Thursday, October 13, 2016

Living Dead Girl

I have a spoopy tale for you, just in time for Halloween. It was inspired by something I heard on the news and promptly forgot, sweet irony. It may have a sequel. Or I may decide I hate it and never look at it again. All characters are fake, blah blah blah, disclaimer, disclaimer, no goats or black cockerels were sacrificed in the making of this short story, etc, etc.
He was panicked, racing down the road too fast, too fast.
She was still, just… too still. 
His blood was hammering like a wasted noise band at a dive show.
Hers was slowly cooling. Slowly. Still. Even her blood was going still. 
He arrived too late and she--- she was gone too early. 
It would be funny, if it weren’t so tragic, so they say. So they say. No, it has to be funny because it’s tragic. But it’s funny you see, because all too recently it was oppositely. She was going too fast. Until she stopped. Suddenly. With a smashing of windows like the gnashing of dragon teeth. He was still, just breathing, living, though the nightmare life-in-death had tossed its dice and he found it ruled his destiny. Then she stopped. Then it was her blood thicked with cold. 
He had left her too early and she found she had arrived at him too late. 
It was funny the way their lives went continuously oppositely, she called it complementary. 
You see, time moved like a school of fish around her, darting past at impossible speed and complexity, and she couldn’t catch up with the whirling currents, lost her feet. He, he moved through time like an ant over a painting. Or maybe time slowed to doff its cap as it approached him. Time was her dervish. Time was his dog. And now, time for both was just a twisted irony.
“I missed you,” she mumbles, snuggling her head into his shoulder, her hands gliding over his skin. He stares. It doesn’t occur to her that her head, her hands, should pass right through him. So they don’t. He knows they should and the cognitive dissonance of this experience is so overwhelming that he just stares in shock.
“What?” she laughs, “I know you were only gone a week but it shouldn’t be that surprising. I lervs you.”
His system is in shut down. “You’re dead,” he states without feeling, like he’s reporting the effect of gravity, a thing too plain to note, let alone state, but stated it had to be. For the record. Records are important. Records are data. And Data is the Tree of Knowledge. He concerns himself with things like this while he watches a cartoon crew and their pirate ship slip down a cloudfall into a bottomless sea of stars. His neurological structures are trying desperately to make him forget she is there. Ah, but look behind the curtain they say we’ve never shown you this trick before. She persistently refuses to forget she is there. So she is. She is there because it is as granted to her as the effect of gravity. She thinks she should be here. So here she is. And all of a sudden her conviction becomes contagious in its innocuous normalcy. And his brain found an easier strategy. Accept. This is normal. It is Wednesday. You are with her. It’s Wednesday. Where else would you be? He forgot she was dead and fell asleep. 
He woke up. He remembered.
  First he remembered the pain.
   Second he remembered her. Why had she been there? He’d left two weeks ago and left her a week ago.
     Third he remembered she was dead.             
       Fourth he remembered that dead people don’t make corporeal house calls so it must have been a dream.
He rolls over to grab his water bottle and finds he can’t move. He’s trapped under a mess of pink skin and brown hair. He realizes the mess is person-shaped. He knows that shape. This is one fucked up dream. And now his mom calls. She asks how he is, you know, considering the accident and-
“I’m having the weirdest dream,” he cuts her off, to her relief. “I can’t tell which parts are dream and which are memory. Are you here to help me remember?” Mom says she’s calling his aunt. The phone goes dead. He expects to wake up. He looks at the messy person. He considers the utterly absurd, ineffable nature of reality. His aunt comes in.
“You’re going to be late for work if you don’t get up.” She says it like a question. She says it like a test.
“I know. I’m trying but I can’t wake up,” he responds, wondering if this is his brain’s interpretation of the alarm clock going off. She leaves, misunderstanding completely and, consequently, satisfied. The messy person moves. She smiles. “Mornin. Did I get you in trouble with your aunt?”
He kisses her forehead. “No”. It occurs to him that’s strange. His late recently-ex girlfriend in his bed, he could believe. But he could not believe his aunt would let a naked woman in his bed go by without commenting upon it in no uncertain terms. This must be a dream. He goes back to sleep.
