some of her hair has fallen too close to the flames and it starts to smoke.
I look at the head. I look at her slumped shoulders. The neck has been severed with precision. There's no blood. The lifeless hands sit open, palms up, on her meaty thighs.
“Hello, Roger,” says Celia's voice behind me.
I turn and there's Celia. A real Celia, like the Celia whose head fell off, but younger, slender, dressed in a red gown that seems to slither in the firelight. A Celia that looks familiar, like in the days when we still wouldn't have been described as fiery, but when we were younger. And I say, “What on earth?”
She smiles. Her skin is taut. Her eyes are a little too wide and her teeth are extremely straight.
“Are those for me?” She gestures to the roses.
There's something reptilian in her smile, like a forked tongue might slip between her teeth, so I say, “Yes?” and hold them out her.
She reaches out long manicured fingers, white and perfect, to grasp them. She holds them up to her face and breathes in long and deep.
“I love roses,” she says.
“I know,” I say. But I really want to say: I must be dreaming.
“You're probably wondering why you're here,” she says.
I look at headless Celia. The burned-hair smell stings my nose.
“I'm a clone,” says New Celia. “Obviously.”
“Obviously,” I say.
“Celia had me commissioned for when she's . . . finished,” says New Celia. “Then she would be uploaded and I would take over. I decided I didn't want to wait that long, so here I am.” She points. “And there's Celia. Finished.”
I raise my eyebrows.
“There can't very well be two Celias,” she says.
I nod. Part of my brain can see the logic in that. Another part of my brain is screaming at me to GET OUT GETOUTNOW.
“But – ,” I say.
“But why are you here?” says New Celia. “You wouldn't ask that if you knew who was waiting for you in the kitchen.”
I look over her shoulder at the closed door that must lead to the kitchen.
“What – ,” I say.
New Celia smiles again. “Well, Roger,” she says. “Well.”
And I hear a wisp of sound beyond the door – like a knife leaving the block.
“There can't very well be two Rogers, can there?”