she

Peter stood outside the dingy, two-story colonial that was covered in mildewed siding and topped by a rotting roof and wondered what the hell he'd agreed to. The house had been Abby's idea from the beginning; an hour's drive from the city, nestled on ten wooded acres, it was a handyman's special. "Remember, I grew up in the country," she had said when they sat in their downtown loft and discussed the idea. "We've been here for ten years because it was close to your work, and you needed to be close to build the business."

Peter had nodded, "And I've always told you that I appreciate it."

"I know, but we don't need to be here like we used to. Baby, it's my turn. I want some place to plant roses."

"Roses, huh?"

"Yes, I know you're not a fan, but I've always wanted a rose garden."

Peter had smiled at her. A single strand of auburn hair had fallen across her face, and she'd absently brushed it back behind her ear. Her pale green eyes wrinkled at the corners as she'd smiled back at him. "Ok," he'd said. "You're right. It is your turn."

"Really?"

"Yes, though I'm not really sold on the garden," he had said with an impish smile.

"Oh my God!" She had thrown her toned arms around him and covered his face in kisses. He'd laughed before she'd finally found his mouth and had kissed him greedily. "Thank you so much."

"Well, I do love you, you know. You deserve to be happy, too."

Abby had spent days scouring the realty websites before she found one that she liked. "We can afford something new," Peter said when they had looked at the house the first time.

"Yes, but that's not nearly as fun, is it?"

"Fun, huh?" he'd said with a smile, "that's what I get for marrying an interior designer."

"Brat," she'd punched him in the arm and then had run through the foot of snow toward the edge of the woods. "Besides, look at all the trees! Aren't they wonderful?"

Peter hadn't been quite sure what to make of the trees. Having grown up in the city, and only occasionally spent time in the country, the thought of living amongst so much…nature had made him feel slightly uncomfortable. "They're something, all right," he'd said, looking around. He had been about to ask whether Abby was going to volunteer to mow the lawn when a snowball had hit him in the back of the head.

Abby had been winding up for a second pitch when Peter charged her, and they'd both gone tumbling into the snow, laughing.

They'd kept coming back to the house, and less than a month later it was theirs. By the end of winter, they had packed, sold their apartment, and were ready to move in.

In the chilly late February air, the oaks and maples that surrounded the house stood barren and lifeless, waiting for the snow to melt and the weather to warm. Here and there, a pine or spruce provided a colorful contrast to the grayscale landscape.

"Ugh, where are they?" Abby blew into her hands and rubbed them together as they waited for the moving van to arrive. She started to shiver.

"Come here," Peter said as he walked over to her and wrapped her in his arms.

She sighed contentedly and pressed against him, laying her head on his chest. "You're nice and warm."

"I was raised by polar bears, you know."

"I thought it was penguins."

"Well, my dad was a penguin, but he ended up running off with a seal when I was one."

"I bet that pissed your mom off."

"More than you'd think. The seal was supposed to be dinner." He rubbed her arms and broad shoulders. "Doing any better?""

"Nope, I need to steal more of your body heat, penguin-boy"

"Once the movers are gone, maybe I can really heat you up."

She looked up at him, licked her lips, and grinned. "You'd better."


Spring

When the snow melted, a patch of daffodils erupted near the woods at the rear of the house, acting as a harbinger of spring. As the days passed, the trees filled out, their buds unfurling into new leaves in the light of the morning sun.

The second Saturday in March, Peter sat down to pay the bills. He groaned as he added up what they were spending as they tried to fix up the house. Christ, he thought, we're burning through cash. At least we only have to do this once. He rubbed his temples. I hope.

Abby had gone shopping. "For accessories!" she'd exclaimed in delight. She'd done a wonderful job with their apartment in the city, but she'd had a limited amount of space to work with. Now that they had a house with double the floor space as well as an entire yard, she'd gone to work trying to fill it.

After an hour of entering receipts in to the computer, Peter's head hurt, and had to take a break. He looked out the window of the first floor room he'd converted into an office. A chipmunk scurried along the rail of the back deck, and a squirrel bounded through the patch of daffodils and up a tree. It looks like the yellow brick road, he thought. Maybe I'll take a walk.

I wonder what's back here? Oaks and maples towered above him, and he stepped over fallen branches, matted leaves, pine needles, and an occasional wildflower. Two minutes after he entered the woods, he glanced back to see that the house was nowhere in sight. Thank God I never get lost, he thought as he walked deeper into the woods.

After a few more minutes, the trees thinned out, revealing a shaded clearing where the necks of a thousand green violins poked out of the ground. Those must be the fiddlehead ferns Abby keeps talking about, he thought.

Neat. Peter smiled to himself and pushed on. The trees closed in around him, and he made a mental note of the landmarks he passed: a huge, overturned tree, whose root ball towered ten feet over his head; a rock outcropping that pointed toward what he was certain was true north; and a small creek with a two-foot-high waterfall.

Finally, the woods parted, and Peter entered a large, grassy clearing. Occupying most of the clearing was a large pond – nearly fifty feet in diameter. Next to it was an old tree stump that looked like it would make a perfectly respectable chair.

Peter sat on what was left of the rotted-out stump and stared at the surface of the pond. A lazy March breeze rustled the burgeoning leaves on the oaks and maples that stretched toward the pale blue sky. The surface of the pond rippled gently in response to the wind.

Birds twittered and squirrels chattered as Peter watched a trail of ants wind through the grass at his feet. It must be like a forest to them, he thought. The air cooled his face as it flowed over the surface of the pond, and he caught the scent of moist loam.

Something large rippled under the surface of the water, sending strong waves cascading toward the far edge of the pond. Peter stared at it suspiciously. Frog? He couldn't think of what else it might be. There are no alligators up here. He tried to remember. No, pretty sure there aren't alligators.

Wait, what if it's a skunk? He watched the water ripple again. No, skunks don't swim. I think. What the hell is it?

Then, as abruptly as it started, the waves stopped. He scratched his head. Huh. Suddenly, he had the feeling that he was being watched. He stood up and looked around. Oh, god, I hope there aren't bears out here.

"Hello?"

Only the chirping of birds returned his call.

"Anyone out there?" He waited for a minute, but the feeling still hadn't subsided. Ok, time to go, he thought. He didn't look back until he left the clearing, at which point the feeling of being watched faded.

