by Jennifer Baumer
The wind got in. The front door slammed open, hit the sofa table that stood against the wall and continued to try and force itself open farther. Pages in magazines lifted, ripped out, spun into the scrambling wind. A small dust devil formed on the front porch, sucked in the errant magazine pages, half a dozen misguided pansies trying to make a home there, and one pillow from the wicker furniture which proved too heavy and dropped out of the vortex.
Further inside the house, something fell with a jangling crash and many electronic things re-booted in the flickering power.
Tory, laughing, swearing, shoving very large cats back into the house, caught the door and struggled with it before she managed to slam it shut and lock it. As if it mattered. The wind had already gotten in, and that meant Vicki was probably there. Somewhere. Joey wasn’t going to like it when he called from work to say he was on his way home and what was for dinner and could he pick up anything? He was not a fan of Tory’s sister.
Inside a thick layer of Northern Nevada dust now coated every surface. The cats had all vanished and the pots hanging from the pot rack in the kitchen moved together like misplaced and oversized wind chimes.
All three cats prowled around Tory, restless and irritable. “I know,” she said. “I know she’s here.”
If Tory called, she’d come. Even if she wasn’t already there. Calling Vicki could invoke her. Tory wasn’t that stupid or desperate. Yet.
Wind hammered the door, rattling the knob. Outside the afternoon sun blazed out from behind storm clouds, creating a dark clear light.
Inside, wind swirled in the closed house. Pots rattled. Wine glasses chimed together. Pages rustled. Tory stood still, trying to un-focus her eyes, let her gaze go soft. The cats arched and spat, three Halloween cats almost a month early.
Tory’d been doing phone interviews, badgering CEOs for a business article Joey’d said she could turn down because they didn’t need the money and she’d been on the verge of starting a novel.
“It’s OK to be creative,” he’d told her just that morning, heading out the door. He had no idea how much she wanted to, or how thoroughly creativity could run away with a person.
Business articles requited creativity, just sane, controlled creativity. Which is what Joey had accused her of hiding behind.
Something sprinted across Tory’s field of vision, through the living room and down the hall like a wisp of gossamer or a handful of leaves blown on the wind. She lunged in that direction, trying to follow, rebounded off the wall beside the hallway and from her office could hear pages rustling, turning fast, grit mixing into the books from the wind. She made a sound of protest and tripped over one of the prowling, protesting cats, caught herself on the hallway wall and slid along it to the door of her office.
She saw Vicki race across the office as if it were vast as a field and some distance away. She glanced back over her shoulder as she neared one of the bookcases, face stricken, blond hair blowing out behind her, and without looking forward again, she dove, glittering into stardust even as her leap carried her, smaller and smaller, into the books there.
Several hardback novels tumbled off the shelves onto the books stacked on the floor below. Tory moved fast, chasing her sister, hands out, and caught several of the books before they fell. Pages rifled in her hands and she saw Vicki streaking through fictional landscapes, still running, still looking back at whatever pursued her.
Tory flipped through the pages, back to front, searching fast for what chased Vicki. This time. Something loomed up across the inside of the book, moving fast toward the center and right, Vicki’s dress disappearing from one page to the next and whatever chased her started to come into focus.
The phone rang. Tory dropped the book and screamed.
Power flickered. Her computer rebooted. Everything in the house went still.
Caller ID said it was Joey.
“Bad news,” she said to her husband over a cell connection that crackled and wavered ominously. “Vicki’s in the house.”
Her cell snapped shut. Tory stepped back into her office, tentative, ready to arch and hiss like one of the cats. One step over the threshold, half a dozen books flew off the shelves and dropped one after another to the carpet. She reached for them and a wind blew up again, pages riffling and tearing. A dozen small Vickis ran from page to page; a dozen huge, almost-seen visions chased her. Words flew up out of the books. Tory scrabbled after them, trying to catch stories. Vicki ran across several pages at once. Joey would be home soon. Tory needed to catch Vicki and make whatever was happening stop. Leaning into her office, she caught the book and her backpack where it rested against the doorframe. She shouted, caught her sister’s attention, and jumped.
