Written By Ivan Overmoyer
Illustrations by Nikki Leeper
Copyright (c) 2014, All Rights Reserved
Dr. Wallace lived alone ever since his wife had passed. Having retired in his old age to a small house out in the country, he spent his days in quiet solitude, gardening or walking in the woods, communing with nature. Often he would read, and sometimes he would write. He often wrote letters to friends he had met in his younger days, or to his children, who had all long ago moved away to have lives of their own.
He would go into town every few days for the few provisions he needed to survive and couldn't make himself. He would catch up with his acquaintances, maybe stop for a conversation over coffee, go to the post office and take care of some of his other errands and then go home. Most of his evenings were spent reading poetry.
He thought frequently of his wife and of the life they had shared, making a home in a small town after the war, setting up a small family practice and, eventually, starting a family of their own... They'd done well for themselves, and despite the occasional argument had had a long and happy marriage. When she grew sick in her old age he'd stayed by her side, loving and caring for her as best he could, ever the faithful husband. Often he dreamed of her, still beautiful in her old age, floating in through the open bedroom window like a ghost or an angel, smiling upon him as her long white hair hung in the air about her as if in water. The window would fly open and in she would come, alighting down next to him to embrace him in his sleep.
This was his dream. He never once imagined it would actually happen.
Strictly speaking, it didn't. Not exactly, anyway. But, one night in midsummer, somebody did come through his window, much like in his dream but louder, and with more broken glass, thumping painfully into his bed's footboard as she hit the ground.
He jumped and, with a surprised yelp, inadvertently tossed the volume of poetry he'd been reading by lamplight several feet into the air, catching it a moment later as it fell back into his hands. His head roared with adrenaline as his eyes flicked from the shattered window to the broken glass scattered across the floor, and his jaw flapped in useless shock for a moment before he was finally able to speak. “What in the hell was that!?” he finally exclaimed, crawling over the covers. As he did so, he saw his unexpected guest sit up and shake the glass shards out of her short, feathery white hair.
Before he could reach the foot of the bed she was up again and stumbling across the room, clearly struggling to keep anything that vaguely resembled a sense of balance. As she skittered across the room, all he could really make out was a head of messy white hair above some kind of tattered white cloak with a furry collar before she slammed into his dresser, not quite knocking it over but still pushing it several feet. She bounced off of it and veered toward the floor lamp. “Oh, no no no no no DON'T-” he reached out a hand to stop her but it was already too late. The lamp knocked into the wall, crushing the shade and shattering the bulbs with a noise he thought was a bit louder than it ought to be, and the room flickered into darkness. There was a thump followed by something sliding against the drywall, and then silence as Wallace finally made it to the edge of the bed. He swung his feet down toward his slippers, then stopped himself and picked them up instead. He shook them over the edge of the bed to make sure they were empty of glass. Nothing came out, so he slipped them on carefully and stood up, trying to calm his pounding heart. He could hear somebody groaning as he went across the floor, crunching occasionally, to flip on the light switch.
She was an impish girl, pale skinned with feathery white hair that stuck out haphazardly around her head. Under her odd cloak she wore a sleeveless dress that hung about to her knees made of some silvery material he didn't immediately recognize, with a cloth belt around her waist and a small pair of shoes that matched her dress. She was holding her head and wincing.
Still shaking, Wallace looked from her, to the dresser, to the window, then back at her, trying in some small way to figure out what had just happened. He tried going through it step by step, but the only two steps he could think of was “Reading Ogden Nash's “The Smelt”' and “Girl Crashes Through Window for No Apparent Reason.” Of course there was no correlation between the two, and the more he tried to find any the more he realized it was a pointless endeavor. And at any rate there was now a girl sitting in a mess of broken glass on his bedroom floor, possibly with serious head injury. He did his best to collect himself and recall his medical training. “Are you alright?” he said, reaching down to help her up. “How are you feeling?”
