Illustrations by Jennifer Gibson
Copyright (c) 2015, All Rights Reserved
(Don't know what's going on? Start from the beginning!)
What a dream...
Wallace woke slowly in the fog of the morning. Shades drawn in the living room made the space feel dark and warm. Once awake, he didn't move for several minutes. A dream... yes, it had to be but... then, what was he doing in his recliner? He squinted and shook his head. Must have been sleep walking. It had been a particularly strange and stressful dream, so he wouldn't be surprised if he'd been up and about last night without knowing it. After a yawn and a stretch and a rubbing of his eyes, Wallace released the lever of his recliner. As his head was brought up by the back of the chair, he saw the couch, empty but for the rumpled afghan sitting in a pile to one side, and he suddenly couldn't remember if it had always been there or not. He stood, scratching in between the strands of hair still attached to the top of his head, and with his other hand picked up the afghan, inspecting it for bite marks. There was nothing that he could see at least.
“Hmph.” He let the blanket drop back onto the couch, started out of the room, then reconsidered, turning back and folding up the blanket and placing it back on the head of the couch. He knew he'd get annoyed if he saved it for later. That done, he wandered toward the kitchen.
What a dream... he was having difficulty remembering some of the details now. There was something about... a girl, maybe fourteen to sixteen years old. Mostly he remembered her breaking through the window. Strange how his subconscious had done that to him... taking his oft-daydreamed image of his late wife as an angel and replacing it with a young woman possessing all the grace of a giraffe on rollerskates. He wondered briefly what Dr. Freud would have had to say on the subject. There had been something else, too. Something important.
He stopped in the door of the kitchen as his eyes came to rest on the old lantern on the table, and he remembered looking up into the night, surrounded by millions of fluttering insects. And there, next to the lantern was the bottle of Tylenol he hadn't put back in the bathroom.
It wasn't a dream... The thought occurred to him suddenly, nagging him somewhere near the middle of his mind, but he tried to ignore it. He went to the table and picked up the bottle of Tylenol, noting the child safe cap. Good. I doubt she'd be able to get through that. More nagging. Maybe he'd eaten something off the night previous, or had some milk a little too close to bedtime. Milk had a tendency to give him crazy dreams if he drank it too late. He couldn't remember what he'd eaten for dinner the previous night, though, to say nothing of whether he'd had milk or not. “Oh well,” he muttered, and trudged off to the bathroom. He put the medicine bottle back in the cabinet behind the mirror and stopped. It was like there was some thought trying to poke its way in through the back of his head. Something familiar, but invisible. He ignored it and started brushing his teeth.
Something was moving in the morning sunlight streaming through the window above the toilet, flitting about in his peripheral vision and he knew somehow even before he turned his head that it was a moth. Small and white, beating itself against the glass, desperate to get out of the dark of the house. Wallace sighed through his nose and stepped over, reaching down with one hand, and grabbed a length of toilet paper, ripping it off with a sharp tug. His dominant hand still on the toothbrush, he crumpled the paper into a loose ball and lifted it up toward the moth. He struggled to keep his arm centered, unused to using his left hand for such precise actions, especially while his other was operating a toothbrush.
But, suddenly, the moth held still. It fell off the slick glass and came to rest on the window frame, trembling like some small, nervous dog. Wallace stopped, hand frozen in midair as Cosmia's face flashed suddenly into his memory, helpless and scared. Taking one last look at the moth he let the toilet paper fall into the wastebasket. He finished brushing his teeth and opened the window with a grunt. The moth hesitated a moment before it took off, fluttering into the backyard, and Wallace looked out after it, stretching his head through the window frame and into the morning air.
The sky was bright and clear over the trees, odd for the morning after such a foggy night. Or was it... had he just dreamed that? Suddenly he wasn't sure. But either way, it was beautiful outside. A good day for gardening. He pulled his head back through the window and looked at where his watch would have been, had he been wearing it. He was still in his pajamas and slippers, too. “Better get dressed,” he muttered, trudging out of the bathroom. He wondered how much daylight he'd lost as he headed upstairs.
The bedroom door was closed when he reached it. He remembered closing it (in his dream, at least), but it still seemed strange. He was unused to seeing it that way. Wallace opened the door and the nagging in his head suddenly ceased. The crushed lampshade, the smashed window, the floor littered with broken glass.
It wasn't a dream!