Pages spun past her. Mid-flight she saw the book she was headed for was a blank journal. The pages were empty.
The story could be anything. She grabbed the cover and dragged the book with her.
She came down hard on a semi-soft surface. Tory shook her head, trying to clear out the crashing sound, blinking to focus.
An expanse of blue faded into focus. Then waves. She knelt on sand, grainy and grating under her knees. Waves thundered to her left. Broken driftwood the size of trees littered the beach. Concrete stairs, half buried in sand, led up the face of a bluff to a city above. Dotting the bluff, homes fronted largely in glass looked out over what she guessed was the Pacific ocean.
“Why here, Vicki?” she asked, and started when the answer came from directly behind her.
“The water will confuse him.”
Tory scrunched her eyes closed briefly, willing Vicki to be a hallucination.
“Running water and cold iron?” Tory asked.
“That’s protection against faeries. Or witches. Or something.”
Vicki sat down next to Tory on a piece of driftwood. In the midday sun her hair blazed brighter than Tory’s, her skin looked more golden tan.
“And you need protection from – ?” Tory asked.
Vicki didn’t say anything, just stared out at the ocean that thundered endlessly against the land.
“This is where you fill in the blank, Vick. And you need protection from – ?”
Vicki took a long, shuddering breath, as though she’d been crying or running. She closed her eyes briefly, then opened them and looked away from the ocean, over at Tory.
“Odin,” she said simply.
When she got her breath back, Tory stood. Hands on hips, she bent and shouted at her sister as if expecting Vicki had just gone deaf.
“Are you insane? What did you do? Does mom know? And where the hell are we? And where is he? Did he come through my house? Did you lead him?”
Vicki leaned back with her hands behind her on the windfall log. Face upturned to the sun, she said, “No, I’m not insane. I didn’t do anything that bad. Just – um. I thought it was a night club. Mom doesn’t know anything because I think she’s still in Constantinople. We’re in Oregon. He – I don’t know. I lost him somewhere in ‘Wind in the Willows’ but that won’t hold for long. I’m sure he did go through your house.” She smiled up at Tory. “As for leading him, it’s just the nature of the beast.” She frowned lightly without opening her eyes. “Could you move a little? You’re blocking my sun. Any other questions?”
Tory had gone still, standing with her back to Vicki and the bluff with the switchback concrete stairs leading up a good 50 feet. Instead she stared out at the ocean where the surf had gone ominously still. “Yes. One. What’s happened?”
Vicki shifted, looked out at the water, and said, “Run.”
The flat, glassy Pacific started to pull back, all the water racing out to sea even as Tory turned away and started running after Vicki, floundering through sand. Now she could hear the roaring of the water as it swept out, sucking itself into a tsunami. She’d never reach the stairs in time, never make it up them even if she did, and wasn’t sure even if she could that they’d be on high enough ground. The world went eerily silent just as she reached the first segment of sand-covered, cracked cement stairs and her shoulders went tight and hard as she waited for the sound of water crashing down and racing toward them.
Just ahead of her, Vicki turned, eyes wide, staring at the ocean. She put her hands out to stop Tory.
Tory stared, appalled, tried to push past her, and then stopped.
From behind her, the noise of the water thundering backward and growing had stopped. Either she stood in an eternal moment before the sea crashed and took them, or something had changed.
Tory looked away from Vicki and out into the Pacific.
He stood on top of the wave, which towered easily above the height of the bluff. His hair blew in the sea wind, pure gold. One eye glittered and an infinity of darkness shown where the other was missing. His body flickered like sunlight over waves, strong, alabaster, gleaming with magic that could destroy everything.
“I’m too late,” Vicki whispered, and the god raised both hands to bring the water down on this place they’d come. Distantly Tory could hear the town siren going off. The steps shook under her feet. She looked from her sister back to the god who balanced on the wave. He held his hand out.