That was fucked up, he thought. After a moment of contemplation, he began walking back toward the house. He moved deliberately, lest he trip over a fallen log or get caught on a broken branch, and he was relieved when he finally saw the patch of daffodils.

#

Later, after Abby returned from the store carrying two large terra cotta pots, they made dinner, drank a bottle of wine, and shared the events of their day. Peter mentioned the pond, but left out the feeling of being watched. He didn't want to spook his wife in their first month in the new house.

"You'll have to show it to me sometime," she said as she carried the dishes from the small bistro table over to the granite-topped counter.

Peter began rinsing the dishes in the sink. They'd never had a dishwasher in the apartment, and, even now that they had one, he felt strange using it. "Yeah, of course."

Abby set the bowl of mashed potatoes down and frowned. "These counters just don't seem to be at the right height." She pulled over a stool. "If I sit, they're just too high, and if I stand they're just too low."

"Well, we can buy new stools."

"Or put in new counters." She pulled out a plastic container and began scooping the potatoes into it.

Peter immediately thought about the receipts from the morning, and he rolled his eyes at the back of her head. "Yeah, I suppose we could do that, too."

She turned and fixed his gaze.

"What?" he said.

"This is our dream house." She put her hands on her hips. "A little support would be nice," she sighed as she went back to scooping mashed potatoes.

We already paid half a million, he thought, what's another hundred thousand. He grunted in response, and then gazed out the window above the sink. "Man. Look at the size of the yard. Tom's going to be so jealous."

"Are you ever going to stop competing with your brother?"

"This isn't a competition," he said with a smile, "It's a statement of how much better than him I am."

"Oh, you brat," Abby said before smiling despite herself. She stopped scooping, and then grinned mischievously.

"What?"

"Nothing," she said as she grabbed a handful of mashed potatoes out of the bowl.

"Oh, no."

"Oh, yes," she giggled as the potatoes sailed across the kitchen toward Peter's head. He ducked, and they splattered against the window over the sink.

He picked up the bottle of dish soap and aimed it at her.

"You wouldn't."

He smiled, then squeezed.

"Oh! You!" she squealed as the soap splashed over the front of her shirt. "Ooh!"

More mashed potatoes went flying, and this time she aimed lower. They caught him square in the chest. Peter dropped the soap and lunged toward her.

"Eeek!" she squealed as he grabbed her, pulled her toward him, and then smashed his potato covered chest against her. "Aaaah!" she cried as she grabbed another handful of potatoes and slapped them on top of his head.

"Aaah, you suck!" Peter laughed as he grabbed his new, starchy hat. He pinned her against the counter and moved to smash the potatoes in her face.

"Ah! No!" she giggled as she grabbed his arm. She was strong – a lifelong swimmer with broad shoulders and muscular arms, but he was stronger, and the potatoes inched closer to her face. "No! No!"

"Yes! Yes!" Peter said as he overcame her resistance.

"Ah!" she squealed as the potatoes covered her face, "You brat!"

"Ha!"

Abby wiped the potatoes from her eyes. She was breathing heavily from laughing. "Truce?"

Peter paused for a second to consider. Abby's eyes flashed green, and she gave him a look he had seen a thousand times before, but couldn't get enough of. She pressed her pelvis against his. He started to breathe heavily, himself. "Yeah, truce."

She ran her hands over his powerful chest, and then wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him close. A few minutes later, they discovered that the countertops were exactly the right height.

#

On Monday, Peter pulled into the driveway at six-thirty and parked in the driveway. They still had a pile of boxes taking up space in the garage, so both he and Abby had to park outside. As he got out of the car, he saw Abby emerge from the front door and walk toward him.

"Hey, baby," she smiled at him.

"Hey. Where are you going?"

"I'm going swimming, and then I'm headed over to Helen's to look at tile samples."

"Oh," he said flatly.

"Why? What's wrong?" she looked at him with concern.

He slipped his arms around her waist. Her auburn hair glowed copper and gold in the early evening sun, and the scent of her rose perfume drifted lazily through the air. "I was hoping we could test out the other counters in the kitchen tonight."

"Horndog," she giggled. "I'll have to take a rain check. I already told Helen I was coming over."

"Ok, fine."

"Maybe tomorrow?"

He sighed. "Sure. Tell Helen I said hello."

"Will do," she kissed him and then rubbed her nose against his. "Bye baby."

Oh god, so horny, he thought as he watched her climb into her car and pull out of the driveway. They hadn't had sex during the week since they'd moved into the house. After the long days, they'd been too busy unpacking or running errands to spend that kind of time together. The thought of waiting until the weekend made him queasy. Ah well, he thought, it'll work itself out eventually.

After he went inside and changed, he tried to figure out what he wanted to do with his evening. He downed a sandwich while sitting in front of the computer. There were a handful of receipts to enter from the weekend, and he groaned as he saw the balance in their checking account. His head began to hurt, so he leaned back, rubbed his temples, and looked out the window at the daffodils glowing in the evening sun.

Hmm. He grabbed a flashlight from the closet and then stepped outside.

#

The descending sun painted everything in the clearing with a golden wash. The pond reflected the golden rays so that there were no shadows – everything glowed as though it were encased in amber.

Peter sat back down on the stump-chair and stared at the pond. After a few seconds the feeling of being watched returned. He looked around, craning his neck to see if he could tell what was looking at him. I bet it's raccoons, he thought.

He caught sight of a ripple at the far end of the pond, and he immediately swiveled around to look at it. This time, the waves did not subside. Instead, the source of the ripples began to move slowly toward him. As it approached, the feeling of being watched intensified, and the hair on the back of his neck stood up.

He was determined to figure out what was causing the waves, so he remained seated, though he braced himself in case he needed to take off running. It took a full minute for the waves to cross the pond, so whatever was causing them was moving slowly. Then, when the source was about ten feet from the edge of the pond, something broke the surface; a woman's head emerged from under the water. Peter opened his eyes wide and his mouth gaped.

She stood slowly, or at least it felt slow – Peter couldn't tell how long it took. She was voluptuously built, and her skin was a rich mahogany. Instead of hair, she had a mane of emerald moss, and her eyes were almond-shaped and completely green.

