“This might be bloody weird.”
Anna sits cross-legged next to Melissa twirling her mass of blonde curls in her fingers. Nicholas lingers behind her, watching, which is apparently one of the things that Watchers do.
“Okay,” Melissa curls her hands over the arms of the easy chair. She’s nervous, but eager.
Vera explained it like this: Witches don’t control magic. They ask for it. Spells are more like offerings, and if you have the right stuff and say the right words then things might go your way. But magic is delicate. Too much power and it can go awry. They can become addictive, those the gifts that are given. There needed to be a limitation, and the best way to achieve that was to find a guide that would keep a witch from going overboard. But to find a guide, one had to venture into a mystical realm.
Which didn’t sound easy. It sounded really freaky, actually. The last person Melissa knew that went to another universe ended up stuck there for a year and it was really, really sad. Not fun.
Only Vera said this was going to be different. It was the spirit world, not another universe. And the details were a little fuzzy and confusing but it was still supposed to be okay and not totally overwhelming.
“Still, this is gonna be bloody weird,” Anna repeated, leaning onto her easy chair.
“As long as I don’t end up with another god next door then it’s okay,” Melissa said.
“No more gods. That’s more of a one in a million bit.” Nicholas smiled reassuringly.
“Where is he, anyway?” Melissa asked, hating that she had to. But he might be doing something… unsavory.
“Last I checked the twat was re-watching Toy Story while trying to get one of your stuffed Stiches to talk,” Anna laughed. “Cracked nut, he is.”
“Not as cracked as you, of course,” Nicholas smirked.
Anna feigned a punch at Nic’s crotch and he leaped away.
“Git.” She stuck out her tongue.
“Are we starting soon?” Melissa’s hand clenched harder on the rough felt. Not that she wanted to interrupt them, it was just they had been talking her about this for over a week now and if she didn’t do it soon her nerve would go straight out the window where it would run to Disneyland and hide there forever.
“Right,” Anna turned back, a light blush under her wide eyes. “Now, close your eyes, and think of something you love. Concentrate, and…”
She wakes to a white room with white walls with no corners. It’s clean, no color or stain on the walls. Her mind echoes in the circles of the emptiness, but she does not feel alone. There’s someone else there, she feels it. Never alone, not anymore. A him. She spins in a circle. And she stops. There is a center now, appearing from nowhere. A foreign object grown from the back of her mind. A blue box. It’s the square shape and height of her grandfather’s doorway. Memories roll off its corners in a haze of smoke. There’s POLICE BOX in thin letters, wide over the gap of its open door. And she already knows that’s not what it is.
A shaggy brown head of hair overhanging black rimmed glasses and a long thin nose. She knows that face.
Outlined in yellow light emanating from the box’s insides, deviously grinning. “Fancy seeing you about.”
And she smiles. “Doctor.”
“Are you ready for all of time and space?”
“Oh, no… But you’re a god, aren’t you?”
She shakes her head and he opens the door wide for her to join him. “You don’t have to believe that.”
“I’ve always wanted this,” she says.
“Don’t drown. And remember.”
She walks through the door. “What?”
“Remember it’s not an anchor, it’s a crown.”
Her lean turns into a fall and she tumbles through a flow of stars. It’s bigger on the inside.
There was a sea that reached forever with nothing in its depths. Her friends sat on the surface, flowing with the waves. Two women lost at sea. Then it was sand. One was gone. Water again. One friend. She watched from a shoreline that wasn’t really there. How she could stand she did not know. He held her up. But did he? No, she was sinking now. The water was the color of a blue box and it was not warm. Her hands shivered. Friend? A hand reached below the surface and hovered above her, fanned out. She knew that hand, she thought. It had the curve of her childhood, the lines matched scars she had forgotten. She reached for it.
It was gone.
“Hello?” She said to no one.
“Let go,” no one said back.
The waves enraptured and wrapped her, took her down to black.
“You’re losing it.”
He’s crooked, all parts of him. Lean, long, but small. A silhouette between millions of others, fading in and out of color. Most crooked is his smile. Him. One second his face is all sharp teeth and voidless eyes. Next it’s the handsome roundness of distant charm and careless devotion. She can count the number of times he’s looked at her like that, like he does now, a tilted head on a long neck screaming with something more than a casual want.