“Go,” Tory whispered. “You don’t have any choice.” All those years covering for Vicki, all those catastrophes narrowly averted. Tory wanted to go home.
Vicki didn’t take her eyes from the god. To Tory, she said, “You have to come get me. You have to win me free of him.”
Tory shook her head. She couldn’t seem to look away from the ocean. “Not this time. It’s too much. You did this. You sent mom to somewhere that doesn’t even exist and then you did this. This time – “
The god’s voice boomed out across the water. A few straggling families still ran from the beach, bogged down by gear and dogs on leashes and sandals and loose sand. “Not this time. This time you – “
Vicki’s voice was strong. She sounded more like Tory than she had before. “This time you’ll come get me, too. Because if you don’t, I’ll say your name. I’ll say our name. We will be one again. And you’ll be trapped there, too.”
Tory opened her mouth, protest formed but locked in her throat, and Vicki gave her a look, half smug, half terrified, and turned and held her arms out to the god.
The waves roared. For just an instant the sun flared too bright for anyone on the beach to see. Then the wave broke, rolling out in a beachcomber that spread across the coastline, rolling out of sight around a rocky promontory.
Tory blinked sun tears out of her eyes and stared around for Vicki.
Her sister, and the god, were gone.
She spent the afternoon on the beach, watching the waves. After a while she took off her socks and shoes and dug her toes into the sand, but the Oregon coast wasn’t silky sand, it was hard gravel and even in September it wasn’t very warm. Tory put her shoes back on and started thinking about getting home, and how to explain any of it to Joey once she got there.
Not really my sister, she’d say, as much as a part of me. The chaos part of me. Well, you know, everyone has a wild side. You could think of it as a split personality.
Right. One who has her own body and really, really has her own mind.
Start over, she counseled herself, but really it didn’t matter. He’d never asked about their names, Tory and Vicki, both short for the same name. She’d never said anything. She couldn’t risk him calling her Victoria.
It might not even matter. She wasn’t sure how to get home. She’d come without thinking, so fast there’d been no thought, just jumped through the books, chasing Vicki.
Well, yes, she imagined telling him on the phone. I’m kind of in Oregon right now rather than Nevada, and I got here by following Vicki through the pages of a blank book when she was writing her own story and trying to get away from Odin.
Odin. The god.
…well, it will make a lot more sense when I tell you the rest.
She sighed, and stood. Might as well go home. No amount of rehearsing would help this. Summoning her will, she began to concentrate on the wind around her.
Vicki called her name.
The world around her broke up into points of light. Ocean turned over, the steps crumbled out from under her and she hurtled like an arrow loosed from a bow.
“I am going to kill you.”
But she stood in the halls of Aesgard, her voice bouncing off cold marble, and her sister wasn’t there. The guards against the huge oak doors stood impassive, staffs in hand. They were blond, bearded, their chests broad and arms deeply muscled. They were the royal guard outside Buckingham Palace. With a twist.
She’d crossed them once. Back in the days before Vicki was pulled free of her. The guards had moved before she’d seen it and taken action before she could even think how to retract her wild words. About humans. About the world. About a life of her own.
They’d encased her in a block of ice. The technical version of cooling one’s heels while she waited for her father to decide what to do with her.
Even with Vicki pulled from her, waiting was not in Tory’s nature. She’d grabbed her backpack before jumping and the book nestled within it. If she looked, the pages would be written up to where she stood now.
She’d try the other way first.
“I’m expected,” Tory said to the guards, and her voice rang off the marble. None of the bearded men even twitched.
“All right,” she said, and moved out of the hall into the bright sun of the rose gardens. If she wanted she could wait there, watching the eagles and looking over any part of Midgard she chose.
She didn’t. She had a life now, a husband, a missing mother who no doubt had no memory of who and what she was, and an irrepressible twin.
She sighed, sank down on one of the sun warm benches, which startled a peacock into screaming bloody murder. Tory glared at the creature with its hundred eyes on the ends of bright feathers.