She’s shaking him. “Wake up already! You sleep like the dead! Come oooon! Wanna plaaaay!” She’s bouncing up and down on him, nipping him occasionally.
“Huhng?” he manages. “I should have woken up already.”
“Damn right you should have! It’s like two o’clock!”
“No. I mean. What are you still doing here?”
“Well damn! I didn’t think it was like that! You sleep at my house until two all the time. I thought I’d repay the favor. Since your aunt is being so uncharacteristically hospitable. Especially because honestly, I’m kind of scared to leave.”
And it clicked. “You are scared to leave aren’t you?”
“Well yeah. I feel super awkward around your family when I know how they feel about me sleeping here. I don’t even know them really.”
“No. I mean. You’re dead. We broke up and then you died. I left town two weeks ago and never saw you again. Your sister called me screaming. You died before I got to the hospital.”
She cocks her head to the side, “Well, I can understand not remembering dying. That’s pretty common, innit? Well, not to say common really but, y’know, not uncommon. Common for ghosts anyway. But I think I’d remember you breaking up with me. That’s bound to be traumatic, kinda leave an impression on a person, like.”
“Yeah. I think that’s the point. I think it was so traumatic that you forgot it. I think that’s why you’re here. You can’t accept what happened.”
“Maybe I’m here because you can’t accept what happened. I mean, if I had a falling out with you and then you died, I’d probably be conjuring you from the other side too. Consciously or otherwise. Wait. Are you saying I’m dead and you didn’t even conjure me here? Didn’t you miss me? Oh yeah, you’re supposed to have dumped me. So I guess you didn’t want me here alive, let alone dead. Der. Forget me own head next. Little dead girl joke for ya there. Oh gods, I didn’t get decapitated did I? That shit gives me the wiggins.”
“No. You didn’t get decapitated.” He couldn’t imagine why that mattered. Dead is dead. He floundered in the cloud of words, “Wait. No. Yes. I missed you. I didn’t conjure you though.”
“Are you suuuuuure?”
“Can anyone be sure of anything?”
“Of course not. Let’s go get waffles.”
“Okay. I’m gonna take a shower.”
He pushes himself out of bed, rubs his face, looks back at her, makes a face, looks like he just heard there’s aliens landing in the backyard, which is the way he looks when socialists lose elections, which is the way he looks when another invaded nation fills with dead children, which is the way he looks when he stares into the abyss, which is the way he looks when he quotes Nihilist Memes, which is the way he looks when he laughs so he doesn’t cry. He takes a deep breath, "Hail Satan" he exhales, and takes a shower, mind-numb. 
She’s reading a book when he comes back. It’s a comic book. She’d rather be reading the leftover textbook. She’s making an awkward attempt to understand him. Not that it matters much now. “You ready?” he asks. They get in the car and drive to the diner.  The server wanders over eventually. “Wh'sup bro? What can I get ya?” He orders eggs and toast, looks over to her as she orders waffles. The server, of course, doesn’t hear her and looks around melodramatically to indicate I got no idea what you starin at man, starts to walk away. He repeats her order to the server who, after a time, brings their food out and sets both plates in front of him. He pushes the waffle across the table.
She raises a single eyebrow. “Okay, no one in the service industry can get away with being that blatantly misogynistic. I really am dead, aren’t I?”
“If you’re dead, how can you eat? Shouldn’t the fork just fall through your whispy little finger-shaped energetic projection?” The fork clatters to the table. Everyone turns to look at the noise. She glares at him. She laughs. He laughs. Everyone continues to stare.
