Emily and Eddie, again:
“I can’t live with it, Emily. The pain is unbearable.”
“We all live with it. That unbearable terror is what makes us such singular creatures. We hide from it, we flee from it, we succumb to it, mostly we defy it! We build fragile little structures to keep it out. We love, we raise families, we work, we make friends. We write poems, we paint pictures, we build beautiful things. We make our own universe, our own truth, we believe in our own reality. And every now and then someone like you comes along who goes out to challenge it face to face. Passionate men. Poets, philosophers, saints and scientists. You’re a man of extraordinary passion, Eddie. What the hell do you think makes me love you so much?”
“Listen to me, Emily. What happened to me last night can happen at any time—even right now, while I’m talking to you. That drug I’ve been using must have a latency factor. I don’t know how much of it has accumulated in my limbic nuclei. It could be self-perpetuating. The chemical potential is there. I’ve attained a critical mass. Any act of consciousness could kick it off. Because whatever act of consciousness occurred last night is embedded in me just as much as the drug is. So it could happen at any time.”
He was, she was shocked to see, crying. “Oh, God!” he cried out. “I’m sorry I brought this up, really. It wasn’t what I wanted to say to you. All I really wanted to say this morning is that I love you. I just wanted to make you happy this morning. You are a marvelous thing, Emily. I just wanted you to know that I feel that way about you. But it’s too late, you see.”
He slowly raised his right arm and extended it for her to see. The vivid sunlight bleached it, made it look sepulchrally white. A bulge of protoplasmic substance was moving slowly up his arm under the skin like a mole. She stared, momentarily stunned. She sensed, then she heard a hum, a horrible resonating hum, the throbbing sound of the pulsing primal energy forces she had heard in the isolation room the night before.
“Defy it, Eddie!” she screamed. “You made it real! You can make it unreal. If you love me, Eddie, defy it!”
He was crying helplessly now, his cheeks glistening with the tears. His body began to rumble, crack and buckle as if forces inside it were about to break through the surface. He began to rapidly change shapes and forms, some recognizable, some merely monstrous. He seemed to have no more substance than a photograph, a projected illusion, a demented kaleidoscope of instant, transitory, transparent images flickering madly in the wide shaft of sunlight. The hideous hum had become insufferably penetrating. She clutched her ears trying to obliterate the sound, and closed her eyes tightly because she couldn’t bear to watch any longer. When she opened them again, she saw a quick, fleeting image of her husband reaching out his arms to her for help, but she was petrified, utterly immobilized. The arms turned to stumps. She finally forced out the loudest sound she could manage, a sibilant hissing whisper, and then said, “If you love me, Eddie!”
She felt something within herself explode, a silent, painless pain of terror, and she clutched at her stomach, the blanket falling from her shoulders and slipping down to the floor at her feet. She knew what it was even before she looked down at her arms, which had begun to bulge and swell and discolor; a jagged crack appeared on her forearm and shot up the length of her arm as if it were splitting open. So the terror was now incarnate for her as well. She slowly forced her arm up so her husband could see. It was a stump, and even that stump was losing its definition as the lines that defined it became wavelike and seemed to melt her into the shrieking air. She was burning alive. She felt a massive shock just inside her skull above the eyes, a horrifyingly red-hot flame erupted within her. She could no longer see. She no longer had eyes, nor a mouth to scream with. She knew where she was going, to the lifeless arctic, final desolation.
She thought she heard a scream, an echo of a scream, light-years away in the ultimate blackness, not quite a scream perhaps, rather a roar of rage, the fury of a raging animal. Her husband’s human form, flickering in and out of the madness of all his other shapes, was reasserting itself. He was standing staring at her, a complete naked human form, but as immobile, emmarbled as a statue, stark white, and then, with a shocking wrench of effort, he began to move toward her, forcing humanness into himself. One step, two, he reached out to embrace the shapeless antimatter that was herself. She felt an enormous surge of emotion sweep through her, a remarkable joy.
It was over, instantly, abruptly over. The hum, the lunacy of illusion, the whole shattering moment, was done. They stood in the middle of the room, a slight, light-haired man of thirty-seven, beginning to bald just a bit but looking boyish at the moment in his jeans and T-shirt and bare feet, smiling, at least it seemed he was smiling; and a slim, gracefully naked young woman, her face pressed against his real body, her arms wrapped desperately around his real waist, a pair of young living human beings standing embraced in the white sunlight of their living room.