Peter stared, transfixed, as she waded toward him. When she drew near, he noticed that she smelled like damp earth, like the air just before a sunrise on a dew-covered morning or wet leaves after an autumn storm.

The air quivered in her presence. "I'm glad you came back," she said – every syllable echoing in his chest and rattling his ears."I've been waiting for you."

He couldn't figure out why running away screaming didn't sound like a bad idea. "What? Who? Who are you? What are you?"

"You couldn't pronounce my real name." She smiled and she leaned down and stared into his eyes. Her face was less than a foot from his. "So you pick one."

"What? Uh. I don't know." Names flew through his mind – old girlfriends, acquaintances he would have liked to have been girlfriends, coworkers: Katie, Kristen, Carrie, Mary. It was hard to think with her so close to him like this. Belle? No, too Disney. Eve? No, too cliché. "Uh, I, uh." Then, a single syllable entered into his head, "She."

"I like it," she said with a smile. "What's your name?"

He said nothing for a moment while his brain attempted to catch up to reality. Finally, he was able to mumble, "Peter."

"Hello, Peter." She reached out and lightly drew her hand along his shoulder. Her touch was electric – it felt like ants crawling along his skin where she made contact. "Do you like my home?"

"Yeah." He thought about looking away, trying to find something to distract her – a squirrel or a bird that he could point out – but he couldn't move his gaze. He was transfixed by her emerald eyes – little motes of light danced and flashed beneath the surface.

"I'm glad you like it, Peter." She smiled at him and tilted her head. "Why so sad?"

"What? I…" his brain felt like it was filled with cotton, "I don't…What do you mean?"

She sighed, and Peter caught the distinct odor of honeysuckle. "Darling," she said as she moved closer. He wasn't sure how she ended up in his lap, but when she continued, her arm was draped over his shoulder, "it's written all over your face. You're upset."

How does she know what I'm thinking? Peter thought. She made a sound that was somewhere between the hum of a distant motor and a purr, and used the hand that was not currently settled on his shoulders to trace the line of his jaw. When she moved, the lock on her gaze broke, and he, for the first time, noticed that she was completely nude: her full breasts hung pendulously over a supple belly and wide hips.

"You don't have to tell me about it. I can guess." She reached down, stroked his crotch, and then made that sound again. Peter felt electrified, and he groaned in response.

"Wait," Peter managed to stammer, though it took him what felt like an hour to form the word. "I…I…can't." He tried to stand, but realized that he couldn't, or wouldn't, move a muscle.

"Oh," she said, "it certainly feels like you can."

Peter groaned as she massaged him. Every hair on his skin stood on end and every muscle in his body twitched and jumped. Motes of light danced in the air in front of him as he began to hyperventilate.

He floated to the ground, the grass acting as a soft green bed. Then she was on top of him. She freed him from the constraints of his pants and then engulfed him. She was warm – warmer than Abby. Abby! What about Abby? Then the woman above him shifted her hips and the thought flew from his mind.

Oh, god, oh god! The world swam in front of him and he felt like he was falling into those green eyes. Oh god, it feels so good.

"Oh, Peter," the green woman groaned, and the earth beneath him trembled. The world shook and the ground broke open, and as he plunged, tumbling into the darkness, he was entwined with her – in her warm, comforting embrace.

#

Peter woke to see the stars through the canopy of trees. "What the fuck!" he yelled as he bolted upright. He looked around, saw nothing, and heard only the sound of spring peepers, singing in a loud, high-pitched chorus.

He ran back through the woods, crashing past the overturned tree, the sea of ferns, and eventually the daffodil patch. What the fuck was that? What the fuck was that? Oh my fucking god, what the fuck was that?

"Abby!" he called as he ran into the house. "Abby?" Shit, she must still be at Helen's. He looked at the clock. Nine thirty. Oh god, she won't be home for at least an hour. Wait. I can't tell her about this! I just had sex with...with…ohmygodwhathefuckwasthat?

He stared at himself in the hall mirror. He was covered in dirt and grass stains. He sniffed at his shirt, and realized that he smelled like honeysuckle and wet leaves. Shit! I need to shower.

As Peter stripped off his clothes, he noticed that he had scratches on his shoulders; it looked like he'd just gotten into a fight with a tree and lost. Oh my god, I can't go back there. I can't ever go back there.

Later, when Abby got home, she coated his shoulders in antibiotic ointment. "My poor baby!"

"Ow," he winced when she rubbed the ointment into one of the scratches, "careful."

"Sorry," she touched him gingerly. "What the hell happened to you?"

"I was taking a walk, trying to find that pond again, and a branch fell on me. A big one." He winced as she coated one of the deeper scratches.

"You need to be careful out there."

"I know," he smiled weakly at her, "I'll try and look up more."

"Jesus." She finished tending to him and then gave him a hug. Peter pulled her close, and was disturbed to find that she felt cooler than he remembered.

Summer

June came quickly. Peter had not returned to the pond, though he would, at least one night a week, lay awake trying to figure out just what exactly had happened. "Just stress," he told Abby when she inquired about his insomnia, "it'll get better once we get things taken care of."

The two had settled into a routine. Peter arrived home at six-thirty, and they made dinner together, except for Tuesdays and Thursdays when Abby was at the pool until nine, and Wednesdays when Peter stayed late in the city for a weekly card game with his friends.

"At least we get weekends together," Peter said as they'd made one of their weekly pilgrimages to Home Depot and the local garden center.

"Yeah," Abby frowned. "I guess I didn't realize how much work this was going to be."

"It'll be great when it's done, though."

"It will be, and it will be all ours!"

"We don't even have to worry about having loud parties 'till three in the morning."

"I just wish we had the energy to have sex more often," she sighed. She stopped, looked at him, and gave him a half smile. She reached up and wrapped her arms around the back of his neck as they stood, half shielded, from the other shoppers by a wall of shrubs. "We could always say, 'Fuck the yard.'"

Peter raised an eyebrow.

"It'll still be there next weekend."

Peter closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. A flash of green and dancing motes swirled on the inside of his eyelids. "No," he groaned as he pulled away, "come on. Think of how happy we'll be when this is all done."

"What's wrong?"

"Headache. I'll be fine," he reached out to take her hand, "let's go get the bushes."