She raises her index finger, “Belief is a tool,” she says in her best socially-awkward- yet-blissfully-unaware-of-it professor voice, then pushes up imaginary glasses. “I posit that if I am an energetic projection and in some way a sort of thought-fold in the space-time continuum, that I’m able to polarize magnetic fields in such a way that either the spoon is attracted through some atomic process or that I’m manipulating my own energetic imprint to be dense enough to affect the organized-energy-that-is-matter around me. Alex would probably say that’s a bunch of bullshit and harsh at me for using Science Words but I don’t give a damn as long as I can believe it long enough to shove this waffle down my imaginary face hole.” It takes a couple tries, but she eventually picks up the fork again. She eats the whole waffle without caring how it’s substance disappears into her insubstantial body. Breakfast for the breakfast gods, she thinks silently, and giggles aloud. When they leave, the server busses the table, notices the guy ate all that food but he never saw him touch the waffle. He never thinks about it again. Ghosts don’t exist, so they certainly don’t eat waffles, so he certainly didn’t see a ghost eating a waffle. That would be absurd. 
They get back to the house and greet his aunt nonchalantly. “You look fat and happy. Where have you been?” his aunt probes.
“We just went and got some breakfast,” motioning behind himself to indicate his late recently-ex girlfriend. His aunt looks despairingly at the empty space. Then, like a hive of inter-phase bees forming a swarm, a familiar young woman flickers into sight.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” his aunt gasps, crossing herself, “God and all his angels preserve us!”
“Um. Hi! You can see me now?” She jumps up and down, “I believed enough for all of us!”
“In the name of Christ Jesus, be gone from the earth, unholy spirit!”
She starts dissolving like a forgotten piece of paper in the wash. She reaches out to the love that had kept her here and screams his name- and she’s gone.

She hasn’t come back. She doesn’t respond to conjuration. He doesn’t wake up to a late-recently-ex-dead-girlfriend-shaped mess of pink flesh and brown bird nest. But once, when he slipped between, he heard her still screaming his name. He doesn’t know the Moirai made her a promise. He doesn’t know they have a rescue planned. He looks for another way. He doesn’t even know the people with the expertise he needs are the very same. They don’t know they need his plan. It would be funny, if it weren’t so tragic. So they say.
The keys click and clack like a schizophrenic clock. If the typing women weren’t so absorbed in their conversation, they might pause to wonder at the evolution of human communication. The way it interacts with time. That the more human technology has beaten time into submission, the more the human psyche submits to the rule of time. Live by the sword, die by the sword. Clock hands are swords, cutting time into smaller and smaller pieces, more and more to be counted and communicated and consumed and commanded by. Right now, the typing women are consumed by a perceived lack of time, and so they think no further on the absurdity of their worry, which flies in the face of their own experiences. When humans panic, they think like humans. Goodbye higher dimensional consciousness. Human bodies have the disconcerting ability to impose human limitations, even on the mind. Their minds have joined in a frenetic, wavering cone of power around one point of focus. An alliance in ashes has even been reborn for the sake of a common promise. Ironically, it would be better to break their promise. But time passes stubbornly linearly for the typing women and they forget to remember from ahead.
“Who thought we three would meet again?”
“Well I’ll be thunder. Who wants to be lightning?”
“Well my face is raining, so that settles that.”
“Wait, this is a thing…”
“What’s a thing?”
“It should be four.”
“When shall we four meet again?”
“No, no, that’s not right… hold on….”
“Again shall meet we four when we open the correct door.”
“Doooood! It’s like from your story. And… and the cups…”
“The cups were in our readings! The three of cups! Okay we’re cups…. Or….”
“Okay, okay. The readings. We all have a piece. We have to put the pieces together.”
“But there’s four cups. But then there’s three cups. But, wait, I’m confused.”
“WE are three cups. Remember what she called us? We’re the Fates, time to… fate… or something.”
“She’s the fourth cup. She has all the pieces.”
“Well, she can’t exactly reach up and hand them to us, can she?”
“No but we can put them back together, umm, together!”
“But she has pieces we don’t know about. You know what they say about occultists…”
“WAIT! She might not be able to reach UP, but part of her can reach DOWN! You know, to the extent direction has any meaning in this situation.”
“What? Y’all STILL haven’t sorted that shit out?!”
“Hey, hey, calm your tits. It’s a work in progress. Oh! It’s a work in progress! That means there’s still… like… an open outlet on her end for… Her to plug into!”