Was that even possible? Well if it wasn't a dream, then where was she? She wasn't on the couch where he'd left her, she wasn't in the kitchen, the bathroom... Beginning to seriously doubt his own sanity, he turned and thumped down the stairs. Then, breathlessly, back up, checking the closet, the guest room, the guest room closet, the linen closet, the attic room... All empty but for the slight hints of fluttering in the shadows. Wallace cursed silently and all but tumbled back down the stairs, his grip on the banister the only thing keeping him upright. Right about then, a horrible thought occurred to him; He remembered her having talked about flying last night, and she had certainly seemed to believe her own story... what if she had given it a try? His stomach clenched as he imagined the girl leaping from his smashed bedroom window, spreading her arms out in front of her as she plummeted two stories to what, in her state, could quite possibly be her death. At best it would be serious injury.
Wallace padded through the kitchen and burst through the door into the backyard. His feet met with air as he'd failed to take the back steps into account and he stumbled and landed in the yard on his hands and knees. Well, at least the yard is soft. He crawled stiffly to face where his bedroom window was and saw... nothing. No crumpled figure in silvery white, no young woman whimpering over a broken leg. He breathed a sigh of relief and sat back with his arms behind him.
Well, it was all well and good that Cosmia hadn't jumped out the window, but then... where was she? Wallace swept his eyes across the yard. He wasn't actually expecting to see anything, but he did notice some movement among the cornstalks in his garden. He got up slowly, aching most places from his fall and started through the dew to his garden.
“Cosmia?” he called, limping toward the corn. “That you?” There was no response, but the rustling of the stalks continued. He stepped carefully over the electric wire fence, parted the stalks, and there she was. Still just as odd as he'd remembered her from the night before, she appeared completely oblivious to his presence. Her grey-blue eyes stared confused, almost angrily at the corn stalks. Very deliberately she reached out a hand and gave one of the stalks a gentle whack, like a cat playing with an inattentive owner's foot. The cornstalk bobbed back and forth, and she looked bemused at her hand then back at the plant.
“Something the matter?” Wallace asked, trying again to catch the girl's attention.
“I don't understand...” she murmured, articulating each syllable very carefully for no apparent reason. She turned to Wallace and jumped suddenly, her eyes wide with surprise. “Ah! You're... here? You can... you can see me?”
Wallace glanced around them quickly. “Yes...”
“But I thought... I thought that was just a dream!” She raised trembling hands to her head as if trying to her head as if trying to hold it in place. “I thought I just hit my head and...”
“Well you did,” Wallace said, trying to be as gentle as he could. “When you flew through my window, remember?” He winced suddenly. It sounded even more ridiculous than he'd expected it to.
She shook her head and Wallace could see tears beginning to form at the corners of her eyes. “No!” she sobbed. “No, no, that isn't right, it can't be right! This is all just a bad dream, a terrible, horrible dream!”
Wallace reached out and put his hand gently on her shoulder. “Cosmia, calm down... You've had a rough night, and the best thing to do right now is come inside and take it easy for a while.”
She pulled her shoulder away from him. “No!” she yelled. “I have to go back, I have to go home!” She turned from him and fled through the garden, her cloak rustling after her.
“Wait!” Wallace called, doing his best to run after her. The soft ground encumbered his footsteps, it was slow going and he wondered briefly how she managed to go so fast through the plants without harming any of them. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he realized unconsciously that she wasn't leaving any footprints. Then, as the thought began to register consciously he saw her cloak spread and separate behind her, shining suddenly in the morning light, and with a great flap she lifted off the ground and shot up into the sky.
Wallace stopped, his mouth hanging open in disbelief. “Hey!” he shouted hysterically. “What are you doing!? You're in no condition to fly, come back down here at once!!” He waved his arms as he yelled trying to get her attention but she was already soaring quickly away and up into the sky. “Heeey!!” he screamed one last time and then gave up, his arms falling limp at his sides. She was getting quickly smaller and he was pretty sure she couldn't hear him any more. He stood there gaping for a while, struggling to comprehend not only what had just happened, but what exactly he was supposed to do about it.
He finally ran, or rather, shuffled quickly back to the house trying to keep his muddy slippers on his feet. Just inside the kitchen door he left them on the mat and scurried to the telephone. He picked up the receiver but his finger stopped just before it hit the rotor. Sure, he could call the police, but what would he tell them? That there was a concussed moth goddess flying over a remote town in Pennsylvania? That she was also possibly a drugged-up hippie child?