#

As the days grew longer, the humid nights filled with the constant drone of crickets. Peter came home each day to find some new decorative element on the back deck. Abby had recently purchased two bentwood rockers and set them next to a small pine table, which gave them a place to sit outside and watch the stars.

Peter brought a bottle of merlot and two glasses outside, where Abby was curled up in one of the rockers. She had a large book filled with photographs of roses, and was flipping through it. Peter filled a glass for each of them, and then collapsed into his own rocker. "Ugh. Long day."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah."

"Want to talk about it?"

"Not really."

Abby sighed. "It would be nice to talk about something other than the house for once."

"Abby, I'm tired."

"I know," she reached out and placed her hand on his arm, "we just don't talk anymore. By the time we get home, we just grunt at each other all evening."

"Well, what do you want me to do about it?"

"You could try talking with me."

"Ok. You start."

"That's not what I meant. Forget it."

"But…"

She withdrew her hand. "No. Just forget I brought it up."

"Ok, fine." Peter closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the rocker.

Abby's eyes wrinkled down at the corners as she looked at her husband. After a long pause, she sighed again, and then asked, "What do you want to do for dinner?"

"I don't know. What do you want to do?"

"I was hoping you'd have a suggestion, since I picked the last three times."

"Come on, I had a long day. Give me break."

She shook her head and looked back at the roses. "What do you think about this one?" she said, pointing to a pink tea rose.

"Looks ok."

She pointed to a purple gaelic rose. "Do you like this one better?"

"Sure."

"Sure, or yes?"

"Yes, sure."

"Oh my God, you're so infuriating sometimes. I just want a definitive opinion."

"I don't really care that much."

"I know. That's the problem. You're going to be looking at these roses for the next five years. You're going to have to prune them and spray them and buy ladybugs to kill off the aphids that feed on them. You should care."

"We're buying ladybugs?"

"I'm not talking to you. You're obviously not taking this seriously."

"I am! Jesus." He filled his own glass and tried not to look at her.

"Ok. Ok. Sorry. I'm just finding this hard to do on my own. I would like your opinion, you know."

Peter sighed. A fly buzzed in his ear and he swatted at it. "Christ."

"What?"

"No, not you. A fly was bothering me."

"Oh."

The fly returned, this time with a partner. "God damn it," he yelled as he swatted at the bugs. "Now there are more of them."

Abby frowned at him. "You can just ignore them."

"Why can't they ignore me?"

She shook her head and flipped the page. "What about this one?" she asked.

"Um." A fly landed on his arm, and he slapped at it, bumping the table in the process. Abby quickly grabbed her wine glass to prevent it from falling over.

"Watch it!"

"Sorry! It's these fucking bugs."

"Are you?" she stopped and narrowed her eyes at him. "Never mind."

"What?"

"Nothing."

"What?"

"Nothing. Forget it." She set her wine back down and turned back to flipping through the book of roses.

Peter rolled his eyes and stared off into the woods, toward the pond. Then another fly landed on his face. "Fuck!" he exclaimed as he slapped at it.

"Jesus Christ." Abby grabbed her wine glass, stood up, and then walked into the house, slamming the door behind her.

Peter's head began to throb as he stared after her. Fine. He gulped down his wine, stood up, and walked off the deck.

#

He had intended just to take a quick walk to calm down, but as he walked toward the woods, he rubbed his head. God damn it, she gives me a fucking headache.

Golden fireflies swarmed through his vision, and the world took on a greenish hue. He turned toward the woods. Even in the darkness, he could find his way. The moonlight filtered through the trees, giving him enough illumination to avoid tripping over broken stumps and fallen logs.

"Are you here?" he called, once he reached the pond.

"Welcome back," she said as she emerged from the water. There was no wait this time.

"What do you want from me?" Peter asked as she stepped onto the grass. His head grew cloudier with each step she took toward him.

"The same thing you want from me, I suspect," she stopped and sat down on the rotted-out stump. One long leg crossed over the other, and she pointed her toes at him.

Oh god. "What's that?"

"Companionship. A warm body next to mine," she uncrossed her legs deliberately, and Peter began to sweat. "A warm body in mine."

He blinked rapidly, trying to maintain his focus. "Ok. Just. Watch the scratches."

"Ah. Too rough for you last time?" She smiled, then stood and took a step toward him. In the moonlight, her eyes looked like the sky above – dark, infinite, and filled with stars. His head swam.

"Yeah. I don't want my wife to know."

"Well then," suddenly she was next to him, breathing in his ear. The scent of honeysuckle overwhelmed him, and he was unable to think at all. "I won't leave a mark."

Peter woke up in the grass again, though he was certain that not as much time has elapsed as the last time – the moon hadn't progressed significantly across the sky. His head throbbed, and, as he sat up, he almost missed the bouquet of honeysuckle that lay beside him.

What's this for? he wondered. Though his head was still cloudy, he tried to think.

"I'll give you something to take back," she had said as she set his body alight. "But you have to promise to come back to see me."

"I will, I will, oh God, I will."

As he headed back through the woods, carrying the bouquet, he couldn't get the taste of her off of his lips; she tasted like nectar.

"Where the hell have you been?" Abby yelled as he walked in the back door.

"I was out taking a walk."

"A walk? It's nearly ten o'clock! What the fuck have you been doing? I've been worried sick." Her face was flushed and her eyes were red – she had been crying.

"Getting these for you." He held up the bouquet. "I'm sorry."

She gasped and covered her mouth with one hand. Her eyes began to fill with tears, but then she stopped herself and shook her head. "Put them in a vase. I'm going to bed."

Peter waited until she left the room, put the honeysuckle in a vase, and breathed in deeply. The scent calmed him, and he smiled.

#

The thunder brought them together. The next night, they were lying in bed – Peter reading the paper, Abby flipping through the latest issue of Architectural Digest – listening to the rain hit the roof when a massive thunderclap split the night. The air trembled, the house shook, and the electricity went out, leaving the only source of illumination the afterglow of the massive flash of lighting.

Abby pressed close – she had always been afraid of thunder – and he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close. "Eek," she squealed as another clap of thunder sounded overhead. She hid her face in the space between his neck and his shoulder.

"It's ok, Abby," Peter said as he caressed her back, trying to calm her. He caught the scent of her rose perfume and felt a dull ache stir in the back of his head.