“Okay, well, you know how enigmatic She is. She takes whatever name and shape suits Her at the time and She didn’t even bother to explain what was going on.”
“Yeah, well, you said it yourself, sometimes these things have to unravel naturally.”
“Can you guiz please stop keking and cawing at each other for a minute?”
“Ummm… okay now I don’t know what to say.”
“What sound do stags make?”
“OMG guiz. Focus.”
“Don’t they make some weird mooing noise like mooses?”
“We agreed not to apologize.”
“Yeah well that was before. Maybe SOME apologies are in order.”
“YEAH! Maybe they ARE!”
There is relative silence as images of pouting foxes in crowns and angry crows with shining eyes materialize in the chat window. “You are filled with determination” pops up in a black square, underlined in rainbow hearts.
“You know what she would say right now?” A YouTube link pops up. Rainbow Warrior by CocoRosie.
Several moments of silence pass while they all meditate on the anthem.
“Burning embers hearts united. We remember mystical beauty.”
“Yeah. Things were like that once.”
“Well they better be again or we’re not going to keep our promise. We promised we wouldn’t leave her there and you told me you saw her bound in the lilies, just like in your reading.”
“Ok. We’ve been too… panicked about this. We already know what to do. What we were going to do in the first place. We all told her we’d be there for her when she went back. Well, the only thing that’s changed is that it’s all -or most- of her there now, instead of just a piece. So we all just do what we were going to do before.”
“Yeah, except this time instead of coming back with us, we have to cross her over instead. *sobs*”
“…… not…. necessarily…..”
“What, are we going to bring her back as a damn GHOST? Or like back to her rotting body?! WTF are you thinking you crazy fox?!”
“There’s a reason they say ‘crazy like a fox’”
“Well, she’s a fox too. Maybe she’s got her own crazy thing she’s working on.”
“Well we won’t know unless we go find out.”
“Okay, we each have a piece of the puzzle. We’ll go together and figure it out as we go along. That’s… that’s how she did things, on the fly.”
“Yeah well she was fucking reckless and look where it got her.”
“Yeah but… but maybe we have to resonate with that, with her, to find her. And, maybe she was right that risk is part of the price for magic. Remember in my story? The sacrifices in the chalices?”
“Are you saying we’re sacrifices? I don’t think I like the sound of that.”
“*sobs some more*”
“No… no… just… maybe the risk is the sacrifice. In my story, making the sacrifice was a risk. But… sometimes the price is courage. You both told me that, in different ways.” She sent the determination meme again.
“Okay, so we go in blind.”
“No. Not blind. Just maybe a little Foolish.”
The gears in his head click and clack with the reliability of a clock. He is thinking. Methodically and step by step. He knows he has time. In fact, he intends to wield time. It doesn’t matter how long she’s down there. It won’t have happened. None of this will have happened. She won’t remember. He’ll remember for both of them. He laid it all out, taking the clock apart, examining the gears. She’s slipped timestreams before. That’s what she says. She says it happens when she could have died but didn’t. But this time she did die. So that means there should be some slippy time rolling around. (Slippy. That’s her word. Damn how she’s colonized my brain.) She should be able to slip into a timestream where she didn’t die. I just have to bring it to her. I have to find the right timestream. How do I do that? How’d she do it before? Me. Right? She oriented on me. Holy shit. Her tether. She said I’m her tether. I have to get down there and… what? Be a portal? Be a tether? How? How do I do that? Maybe I should just go and see what happens. That’s what she would do. But that’s why I keep having to drag her away from death. First the thing with the runes, then the thing with the flu, then the thing with limbo, now this. Damnit that woman is always throwing herself at Death. Why does she do that? Because she’s a witch. Because she’s a fox. Because she lives liminally. I don’t do that. I don’t throw myself at Death. Why does she? His own thoughts took her voice, Because Death always finds you, you don’t have to go looking. You fear Death and do not seek it. Oh. So some attain liminality, some have liminality thrust upon them. Delightful. Well, I guess I just have to keep embracing it. Time to sleep. To dream. And in this sleep of Death what dreams may come when I have shuffled off this mortal coil? Well, I have a damn good reason for shuffling off. A consummation devoutly to be wished. I can’t let it give me pause. What did she always say? There is no fear in love and True Love drives out fear. Well then, into the wild astral-blue yonder, fearless and full of love. Gentle-handed, lion-hearted.
