At the same time that Pauline was facing an amorous Viking while possessing the emanation of a mermaid in another world, Jon was still enjoying the honeymoon phase with the automaton. Since her appearance on the same day that Pauline slipped back in time to the 1950’s, Jon had been pleasantly surprised with how agreeable and eager to please she was.
It wasn’t long, however – for him to start picking up on strange anomalies. At first he ignored them, seeing as he was swept up in the seemingly new and improved Pauline, but he soon noticed subtle differences. One Saturday morning, he decided that he’d go for a walk with their dog, Roman. The canine had reacted strangely to the automaton the first time she entered the house.
Going for walks wasn’t something that Jon liked to do and he’d always been happy to let Pauline do the honors. When the automaton tried to take Roman for a walk the day after she arrived, he growled and refused to go. Jon had chalked it up to the dog being temperamental, but he was perplexed about how pleased he was when Jon grabbed the leash.
One thing that didn’t bother him was how eager the automaton was to please him. The real Pauline was loving and caring, but she was a woman with her own mind and their lives had settled into a comfortable groove which included the occasional sojourn into ten minutes of perfunctory sex.
The automaton hung back until he came in for a kiss – then she responded by getting on her knees. At first he was horrified, as Pauline had usually balked at giving him head, but he readily accepted this aberration with open arms.
He’d kept his mouth shut for weeks but one night the curiosity got the better of him, when he realized that he hadn’t heard one swear word out of the automaton the whole time – which was not like Pauline at all – even though she was a mild-mannered Librarian.
“Sweetie, can we talk?” He asked while pouring himself a cup of coffee after dinner.
The automaton was finishing up the dishes and then started tidying her hair while she looked at herself in the reflection in the window over the sink.
“Of course.” She answered while turning to face him.
“Well, come and sit down.” He said while pulling a chair out for her.
She smiled and came over dutifully.
Jon sat next to her and smiled warmly.
“Is everything alright with you?”
The automaton nodded with a perfect smile.
Her short answers had been giving him the shits for a while. Pauline always enjoyed extrapolating to her heart’s content – to the point where Jon would pretend to fall asleep – which resulted in Pauline throwing a grape or whatever she could find that wouldn’t be too hard to clean up.
That was what annoyed and perplexed Jon lately; the fact that Pauline’s sense of humor had disappeared.
“Well, I don’t mean to be rude Honey but you’ve been acting like a Stepford wife lately. Have you started any new medication?”
The automaton seemed to be confused. Jon couldn’t help noticing her eyelids fluttering ever so slightly.
“Yes, have you been to the doctor lately?”
She shook her head fearfully.
“Should I go?”
Jon stared for a moment, as the realization finally hit home – that something was wrong.
“Well, only if you’re sick Polly.”
He called Pauline Polly when she appeared to be under the weather or acting strange.
“My name is Pauline. Why did you call me Polly?”
The automaton was genuinely confused now. So was Jon.
“Honey, I always call you Polly – for fun. You know that. Look, this is serious. I think we should take you to the doctor tomorrow morning. Can you call June and get her to cover for you?”
“But Jon, I’m not sick.”
The automaton was speaking quietly now, while her eyes narrowed and her mouth set in a tight line.
“I don’t know. I think a check-up wouldn’t hurt. Would you like me to call June?”
There was a method to his madness. He secretly hoped to get June’s opinion.
“If you think it is best, Jon.” She answered with a sweet smile.
Jon got up and dialed June’s number while keeping an eye on the automaton, even though he wasn’t sure why. He’d never been afraid of Pauline but now he was thinking that she was not herself – which was truer than he could’ve imagined.
When June answered the phone she was laughing.
“Hell-oo!” She said in a sing-song voice.
“June, it’s Jon. Can you talk?”
The automaton sat still and stared at Jon with a slight smile.
“Oh, Jon. Okay – but I must warn you – I’ve had three chardonnays!”
“Well, I want to take Pauline to the doctor’s tomorrow and I was wondering if you could cover for her until lunch time.”
“Honey – there’s no ‘covering’ at work. She’s either in or she’s out.”
Jon was annoyed with her flippant attitude. He backed away and moved into the living room, keeping one eye on the automaton – who continued sitting and smiling mildly.
“June!” He hissed. “I need to ask you something!”
“Why are you whispering?” She giggled.
“June, I’m worried about Pauline. I want to know if you can meet with me or talk – when you’re – sober?”
There was a short pause while June took in a breath.
“Oh, yeah. We should talk – but I don’t like the idea of doing it behind Pauline’s back.”
Jon pricked up his ears.
“You know why I’m asking, right?”
She sighed. “Yeah. She’s been strange. Actually, I thought there was something wrong between the two of you.”
Jon felt his flesh crawl when the automaton came into the living room with a plate of cookies. She placed them on the coffee table and then folded her hands in front of her. Jon pretended that everything was fine.
“Okay, June. Thanks for that. I’ll have her in by lunchtime.”