"I feel like such a dork," she said, even as she huddled against him. Another flash of lightning signaled another loud bang, and she jumped into his arms.

"Well, you are a big dork."

"So says the king of the dorks."

"I'm not a dork."

"Baby, you're an accountant."

"What's that have to do with anything?"

She was about to answer when another thunderclap drove her back to her hiding place. She giggled nervously. "At least you're a big, strong dork."

He chuckled, and squeezed her gently.

"Mmm, nice."

"Yeah?"

"Just as soon as I crawl back inside my skin, I'm going to crawl on top of you."

Peter kissed her on top of her head, and lay back at the ceiling. The thought of sex didn't sound appealing, and that disturbed him. They lay together for ten minutes, until the loudest of the thunder had subsided.

"How are you doing?" she sighed softly into his chest.

"I'm ok," he said, rubbing his head.

"What's wrong?" she lifted her head to look at him.

"Nothing. Well, no. I've just got a headache, that's all."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure."

"You're not mad at me for something, are you?"

"No. No, nothing like that."

Abby raised an eyebrow.

"I've just got a headache."

A strong clap of thunder startled them both, and she let out a loud cry. Peter grimaced.

She kissed his forehead. "Sorry, baby."

"No, it's ok. Headache, like I said."

She laid her head back on his chest and pressed herself against him. After a half an hour, the rain subsided, and the thunder rumbled faintly in the distance. "Sleep well," she said drowsily.

"You, too," he kissed her on the back of her head and then lay back and stared at the ceiling. He closed his eyes and thought of the green woman -- of her soft lips, and of her warm embrace.

#

On Wednesday, Peter came home early from his poker game in the city. He'd busted out after only a few hands, so he downed the rest of his beer and called it a night. As he walked into the house from the garage, he heard Abby in the kitchen, talking on the phone.

"I don't know, Helen. I don't think he's cheating on me." She was pacing. She always paced when she was on the phone. "No, I'm not sure, but I think I'd be able to tell."

Peter set his laptop case down, leaned against the wall, and listened.

"Well, he did come home smelling like perfume, but then he brought me flowers that he was out picking."

Ah, crap, he thought, and sniffed at his coat. There was still a faint smell of honeysuckle that clung to it. I need to get this dry-cleaned.

"Oh god, Helen, am I not attractive anymore?" Abby paused and then laughed, "That landscaper? Yeah, he was kind of cute, but those guys will hit on anybody."

Peter felt a twinge of jealousy. Who's hitting on my wife? A sharp pain sliced through his temple, and he grabbed his head. Golden stars floated through his vision.

"This wasn't supposed to be this hard. This was supposed to be a good thing for both of us." Peter could hear her take a glass out of the cupboard and fill it with ice from the freezer. "Maybe I'm just overreacting. Once we're done with all of the work, things will settle down."

There's the faucet, he thought as he listened to Abby fill her glass at the sink. "No, he doesn't really want to talk about it."

Ah, crap, the stabbing pain returned, I need to lie down. He walked around the corner and into the kitchen, "Hey, I'm home."

"Jesus!" Abby jumped, "you scared me. I didn't hear you come in."

"Sorry," he said as he dropped his keys on the counter.

"You're home early," she pointed to the phone, "I was just talking to Helen."

"Hi Helen," Peter waved at the phone. "Yeah, I busted out early."

"Oh, that's too bad," Abby walked over to him and then stood on her toes to kiss him, but Peter pulled away.

"Sorry," he said as he shut his eyes and rubbed his head. "I've got a terrible headache. I'm going to go to bed."

"Oh," Abby looked hurt for a moment, but then her face relaxed. "Ok, go to bed, baby. I'll be up in a while."

As Peter exited the kitchen, he could hear Abby whisper quietly to Helen, "I'm really worried."

#

The next few days were filled with rain and slate gray skies. By Saturday, the world seemed drained of color. Peter moped around the house.

"Are you ok?" Abby asked that morning.

"Yeah, just the weather getting to me."

Abby shook her head and frowned, "Maybe you should go to the doctor."

"What for?"

"Well, you know, they have medicine for this sort of thing."

"What thing is that?" he asked, incredulous.

"Never mind."

"No, seriously, what thing is that?" he stared at her.

"You're depressed, Peter," she folded her arms and stared back.

"No, I'm not depressed. I'm stressed."

"God, you've been stressed for months."

"Yeah? So have you. Maybe you need medication."

"I'm not the one moping around the fucking house."

"That's 'cause you're never fucking home. You're always out spending money."

"What?!" she yelled, putting her hands on her hips.

"You're always out spending money." He backed away. Her rose-scented perfume was getting to him. God, why does she have to bathe herself in that stuff?

"Yeah, on the house. On us. What the fuck?"

"Never mind," he rubbed his head. He could feel the pain creeping up his neck and into the base of his skull.

"Fine. Fine!" she grabbed her purse and stormed out.

He waited until he heard the sound of her car disappear into the distance, and then he walked out into the dismal gray day. He tried rolling his shoulders and his neck to relieve the pain, but it only grew worse. Fuck.

The faint scent of honeysuckle drifted through the air. Peter inhaled deeply, and faint points of light seemed to glow at the edge of his vision. He made a beeline to the pond.

#

August was ready to give way to September; the hottest days of the year were behind them, and it regularly dipped into the sixties at night. On the last Monday of the month, they had cooked dinner, and shared a bottle of wine in near silence. Afterward, they stood in the kitchen, ignoring each other, while Peter washed dishes and Abby put away leftovers.

Abby frowned at the bowl of cooked carrots, folded her arms, squeezing herself tightly, and then looked at Peter for a minute. She took a deep breath and then asked, "So where were you this afternoon?" Her voice sounded an octave higher than her usual alto.

Peter had visited the pond again while Abby was out shopping. "What? Why?"

"I saw some shoes I thought you'd like, so I tried calling you, but you didn't answer." She shifted nervously.

"Oh. I was walking around the woods. We don't get great service out there."

"I thought you hated the woods," Abby looked at him suspiciously, "too many bugs."

"I'm getting used to them. I figure we own all that property, I might as well find out what's out there. Don't want any squatters camping out in our woods."

She sighed deeply and uncrossed her arms. She smiled as her shoulders returned to their usual position, and then grabbed a new bottle of wine. "Come on, let's go sit by the window."

