by Doc Quantum
The late afternoon sun shone hotly through the kitchen windows as a radiantly beautiful woman put the finishing touches on a birthday cake. It was a triple-layer chocolate cake that she had elaborately decorated with icing in different shades of green. She wore a content smile upon her face as she finished writing a message on the cake, which read, To my darling husband Matthew: Happy Birthday!
The young woman casually brushed an errant lock of platinum-blonde hair from her face, tucking it around her right ear. Matthew would be home soon, and she wanted everything to be perfect. Everything had to be perfect, because everything was always perfect.
She smiled and sighed as she looked at the cake she had baked and decorated. It was indeed a fine piece of work.
But a frown creased her brow as something began to trouble her. Was there something wrong with the cake? She peered at it more closely now. No, she could see nothing wrong with it, but still she felt somewhat disturbed. Was it the way the light of the alien sun shone upon it? Was it the words she had chosen, or the crumbs that had fallen from it before she’d placed icing on it? No, she decided; it was the color of the icing. That shade of green wasn’t right; it should have been bright and lively, almost glowing, but instead it looked earthy, like a weed she could have pulled from her garden back on Earth. It looked like the shade of a particular plant she’d once seen in the swamps.
The swamps? When had she ever been in the swamps? A look of confusion and panic suddenly overtook her face. Why couldn’t she remember? It was important to her, very important, but now she’d forgotten.
As Abigail Arcane Cable began to sink to her knees, lost in the peculiar kind of despair known only to Alzheimer’s patients, the front door opened.
“Honey, I’m home!” called Lieutenant Matt Cable. “What’s for dinner?”
Abby frowned in confusion and brushed a tear from her eye, then rose and shook her head. A contented smile slowly crept back on her face as she cleared her throat. “I-it’s a surprise, dear,” she finally managed to say, her voice croaking on the words.
“What’s that, honey?” called Matt from the front door. “Are you all right? You don’t sound well.”
“It’s nothing,” said Abby. “Just me being silly again.” There was nothing wrong with the cake, she finally decided. She was just in one of her moods, and it would soon pass. She put it out of her mind as she always did and said, “Say, darling, why don’t we go eat out on the deck tonight? It looks to be a beautiful evening.”
“I don’t know,” replied Matt from the other room, making shuffling noises as he changed out of his work clothes. “The Psirens were spotted twenty miles from here this morning. They’re more likely to head inland if they see anyone outside this evening. I’ve asked Prince Toscos to issue a curfew across his lands until we’ve been able to track them down.”
“Oh, you won’t hurt them, will you, Matthew?” asked Abby concernedly.
“No, not at all, my dear,” replied Matt. “But we do need to relocate them back to their own lands across the sea before they manage to bring any more sailors under their power. It’s too dangerous to let them pass through these lands like any other traveler. And don’t worry — I have no intention of letting them control me with their telepathic song, either. I’ll be wearing a psi-helmet I brought with me from Dimension 42. Spent all day building replicas for the prince’s men.”
“Well, you go and make yourself comfortable in the living room, dear,” called Abby. “Dinner’s not quite ready, and I want it to be a surprise.”
“A surprise?” said Matt, chuckling. “All right, but don’t go all out on my expense, honey.”
“Only the best for my darling,” said Abby.
As the young woman opened the oven and pulled out a roast ham, she had a strange sense of déjà vu, as if she’d done all this before. But that was impossible, of course; they had only arrived on this world in this dimension, house and all, mere weeks ago. Before that, she and Matt had been forced to travel on foot and stay wherever they could find shelter as they traversed the dimensions using Matt’s ability to warp reality. But now that their family was about to grow by one, Matt had built a house for her that could travel with them wherever they went. It would be a permanent shelter and was protected from any number of forces that might attack.
Abby ran her hand over her belly. She had just barely begun to show, now that she was nearing the end of her first trimester; she had learned she was pregnant many weeks ago now.
She couldn’t imagine why she had ever wanted anything else. But as she recalled the time before she was pregnant, she found it hard to remember anything except their constant quarreling. They’d been married for years, but they’d also been separated by his illness for much of that time. Though she couldn’t remember why, it hadn’t been easy for her to take him back when he recovered. Their first few weeks together had been very difficult, and she had even wanted to leave him at one point.
That was when Abby became pregnant. The fact that they were having a baby together had changed everything. She put the past out of her mind and concentrated on being a good homemaker, wife, and expecting mother. Now the past was so firmly out of her mind that she couldn’t imagine living a different life than she had now.
Life with Lieutenant Matthew Cable was exciting. Thanks to the incredible abilities that had once been more of a curse than a blessing when he was ill, the young couple were able to travel beyond the known world into other realities populated by many lifeforms, both familiar and strange. They’d visited some of the extremely bizarre worlds, but Abby preferred the ones that were more familiar, like variations on the fairy tales that her father had read to her when she was young. And now Abby was the princess in a tall castle for real, only the castle was an otherwise modest suburban house on a hill that could move through dimensions at will.
While most women became moody during pregnancy, Abby found herself becoming blissfully content. Only, there were times when a kind of madness set in, when she would remember things from her past and forget where she was in the present. Dim memories of a former lover sometimes plagued her mind, accompanied by guilt for leaving him and the terrible loss of a deep love she had never known with anyone else.
But all of that was impossible, wasn’t it? She was Mrs. Matthew Cable, wasn’t she? And wasn’t she happy and content with her life?
The thought that disturbed her most was that she never knew how she really felt about anything except when Matthew was around. His presence always reassured her that she was where she needed to be, especially now that she was bearing his child.
Abby Holland pounded against the wall, striking it until her fists were bloody. She screamed at the top of her lungs, but as always, she couldn’t make a single sound.