She looked up at him as she took his hand and he flinched almost imperceptibly when he saw her eyes-- they were a very dark blueish grey, almost black. It was a little shocking, but in light of recent events it was something he could handle. She looked up at him like a stray cat, fearful, but still willing to accept assistance. “Confused, mostly,” she said. He pulled her to her feet and her cloak rustled.
“I meant physically,” he said. “Do you feel dizzy? Nauseous?”
She stumbled again and he caught her. “Something like that,” she muttered.
“Come on,” he said, guiding her carefully to the door and turning the light off after them. “Let's get you downstairs.” He closed the door as they left the room. There was nothing he could do for the bedroom now, but if he could keep moths and bats from getting into the rest of the house, he would. He walked her slowly down the stairs and into the kitchen, guiding her carefully through the darkness, supporting her with an arm around her back.
“Where am I?” she asked as they reached the base of the stairs.
“Uh oh,” he murmured. “You experiencing memory loss?”
She shook her head and winced. “No, I just don't recognize this place,” she said. “Should I be?”
“Well I don't know about should,” he muttered. “Do you remember how you got here?”
“You mean aside from...” she gestured vaguely upward.
“Aside from the window, yes.” He sat her down in a chair next to the kitchen table and turned the lights on low.
“So you are experiencing memory loss.”
“Yes but I think that happened before I hit my head.”
Wallace blinked. “What?”
“I don't really remember anything before coming through the window,” she explained.
“Oh. So... you remember breaking through the window, but nothing before that?”
She shook her head and winced again. “Ow... no, no I remember I saw the light through the window, and... and going for it...” She trailed off, nodding slightly.
Wallace couldn't tell if she was confused or not. Certainly what she was saying didn't make a whole lot of sense, but she sounded as if she was thinking clearly. Maybe she was remembering a vivd hallucination? He shook his head. There were more pressing things to attend to at the moment. He fetched a pen light from a nearby drawer and placed a gentle hand on the top of her head, turning her face up toward him. “Try to hold still,” he said. He clicked the light on and no sooner had he pointed it into her eyes than she snatched it from him with a delighted squeak.
“Ooh, that is lovely!” she exclaimed, staring into the little light and tapping at its lens.
“Hey! Do you mind? I need that!” He snatched it back from her.
“But...” He held it out of her reach.
“Please control yourself, I'm trying to help you.” She looked up at him pitifully, her big grey eyes staring dolefully into his. He sighed. “You can have it back when I'm done.”
She sat up straight, seemingly satisfied with the arrangement, and as he returned the light to her eyes he could see her straining to keep her hands in her lap.
Aside from their peculiar color, her eyes seemed normal, and as soon as he was satisfied that there was nothing wrong with them he straightened again (as much as his back would let him) and held out the pen light to her. She immediately brightened and snatched it up again, inspecting the light it emitted at every possible angle, cooing over it all the while. He regarded her for a moment, scratching his head, then took the opportunity to feel around her neck for any pain. As completely engrossed with the pen light as she was, she didn't even seem to notice when he applied pressure around her neck, so it was probably safe to assume that he wasn't hurting her. She was similarly responsive when he tested her reflexes with the handle of a table knife. If she was aware that her legs were jerking out at the knee seemingly out of her control, she certainly didn't care. Usually people jumped, even when they were paying attention to what he was doing. Apparently she was really into the penlight.
“Well, you seem alright,” he said, putting the knife away. “Just a mild concussion, nothing too serious. I'm going to get you some Tylenol for your head.” He started to leave, then stopped. “Don't go anywhere, okay?” She looked up from the pen light at him and nodded, but then he saw her get distracted by the light fixture above the kitchen table. As a precaution, he shut the kitchen light off as he left, leaving her in the dark with her penlight.