"The window?"

"Yeah. That way I can watch the stars and you don't have to worry about bugs."

He smiled. "That sounds like a great idea."

She took the pillows off the couch and set them in front of the big bay window, then turned off the lights. "Come, sit."

Peter leaned back against the side of the window and stretched his legs out along its length. She curled up at the other end, her legs drawn up to her chest. She stared out at the rapidly darkening sky while Peter stared at his feet. Over the course of an hour, they drank more glasses of wine than they exchanged words. She briefly stepped away to bring back a new bottle – their third for the evening – and by ten, Peter was feeling very warm and relaxed.

When she finished the last of the third bottle, she frowned at her glass, and then turned to Peter. "Why don't you want to fuck me anymore?" Her eyes were slightly unfocused, and she squinted as she looked at him.

"What?"

"You don't want to fuck me anymore."

"Yes, I do."

"So why don't you?"

Peter sighed, "I don't know. We've been so busy, and with the new commute we don't even start eating until eight."

"This isn't my fault," she said and slammed her hand against the window. It reverberated with the blow.

"I'm not saying it is." He leaned forward and took her hand in his. "Look, things have changed. We'll figure it out. We've managed to figure out things so far."

"Really?" she slid toward him so she was sitting beside him.

"Yes."

She reached down and placed her hand on his leg, and then pressed her head against his chest. He took a deep breath as she moved her hand higher and began to gently rub him. "I want you to show me that you still want me."

He gasped, "Oh, I do."

She unzipped his pants and tugged at his waistband. He lifted his hips, and she pulled his jeans and his boxers halfway down his thighs. "You like that?"

"Yeah."

"Well, then how about this?" She bent down and took him in her mouth.

"Oh god, yes."

He fumbled with her belt, and she shifted her hips to give him access. He fumbled for a minute more, before she reached down, unfastened it herself, and then slipped her pants and panties down her thighs. Peter was able to remove them the rest of the way.

"I want you in me," she said as she pulled away, sat up, and pulled off her top. Peter mirrored her actions, and then reached out and pulled her toward him. She kissed him greedily as she straddled his lap, reached down, and then slid onto him.

"You feel so good."

"Baby, I love you. I love you so much."

Peter grabbed her hips and guided her as she thrust against him.

She wrapped her arms around Peter's head and crushed herself into him. She ground her pelvis against his, and moaned. After a minute, her entire body tensed, quivered, and then relaxed. She pressed her face into the space between his neck and his shoulder and half-giggled, half-sighed.

Peter squeezed her in his arms, and she returned the gesture by pressing herself against him. She kissed his neck, and began to move again. This time, she angled her hips differently than before, and Peter groaned, closed his eyes, and rested his head against the window.

"I know what you like," she whispered in his ear. "I know everything you like."

"God, I know you do."

"Nobody else has ever made you feel like this, have they?"

"No, nobody but you." God, that's such a lie.

"I want you to come for me."

"Yes, yes," he grabbed her by the hips and thrust as deeply as he could as the pressure finally released. "Oh God, yes."

She kissed him again, and as she brushed her face against his, he could feel that her cheeks were wet. "What's wrong?" he asked.

"Nothing," she said as she began to sob.

"Honey, what's wrong?"

"I don't know," she cried.

"Abby, talk to me."

"What's wrong with us?"

"Nothing's wrong with us."

"Yes, there is."

"Well, ok. Whatever it is, we'll figure it out."

"I'm scared."

"Don't be scared. We'll figure it out."

"What if we don't? I don't want to lose you."

"We will. Don't worry."

Abby crushed herself against him and cried while he held her tightly. He wasn't sure how long they sat that way, but eventually she pulled away from him, wiped off her face, stood up, and pulled him to his feet. "Bed."

They stumbled upstairs, and then turned off the light. Abby was out within minutes, but Peter lay in the dark, listening to her breathe. He watched her chest rise and fall, watched her breasts shift with every inhalation, and her streamlined abdomen ripple with every exhalation. The moonlight that filtered in through the bedroom window highlighted the curves and angles of her body.

What the fuck am I doing? Oh, god, what am I doing?

#

Peter waited a month before venturing back into the woods again. The next morning, standing in the shower, he promised himself that he was going to try to make things better. He brought home roses that evening, and they made love on the kitchen counter. On Sunday, she surprised him with massage oil. Within two weeks, though, they had slipped back into their old routine, and the fighting was worse than ever.

On one particularly gray Saturday, it had been threatening to rain, and Peter didn't feel like raking leaves. They argued for an hour before Abby threw up her hands in frustration, jumped into the car, and left. Peter grabbed his head – a throbbing pain shot through his skull, so he downed ibuprofen and then stormed off into the woods. The sky opened up as he reached the pond, and he took shelter under one of the trees.

Peter pressed his back against the tree and pulled his knees in to his chest. Up above the slate-gray sky roiled – a monochromatic cauldron. The rain splattered around his feet, and, though the branches overhead protected him from the brunt of the downpour, the rain that did make it onto him left him cold enough to be uncomfortable.

"Looking for someone to warm you up?"

He jumped and then turned – She was standing right behind him. "God, I'm so angry." His head throbbed, and a sharp, stabbing pain kept shooting through his right eye.

"Come with me."

Peter noticed that her skin had taken on a red tone and her hair had darkened from a bright emerald to a rich pine. "What?"

"Come with me."

"Where?"

"Everywhere. I can show you the world. Every inch of it."

"I don't understand."

She knelt down beside him, and the pain began to transform into a cottony haze. He turned and breathed in honeysuckle and warm rain. "Summer has come and gone. The leaves are falling, my love."

He sighed. Love. The word made him euphoric. "So?"

"So, it will be winter soon, and I have to leave. I want you to come with me."

He emerged from the sea of endorphins that he was floating in. "What?" He began to panic. "You can't leave."

"I must." She pressed herself against him, crushing her breasts against his arms, and warming his entire body. "I can't stay here."

He shook his head. "But I need you."

Lightning flashed in her emerald eyes, and then she kissed him. The world exploded in a burst of green. He wanted the feeling to continue forever, but she pulled away and stood up.

"What?"

"If you need me, then come with me." She slowly backed toward the pond. With each step she took away from him, the euphoria faded, and he grew colder.