She was ripped from home to a desert. A desert where a forest once stood. All around her was emptiness and desolation. Yet she could feel others there. She reached out to touch their minds. They were numb as the dead left on the side of Mt. Everest. The Dead. Oh yeah. She was dead. The dead. She’d been here before. She was back in limbo. Fucking lovely. She realized her eyes had been closed. She opened them. Yep, desert. What else? Lilies. Lilies all around. The kind people throw in graves. Why can’t I move? I’m all tied up. Damnit. This was not how this was supposed to go. And then she remembered. She remembered the last time she was here. She remembered how it had changed her. She remembered all the warnings he had given her, warnings she had ignored in her self-obsession. She was so obsessed with getting herself back that she’d lost him. She’d lost herself. She’d lost her life. She’d lost everything. All because she wandered into this godforsaken place. She’d only wound up here because she’d gone to Hell to push him out. Here was BETTER than where she’d been before. No. She put the mental brakes on. She lost everything because she had been too focused on herself. She had consciously chosen to focus on herself and had brazenly abused his support. She remembered now. He told her she’d been dismissive. He told her she’d been controlling. He told her she’d been reckless. He told her she’d been hurtfully unconcerned with his feelings. By the time she realized it, it was too late. She remembered more. She remembered all the people she had hurt. She remembered her own flights of fancy left other people in Hell. No wonder she had to go to Hell. Being here was really a mercy. She deserved Hell for all the hearts she’d taken, crushed. She didn’t even deserve the relative peace of the lilies. She deserved Hell. She was full of rage and pain. She didn’t know who to blame. In my dream I was a werewolf. I ate their hearts. I ate my friends’ hearts. I eat hearts. I’m a succubus. A destroyer. A soul sucker. An eater of hearts. A marker of thralls. In my dream I was a werewolf. An animal. A monster. I’m not human. I’m evil. I’m evil. That’s why I slipped into Hell so easily. I belong there. I’m evil. I must be destroyed. Her spiral of self-loathing was abruptly interrupted by the sound of church bells. She was driving. Well, she was trying to pull out of a tight space. She could feel the lingering memory of his lips. She’d just been with him. She started driving down the road home. The bells continued to ring. She somehow felt like she was watching herself, watching someone else, being herself, and being someone else, all simultaneously. The bells calmed the disorientation. She remembered the bells. She could hear them through her bedroom window when she was younger. She would climb out onto her roof to smoke and listen. She remembered the bells of Cambridge, when she would hang out the window, and smoke, and listen to the clamoring of a hundred melodies. She missed the bells. My gods she missed the bells. Everything within her softened. The bells dissolved her defenses. Dissolved her pain, like they had in her youth. Dissolved all thoughts that were not of the bells. Then they stopped. If she had been counting, she would know ten soundings had passed. It felt like infinity. It might have done her good to know. To know the bells tolled completion. It felt like eternity. She could still feel him on her lips. She missed him like she missed the bells. Spoke to her deep in an unreachable part of her heart. Tears flowed down her face and she knew she had to find that place. The place where they were together under the bells. With newfound strength, she stood, breaking the bonds around her legs. She felt every place her arms were bound. She felt the rope digging in to her. And she showed it what it felt like to uncoil instead, to flow into her hands, to become something else, something far more powerful. They liked the idea, and did as she pleased. She stood with arms outstretched, a sword in her right hand, a chalice in her left. There was a road leading away from her place in the lilies. The road out? Someone was blocking the path, clad in armor and facing away. She marched toward the figure, who turned at her approach. She levelled her sword at the faceless opponent. “Who are you?” she bellowed, “Are you keeping me here?” In response, the figure unsheathed its sword and levelled it at her in return. She felt the skills of lifetimes flood her with forgotten muscle memories. She flicked her sword to her opponent’s hilt, disarming and distracting, then moved in quickly and struck off the helmet. “YOU!” she gasped. She stood face to face with herself. Mostly herself. Herself if she had black eyes and a hungry look. “I know who you are. You’re the part of me that takes the hearts.” She levelled her sword towards the offending heart, ready to thrust. Ready to end that which caused so much pain to so many people. “Do it” echoed the dark mirror. Instead, she dropped her sword. “But I need you. You’re the one who protected my love when his life was threatened. You’re the one who keeps me fighting. You’re the one who makes the hard decisions. You’re the one who shouts in my ear when I’m counseling, telling me all the dirty secrets people try to hide to keep me from