“So go tell my father I’m here. Or shut up.”
“Do not give yourself airs above your station,” the bird responded and stepped with an awkward, jerking grace to the far side of the rose garden.
“My station is still above yours,” she called after it.
The book in her hands rifled a little in the sea breeze. Tory let it open, pages fanning of their own accord, and when they stopped she pulled a pen from her pack and tried to write herself into the story.
Her words flickered, silvered against the page, took flight. They turned to images, smudged illustrations she couldn’t understand.
“C’mon,” she muttered, freeing herself from a naughty limerick and suddenly the words flowed, ink spreading out from each word to become image in a coherent story. Showing her the recent past, when Vicki had thrown Freya into the past. A moment’s temper tantrum.
“And?” Tory demanded. Freya was back up to 1890, moving along to the present year and doing so much sight seeing no one imagined she was very angry anymore.
Of course she’d lived through all those years once before but she didn’t seem bored.
“So, Vicki. What did you do?” But the book remained blank that way so she changed the story.
Words and images fluttered. Satisfied, Tory rose and walked back into the marble hall.
“I’m expected,” she said to the guards, and they bowed low, beards sweeping the marble, and showed her into the throne room.
Where her father wasn’t. Where no one was.
“I didn’t write this,” Tory said into the echoing vastness of the room.
Footsteps sounded. She turned and saw no one.
Seconds later Vicki burst out of nowhere.
“I did. Are you crazy? Coming here? I’m trying to avoid him.” Her face was flushed, all pink cheeks and startlingly blue eyes. Her blond hair looked wild.
“I’m trying to avoid you,” Tory said. “What have you done this time?”
But Vicki had her hand and was tugging and Aesgard was fading, the cold marble floors warming and parting to let them drop through.
They landed hard, jarring on the coarse sand at Nelscott Reef, Lincoln City, Oregon, the tide coming in and another giant wave forming. The town signal went off, blaring, as the wave towered, sucking in sand and giant logs the sea had tossed up. The water crested, crashed down and ocean streaked back across the beach, dragging them out to sea. They fell into the blue-green water.
They tumbled out onto Tory’s living room floor, rolling together the length of it as if tossed by the force of the water until they were brought up hard against the entertainment center.
Tory shook off Vicki and sat up shaking her head, rubbing both hands over her face and trying to control the dizzy.
It took her a second to realize they weren’t alone.
Joey helped her to her feet. “Now what?” he demanded and she thought he didn’t know the half of it when it came to all the now whats Vicki had put her through, but she couldn’t blame him.
“Pen,” she said hastily and there was no way he could understand, she just needed him to respond.
He did, handing her a gel pen while she dug for the blank book. The book was still dry. She didn’t spare time to ask why. She flipped to the first blank page, wrote, “– in the living room where Vicki fell into a deep sleep that lasted for hours.” Made a divot on the page with the full stop period at the end of the sentence and slammed the book shut.
Joey’s face scrunched in confusion. “What?”
But Vicki was already out, all but snoring.
Tory ran a hand through her hair and sank down on the couch. Joey stood over her, hands shoved into the pockets of his Dockers, dark hair tousled where he’d pawed through it before they ever got home. He looked utterly confused and over halfway to mad.
Seconds ticked by. Vicki snored, curled up on the floor by the entertainment center. Tory kept one hand firmly on the blank book, making sure it stayed closed. The other hand stayed pressed against her face, trying somehow to shove back the exhaustion until she could talk to Joey and somehow make sense. She still had article deadlines, never mind anything creative that Joey accused her of being afraid to try.
Into the quiet and dark where she’d hidden behind her hand, Joey said, “Do you want a drink? Water? Bourbon?”
She laughed. She hadn’t meant to. “Water. Please.” She let her hands fall away from her face and the book and sat watching Vicki where she slept on the floor, managing to look innocent.
