Had she dozed off? She'd been having chest pains and arrythmia again, and sometimes the meds made her a bit woozy, but this was off the charts.
It was dark overhead, but toward her feet she could see a soft light. She seemed to be outside, yes, it was dusk and the fireflies were out . . . or were they? They were awfully big for lightning bugs. Maybe her oxygen line had fallen out. Yes, that was what it was. She felt for the clip in her nose, it was gone. No wonder she was seeing things. Yes, her poor brain was clearly starved for oxygen. She reached down her chest to find it, but it wasn't there. What was there startled her. She felt a pair of unfamiliar, firm, small breasts. And wait a minute . . . this was not her body, not by a long shot, and what the hell had happened to her stomach? With growing bewilderment, she held her hands in front of her face, only these were small and delicate, with long nails. There were beautiful filigree rings on the third and fourth fingers on each hand that danced before her eyes.
This was crazy. It had to be the drugs, or maybe her chronic lack of lung capacity. She had to try to get up and find that hose.
Getting up was a little too easy. After months of struggling to do the simplest things, Denise Brennan sat up with no difficulty whatsoever, unless you consider hitting her head on the low tangle of roots above her as difficult. That was when she saw the ephemeral silhouette, and heard the words "Welcome home sister, welcome to the Fae." That was when she knew that everything had really changed.
Sara put the kettle on while Polly took off her wet things and donned the robe that Sara left for her in the downstairs bathroom. The corgi watched Sara's every move. "You little beggar, I'll bet you're hungry . . ." she wondered if it was male or female. It was wearing a collar with an engraved plate bearing what she assumed was its name. Dog and collar were both so dirty that she decided to run some warm water in the laundry room sink to bathe the poor, filthy thing. Sara unbuckled the collar while the dog made every attempt it could to lick her face. It was very sweet and affectionate.
"Well, let's see who you are, dirty doggy" she said. The dog looked at her so intelligently that she half expected it to answer her. The sink was filling, and she ran the dirt-caked collar under the warm stream from the faucet.
"Alright then . . . Vixie" the dog cocked its head to one side in recognition. "Is that your name? Are you Vixie?" the Corgi was practically dancing with excitement at this point. "Well, I guess you are, then, aren't you, girl?" The dog's name must be short for 'Vixen,' Sara thought. Vixie had jumped up and was standing on her back legs against the cabinet where the sink was filling, she clearly wanted a bath.
"Alright Vixie, let's get you clean." And with that the dog allowed herself to be gathered up and placed in the warm water in the washbasin.
The kettle began to whistle and Polly chimed in from the kitchen, "where do you keep your tea, Sara?"
"In the second largest canister on the counter, to the right of the sink." The dog was loving the soapy rubdown she was getting, she was clearly used to being groomed regularly.
"So, did you figure out who our little friend is?" said Polly as she poured hot water into the yellow teapot on the counter.
"Her name is Vixie, and she's a very sweet girl! Somebody must miss her terribly." Sara was rinsing the last of the soap from the dog's thick coat. She grabbed a towel off the linen shelf and scooped the dripping dog up in a single motion. The dog was writhing in ecstasy, wrapped in the fluffy towel.
"What do you take in your tea, Sara?" asked Polly from the kitchen.
"Black is perfect" came the answer. Sara came in from the laundry room with the wiggling corgi peering out from the towel.
"Well, she certainly seems happy now" Polly said, "have a seat and I'll bring the tea over to you."
"Thanks. You know, I really meant it when I said how much your kind words helped me through a crazy time. That's why I said we were going to look for you. I wanted to find you because you believed me when hardly anybody else would" Sara was drying off the writhing Vixie who was playfully biting at her through the towel.
"I felt awful for you. Ron had cheated on me so many times by then that I really had no malice toward you. I just worried that he'd treat you badly" said Polly over the rim of her cup.
"Oh, he did alright. Did you ever hear? Did you read about it in the papers? The kidnapping? The time he dragged me out into the desert in my nightgown and tried to have me committed?" the dog was now splayed out on its back as Sara dried its belly with another towel.
"Certainly I did. I read about the divorce and how the bastard stole Alexis from you. I had all the clippings in a book. My poor husband, John, he tried to understand, but really, who'd believe half the stories we could tell?" A sad look passed between them. Polly went on, "The nerve of that man never ceases to amaze me. Honestly, once he was out of my life I tried to pretend he'd never existed. It was easy for me, but not for my children. Poor Nibs was drawn to his father like a moth to a flame. We've not spoken since my passing . . . or his. After John joined me here in, well, wherever we are now, I prayed that Nibs would find me someday. I saw that he passed too young, broken by his father's cult. Wherever he is, I hope he's alright, he was a gentle soul, Ron just ran roughshod over the poor boy. Whenever he was actually around, that is." Polly's demeanor had hardened talking about Ron.