Dr. Wallace walked through the darkened house, still unsure if he was dreaming or not. It didn't feel like a dream (aside from the fact that he had been forced to recall some of his medical training in a fit of panic), but he could think of no other way to explain what was happening. But then, he hadn't even bothered to ask the young woman her name. She might be able to answer at least a few of his questions. Maybe.
The sudden light as he flipped the switch in the bathroom made him squint. He shaded his eyes and felt his way to the medicine cabinet. It didn't take long for his eyes to adjust and he found the Tylenol with little difficulty. Then, as he turned to leave, he saw something strange outside the window. Indistinct movement on the other side of the glass. He squinted through his reading glasses, trying to make out some shape or form, anything to identify, but at this distance...
He set down the bottle of Tylenol and leaned over the toilet, pressing his face up to the glass. He saw a multitude of tiny wings and tinier legs, fluttering and scrabbling at the window, fighting to get through a barrier their owners' little minds could never comprehend.
Moths. Huh. That was a lot of moths. He didn't think he'd ever seen that many one place before. Odd. Just a weird night, he guessed.
He returned to the darkened kitchen, Tylenol in hand, to find the pen light glowing redly through the girl's cheek. She looked up at him when he turned the light back on, the handle of the penlight hanging casually out of her mouth.
“Taste good?” he asked dryly, crossing to the cupboard to get a drinking glass. He heard a quiet “bleah...” behind him, making the correct assumption that she had spit it out.
“Not as good as I thought it would,” she replied.
“How did you think it would taste?” He filled a glass up at the faucet and looked up at the window to see more fluttering.
“Well I don't know, but better than that...”
More moths... He shook his head and turned around, water glass in hand. He set it on the table next to her and shook a couple pills out of the Tylenol bottle, setting them beside the glass. “Well, maybe these will taste better,” he suggested. She picked up one of the pills and scrutinized it for a moment before popping it into her mouth. “Wait don't-”
“...chew it. What- have you never taken Tylenol before?” She cocked her head at him, still chewing. “Aspirin? Nothing?” She shook her head slowly and he sighed. “You're supposed to swallow it whole with water.” He wasn't completely sure, but he was at least fairly certain that he'd never had to explain this to anyone before. Her white brow furrowed.
"It's not bad...” she said around the medicinal powder in her mouth, “but it's not very good either.”
He handed her the water. “Here, try washing it down with this,” he grumbled.
She took the glass from him and sniffed at it before she started drinking. About halfway through the glass he handed her the second pill. “Now try to swallow this without chewing it,” he said.
She lowered the glass from her lips. “Why do you keep telling me to do things?” she asked.
“It's for your own good, I used to be a doctor,” he said, then paused. “You do know what a doctor is, don't you?”
She snatched the pill out of his hand with a scowl. “Of course I do!” she placed it in her mouth, swallowed it with some effort, then drank the rest of the water. She smacked her lips a couple times. “You're right, that was much better.”
“Where did you come from, anyway?” he asked finally.
“What do you mean?” she continued.
“I... well you're not a local is what I mean.. At least, I've never seen you before. You obviously came here from somewhere and I want to know where that is.”
“Well...” she reached up and scratched the back of her neck underneath her cloak. “I'm not sure how I can explain it.” She looked around as if for the first time. “Hang on, where am I?”
“You're in Euclid, Pennsylvania and, more directly, my kitchen,” he answered.
She silently mouthed the words as he finished them, slowly like they didn't fit on her tongue quite right (but that may have just been remnants of Tylenol dust). “Well where's that?” she said finally.
She shook her head. “Not following you.”
“Alright, what's your home called then?”
“Uh... The third tier, Olympian Valacia,” she said quickly.
“And that is...?”
A smile played at her lips like she thought he was joking. “Where else is there?”
“I... don't know what you're talking about.”
It took a few seconds for her smile to disappear as her predicament finally started to dawn on her. He felt bad, but at least they stood the chance of getting somewhere now. “Wait...” she said. “If I'm not... and this is...” she pointed at him. “Then who are you?”