Wallace put the receiver back down. “I think...” he muttered to himself hesitantly, “I think we can rule out the drugged-up hippie child theory.” He could hardly believe he was considering that, but... well, he knew what he'd seen. Or, at least, he thought he did. He was fairly certain that he'd just seen a young woman take to the sky on massive silvery wings; a girl who, the night before, had come crashing inexplicably through his bedroom window, and who seemed to have attracted more moths than Wallace had ever remembered seeing at one time. And using that rationale to discount the drug portion of the theory, her description of her home and general confusion about where she was also lent itself to something... otherworldly.
Wallace grabbed his slippers and took them to the washroom in the basement, where he rinsed them off as best he could before putting them in the washing machine. On his way back upstairs he grabbed the broom and dustpan from the basement door and slipped his bare feet into his sneakers before heading up to his bedroom to clean up the broken glass.
Okay. So he'd found a moth goddess. Apparently lost, and a long way from home, wherever home was. That much was settled. With little effort he'd made her distraught and now she was flying around goodness knew where, probably in a panic. He had to do something... but what? He broke from sweeping for a moment to look out the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of her. What could he do? He couldn't see her, or really anything in the sky. Maybe a distant jet plane, but the idea of Cosmia meeting a jet plane up there only made him uncomfortable so he tried not to think about it. Really, there wasn't anything he could do right now but pray, and even that seemed almost counterintuitive. How do you pray for the sake of a goddess?
He sighed and went back to sweeping. “Same way you pray for anything else, I guess,” he muttered to himself. “Question is would it make any difference?”
Sweep. Sweep. Sweep.
He felt a prompting at the back of his mind and he glanced behind at the dresser next to the closet, the one Cosmia had slammed into last night after trying to regain her composure. Several things had fallen off of it, which only made sense. He must have missed it in the commotion. His pocket knife was on the floor along with his watch and several black wooden elephants which had originally belonged to his late wife. He sighed. If she had been here, that would have been remedied by now. Broken glass or no broken glass, Rosie would have given those elephants her attention before everything else, and it didn't take a huge stretch of the imagination for Wallace to see her picking the little figures up and inspecting their white tusks for damage.
“And why wouldn't it make a difference, hmm?”
“What do you mean?” he asked, leaning slightly on his broom.
“I mean why wouldn't praying for the poor girl make a difference?”
“Hmph. Call me crazy if you like, but I'm starting to think she might have been telling the truth.”
“Well obviously...” she said with a smile.
“So you get my point then? If she's already... I don't know, 'celestial' then isn't she more or less above help?”
Her smile didn't fade. “Darling, you're making excuses.”
Wallace stiffened. “I don't know what you're talking about.”
“Oh come on, think about it. You helped her, didn't you?”
“Well I only-”
“You made sure she was alright and safe, you looked after her until she felt better. You did plenty.”
“Okay, but so what?”
“So what? So if you could help her, why couldn't God?” She stood, stepping gracefully toward him, her nightgown rustling over her bare feet. When she stepped on the glass there was no sound of crunching. “And besides, why wouldn't He?”
Wallace went back to sweeping. “Well he didn't do a whole lot to help you,” he grumbled.
Rosie sighed. “Love, it was just my time. Besides, I went peacefully, surrounded by people I loved, and at that point it was the best I could have asked for.” Wallace clenched his teeth and tried to focus on his sweeping, but she put a hand on his shoulder like a cool breeze, and he found he couldn't concentrate. He looked into her face and felt moisture blurring his vision.
“Please just give Him another chance, dear. For Cosmia and for me.”
He sighed and felt his jaw tremble. “I'll try,” he said finally. She smiled and he closed his eyes as she leaned her face toward his. Her kiss was soft and warm, like something from a dream moments before waking, and when he opened his eyes she was gone again. With a sigh he went to the dresser and began picking up the elephants, inspecting them one by one for damage.
Some time later found Wallace coming down the stairs with the broom, the last dustpan full of glass, and some clothes that were not pajamas. He dumped the glass in the trash, put the broom away and went straight into the garage to get some gardener's plastic and a staple gun. First things first, he had to patch up the window. He took the plastic upstairs, stapled a corner of it to the window frame, cut off the excess with his pocket knife and took it all back downstairs again to put it away. With the window temporarily repaired, Wallace made some oatmeal and had breakfast. After cleaning his dishes he went for a walk down to the road to get the paper, and by the time he got back it was nearly eleven.
Ordinarily he would have sat for a while and read the paper, but after what had happened this morning he just couldn't force himself to sit around, to say nothing of what a late start he'd gotten. He left the paper rolled up on his recliner and went outside to check the garden for confused moth goddesses.