He stood up and walked toward her, desperate to regain the feeling she invoked in him. "I can't. I have a job, and a house. Shit – I have a wife, though I don't know for how much longer."

"You won't need any of those things, Peter. Come with me. Share your warmth with me. I need you." She put one foot in the pond.

"No don't go."

"Come with me; I don't want to go without you," she stretched out her hand.

"I…I can't," he began to cry.

She turned, plunged into the water, and disappeared. It took every ounce of his willpower not to dive in after her. He stood at the edge of the pond for an hour and cried. When she didn't re-emerge, he turned and walked back toward the house.

He came back every day for the next two weeks and waited by the edge of the pond for her to reappear.

Autumn

The brown, orange, and ochre leaves scurried across the yard, running in fear from the wind’s razor sharp talons. Peter watched as they made a valiant attempt at escape, before the wind swooped in and scooped up its prey. The breeze carried them in a slow circle before screaming off over the tops of the trees, where they disappeared for good.

Abby stood next to him, leaning on her rake. They had woken up that morning, determined to clean up the yard, but after an hour of yard work spent in silence, Abby had turned to him and said, "We need to talk."

Peter had set down the wheelbarrow, pulled off his gloves, and then looked off into the woods. "Ok."

"You haven't said more than two words to me in two weeks," Abby walked around him, so that she stood in his field of vision. "Don't you love me anymore?"

Peter was quiet for a moment, and then finally met her gaze. "I still care about you."

Her eyes immediately began to fill with tears. "That's not what I asked."

"Abby," he looked away.

"Talk to me!" she cried. "Why can't you talk to me?" She walked around into his field of vision again.

Peter scowled at her.

She rubbed the tears off of her cheeks with her sleeve. "We can move back to the city, baby. I know you hate the house."

"No," he rubbed his head. The scent of honeysuckle drifted through the air. "The house isn't the problem."

"Then what is the problem?" Abby began crying harder. "Do you know what Helen thinks is the problem? She thinks you're having an affair."

"Helen should mind her own fucking business," Peter threw his gloves on the ground and turned away.

"I made it her business because she's the only one who would talk to me!" Abby tossed the rake on the ground beside her. "The man who used to be my best friend won't talk to me anymore!"

Peter shook his head and then began walking toward the house. Abby screamed behind him, "I can't do this Peter! I can't do this anymore!"

"So don't!" he yelled over his shoulder before he slammed the door and disappeared from sight.

#

"God damn it! What the hell is wrong with you?" Peter was standing in pajama bottoms in the doorway of their bedroom.

"I want a divorce!" Abby screamed, standing on the bed.

"Fine!" Peter turned, slammed the door behind him, and ran down the hall.

"Get back here you son of a bitch!" Abby screamed through the door.

Peter hit the stairs running and almost slipped. He caught himself on the railing as the door opened at the end of the hall. "Come back here and talk to me!" Abby's voice was hoarse.

"Fuck you!" Peter yelled back as he opened the front door and plunged into the snowy night. The November air clawed at his bare skin; he immediately began shivering and his head exploded in pain.

The first frost had come and gone, and now there was a thin blanket of snow on the ground. He ignored the bite of the frozen ground on the bottom of his feet as he marched across the lawn. Behind him, Abby shouted after him, "God damn it, Peter! Where the fuck are you going?" He looked over his shoulder to see her slam her fist against the door jam and then disappear back inside.

Need to get away. Need to get away. Need to get away. Peter ran toward the woods. The light of the full moon cast an eerie glow through the trees. He hadn't been back to the pond, but he knew she would be there now. He needed her to be there.

He crashed through the woods, ignoring the branches that snagged his pajamas and scratched his skin.

"Are you here?" he whispered loudly, once he reached the pond.

She stepped out from behind a tree. "I'm so cold, Peter." She was shivering violently. Her skin had turned fallow, her hair was brown, and her emerald eyes were now dull – the color of pale sea foam. "I need your warmth."

He immediately rushed to her and wrapped her in his arms. She was cold – as cold as she was normally warm. He struggled to catch his breath as he felt her pull his body heat from him. "I need you," he gasped, his mind rapidly clouding. "I don't want to live without you."

"Come with me."

"Yes," he couldn't focus his gaze on her, but he nodded, "I'm ready."

She took his hand and led him toward the pond. He followed, and when his foot hit the freezing water, he gasped. "It will be ok, my love," she said as she led him deeper.

The water climbed up his legs, chilling him to the bone. When it hit his torso, he gasped. His breath fled from his chest. She smiled at him as she stepped further back, and then disappeared under the surface. She tugged on his hand from beneath the surface of the pond; he struggled to take a deep breath, and then plunged after her.

Under the water, the world changed. He felt warm, and relaxed. He stared at her smiling face as he began to breathe, and the water engulfed him and cradled him in a warm embrace.

He wasn't sure when the strong pair of arms grabbed him under his shoulders and pulled him out of the pond. He didn't know who the woman with the auburn hair was who blew into his mouth and compressed his chest. He didn't understand why tears were running down her cheeks, or why she kept screaming, "Don't leave me, you son of a bitch!"

As she leaned over him, her face was framed by the full moon, causing her auburn hair to burst into flames. Oh wow, he thought, she's got a halo.

#

When Peter regained consciousness, he realized that he was lying in a hospital bed. The clean white blanket was pulled up over his chest and tucked under his arms. Oh, god, I'm still here. He looked around – he was in a room by himself, though the wall directly in front of him had windows running from mid-wall to the ceiling. He could see Abby talking to a nurse.

She turned suddenly to look at him, and pressed a hand to her mouth. "Peter! Oh, baby…" She rushed into the room only to stop short.

Peter glared at her. "I thought you wanted a divorce."

Abby began to cry, wrapping her arms around herself. "You stupid idiot. I don't want to give up on us. I love you."

Peter lay back, closed his eyes, and looked at the ceiling. He sighed, and then said quietly, "I love you, too."

She walked over and knelt down beside his bed. "That's the first time you've said that in a month." Tears cascaded down her cheeks as she grabbed his hand and squeezed. "Oh, god, I'm so glad you're ok."

Abby's touch set his hand on fire and he wanted to grab it back, but she held it firm. "What happened?" he asked.

"You were convulsing and you fell into the pond. The doctors think you had a seizure."