“Ed Wallace,” he replied. “Most people just call me Wallace.”
She gripped the seat of the chair. “That's it??”
“You expecting more?” He glanced at the window again. There were still swarms of moths beating themselves against it and wondered briefly if there were any coming in through the window upstairs. The girl was still talking.
“Light-master and keeper of... of pills or something, I don't know!”
“Well what's your name?” he asked, trying to sound a little more gentle. The poor girl was obviously distressed. It couldn't be good for her in this state.
She looked forlornly up at him. “I'm Cosmia, maiden of moths,” she said.
Wallace blinked. “Maiden of what?”
“Well officially I'm a goddess, but nobody ever seems to call me that.” She slumped back in the chair. “And if I am where I think I am, well... it hardly matters now.”
Wallace pulled a chair slowly out from the table and sat down, still staring at the girl, whose name was apparently... Cosmia? Probably a hippie child. A delusional hippie child. That might explain a few things, but... “How did you get here?” he asked cautiously.
“I don't know,” she said. “The last thing I remember I was out dusting a cornfield... then next thing I know I'm flying around in the dark all confused.”
“Flying, huh?” Drugs probably.
“How else would I have gotten through your window?”
Wallace looked slowly toward the stairs again. He had to admit that her mode of entry hadn't made a whole lot of logical sense, but... well that was just impossible. How would she have flown? She had to be lying, either that or there was somebody out there with a hang glider having a good laugh over all of this. The more he thought about it the more it seemed like some sort of elaborate prank. Well, it had to be. The only alternative was that the girl was crazy, and to set up something this intricate, and not realize the truth? Well, nobody was that crazy. He would check outside later, he decided, to see if he could find the ladder.
“Look,” he said with a sigh, “you've had a rough night, regardless of what happened. Probably the best thing for you now is to get some rest. Are you feeling any better?”
She looked absolutely dismal, but she nodded. “My head doesn't hurt as much,” she said.
“Good,” he said, standing up. “Come on, you can sleep in the living room, there's a blanket on the couch.” She got up to follow him out of the kitchen. As she turned, her foot caught the leg of the chair she was sitting on. Alerted by the sudden noise, Wallace turned just in time to see her stumbling over the chair. He reached out to catch her as quickly as he could and she grabbed onto his arm, clinging to him as if her life depended on it.
She looked up at him, trembling as the back of the chair bounced against the linoleum. “Sorry,” she muttered.
He pulled her back to her feet and she loosened her grip. “You're very accident prone, aren't you.”
“Apparently,” she said with a bashful shrug. She didn't let go of his hand as he led her into the darkened living room, not even when he turned on a floor lamp. She lay down on the couch, pulling her cloak tightly around herself, and he threw an old knitted blanket over her.
“I apologize if it's a little dusty,” he said.
“Oh that's alright,” she replied. She sighed deeply and closed her eyes.
“Now just try to relax and get some rest. We'll sort all of this out tomorrow.”
She nodded, snuggling under the blanket. “Okay.” Wallace sat down in his recliner near the couch as she turned onto her side, facing the back of the couch. “Thanks for being so nice to me,” she said after a pause.
“You're welcome,” he replied, picking up the previous day's paper from a side table. A few minutes later she was snoring softly.
Wallace stayed there for a while, re-reading his paper in the dim lamplight and looking over periodically to check on the girl. When he was satisfied that she wasn't about to stop breathing he set the paper aside and went to quietly back into the kitchen. He looked around for his penlight but couldn't find it, and realized that Cosmia was probably still holding onto it.
He picked up the chair she had knocked over and set it up next to the counter, where he stood on it and retrieved an old lantern from the top of the cabinet. It was a kerosene lantern, one of the relics his wife had kept around for sentimental reasons. He'd seen her use it once or twice on those occasions when the power had gone out in the middle of the night. He hoped it still worked.
