08 January 2010
By Curtis C. Chen
Laura didn't notice the fog until it had eaten away an entire wall. She ran out of the bathroom, her hands still soapy and wet. Most of the building was gone, leaving only the hallway between her office and the executive washroom. There was nowhere else to go.
The fog swallowed her, and there was a moment of disorientation before Laura found herself in a featureless gray limbo.
"No," Laura groaned. "Not now!"
"Who are you?" said a familiar voice behind her.
Laura turned and saw a woman in pink pajamas. For Laura, it was like looking into a funhouse mirror and seeing an obese caricature of herself.
"This is definitely the strangest dream I've had in a long time," said the fat woman.
"It's not a dream," Laura said.
She lunged at the fat woman, who slipped out of Laura's soapy grasp and elbowed her down to the ground, then sat on her back and pinned her there.
"Well," the woman said, "at least physics works normally in this dream."
"It's not a dream!" Laura shouted.
The fog had first come for her in college, and that first switch had been the most traumatic. It wasn't just killing her doppelganger, who wouldn't stop screaming. Going from her own dorm room to a cramped studio apartment shared with a boorish husband and two screaming brats had been a tremendous shock.
She had suffered in that life for two long years before the fog appeared a second time. Laura had no idea where the fog came from. She only knew what it did. Every time she dispatched one of her other selves, she got to take over that other's life.
Laura did her best to fit into each new life and forget the often terrifying battles to the death she fought in limbo. For nearly a decade, the lives she won had gotten progressively better. And then the fog had stopped coming.
But now it had returned, and here was this fat-housewife version of Laura. If Laura killed her, Laura would have to take over that miserable existence. That was how the fog worked; whichever Laura survived limbo got sucked into the other's universe.
"Kill me," Laura said.
"I know this is confusing," Laura said slowly. "Only one of us can leave this place—"
"I'm not hard of hearing," said the fat woman. "I understood what you said. But why should I kill you? We just have to wait for the fog to clear."
Laura gaped. "You've been here before?"
"Sure," the fat woman said. "I was a little confused this time, because I was sleeping, but—wait a minute!" She looked down at Laura. "Are you telling me you've never merged before?"
"Merged?" Laura said, her voice cracking.
The fat woman grabbed Laura's hand and squeezed. "You're going to love the kids."
"I don't want to die," Laura sobbed. When had she started crying?
"Don't be silly," said the fat woman. "We're both going to live."
The fog retreated, and a new world came for them.
Photo: view of morning fog from Sea Lion Caves in Florence, Oregon, October, 2009.