"You had a daughter, too, Katherine was it? Is she still back there or has she joined us here?" asked Sara.
"My sweet Katherine May appeared at our door a few years ago, she was 74 when she died. I mean I've been here 51 years now, it's hard to believe sometimes. Almost dreamlike. She's lived with us since then. She seems so lost at times, like she's not all here." Polly stared out the window as she recalled being reunited with her daughter.
"Polly, you just said 'dreamlike,' and I've realized lately that I've felt this way ever since I can remember, like I wasn't quite myself, until I got that phone call, and thought of you, that is" Sara set her tea down and looked intently at Polly.
"That's right. You said you were going to look for me. And, well, here I am. Now that you mention it, it's odd, but I feel so much more . . . myself now, talking to you . . . like this." Polly held up her cup and joked "Say, what's in this stuff?"
"No, no, you're right, this is exactly what was coming to my mind after I hung up with the Mormon guy, like I was awake after years of sleep. I don't think I ever explained exactly what happened . . ." Sara excitedly filled Polly in on her strange conversation with Joseph Smith. She finished with "and everything just happened so fast after that, I was just thinking about how leaving my safe life here was kind of bracing and then there you were, dripping wet with our little friend in hand. Strange. But then, so many things here are."
"You know, I hadn't thought of Ron since Katherine showed up a few years ago. I'd seen some things about him in the news . . . but, honestly, I can't really remember when. I think I read Nibs' obituary when he passed. It's odd, I don't remember the details. So, maybe we really are together for some reason since Ron came out of this loop thing the Mormon told you about." Polly said with a dawning awareness.
"Maybe we've been in loops all these years, biding our time until we can confront Ron in that other universe? Sort of spooky, don't you think?" Sara was clutching the dog close to her now, like a baby.
"More like exciting! You said these 'missionaries' are coming to pick you up?" asked Polly.
"I guess so, I thought you were them when you knocked on the door." The dog was now licking her face excitedly.
"Well, I'm coming along, I'm not going to miss our chance to confront that bastard together." Polly was clutching her spoon like a gavel, banging her fist on the table for emphasis.
With that, Vixie began to bark excitedly.
"It looks like we'll be a threesome, then" laughed Sara.
Denise struggled to take in her surroundings and the implications of them. She was flooded with elation and grief in equal measure. Was she dead? Was she truly of The Fae? Could it be that there really was such a storybook world?
"Sister, there is such a storybook world. A world among worlds, among worlds. Stories within stories. I cannot explain other than that." said the radiant woman at the foot of the mossy bed in which Denise awoke. Her words were like music and gold.
"But, this place, this body" then she remembered, "oh, my family! My beautiful, little granddaughter! All my friends . . ." the tears came in waves.
"It's the way of all worlds dear sister. The cycles are immutable. Some long. Some just a flash, but everything comes and goes. All these worlds. Everything." The soft greenish aura of the young woman had turned to a deep purple, almost ultraviolet as she looked down compassionately as Denise struggled with this unreal reality.
"All these feelings . . . this place. It's all so much to take in. And you! You're so beautiful. Am I beautiful now?" Denise asked stroking her long, slender legs.
The glowing woman laughed, "Oh, my dear sister, you never really saw that you were always beautiful. Now come, rise up with me and let me tell you the story, inside of the story, inside of the story . . ."
Sara was now packed and ready to leave for who knows where. Vixie was watching her every move so as not to be left out of anything. "Polly, are you sure you don't need for us to stop by your car to get anything?"
"No, I just think I should call John. I hope I can get through." Then she stopped suddenly. What was her telephone number? She couldn't for the life of her remember it. "I . . . I can't remember my phone number." She looked panicked. "I can't even remember how to get to my house! I know we lived in Philadelphia . . . I think." Her afterlife here, everything seemed to be fading away. A tear streamed down her cheek.
"Oh, Polly. What's happening to us? I can hardly remember yesterday at this point!" She walked over and took Polly's hand.
"I don't know, Sara. I just don't know. But, I'm not afraid. I'm just not. I mean, we're dead godammit . . ." with that they both started to laugh. Vixie jumped off her chair and stood up on Sara's leg, whining softly.
"Well, don't you start too!" she said picking up the Corgi.
Just then, there was a knock at the door.
Their laughing stopped and the two women looked at each other with a serious demeanor.
"Something tells me our ride's here, Polly"
"Something tells me you're right, Sara."
Sara took one last look around at this house that had been such a peaceful haven. She felt no regrets.
It was time to move on.