It was impossible to break through. Oh, she’d managed to get through to her conscious mind several times, but only in short intervals that had always left her too exhausted to keep up. She saw glimpses of the world around her on occasion, but for the most part she lived in darkness, shielded from the real world.
She felt as if she lived in a doll’s house, a simulation of reality where she was a happy homemaker, barefoot and pregnant and living someone else’s dream.
Abby’s own dreams were always the same, a variation on a moment in reality that had slipped from her grasp. She had no concept of time any longer, but it seemed like more than a decade had passed since then, since the moment she had lost control over herself and had said goodbye to her true love, Alec Holland.
This was no mere hyperbole for Abby. She’d become the bride of the Swamp Thing on that fateful day back in 1985 when they’d declared their love for one another. (*) She began calling herself Abby Holland as a testament to their wedding in spirit, if not in law, and she had vowed to one day make that name change permanent and legal.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Rite of Spring,” The Saga of the Swamp Thing #34 (March, 1985).]
But cruel fate had other ideas for her.
Matthew Cable came out of the coma he’d been in for two years after the hell he’d put her through, first through his alcoholism and then through the living nightmares that had plagued them. And then, though it wasn’t his fault, he had become possessed by the foul spirit of the most evil man Abigail had ever known — her uncle, Anton Arcane. In Matt’s body, he had killed Abby, sending her soul to Hell. And it was only through the intervention of the Swamp Thing that she was finally rescued. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Down Amongst the Dead Men,” Swamp Thing Annual #2 (1985).]
It was Alec Holland whom she loved, whom she had been waiting for ever since he’d been taken away from her by Matt’s old boss, Dwight Wicker of the DDI, a top-secret division of Army Intelligence. (*) She had waited for Alec, pining for him even as she knew he would come back for her someday soon. Until then, she kept herself busy, first by working in a retirement home in Houma, and then for a brief tenure as a schoolteacher on a South Pacific island at the Grimoire Academy of Applied Knowledge. (*) But she had left all that behind to be there for Alec upon his return. (*)
Matthew’s recovery had been the perfect time for her to tell him that she had moved on, that she had fallen in love with someone else. The only kind thing would have been to grant him a divorce and let him begin his life anew, just as she had planned to do start a new life with Alec upon his return.
Instead, she had listened to him, and something happened to her.
She found herself reacting to her first husband in ways that had inwardly shocked her even as they happened. She found herself having feelings for him once more, consciously allowing herself to open those doors again, despite her avowed faithfulness to Alec.
But that had not been all. Finally, she had told Alec goodbye. She told him that Matt needed her now, that he was a new man, and that she needed to give her marriage a try once more. She looked into his eyes and told him that, while she still loved him, she also loved Matt. Inwardly, however, she had been screaming the whole time she’d spoken those words of deep betrayal, watching as her worst nightmare played itself out.
Alec had hidden his pain well, but she knew that she’d broken his heart. Abby had done exactly the opposite of what she had wanted to do when he returned, and she found herself leaving Alec to go away with Matt Cable despite her wishes otherwise. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Swamp Thing: Reversal of Fortune.]
That was when she realized she no longer had control over her own body or her conscious mind. She was no longer able to fully see everything that was going on around her, and she only caught glimpses of life through her body’s eyes. So Abby began fighting back.
It was extremely difficult to influence her conscious mind at first, and in the early days all she could manage to do was to cause a rift between the conscious Abby and Matthew Cable. Over several weeks, though, she began breaking through. She was sure that the rift between them had grown enough that she could finally pry her apart. Once free of Matt, she was sure that her true self could break out of this prison of the mind and take over her body once more.
But her first husband had gained control over her once more through an old ploy — he got her pregnant. Now it was more difficult than ever, if not impossible, to influence her conscious mind. Could Abby Holland ever break free of Matthew Cable’s control?
That night, Lieutenant Matthew Cable stood on the deck at the back of his house, looking up at the three moons in the night sky. His wife was asleep in bed, tossing and turning as she slept. Her sleep was fitful on most nights, but this night was especially bad. It was heartbreaking.
He didn’t want to control her, he assured himself. He wanted her to love him for who he was. But until that day came, he had no other choice. When they had a child together, she would have to love him, wouldn’t she?
“You cannot keep her, you know.”
Matt jumped out of his seat, startled at the voice. Turning, he looked and saw who it was. “Oh, it’s you. Come to nag me again, have you?”
“I’ve come merely to remind you that you’ve violated your own rules.”
“Rules?” Matt laughed. “Rules are for men of flesh and blood, not for those like you and I. Tell me, Stranger, if you were in my position, wouldn’t you do the same? No, don’t tell me. I know there’s no heart beating beneath that dark cloak. You couldn’t understand what it is to love as I do.”
“I understand far more than you know. And I know that possession is not love.”
“She’s not possessed!” retorted Matthew. “I just… can’t have her feeling everything she used to feel, or remembering unpleasant things. Not now, at least. Perhaps not ever.”
“You cannot control her forever. Choose wisely before that time comes, or you may find that she will not look with favor upon you when your day of judgment is at hand.”
Matthew Cable trembled with anger, trying to hold himself back, even as the planks of wood beneath his feet began to vibrate and ripple. There was no use fighting this being; he knew many others had tried over the years, and all had failed. Closing his eyes, he managed to calm himself down before this could escalate any further. He wasn’t about to lose everything by risking a battle with the Phantom Stranger.
“I’ll win her over,” said Matt. “You’ll see. I–”
But as he turned back to face his visitor, the rest of his words caught in his throat as he noticed that the Phantom Stranger had already disappeared.