I returned to the sanctuary to find it just as it had been before. The sun was still half below the horizon, and the sky still glimmered with purple and orange. The water was still and clear as crystal, and my Self sat cross-legged on the island. I hopped the stepping stones to the middle and approached him. He appeared to be meditating.
"Fascinating man, the Senex is," he murmured, "His presentation of the truth and absence of a bias makes him a unique addition to us."
I nodded, still thinking about what the old man said. "If you really are me," I said to my Self, "can you feel the hatred that I feel? You don't look fazed by anything. You look calm and complete."
"It is because the hatred you feel is not a part of who you are. It has not earned permanency in you. However, if you allow it to go on for a prolonged period of time, things will change. I and your Domain will change, and you will as well."
I nodded and considered his words. He raised his hand and pointed at another portal.
"As the Senex may have mentioned, not all of your dimensions are friendly. Some are only interested in their bid for power. They will use your weaknesses and exploit them to their advantage. Keep this in mind as you enter the next portal."
I looked towards the portal indicated by my Self. I stepped over the stones lightly, admiring the reflection of the sky in the water. When I reached the portal, I looked above to read the inscription.
Well, that didn't sound too promising. I looked back over my shoulder at the young man only to see he had returned to meditating. I stepped through the portal, unsure of what I was going to find on the other side.
I stepped into a dim room, lit only by red lights. The atmosphere was dry, and the air held a pungent scent of something seductive. The room was a sort of circle, with a large window at the opposite end. It was shaded so as to block out whatever sight was on the other side. In the middle of the room was a table. I noticed a number of figures sitting at the table, though none of them moved.
I nearly jumped out of my shoes. The voice that came from behind me was steely and venimous. I spoke timidly.
The man walked around me and moved towards the table. He drew up a seat and sat down with purpose. He had on a classy, black dress shirt that reached just below his belt line. He wore black pants and shiny black shoes. His hair was styled back, and he smelled of cologne.
"Take a seat," he said with a dry, sleek smile.
I slowly approached the table and drew up a chair, sitting down firmly.
"Care for a magazine?" He asked, holding up a month-old edition of Play Boy, "Let me guess, you've already read it?"
I shook my head, "No, I haven't. I'm fine, thanks."
The man snorted and rolled his eyes, "'I'm fine', that's great stuff I've gotta tell you. I think you just might have God fooled."
I could not think of anything to say. I felt exposed and uncomfortable.
He indicated one of the figures, "Aren't you going to say 'Hi' to your friends? I made sure they were all here for you."
I could barely make out what the figures were. I didn't think they were actual people.
The man snapped his fingers, "Perhaps a little more light, no?"
Instantly, the room was flooded by flourescent light. The room was a circle, and the walls were perfectly white and unscathed. The window remained black, however. I looked over to the figures and gasped. Each one was a stuffed replica of a friend of mine.
"There we go, now say 'Hi' to Tina, and Margaret, and Jackie, and Annabel."
I said nothing. What kind of sick trick was this guy playing at? He scowled at me and turned to the replica of Annabel.
"I'm sorry, he's not himself today. He hasn't had his fill of dirty chicks and strippers. You know what? Maybe a story would cheer him up. Tell him about how you met your new boyfriend."
Still I said nothing. A deep anger began to well up inside of me. I clenched my fists. The man pretended to listen as he held the replica of Annabel close to his ear.
"Oh, that's just delightful! How hard did you fuck him?"
I heard myself scream. "SHUT UP! SHUT THE HELL UP!"
He pretended to look disappointed at me, "Tsk, that's no way to act in front of your friends. I'm afraid you've scared Tina!"
He took the replica's hand in his and stroked it, "Don't you worry, I'll protect you Tina. He just can't control his hatred for you."
"I don't hate them," I spoke, attempting to sound determined.
"You don't? Interesting... just a while ago, you were brooding over how careless they were. How inconsiderate and shallow and self-centered they are. How they bring nothing but remorse and suffering. And how right you were! Tina was telling me all about how she tried to date two men at once, but it didn't work out so well. She dumped them both at the same time and laughed as they crawled after her."
He leaned over the table and whispered, "You were right, she is a heartless bitch."
I tried to lunge forward, but found that my wrists were tied fast to the chair, and the chair was bolted to the floor. The man guffawed heartily.
"You're ridiculous. In private, you damn your friends to shame. In public, you'd bend over backwards for them. If you had any balls, you would tell them off and rebuke them for what they are. Let's face it, man: all women are bitches. End of story. You know it, I know it."
He reached over for a lever that seemed to appear out of nowhere, "Let's give them their just desserts, shall we? There is a pit of fire waiting down below the floor. It's just hot enough to burn them slowly to their deaths."
The stuffed replicas suddenly turned into real, living flesh. They looked around frantically, their hands and feet bound just as mine were. I shook my head, and the tears finally started to push through.
"Stop this, please."
The man roared with laughter, "Stop? You want nothing to do with them. All they're good for is a nice fucking, and I'm pretty sure you've fantasized about all of them, right? Why don't you admit it, and I won't kill them."
I looked over at each of them. I'd known each of them for at least two years. Their eyes were filled with worry and despair. I couldn't look them in the eyes when I said it.
"You have what?"
"I have fantasized about each one of you at least once."
Another roar of laughter, and the man pulled the lever. I screamed as they fell below the floor and disappeared.