the truth, to keep me from telling them the truth and shattering their delusions. You’re the part of me that shatters my own delusions. If I killed you… I wouldn’t be me. And dead or alive, I need to at least be whole. I love you!” And she ran to herself, wrapped herself in a tight embrace, pulled back, and ripped the heart from her dark doppleganger, nearly falling over from the effort. She glanced at the heart in her hand and, with a heave, stood up straight and calmly ripped out her own heart. She clutched them together in her right hand and held them over her head, squeezing them tightly, as if she could make them meld by force of will. She plunged them into the empty chalice, which boiled over with her hearts’ blood. She watched with a mix of horror and glee. Blood covered both her arms, both her chests. The dark self was crumbling to the ground, boiling blood from every pore. What happened next was so surreal, the only thing that prepared her for it at all was a childhood spent rewinding VHS tapes. The bloody mess that had been her other self merged with the blood boiling out of the cup and seemed to run up it. Soon there was not even a stain where the other had been. The cup no longer boiled over. Instead, it seemed impossibly heavy and indescribably dark, like the deepest reaches of the sea where even man’s technology hasn’t reached. She smiled, lifted the chalice to her lips, and quaffed the black blood, gulping, choking, ecstatic, hungry, impassioned, alive. As the last of it danced over her tongue and down her throat, she swung the chalice around over her head and launched it, releasing a wail that became a song, a primal war cry. She collapsed onto all fours and felt her body contract. She sprouted fur and tail, sharp tooth and nail. Her hips were suddenly all wrong. No, not wrong, not for this shape. Just right for this shape. She skittered down the road on fox feet, gekkering in the joy of liberation. She smelled the dead. They smelled like fear and unwashed bedsheets. There was another smell, it was sharp and sweet and green. She ran towards it. Her strides somehow took her impossibly long distances, as if she wore ten league boots. She didn’t hear the creak. She felt the crack. Ow damnit! Something fell on my bleedin’ head! At her feet was a golden apple. It was the source of the sweet sharp smell. She’d been so intoxicated by the scent that she’d nearly missed it! She rolled it around on the ground for a bit. Then she ate it whole. She shouldn’t have been able to do that. Well, she shouldn’t be a four-legged furball either, but such is death. She felt the apple slide into her stomach and bloom into a lotus on her back. What is it with wetland flowers down here? There’s no bleedin’ water to be seen. Bleedin’. She’d always said that. It meant so much more now. Quite of its own accord, her tail raised itself over her head, the white tip now shining like a lantern. It swayed insistently in one direction. So, she cocked her head to the side, listened, and chased her tail. In the land of the dead, you follow your behind. If I got down here I can get out. I’m following the trail -well, I’m following my tail- back the way I came. I don’t remember coming, but whatever is in my tail does! It felt like there were magnets in her tail that were attracted by a path of magnets in the ground. She saw them now! Little rails of light, punctuated with radiant iridescent spheres. She tore through the woods, it was lucky she was a fox because no human body could do this. The magnetic tail met opposing polarity and she skidded to a halt. It was a river. Everything had gone dark while she ran through the woods. There were woods here? She thought it was all desert. But she clearly remembered running through the woods. Well, here’s a river so now I have to deal with that. She delicately dipped an exploratory paw in the water and felt ripples approaching from the left. She could barely make it out in the red light of the horizon, but a coracle cruised gently towards her. When it drew up beside her, she stopped it with a paw. With a flick of her tail, she sent the lotus leaping from her back into the boat, and jumped in after it. The boat lurched forward, nearly tossing her out, but again her tail seemed to meet some oppositional force which compelled her back. The lotus spun and whirred and the boat glided on apace. A red sun set behind her, illuminating the shore, her escape. Every cell in her body jumped out at her and she saw them. Three women, clad in black cliché, stood under a willow tree. Well, to say they stood gives the impression they were still. Quite the reverse, actually. There was nothing serene about the scene beneath the willow tree. The three gesticulated wildly and seemed to be speaking all at once. Well, to say they were speaking gives the impression that they used measured tones. Rather, they seemed to be shouting. They did not hear the soft sound of the coracle slip to shore. They did not hear the patter of fox paws approaching. They did not hear the groan of several pounds of mass rearranging itself to fill roughly twice the volume it so recently had. What they did hear, finally, was a loud and unpracticed “Hi guys!” chirped from fresh vocal chords. They all jumped. Turned. Gasped. Rushed her in relief. Wrapped her in weary arms.