He got down from the chair and sloshed the lantern around a bit. It still had some fuel in it. He grabbed a match from the stove and tried lighting the lantern with it. It sputtered to life reluctantly once he'd fiddled with the knob on the side for a bit, and he lowered the hood a little to keep the light low. He turned off the kitchen light and went to the door. With so many moths about he wanted to try to avoid attracting them into the house. He opened the door and slid through as quickly as he could, shutting it again as soon as he was through. Then, in the black night beyond, he opened up the lantern.
Moths as far as he could see. From the side of the house to the edge of the forest, the air was full of soft, fluttering bodies, casting shadows from the lantern light onto each other and the surfaces behind them, covering the world in a roiling darkness.
Wallace stood in amazement at the insects around him. His jaw fell, but he quickly reconsidered as he felt a velvety wing brush against his cheek. He turned slowly, gazing up into the sky, only to see more of them scurrying above him. There were flitterings of white and grey and brown, the odd reds and blues and very occasional light green, but mostly white. Like her hair, he thought, then shook his head. No, that was crazy... she couldn't...
Something was off, but he couldn't quite put his finger on what. What had he come out here for again? He had been so stunned by the sheer volume of moths that he had forgotten. His eyes led him to the side of the house. Ladder. That's right, he'd come out to try and find out how she'd gotten through the window. He looked up.
There was his bedroom window, still broken open from the outside. Above it was the shear peak of the roof. She couldn't have descended from there into the window without a rope or something, and even then he would have heard her mucking about up there. Below the window was the wall, the side of the house, unmarred by a ladder. Well someone could have taken it... she couldn't have been alone in this. The yard was damp, the ground squishy. He walked, still in his slippers to the wall under the window. There were no marks on the ground, not even a dint on the grass from ladder or footprint. There was nothing.
Wallace looked bewildered at the sky. “That... that's impossible,” he murmured. Where could she have come from? She had to have come from somewhere... he searched what little of the air he could see through the bugs for anything, a low hanging branch or a cable of some kind... anything that could reasonably explain how this girl... this “Cosmia” had come through his window.
There was nothing. He scrambled about the yard searching for any clue of anything... footprints, marks of a dragged ladder or scaffolding, or tire tracks from a cherry picker maybe. He searched all the way around the house in the mist and the moths twice by lantern light and found nothing but his own footprints, eventually collapsing breathlessly onto the wooden steps in front of the kitchen door. The lantern dangled from his fingertips. Moths danced in the air around it, occasionally bumping into the glass. One landed on his leg and crawled up his pajamas for a moment. A little white one, with a mane of feathery white and two leafy antennae by its dark grey eyes, its wings like a cloak of tattered cloth.
Wallace put his hand in front of it and it crawled onto his finger. He lifted it up to eye level and it sat there, shaking with nervous energy for a moment before it fanned its wings and flew off again. He watched it go and disappear among its brothers and sisters.
After a little while longer the lantern sputtered out, leaving him in the darkness. By starlight he could still make out the moths around him as his eyes adjusted. Crickets chirped in the distance and Wallace realized that he didn't know what time it was, but he supposed it didn't matter very much. He eventually stood up and went back to the house, leaving the serenity of the outside behind him.
He left the lantern on the kitchen table and walked carefully through the darkened house. In the living room he clicked on the lamp to check on the girl sleeping on his couch. She was still there, sleeping soundly, though she had stirred since he'd left her there and she was now absently chewing on the blanket in her sleep. He put the back of his hand in front of her mouth to check her breathing, and felt it soft, warm and, more importantly, regular on his speckled skin. She was a pretty girl, he thought, almost angelic in a way. He felt a compulsion to ruffle her hair, but didn't. He went to the lamp and turned it off, then sat down in his recliner and pulled back the lever, leaning back as far as he could. In a few minutes he was asleep.
Nikki Leeper is this month's featured artist. Check out more of her work on her blog, on her Facebook page, and at behance.net.