A-R passed much of the day fiddling about with his Dune site, Bene Tleilax. A large number of new (and mostly ridiculous) fiction postings had accumulated and they needed cataloguing. He sorted them slowly into their scores of categories—hurt/comfort, Chapterhouse Era, Jihad Era, many dozens of permutations of slash-fic, Duncan this-and-that, Harkonnens, et cetera—and added the appropriate tags, rejected a few that were not complete enough entries. He answered a few emails and social media posts, mostly related to the suicide panic of a few weeks previously. He explained again that the infamous “The End?” pic was not a suicide note, that he would not himself commit suicide, that he discouraged people generally from committing suicide. Enough now with suicide, said he to all.
He checked his dad’s Facebook page. It continued to accrete masses and long threads of comments, expressions of mourning, wellwishes to A-R and Chris, photo tags, even now all these months after Brace’s passing. He checked Chris’s Facebook page and Chris’s Updator feed. There had been no activity since his arrival in Wisconsin, save for one entry on that date stating that he’d arrived, with a pic of the front of the house. “They say you can never can go home again,” he said. “And ‘they’ are correct.” Then, as A-R stared at this post, a new one appeared. Its date was weeks earlier, Facebook itself now somehow reconciled to the disconnect between “now” there and now in the rest of the world. It was a picture of that kid that A-R had seen during his last vidcall with Chris, the one named Ledger Priest. In the image, Ledger bit into a taco bursting with meat and cabbage. It looked like hot sauce had run down his chin and dripped onto his bare chest. “His father says,” read the caption, “that this boy will be the One who eats the whole old world and finally draws to our puny planet the attention of Great Cthulhu. I don’t know about all that, but I can attest that he is always very hungry.” A-R clicked “like” on this post and wondered when exactly Chris might notice this response in his ever more disconnected timeframe. He wondered, too, about the offspring that he’d supposedly seeded in Lastain. If Ledger was the One, then was Lastain a couple decades too late in starting her own bizarre project of progeny?
Gloom of winter twilight fell and A-R looked out the window of his study, saw the car still down there, saw evidence of a couple of lights turned on in Lastain and Haider’s house. I could just call them, he thought. Casually see what’s up. He picked up his phone and opened his recent-calls log and then his contacts and soon realized that he actually didn’t have either of their phone numbers. Somehow, in their association so far, they’d never traded numbers. It annoyed him that he was bothered by their apparent lack of interest in him. It reminded him of phases during high school when he knew that friends—or other kids that he might have wished were his friends—were known to be hanging out together somewhere and he was alone, wondering if a call to join them would ever come through. Yet there it was: he was indeed bothered by it and he decided to deal with it directly.
He crossed the street.
The seven feet of Haider loomed in the door, shrouded in shadow, little of the light from indoors reaching around his bulk. “Oh, come in, Arthur,” he said, “I was going to come and get you in a minute anyway. We just got home. Or I guess we did this morning.” He stood aside waved A-R indoors.
Arthur-Rimbaud had never been inside this house, had never been acquainted enough with its previous occupants over the years to have been so invited. But it was much like his own, a typical early twentieth-century brick home of the neighborhood, once a two-family flat but converted at some point into a single-family house. He smelled cigarette smoke, and something either cooking or having been recently cooked. It was very warm inside, but dark, a lone table lamp glowing in the front room, a dark hallway that probably led into the kitchen. “What’s been going on?” he wondered.
“We went to the emergency room night before last. I’m sorry. I should have called you. I didn’t have your number. Come on in here.” He led A-R into the dark hall and through it into the kitchen. It was brighter in there. A pot of soup simmered on the stove. It smelled like beans and ham. “I was inspired by you to try to learn to cook something.” He pulled A-R by an elbow toward the stove. “Does this look right?”
“I—” A-R began, and then stopped, not sure how to answer. “Um, it smells really good. I am sure it’s right. I mean, if it smells good and looks good, then it generally tastes good.” He looked up at Haider, whose brow was creased as if still worried about A-R’s possible judgment upon his soup.
“I got a recipe,” Haider said, “from the Cooking Channel website. And then I went to Circus of Foods and got the stuff for it. But they didn’t have the right beans. It was supposed to be ‘flaj-oh-lets,’ but I got cannellini beans.”