“I said, you’re losing it,” he says again.
She grimaces. “You don’t belong here.”
“I go where I want and I aim where I please. You’re the one that summoned me.”
“Did you always rhyme?”
“Only with you.”
“What am I supposed to be learning here?”
“Never trust what you see.”
His face cracks a smile that splits his face at the seams. He’s a beast of fire, scales, and screams. He devours her whole.
A forest ate at her heels, moss crawled around her legs. There are angels in the forest, her head tells her, but the blue box is gone now. There aren’t really angels. That’s silly. At least, not ones of stone. What is it her mother said once over cookies? She can never remember. It was probably fake. Or was it more real? It had to be more real than here.
He’s in the forest with her. But didn’t he burn?
“Don’t kill what you’ll miss,” he runs long-fingered hands through emerald leaves. His skin is too pale for the trees.
She puts her hands in the leaves, too. “I don’t think I would.”
“I’d really like it if you’d be done with your silly magical walkabout it and come back. I’m bored.”
She ignores him. There are greens she has never seen in the forest. They color her skin with fairy dust. It tickles, she laughs.
“Will you always ignore me?” He asks, teasing the branches of a pine.
“Only while you keep doing this.” Her hands are freckled in gold.
He pulls her wrist away from the wilds, clutching it with the softest of hands.
Her eyes meet his and he says, “I haven’t done anything, not yet.”
When he lets go, the forest turns to snow.
“I know this.”
She’s talking to herself now, her footsteps alight in wisps of frost that fade down a mountainside. Down the valley are buildings all in rows. They’re familiar as sunlight. She knows the church down the hill and its bells ring hymns up the rocks of the world. There’s a feeling in her body like she could glow all the way to the skyline and the world would feel more alive than it ever did before. That’s more God than he ever was, her mind unravels the words across the open book that is the fallen sky. Snow is the only way the ground looks like the heavens.
Friends, again. They’ve been here before, they know it.
“You keep losing us,” one says.
“I forgot your name,” the other says.
“Just stay here with me, then. Stop leaving,” she reaches out a hand.
“We don’t know the music,” one says.
“You don’t like things that unlock,” the other says.
“You can’t keep what leaves you,” they say as one.
A man in a black suit holds out perfect orange squares, “If you want, you can have the cheese now.”
She holds out a hand and says, “This is stupid, I want it to stop.”
The man in the black suit blinks, “But it’s already frozen.”
She turns away and ascends the mountain.
A shallow riverbank full of ducks. They croak of choruses of her favorite love songs in mocking unison. There’s bread in the water. She knows this too. But her friends aren’t there. And she feels like the blue box is gone forever. This is all a bad dream, it’s all wrong and curled up. Wasn’t it supposed to be better than this? A paintbrush crosses the riverbank and turns into a swan. But not a swan. Its head is too fat, its neck too short. It honks words she doesn’t know. The ducks swell into one feather and float away.
He’s there too, now. On the bank of the river. The goose stays away, gliding on water.
“I’m not staying,” he stands and walks down the beach.
She shouts at him, “But aren’t you a Beast? Who will find you roses?”
He looks back, and smiles, and flashes, and is gone.
“You are a very strange girl,” the goose waddles next to her.
“I’m not, they just say I am,” she says, sadly. Her voice is faraway, and he’s not there. She feels the him of things fading until he’s only attached by a red string on her finger.
“There’s more power in you than you could hope to keep corralled.”
“I’ve heard that story.” She plays with her fingertips.
“But you haven’t. Now settle down.”
She sits and thinks of him not being there. The goose shakes his head at her and she tries to forget and almost gets there but his eyes are still caught somewhere between her hair and her breast.
“You’re limiting yourself. You’re losing yourself.”
She nods, “He told me.”
For the moment it’s black again. No shore, sea, or snow. A red beast swathed in flames stares back. The smoke from its nose gags her. That’s not him, she realizes. It was only partially.
“I can’t let him go,” she says. “I’ll get lost.”
The white room encircles around Melissa. Melissa. Melissa. She remembers her name and the walls flourish blue. The goose sits in front of her, its chest fluffed and puffed. Everything falls back to… normal. Or close. Her head’s no longer a blur of scenes.
“Now,” the goose says, “Are you ready to begin?”
Melissa smiles, “I’ve been ready for awhile.”