When Joey came back with the water he sat down across from her in one of the armchairs. Words he couldn’t keep back any longer spilled out. “I don’t understand. How did that happen? I know she’s trouble, but I thought she was just your sister?” He paused and broke back into speech again. “You were wet. There was water. I don’t understand. How – ?”
She looked up at him and when she didn’t quite answer yet, he said again, “I thought she was just your sister?” as if somehow he was finally in doubt about this now.
Tory shuddered and took a long drink of water. Finally she looked away from Vicki and up at her husband and nodded, as if agreeing with something.
“She’s not my sister,” she said. “She’s me.”
Joey stared. His mouth worked briefly as if processing something that might make more sense out loud than it did inside his head.
He abandoned the effort, stared at Vicki where she curled on the carpet. “What?”
Tory finally felt her shoulders relax just a little and she smiled. This was home, almost normal, if soggy, and two of the cats had just come out from under the sofa to see what was going on. Sniffer, the grey tabby, rubbed on her legs, then paused and inspected her carefully, mouth open in a look of feline disdain as he sniffed.
And there was Joey, dark eyes and hair, strong hands and a lot of patience.
Anyone exposed to Vicki needed a lot of patience.
“Let me show you,” she said, and rose to cross the coffee table and sit beside him on the edge of the green armchair. The thing clashed with everything else in their house but had cost $25 at a friend’s yard sale. It had wide flat arms she could perch on. She did, and brought the blank book with her, carefully opening it past the page where Vicki slept.
“What are you doing?” Joey asked.
“Explaining. There isn’t much time.”
He looked up at her as if he wanted to ask more questions or offer to fetch her a good psychiatrist, but looked back down when she opened the journal across both their laps.
“When I was younger,” she wrote at the top of a blank page and Joey started to interrupt, and she whispered, “Shh,” and the ink ran across the page and there was a picture forming.
“How are you doing this?” Joey asked. His voice wavered, an undercurrent of scared.
“It’s OK,” she said, without looking up. Without saying, “I don’t know, I just can.”
The picture flowed. Victoria Miller appeared, fresh faced, maybe 12, all books and blue eyes and restlessness.
“That’s you?” Joey asked, leaning over the book.
“All of me,” Tory said, sparing a glance at Vicki. Two of the cats were sniffing her thoroughly, assessing danger. The pure white fluffy one had her back up, making herself far fluffier. The grey tabby just looked unimpressed.
Not a good sign. The cats were excellent judges of character.
“But I don’t – “Joey said and Vicki twitched and Tory said, “Wait.”
Within the picture, 12-year-old Victoria Miller read and over her head, surrounding her, visions began to form, took on shape, then substance, until each thing stepped from thin air and streaked past her into the house, the Red Queen and Alice, or Pooh and Christopher Robin, or whatever age she was, beings from the books streamed from the pages and into reality.
Tory’s mother stepped into the image, one forefinger raised in the immutable gesture of “Now you listen to me, young lady.”
“I don’t – ” Joey said, and tried to get up.
“You asked,” Tory said. “And it’s safer if you know.”
A couple pages in the book riffled, taking them closer to the middle of the book. “And then,” Tory wrote, topping the page. The ink in the gel pen had turned from blue ink to purple.
Fifteen year old Tory, reading. She sat on the corner of her bed, as if alienated from the bed itself and wishing to distance herself from it. She scowled, chewing the nails of one hand and tapping Doc Martens on the floor as she read. An unsavory crew of antisocials came out of the air around her, running through the house to outcry and bedlam. Joey stared beside her, reacting to sounds from the picture, the shouting, the cars gunning away, a distant gunshot. The sounds faded and Victoria’s mother had only just entered the story when the picture flexed and flowed again.
Only a few months later from the look of things, and summer, Victoria all brown and barefoot in cutoffs and a t-shirt and a fat volume on her lap that was spitting out –
“What?” Joey managed, sounding strangled, and she nodded though neither of them looked at each other.
“I was reading Norse mythology.”