Cosmia wasn't there, but there were a few small, white moths fluttering clumsily through the corn stalks. Wallace inspected the plants, trying in some small way to figure out what exactly she'd been trying to accomplish by batting them back and forth. As he ran his hand under a leaf one of the moths landed on his fingers. He stopped and looked at the little insect. “What do you want?” he muttered. “She's not here, she flew off somewhere else.” It turned to face him and he flinched. “Well don't ask me, I don't know where she went. Heck, you all seemed to know pretty well where she was last night.” He glanced around the garden. There hadn't been so many moths that morning, but it couldn't just be a coincidence. This was where she had been last, after all. Wallace stepped carefully through the garden to the west, where Cosmia had flown off. The hill was mostly clear here and from the edge of the garden he could see over the road and the next hill, and a good way into the distance. He held his hand up against the sun and tried to see if he could make out any insect swarms, or anything that might indicate where she had gone.
“Nothing,” he sighed. “If only I'd thought of that earlier...” She was no doubt long gone by now. But, there was every possibility that she'd gotten tired and stopped somewhere or that she'd stopped when she realized that she had no idea where she was going. At least, that would be if she realized that. Either way, he reasoned, she couldn't have gotten that far, and if she was still nearby all he had to do was follow the moths.
Wallace went back into the house. It was time, he reasoned, to go for a drive. He got his binoculars from the hall closet and went straight to the garage where his old Jeep Commanche pickup truck was. Setting the binoculars on the seat beside him, he backed out of the garage and started down the driveway. A bumpy minute or two later he was on the road, heading west and keeping an eye out for any large groups of moths, hoping to see them before they met an untimely end on his windshield. He drove slowly and carefully, scanning the area around him as thoroughly as he could but by the time he got to town he hadn't seen anything. He drove a hasty circuit around town, still slowly and carefully. As he turned down Main Street he passed the bakery and saw Catherine, the building's owner and sole proprietor on the front steps, beating out the welcome mat. She saw him and, instantly recognizing his truck, waved. Wallace waved back and groaned inwardly when he saw her curious expression as she continued to wave. She was expecting him to stop and talk and while he didn't dislike Catherine, he was in sort of a hurry. He pulled the truck over anyway and leaned across the cab to crank open the passenger window.
“What's the matter, Wallace, you lost?” She brushed a stray strand of greying red hair back in line with her ponytail and leaned on the window frame. She was a middle-aged woman whom he had known for several years, ever since she had bought the old post office and turned it into the bake shop that it was today.
“What do you mean?” Wallace asked.
“You're driving all slow like you don't know where you are. Plus me and the boys missed you for coffee this morning, thought maybe you got mixed up on the way here.”
Wallace flinched. He hadn't even realized what day of the week it was. “Ah jeez, it's Wednesday already?” Catherine gave a concerned nod. “Shoot... completely slipped my mind. If you see Rusty and Jack, give them my apologies, won't you?”
Catherine raised an eyebrow. “You doing alright, Wallace? You don't seem yourself.”
Well you see, Cath, a moth goddess crashed through my window last night. She flew off in a panic this morning and she's got a concussion so I'm trying to find her before she gets into any serious trouble.
“Yeah, I'm alright. Just, ah... doing some errands.”
“Alright... well, if you're sure.”
You haven't seen any suspiciously large swarms of moths, have you?
“Don't worry about it,” he said, trying to smile reassuringly. “I've got to go, I'll talk to you later.”
Wallace drove off, not bothering to close his windows. On Wednesdays he'd usually spend the morning at the bakery and play cribbage with a couple of old friends, and if Catherine wasn't too busy she'd join in too. It was something he looked forward to every week and it kept his mind sharp. Oh well... one week wouldn't kill him. He continued west through town and kept going through the farmland beyond. A few times he thought he saw an insect cloud, but each time it ended up being a tractor stirring up dust.
After several hours of fruitless searching, Wallace finally gave up and started what was now a long drive home. He turned on the radio and caught the weather report. Apparently the wet spell they'd been having was over in favor of a few warm and sunny days. That was good, at least as far as Cosmia was concerned. Wallace didn't like the idea of her being out there alone in the rain. He continued to look for moths as he drove home, but his heart wasn't really in it. He'd lost her.
He was hungry by the time he got home, so he warmed up some leftover soup in the microwave. It was about dinner time anyway, so he made up some salad as well and toasted a couple slices of artisan bread he'd gotten from Catherine a few days before. It wasn't exactly a feast, but it tasted good and filled him up. When he was done, he opened the kitchen door up to the screen to let some fresh air in and washed the dishes. It was a peaceful evening, but he couldn't relax with the nagging at the back of his mind. What had happened to Cosmia?