“Jon, are you okay? What’s going on? Is she there?”
“Sure. See you then.”
He hung up, took a cookie and smiled at the automaton, while she stood and stared like a mannequin.
At that time, in another universe, the real Pauline was screaming as a Viking dragged her onto the long ship.
“NO! PLEASE, NO!”
“This one is feisty!”
He was speaking in another language but somehow Pauline knew what he was saying – like she’d been speaking in that tongue her whole life. Her consciousness inside the mermaid’s body was not aware of a soul and it freaked her out – along with her fear of whatever was about to happen. The red haired mermaid shouted down to her in a mocking tone.
“Come on, Doelara! What are you afraid of?”
As she was distracted by the pretty mermaid and the others behind her – kissing the Vikings passionately – she momentarily stopped struggling and was instantly lifted up and over the edge of the ship. Screaming – she began to fight again – but the Viking was stronger. He pulled her close and began to plant kisses all over her face.
The stench of weeks’ worth of dirt and foul breath made her vomit onto the deck. All the men stopped their amorous shenanigans and looked down at the small yet bizarre puddle of yellow liquid, which contained small fish and tiny crabs mixed in with what looked like seaweed and sea sponges.
When they all started laughing – including the other mermaids – Pauline began to cry. The brunette mermaid called out to the red haired one.
“Time to twist, Feyla!”
“Everyone – TWIST!” The redhead announced to the other mermaids.
Pauline was horrified to see the mermaids slap their webbed hands around the heads of the Vikings, who began to scream in fear. She could see the pulsing hands injecting something into the faces of the men. The one who’d hauled Pauline aboard staggered back in horror.
“What’s happening?!” He cried.
Pauline shook her head as the brunette turned to hiss at her.
Suddenly Pauline noticed a slithering inside her mind. Whatever soul there was inside this emanation was now waking out of some kind of self-induced coma. She sensed the trepidation as thoughts started to swirl among her own.
“Oh, no – not again! I can’t – I just can’t!”
Then Pauline felt a strange sensation in her arms. It seemed to be floating from her chest – feeling like she had two hearts pumping wildly as her veins burned throughout her strange body. When she looked down she saw cobalt blue liquid dripping from the palms of her hands onto the deck. She lifted them up and turned them over. There were many tiny pores opening and closing like eyelids, as the blue substance leaked out like blood.
Then the voice spoke directly to her consciousness.
“Who’s that? Who’s there?!”
Pauline wasn’t sure if it was a nervous reaction or if the soul inside was directing her. She lunged at the Viking as he screamed while backing against the side of the ship, then she slapped her hands on his face and felt her skin attaching to his like a suction cup. The vacuum was strong and her veins pulsed even harder as he writhed beneath her – now collapsing onto the deck.
There were no more words inside her mind. She felt a thrill running through her body and her tail curled in excitement. Even though she could still hear the other Vikings screaming and the mermaids laughing, singing and chattering excitedly with guttural sounds, her eyes were trained on the one she was twisting.
Soon his clothes started melting away as the scales began forming on his lower body. She watched as his eyes turned a bright green and his legs fused together. In no time, he had changed into a merman. When he started gasping like a fish out of water, she let go of him and moved back. Her veins were now quiet and the liquid had stopped seeping from her hands.
She was then jolted by a loud booming noise. The brunette was blowing a conch shell into the air, while the other mermaids rolled their captors one by one, into the sea. She turned to Pauline and smiled triumphantly.
“Well done, Doelara. Now – get him into the water before he passes!”
Pauline was amazed at how strong she was, but also at how obedient she was – considering the confusion and sorrow at not having found her way home. The excitement at being able to travel through alternate realms had worn off. She was still reeling over the idea that she was wanted by whatever authorities there were in the parallel portals and the fact that she was considered to be an infiltrator.
She easily dragged the Viking over to the edge and dropped him into the ocean. When she looked down, she saw him struggle for a moment, then he began to wave his hands around like he was getting a feel of his new surroundings.
The brunette slithered up behind her and tapped her on the shoulder.
“Doelara, we have to take them back. What’s wrong with you lately?”
Pauline found herself answering without thinking – or rather – the soul inside was doing the talking.
“Marna – I don’t like it. I think it’s cruel to take over another’s life.”
The mermaid laughed heartily.
“How do you think you came about? None of us were original seeds. Have you forgotten the story of our ancestors?”
Pauline shook her head and was once again amazed with the words coming out of her mouth.
“No, but I still think it’s unfair. I don’t understand why we can’t work towards solving the riddle. Then we wouldn’t need humans, would we?”
Feyla called out before leaping over the other side of the ship.
“Come on – or we’ll turn!”
Marna took Pauline’s hand and they both leaped into the water. The Viking merman was now looking clean and quite handsome, even though he still appeared to be in shock. She instinctively took him by the hand and dragged him behind her as she followed the others, who were delving deep into the dark waters below.