Joey jostled her as he stood and moved fast from the living room to the front entry where he stared out the front door. The September evening dragged on long and hot, and the wind continued buffeting the house, shaking the door in its frame. All four cats suddenly shot through the entryway on their way somewhere else.
“This isn’t possible,” he shouted, and raked both hands through his hair.
“Which part?” Tory asked. She got to her feet but just stood staring down at Vicki. “The part with the Norse gods or the part with the story?”
His mouth hung open. “The what?”
She frowned. “What?”
She shrugged. “What did you think was going to happen? Everything else I read about did.”
“I don’t want to watch this next part,” Tory said, but when she tried to look away and draw at the same time the picture went all wonky and something threatened to come out of the blank book that neither of them wanted to deal with, and Vicki started twitching again. And so Tory opened her eyes and looked down at the book still balanced across both their laps. She wasn’t an artist but she could tell a story. When she wasn’t too afraid to let the creativity out. A couple lines of ink and the picture spread across the page. Victoria Miller, 15, sun-brown and scattered, holding her book in one hand, the other up in self-defense against her scolding mother.
Another line and the picture grew, showing the forge in which a god made armor and the mountains beyond the house, Peavine and Mt. Rose, which should have been summertime bare of snow, were suddenly covered with it. The Frost Giants stalked crazily in their new land and there was the forge again, the hammer coming from the fire and beyond the golden god who waited, strong and chisel chested, every 15-year-old girl’s fantasy, danced the trickster god, dark as his half-brother was fair, a god of darkness and defeat.
Behind Victoria’s mother who kept throwing her hands up in despair, You can’t do this, don’t you understand, you have to – stood Freya, mother of gods, golden and fair but angry and afraid, the displacement of everything was rumbling their home and flipping reality.
Can’t you control yourself? Victoria’s mother kept asking. Did you get this wild side from your father? Not that she’d ever said who Victoria’s absentee father had been.
Behind her, Freya studied Victoria, her head tilted to one side, her dark eyes solemn. Twin voices in the room and Victoria’s mother didn’t react as her question, “Did you get this from your father?” blended with Freya’s, “You are your father’s daughter.”
Victoria’s mother scolded.
Victoria’s mother asked rhetorical questions and demanded to know what they were going to do, because she didn’t know.
Freya did, and in that instant, Victoria’s wild nature separated, the wild child of adventure stories and scruffy disreputable antiheroes, who read myths to see what Loki would do next, stepped out of the girl who loved Christopher Robin and Pooh, who had a secret crush on Thor, who hoped the Good Guys would win.
Vicki was taller, blonder, leaner, faster, more daring, less reasonable and completely intractable.
Tory, shorter, more honeyed and suddenly bereft, stood watching her new twin, her mind spinning and tumbling as her mother said, “I just don’t know what I’m going to do with the two of you.”
Joey put his arms around her and rested his chin on the top of her head. “How horrible was that for you? Did it hurt? Was it like – I can’t think what it would be like. A death? A – “
He stopped, having pulled back in the chair so he could look into her eyes as she perched on the wide flat arm of the $25 yard sale chair.
Tory smiled, and touched his face. “It wasn’t all that and it wasn’t all bad. It was a bit like going home from a good party where you’ve been surrounded by friends all evening and suddenly there’s no one to talk to. So it was a little bit lonely and it was like.” She stopped, and watched Vicki, who had settled back into sleep. Soon Tory wouldn’t be able to help herself, and she’d turn to the Vicki page in the book and wake her sister.
“Like when you’ve been in a rage, or maybe not even that,” she said, turning to see Joey still watched her with all his attention. “Maybe like a good day but one that’s fast and loud and chaotic and one thing after another, go, go, go, talking, meeting, going fast, everything kinetic and suddenly it’s done! The last thing. The last person. All forward motion stopped.”
He grinned at her and she could guess what he was going to say. “I know what you’re trying to get at but wow does what you just said make no sense.”
She pressed her lips together and smirked at him. “It does. You just don’t want to admit it.”
Across the room, all four cats had lined up, sitting stiffly as if waiting for inspection. They were all keeping an eye on Vicki.