Dishes done, Wallace went into the living room and opened the abandoned paper and sat down in his easy chair. His eyes skimmed the words without really reading them and after about a minute he set the paper down with a sigh. “Alright Rosie,” he murmured. “You win, I'll give Him a shot.” He leaned forward and folded his hands in front of him.
Wallace prayed silently, thinking the words to his prayer, first expressing hopes that his wife was doing okay up there. Then he moved onto Cosmia, praying that wherever she was (and whatever she was- he still felt weird about calling her a goddess while talking to God himself) she was safe and getting plenty of rest. Then after thinking about it for a moment or two he asked that she make it back home safely, wherever that ended up being.
It was a good prayer, he thought. Sincere. Even if he wasn't confident it had been received, he had meant every word of it. He sat back in his chair and sighed, lifting the paper back up. There. He'd tried. “Ball's in your court now,” he muttered.
A sudden crash came from the kitchen and Wallace froze for an instant. His gut reaction couldn't tell if it was relieved that she was back or just upset that she was still apparently running into things. Either way, he jumped up and hurried into the kitchen and was immediately disappointed. There on the floor, tangled in the splintered remains of his screen door was a different young woman who was certainly not Cosmia. She had a large, dark coat on which would have hung to just above her ankles had she not been on her hands and knees. As it was, it covered her like a shroud, and the sleeves were far longer than her arms. Her hair was short, well kept, and black but with a strange blue iridescence that shone in the evening light. She looked up at him as he came into the kitchen with an expression that was either confusion or ire. He couldn't tell which, and it might have been both. She had a regal face with bright blue eyes and a prominent nose.
Wallace felt his eye beginning to twitch. “And just who the heck are you supposed to be!?” he yelled.
The girl jumped to her feet, quicker than it looked like she ought to be able, and shook herself like a bird ruffling its feathers. The front of her coat was open, revealing a purple and white striped shirt, brown pants, and what looked like saddle shoes. She scowled at him. “I might ask you the same question,” she said.
“I asked first, and besides that you broke my door down and I'd like an explanation!” Wallace fumed.
She looked around her at the bits of wood and screen scattered about her feet, then back at Wallace. “I did knock.”
“No you didn't!”
Wallace sighed and brought his head to his face. “What is it with you people and crashing through things?”
“Look I didn't see it okay? And further more-” She stopped. “Wait, what do you mean 'you people'?”
Wallace waved his hand in her general direction. “Oh,” he said, “I know what you are, so just cut to the chase. Which one are you? Goddess of ridiculously big trench coats?”
“Hmph!” She stuck her nose in the air. “I am Bellatrice Coterie, Lady over all starlings and the chatters thereof. Furthermore, if you're the one who's taken Cosmia captive then I must insist that you return her at once, or else I'll... I'll break more of your precious doors!”
Wallace stared at her for a moment. “You're serious, aren't you.”
“Of course I am, and so help me I will!”
Wallace sighed. “Well you're a few hours late. She flew off this morning, went westward. I... I don't know where she went.”
“Aha! So she escaped your cunning wiles!”
“I wasn't keeping her captive! She hurt her head coming through the window last night and I was helping her recover! She shouldn't be flying around in her condition, she needs her rest.”
Bellatrice screwed up her mouth in thought. “I... see. To the west, you said?” Wallace nodded. “Very well. I will look for her. And upon my return you will help her recover or your doors will feel my wrath. Do I make myself clear, human?”
“You will wait here for me.” And with that she bounded out through the door frame. There was some indistinct dark movement beyond and a loud flapping noise and she was gone. Wallace threw up his hands in resignation and trudged back to the living room. First moths and now starlings. Great. He should have just told Bellatrice to take Cosmia home and make sure she didn't do anything too strenuous for a while. But then, this Bellatrice didn't seem like she would have listened to him anyway. Maybe it was better this way. He unplugged the floor lamp and brought it out to the backyard, setting it a little way past the back stairs. From the garage he grabbed a lawn chair and an extension cord. Five minutes later he was relaxing with his newspaper, facing the west and watching for the imminent sunset. No goddesses in sight for the time being. He turned the lamp on and waited.
This go-around's featured artist is Jennifer Gibson. You can check out more of her work at www.jgibsonillustration.com
Want to have your work featured on Stuff and Nonsense? Find out how here!
This go-around's featured artist is Jennifer Gibson. You can check out more of her work at www.jgibsonillustration.com
Want to have your work featured on Stuff and Nonsense? Find out how here!