“I love you too, ladies! Come on, let’s go!”
“Wait what?” asked one.
“I dunno,” said a second.
“I know. Let’s go!” shouted the third.
That third woman ran off, not slowing as her arms became wings and her legs no longer touched the ground. The crow flew off into the dark horizon. A fleet fox followed behind her, all faith in her flying friend. Next, bounding into the red expanse, was something like the product of an unlikely union between a dragon and a deer. The final woman shook her head and sprouted antlers. She ran after her kin on the legs of a stag, rapidly closing the gap between them. Eventually, the crow alighted on a gleaming gold garden gate and became a jet-clad woman with wild red curls, which she shook out like they suffocated her. Where the fox sat down, a woman lay sprawled on the ground, panting heavily, her face half-hidden in matted brown hair, her cheeks flushed with excitement. The stag nosed the loafer’s head and became an obsidian-haired beauty in black tails and top hat. The fourth woman stomped up from a stand of trees, flinging back her auburn locks with the fierceness of frustration and purpose.
“This is the crossing place,” spake the raven.
“I feel something that way, though,” gestured the vixen. They all looked where she was pointing, looked at each other, and shrugged. “You were right to bring us here, sister, but there’s something here beside the crossing point! It’s like there’s a magnet in my tail. Well, I don’t have a tail anymore. But I can still feel it. I’m following it.” They tripped downhill away from the gate and towards the stand of trees. “We’re getting closer” She felt a trace of lips brush across hers. “It’s him! He’s here!” She took off running. In fact, she ran right into him. It would be nice to think she ran gracefully into his arms, ballerina-like, swan-like. It would be nice but it wouldn’t be true. She ran head-first into his elbow, which she grabbed, pulling him on top of her with such force that they both saw stars when their heads collided into each other, into the ground. When the lights receded, they kissed each other deeply and desperately. About the kiss, at least, we can be satisfied in our fairytale fantasy.
“Boop! I found you!”
“Well I was setting alight the you-shaped beacon.”
“You remembered!” then it hit her “You couldn’t have remembered that. It happened… It didn’t happen… It… Have you been there?” she was having another her’s memories.
“You mean you’ve been there?!”
“Yeah for a minute. Haven’t you? Isn’t that why-“
“I came to take you there, to the other timeline, the one where you don’t die!”
“You came for me! Oh my god you came for me! I love you! Oh, my god, I love you so much!”
A keen listener, at this point, would have heard a whispered, “Damn. All we got was ‘Hi’” and muffled titters. 
“A thought just came to me. A memory. A poem. Come on!”
“Where are we going?”
“To steal a horse.”
“Why are we going to steal a horse?”
“Because we need a ride. Obviously.”
“I don’t think we’re all going to fit on A horse.”
“Trust me. The horse we’re going to steal could carry the whole world if necessary.”
“Where is it?”
“Right there.”
“Erm… between where you are and where you’re looking.”
“Well that doesn’t exactly narrow it down.”