Joey took a long, shuddering breath. “Is all this real?” He gestured, at the book, the cats, Vicki.
Tory let her head fall to one side. “What would the alternative be? I slipped a hallucinogen into your tea this morning?”
He nodded, as if to say yes, please, didn’t say anything for a couple minutes and then said out of nowhere, “Is your mother really taking a cruise around the world?”
Tory flinched. “Kind of. Last time I heard from her she’d made it as far as Constantinople.”
Joey gave her a long look. “Constantinople doesn’t exist anymore.”
She nodded. “But it did. Do you really want to pursue this right now?”
Without changing his bemused expression, Joey shook his head and stood again, pacing the still damp living room. “What do we do now?”
Tory laughed and stood and crossed the living room to put her arms around him. “You so don’t want me to answer that question.” To her relief, he smiled back.
“It’s a little like waiting for the answer to ‘What do we owe in taxes?’ or ‘How bad is the damage to the car?'”
Tory sobered. “A little. I’ve grown used to her being my sister. I’ve grown used to being sane and controlled.” She looked at him, waiting to see what he’d say.
“I really didn’t mean that as an insult,” he said. “I just.” He spread his hands again and let them drop.
“I could be more like her.” She motioned with her head toward Vicki.
“No,” Joey said, with no hesitation, which made her love him more than ever.
“What happened today?” he asked unexpectedly.
The question made sense. After all he’d gone to work that morning on a perfectly normal day without gods or ocean waves in his desert home living room.
“I don’t know yet,” Tory said, looking at where Vicki still lay curled. The orange cat had settled onto the crook of her arm and was bathing Vicki’s neck. “But it’s probably time to wake Vicki up and find out. I’m half afraid to,” she added, looking contemplatively at Vicki.
“If she’s you, then it’s not bad, right?” Joey said.
Tory squinted at him as if trying to divine his meaning made her head ache.
“I mean, it’s – playful. It’s creative.” He stopped mid-word.
She scowled. “Creative. Yeah, OK, I get it. Only Vicki’s creativity tends to get a little carried away. It’s as if – ” She was the one to stop mid-sentence now, gaped at Joey briefly as if he’d become someone else, then stood and went directly into the den.
“Tor?” Joey called.
The computer booted, answering her question before she’d ever started: Blue sparks danced around the new bastion of creativity, the computer where she’d sat only hours ago, still fuming from Joey’s comment, determined that she was creative, even if the staid and polished business articles were less than what he thought she should be doing.
When she nudged the mouse to wake the machine, it showered bright blue sparks through the air, accompanied with the sound of small silver bells and laughter.
“Here we go,” Tory said as Joey appeared in the office doorway behind her.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
She noted he didn’t come any further into her office.
“Googling the crazy,” she said, and typed in impossibilities and the date.
Google didn’t even seem to blink. The .06 seconds it usually took to produce millions of often disconnected answers to questions didn’t happen. The self-congratulatory number across the bottom of the screen was as impossible as the reports that started filling the screen.
Dracula stalked the streets of Budapest.
Athena stalked through Athens, her owls in attendance, her olive eyes grave.
Faeries and wiggins and fly-the-lights and brownies tormented Irish citizens who were having enough trouble with all the snakes suddenly returned to their island.
Big Foot came out of the Andes.
Witches returned en masse to Salem.
The Northern Lights spelled out stories. A little girl in Reno discovered her horse suddenly had wings. A slight, bespectacled, bullied 13 year old boy in Queens found a three-headed dog of uncertain disposition and went to have a chat with his tormentors. Atlantis surfaced in Venice, displacing a lot of homes. Hungry ghosts moved through China, riding on the backs of red and yellow dragons.
Joey stood with one hand propped on her desk now, head bent so he could stare, appalled, at the monitor.
Tory, surprising herself, began to laugh. Behind them, from the doorway, Vicki said quietly, “I was bored. You never play with me anymore.”