“That’s fine,” A-R assured. “They are basically the same thing. It will be fine.”
“Oh good.” Haider seemed to relax, even lost a couple inches of height in his relieved lassitude. “Let's have a drink.” He pulled white wine and a couple of beers from the refrigerator and absinthe from the top of the refrigerator. He gathered glasses from a shelf in his huge hands and set it all out on the countertop. “Have whatever you want. We have plenty.”
“Haider. What is going on?”
“What?” Haider poured absinthe shots for them both.
“You said you went to the emergency room!”
He recoiled a bit, slammed his shot. “Oh yeah! I didn’t tell you yet. Lastain got really sick. Later that night. You know, the night after we…”
“Yes,” said A-R tightly. “Continue!”
“So I took her to Emergency, and they checked her out and did some tests. Then they decided to keep her in the ICU for a night, and then the next day—this morning—they sent us home. They think she’s fine, just tired. Other than that, they say she is four months pregnant.”
Arthur-Rimbaud considered this for a few moments, sipping his absinthe. What this would mean normally, in any reasonable world, was just that: she was four months pregnant. Meaning that she had been about four months pregnant already a couple days earlier when A-R had, at their behest, attempted to impregnate her. “But that’s not what you mean,” he said.
Haider, confused: “Mean what?”
“Are you going to tell me that she was not pregnant when we did our thing together, and that she has suddenly become four months far along already?”
“Dude,” Haider said, “that is exactly what I am going to tell you.”
“I don’t know if it’s going to keep progressing at this rate,” said Lastain. She sat on a stool at the kitchen counter, occasionally eating a bite of Haider’s flaj-o-let soup. She had an obvious abdominal bulge where there had been no hint of such just a few days before. She wore a tattered Gang of Four t-shirt and she let it ride up in front, baring a bit of her belly. A-R noticed that she was not wearing her Cult Cthulhu necklace, but just as he noticed its absence, she picked it up off the counter and put it on. It must have been resting there the whole time, but he hadn’t noticed it. “But if it does, then it’s not long until I am due and I need to be in the right place for it.”
She and Haider gazed at Arthur-Rimbaud as if awaiting some useful advice from him. But, “I have no clue what the hell you might mean. Right place? What’s that?”
“I think we’re going to make a trip to Wisconsin,” she said.
A-R didn’t like the sound of that. He said, “I have been trying and failing to get my dad—my other dad—to come the fuck home from there. His dad lived there and died about the same time that mine did, and left him an old house that he went up there to try to sell. Do you know about what’s happening up there?”
Haider nodded. “Something weird with time,” he said. “Like it’s somehow earlier there. And it's hot.”
“Yeah,” A-R said and poured himself another drink. “But how do you know about what’s happening there?”
“We have heard things,” Lastain said. “From our channels.”
“I have found some videos and stuff like that online,” Haider added.
But it’s too weird, A-R said, “Because no one is talking about it! You have to research it, find videos, find totally obscure accounts. It should be the biggest deal that has ever happened. Ever!”
“The Dust,” Haider and Lastain said roughly simultaneously.
“But since the Dust,” A-R said. “The Dust was weird, sure. The Wasting was weird. There’s been a lot of crazy shit. But this is fucked up: hot summer in January over Wisconsin, and only there. And it being a different time there, and no one seems to notice!”
Lastain and Haider were quiet for a moment. Then Lastain said, “I don’t know what to say about all of that. But we know that there are things going on up there, and I think I need to be there, too. If our child is going to be born soon.”
During his days of association with Lastain and Haider, A-R was well aware of their allegiance to the Cult Cthulhu, but their usually understated way of portraying this about themselves usually lulled him into forgetting about it. But tonight there was no ambiguity: they were committed cultists, and they believed that Lastain was carrying a child that had some kind of destiny in the context of their religion. He considered the image from Chris’s Facebook page, of Ledger with hot sauce running down his body, perhaps another living avatar of this same worldview. They were going to do what they were going to do, and there was no point in someone like A-R trying to offer another perspective. So he said, “I hope everything works out well for you,” the only thing he could have said.