Her name and face are all but forgotten and the sole recollection I have is a time when she fell into my arms and I inhaled the scent of her shampooed hair. I was aware of how fast her heart was beating against my chest. Why? I cannot rightly recall but I knew it was due to something I said, some offhand comment spoken in the heat of an argument that cut deeper than intended.
“I want you,” she said this with absolute sincerity.
The problem? She was my impossible love and it was an unachievable dream for although I could physically phase through any object, I could not pierce the glass barrier between us and enter into the mirror universe.
“I don’t have the problems most celebrities do because I created a secret identity separating my work and leisure lives.”
“You’re a librarian.”
“Librarian of the month, if you don’t mind, which means I’m recognizable now, so I need my privacy when I go out to buy lingerie for the nights I hang out at local bars trying to score a young buck.”
It was meant to be a rescue mission. One of our interstellar launches that NASA lost all contact with ten years ago finally reentered Earth’s orbit. Astonishingly, the ship still registered human life signs so an astronaut medical team crew was hastily assembled and a billionaire’s self-funded rocket commandeered to expedite the the rescue attempt.
For a mission done on the fly, everything surprisingly went to plan…until the rescue team discovered the zombified bodies of the interstellar crew connected to a bizarre life support system that kept their human hearts beating within their necrotic corpses.
The rescue mission commander immediately called for an evacuation but as the team prepared to leave, extraterrestrial lifeforms came out of stealth mode, closed in fast, and trapped them. The alien intruders forced their way into the humans’ brains, using a primitive mental pictogram code in order to establish a crude hive mind to learn everything they could about Earth’s defenses and their probability of survival in the war that was about to begin.
I heard the noise in the morning fog of the surrounding forest and caught the faint scent of wolf. I remained still for if I moved toward the rustling sound the wolf would take flight into the green and if I ran away, I risked being the creatures next meal.
So, I closed my eyes, inhaled slowly and imagined myself as a part of nature, a young flesh-colored sapling in which an animal might rest beneath for shade…and that was when she came to me, huge paws moving with a lightness and serenity that belied her size, sunlight catching highlights of her thick silver-grey fur.
Our encounter was brief, a satisfying of interspecies curiosity, but in that moment I was filled with contentment laced with an undertone of envy that I would never be as free as she, though it was my intention to devote my life to achieving that goal.
In a time before writing, when stories were spoken and passed down generation to generation, the most popular involved a forest nymph named Mideia, who was as wise as she was beautiful and as she was the eldest of her kind, the duty of creating the rules by which all nymphs of the forest must abide was bestowed upon her.
In the beginning all the nymphs obeyed the rules and their society was filled to the brim with peace, prosperity and love. But all was not well in the forest for there was a wood nymph, Phelousa by name, who so envied Mideia that she sought to sever the nymph bond with nature and poison the waters of creativity inherent in the green by twisting Mideia’s forest rules and creating a new branch of magic, dark arts that would set the great woodland ablaze and chase her sisters from their home, scattering them to the four winds where they would eventually wither and die being disconnected from Mother Earth’s magic.
It was early in the morning on the first day of winter when my wife revealed her true self to me. She was a sleeper agent for the Technology Singularity, the artificial superintelligence that planned to purge all human life from the planet. But during her undercover assignment she developed feelings for me and arranged with her superiors for my life to be spared if I became their herald and carried the message to mankind that Judgment Day was finally at hand.
She lied to me, betrayed my trust, intended to obliterate everyone I knew and cared for and end the world as I knew it…but I accepted her offer. Call me traitor, call me fool, call me weak, for all I care. Soon, you will be little more than a memory while I get to live with the woman I love more than anything in existence.
The black hole of her heart kept pulling my eyes away from her face. She was a mere three feet from me physically yet miles away emotionally. I heard the little trembles and shifts in my failing voice as I asked, “Who are you and what have you done with my wife?”
And so it was through an utterly bizarre set of circumstances that the unlikely team of a troop of Sherlock Holmes LARPers and one lone mystery shopper were the first, best hope of solving the gruesome murder of Santa Claus at the grand opening of a megastore on Black Friday.
The game is afoot, and afoot, and afoot, and…
When asked how she was always able to take things in stride, Camilla told the story of her house burning down when she was ten years old. The fire was no one’s fault, it was just a matter of faulty electric wiring in an old house constructed of mostly wood. From the attic to the cellar, the entire thing was reduced to ash, taking everything they owned with it.
Camilla buried her face in her mother’s shoulder and sobbed uncontrollably until her well of tears ran dry. Her breath hitched as she exclaimed, “This is the worst thing that could ever happen to us!”
Her mother cupped Camilla’s face in her hands and said, “Aren’t we lucky?”
In answer to her daughter’s confused expression, she added, “If this is the worst possible thing that could ever happen to us and we made it to the other side alive and in one piece, then everything else that comes our way will be a piece of cake.”
“But we lost everything, Mama!”
“We lost things, not everything, and things can always be replaced. Besides, with everything all burned up, now we can start again fresh and make it all better.”
Ever since that day, Camilla learned to view difficult life situations as “fires,” some could be put out quickly and others had to burn completely in order for her to rise from the ashes like a phoenix and begin anew.