Tory stopped laughing and turned to look at Vicki. She hadn’t felt her wake. She hadn’t sensed any of the things her sister was doing, which really did look like fun.
She’d stepped too far away.
“I’m sorry, Vick. I really am. When Freya separated us she meant for me to grow up like mom kept pleading for, to be more responsible and – “
“Calm the hell down,” Vicki joined her.
“But I don’t think anyone meant for it to go this far,” Tory finished. She held her arms out to her sister and Vicki moved to her without hesitation. “Want to go talk to dad?”
Beside them, Joey tensed. “More waves?”
Tory smiled at him over her sister’s shoulder as they hugged. “I think if I ask him he’ll meet us at Starbucks.” She yawned. “Tomorrow.” Though from Joey’s expression, it’d be a long time before she got to sleep.
The one-eyed man with the mane of silver blond hair escaping his baseball hat sat on the cement terrace with a decidedly girly drink – half caff skim with chocolate sprinkles and whipped cream. No one was going to question him about it.
The wild winds had stopped and late summer Northern Nevada breezes blew over the group.
“Not much I can say, is there?” he asked, staring around him at the desert city. “I could ask if you’ve learned your lesson, but of course you haven’t. I can ask what you meant by all this but,” he hesitated, then grinned, and his face wrinkled with a thousand, thousand stories of his own, jokes, riddles, quests, tales, myths, fables, outright lies and lives. “This is what you both want?”
Across the table the blond girls, closer to twins than sisters than Joey had thought, nodded. The father nodded and turned to Joey, who blanched under the power of the one-eyed stare.
“And you. You are all right with having this change? With a wife most undoubtedly changed?”
Joey glanced form him to Tory, who smiled tiredly and took his hand. They’d talked long into the night with Joey protesting he didn’t want her to change and loved her as she was and did find her enough and did think she was creative and finally, assured she didn’t think him mean or unloving or evil, that having her whole would only make him love her more.
“She’ll still be my Tory,” he said, and smiled tiredly at Vicki, who stuck out her tongue at him.
The man in the baseball cap downed the last of his coffee and waved a hand at the disposable cup. Along the sidewalk a small tree sprang into being, shook its branches briefly in confusion and then straightened and reached for the sun.
“All right,” Odin said. “I take my leave. Lovely to see you all again.” He smiled once more, the wealth of stories on his face tilting upward to smile with him, and then his chair was empty.
“But,” Joey said, and turned to protest to Tory and Vicki.
And found only Victoria.
She was late with the article on banking, bankers and economic downturns in Nevada, and the article was a bit sketchier than it really should have been, not polished to within an inch of its life with carefully balanced, sanely controlled sentences but brimming with information threatening to overwhelm its word count and using quotes where the interviewees had come right out and made basic human statements rather than carefully crafted PR.
Her editor wrote back that she loved it and offered Tory the next month’s cover story on industrial commercial real estate in Nevada.
Victoria wrote back sure, thanks without ever really coming out of the short story she was writing, gel pens flying over creamy pages in one of the blank books she’d been collecting with that Someday thought of writing something long and fictional and utterly wonderful.
Joey stopped in the doorway of her office, the cats all around him, pacing, playing, agitated. “Are you going to write your mother back into today’s story?” he asked.
Victoria shook her head hard enough to whip her ponytail around. “She might be enjoying the sightseeing but I’m in no hurry to hear what she as to say about the trip as a whole.”
Joey laughed. “She’ll make it back eventually.”
“That’s plenty soon enough,” she said, and reached for him as he bent down to give her a kiss goodbye and head off to work.
“So what are you working on now?” he squinted at the purple gel ink lining the pages.
Victoria looked contemplatively at the book herself. “I don’t know yet. But you should be prepared for when I finish it, because I think it’s going to be a hell of an adventure.”
Jennifer R Baumer runs, writes and procrastinates in the Sierra Nevada foothills where she lives with her husband and three opinionated cats. Her work has appeared in markets from Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet to Cosmos to Penumbra.