“No. I mean. Fuck. Just watch me.” And she stepped. She disappeared. But if they tilted their heads and looked from the corner of their eyes, they could just see her standing in snow, waving.
“Oh!” they all breathed together and stepped into the snow.
“Ok. So. Welcome to the castle of The Dark Lord Hades. Let’s go steal his steed.” As she scampered away, her feet left little fox prints in the snow. In what seemed like no time at all, they had arrived at the walls of the castle.
“That seemed like no time at all,” stated Rainbow Brite.
The fox became a messy person. “Oh, yeah, I’m slicing time. Or space. Space-time. Yeah. I dunno. It’s a thing a lotus taught me. I think. Speaking of which-“ she shoved her hand into her body just below the ribcage and pulled out a glowing lotus.
“What’s that?”
“For what?”
“The horse of Hades.”
“I thought we were going to steal the horse.”
“We are, but if there’s an enemy you don’t want to make, it’s Hades. I’ll leave him the lotus and when we’re done with the horse we’ll send it back. A life for a life, he’ll send the lotus back.”
“Wait, a life for a life? Does that mean? Are you going to kill someone?”
“No no no. I had someone in mind, I won’t lie. But that’s something the evil me would do and she’s not calling the shots anymore. And I don’t need to. My amazing man found a loophole. I’m not escaping purgatory, I’m jumping to a timestream in which I never wound up here.”
“And why do we need the horse for this? A carousel always worked just fine for me. We could probably use a tree branch or something…”
“Because you don’t know where you’re going. That is, if you want to come with me. I don’t really know what happens when a probability collapses. But where I’m going, you won’t remember unless you go with me. We can’t jump individually and wind up in the same timestream. I’m the one with the coordinates.”
“Well the damn HORSE doesn’t have the coordinates!”
“It’s a telepathic horse.”
“Well I’m tele-‘
“Yeah but you’re not currently an n-dimensional creature with the carrying capacity of an infinite Budweiser Clydesdale. You’re packed pretty tightly into that human suit for now, sister, despite how flexible it is out here.”
She ran off, following the walls closely. Her family of four followed. “Witches always use the back door,” she whispered and stepped through solid stone. This time, they were all used to the woo woo permeability of the place and walked right through the wall without hesitation.
“I can smell the stable,” was whispered from the shadow beneath a top hat. “This way.” They all crept carefully behind on her coattails. She slowly swung open a door making soft “Shhh” sounds, like something from an album titled “Soothing Sounds of the Sea”. The horses were all restless but they settled as she patted each nose in turn during her procession between the boxes. In the very last stall on the right there stood a horse hands higher than the rest, shining like full moon light. She gently pushed the stall door open and lead the horse out, it’s nose following her open hand. “Okay, guys. Umm. All aboard?”
The messy woman laid the lotus in the horse’s stall and climbed up the short stall walls, onto the horse’s back. Somehow, as each boarded its back, the horse grew to accommodate the additional rider without seeming to actually grow at all.
“Okay, Changeling, I do need your telepath skills. You’re the expert on timeslipping. Telepath me that kind of headspace. The coordinates don’t do me any good without an OS to process them.”
“Okay, I’ve got it. Here.”
“Oh. Wow. Okay. Yeah. Perfect. Wow. Oh this is lovely. Umm okay I think it would probably be easier if you gave that to everyone.” She felt his hot breath in her ear before he whispered, “Take my heart.”
“What? Are you crazy? No! I- I’m not- I don’t do that anymore!”
“I don’t mean rip it out. I mean take it.”
“Only if you take mine.”
Carefully, they reached into each other’s chests and, gentle-handed, clasped each other’s hearts. The space between them exploded in blue and gold. A whirling tunnel, like the sky-end of a tornado, opened up in front of them.
“Are you sure this is going to work?” one of the women shouted over the whirwind, “We might still wind up separated or without memories or worse.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll believe enough for all of us!” With an internal shout of exultation, she shoved the coordinates into the horse’s head and leaned in. And we leap into our “reasonably comfortable and completely capable” ever after to the peal of ringing bells.

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