Lying on his stomach on the small single bed, Terrence Dechantagne breathed a heavy sigh as Pantagria rubbed his back. Her powerful fingertips found every sore muscle, every angry nerve ending, every spot filled with fatigue or stored unease, and kneaded it out of existence. He could feel her naked buttocks sitting on his and her naked legs on either side of his stomach. Both were warm, far warmer than a human body should be, as if she was running a fever, but then she wasn’t human. She wasn’t even real.
She finished massaging him and got up, walking across the small room.
“How was that?” she asked.
“Good. Very good.”
He closed his eyes and savored being here, where he felt so good. This was only the second time in a fortnight that he had been able to find a place for his real world body to lie undisturbed while he “saw” the world in which he truly felt he belonged. He drifted off into a slumber and wondered in his half-awake state, if he fell asleep here and began to dream, what world would he find himself in then? Would he dream himself back into the real world? He didn’t want that to happen, so he forced himself awake again, and sat up on the bed.
Across the room, Pantagria stood in front of a wall-mounted mirror. Her graceful, tanned body was the very picture of perfection. Her snow white feathered wings were outstretched, almost touching the walls to her left and right. Their broad expanse shielded her head from his view for a moment. He stood up so that he could see her perfect, beautiful face. Only then did he see what she was doing. She had a straight razor in her right hand, and with her left hand, she was gathering great bunches of her golden hair and slicing through it. Half of her head was already denuded. In some places the hair that was left was an inch or two long, while in other places she was left nearly bald.
“What are you doing?” he asked, more shocked by this unusual behavior than he would have been if Iolanthe or Yuah or some other real woman had done it.
“Do you remember when you came to me last time? It was the night of the dance.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“We didn’t dance,” she said, as she continued to hack away at her hair.
“I didn’t want to dance,” he said. “I wanted to make love to you.”
“Do you remember what you called me?”
“What I called you? No. I don’t remember.”
“You should. You call me the same thing every time you visit me.”
“What did I… what do I call you?”
“You called me ‘perfect’.”
“You are perfect.”
“I’m tired of being perfect,” her voice became a growl. “I want to be real. I want to be in the real world.”
“You can’t be,” he said. “I don’t want you to be. This is all just a dream. This is my dream. This is my haven. This is where I come, because I can’t stand life in the real world.”
She folded her wings and turned around. Only a few stray bits of long hair remained on her head. She placed the palm of her hand on his chest and shoved him back onto the bed.
“If I can’t be real because I’m perfect, then I’ll make myself real by making myself imperfect.” She turned back around and began to use the razor for its original purpose by shaving her head, starting on one side and moving across. Terrence watched her in stunned silence. She scraped the razor again and again across her head, leaving numerous small red scratches and a few cuts from which tiny red rivulets of blood flowed. She shaved her entire head bald.
“Pantagria,” he finally said. “I don’t think this is going to help you or me.”
She turned around once again, stepped toward him, and placed her left palm on his cheek.
“How do you know?” she asked, and then kissed him on the lips.
“This world isn’t the real world. It’s all in my mind. There’s no way to go from here to there.”
She hissed. “You do! You do it all the time!” She swung her right hand across his face. The blade of the straight razor sliced through both his nostrils.
He cried out in pain and was suddenly sitting in the corner of the supply closet where he had been when he had rubbed the white visio on his eyeballs. His eyes were tired but that was not why they were watering so profusely. His nose hurt like hell, and he looked down to see a huge amount of blood running down onto the front of his shirt.
Getting up, he grabbed a white towel from a stack on a shelf nearby and pressed it to his face. It was quickly turning red. It was the only bit of color in the room of white and grey. Still holding the towel to his bleeding nose, he opened the supply closet door and peered out into the hall in both directions. There wasn’t a person in sight. He stepped out into the hallway and closed the door behind him. He moved quickly away from his hiding place. He had to take the towel away from his nose in order to climb a ladder up to the next deck. The blood began to drip quickly again as he climbed.
On the next deck, he pinched his nose with the towel to try and slow the blood flow, but winced in pain. He looked around for a moment and then realized where he had to go. He stepped quickly along forward, but had to stop after a moment and lean against the wall because he was feeling lightheaded. He took a few deep breaths and continued on. At last he came to the cabin door he needed, and knocked. The door popped wide open and the broad body, big stomach, and round rosy face of Father Ian appeared.
“Good to see you, Captain Dechantagne!” boomed Father Ian’s voice. “Don’t stand out in the hallway. Come in. Come in. Good gracious, what has happened to you?”
“I cut myself shaving,” said Terrence, pulling the towel away from his face. “I was hoping that you could help.”