"What?"

"A seizure. Don't worry about it now," she squeezed his hand even harder.

"You're hurting my hand," he said quietly.

"Sorry," she said, loosening her grip almost imperceptibly.

"When can I go home?" Where is She? I need to see her!

"Not for a few days. The doctors need to run some tests to figure out why you had the seizure."

Shit. The thought of lying in a hospital bed for days frightened him. There were too many lights and machines and freshly-scrubbed floors. There were no trees or shrubs or rocks or ponds. He couldn't even see a window from where he was. "Will you come visit me?"

"Of course I will!" she pulled his hand to her face and kissed it, over and over and over.

He crinkled his nose. "Do you smell honeysuckle?"

"What?" Abby looked confused. "No, it smells like floor cleaner in here."

"That's strange," Peter said as he pressed on his temples with his free hand, "my head really hurts." Suddenly, a pulsing green light overwhelmed his senses and the world disappeared.

#

"Arteriovenous malformation."

Peter rolled the words around in his head. It was a disorder that affected the connection between some of the veins and arteries in his brain, the doctor had explained, and it was likely causing micro-bleeds.

"It looks like a pile of spaghetti in your brain."

"Spaghetti?"

"More or less."

"Great."

"Now, in addition to the headaches and the seizures, it can cause a variety of other symptoms, including confusion and hallucinations. Have you experienced anything like that?"

Oh god. Peter ran his hands across his shoulders, over the faint scars that still remained from his first encounter with She. She. She? Oh god. It couldn't be. He looked over at Abby, who was sitting on the bed next to him. "I...yes. Well, maybe. Well, yes."

Abby's jaw dropped. "What?"

"I keep seeing these flashes of green and gold," he said. Among other things. "Sometimes, I find it really hard to think."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I…I don't know."

"Your wife tells me that you've been suffering from depression. It's certainly possible that this has been a contributing factor."

Peter looked at his wife and felt a sudden pang of guilt. "Oh, honey. I'm sorry."

"There's nothing to be sorry about."

The doctor nodded, "It's a congenital defect. You've probably had it for years, but just started to suffer symptoms."

"How do we fix it?" both Abby and Peter said in unison. Abby giggled and smiled at Peter, and he reached out and took her hand.

"Surgery. Then medication if you have further symptoms."

Peter stared at the ceiling. Hallucinations. Hallucinations. Hallucinations. It couldn't be. Could it? Then he looked back at Abby, at her smiling, green eyes, and felt like someone had just kicked him in the gut. Oh god, please let it be hallucinations.

#

Peter spent the week in the hospital and still felt woozy when Abby finally drove him home. As they drove out of the city, past the farms and fields, he began to relax. He smiled as he saw the snow-covered oaks, maples, and pines. "I love it out here," he said quietly.

The surgery had been a success, the doctors had said, and he should no longer suffer from headaches. While he couldn't tell through the haze of painkillers, he was hopeful.

"Abby?"

"Yes, baby?"

"Thank you for everything."

She glanced at him and smiled. "You're welcome."

"Are we going to be ok?"

She gasped, and put a hand to her mouth. "I don't know. Do you want us to be ok?"

"I want to find out." He turned and smiled at her.

The corners of her eyes crinkled as she smiled back at him. "I hope that's not just the meds talking."

"Well, if it is, you'll just have to keep me doped up all the time."

She laughed, "I know a few questionable people. I'm sure I can arrange that."

"Are we there yet?"

"No, it'll be just a few more minutes. You can go to sleep if you want."

"Are we there yet?"

"Baby, are you ok?" She looked over at him. Her eyes were wide with concern.

"Are we there yet?"

Abby raised an eyebrow. "Are you fucking with me?"

"Are we there yet?" he chuckled.

"You brat!" She punched him in the shoulder.

"Hey! Walking wounded here!"

"Don't do that!" She giggled. "Besides, you're on painkillers, what do you care?"

Peter leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. "I really want us to be ok."

Spring

Peter looked at the pond, sighed, and squeezed Abby's hand. He had held her hand as they wound their way through the woods: past the huge, overturned tree, whose root ball towered ten feet over their heads; past the rock outcropping that pointed toward true north; and past the small creek with a two foot-high waterfall.

"Why do you want to go back there?" she had asked on that breezy May morning.

"So that I'm not afraid of it anymore."

"Oh, baby, there's nothing to be afraid of."

"That's why I need to go. Come on, let's take a walk."

Now they stood in front of the pond, where he had nearly drowned – where he had drowned – where his wife had brought him back to life.

Peter smiled and looked at Abby. My angel.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" she said, her cheeks flushing. She looked away, and brushed a stray strand of hair from her face. She glanced at him as the hair fell back into place. She smiled, "What?"

"I love you," he said as he tucked the hair back behind her ear. He caught the scent of her perfume and inhaled deeply. Roses, he thought, how lovely.

Abby put her arms around his neck and pulled him toward her, "I will always love you. Remember that."

"These are our woods, you know," he said with a smile.

"What do you mean?"

"Well," he said as he gently ran his hand down her spine, "we're all alone out here."

Abby gave him that look that he had seen a thousand times before and couldn't get enough of. She pulled away from him, unbuttoned her top, and then sat down on the rotted-out tree stump. Peter mimicked her actions, until they were both wearing only the dappled sunlight that filtered through the green canopy above.

Peter took Abby's hand and lay her down on a bed of moss. She pulled him on top of her and moaned as his weight gently crushed her. "Oh baby," she whispered as he plunged into her.

They moved their hips in unison and Peter covered her face in kisses. "Oh, God, you feel so good."

After a few minutes, Abby wrapped her legs around his hips and squeezed as she climaxed. "Yes! Yes! Yes!" she cried.

"Yes! Yes! Yes!" he cried as he joined her.

Abby kissed him greedily until he rolled off and lay beside her, panting. As he stared up at the canopy of green far above, he once again felt the sensation of being watched. Oh no. Oh no, oh no, oh no. It can't be! He crinkled his nose – the faint scent of honeysuckle floated by on the wind.

She can't be here! He turned, alarmed, only to find Abby staring at him. She was turning a honeysuckle blossom over in her hands.

"What'cha thinking?" she asked.

He sighed in relief and then burst into laughter.

"What?" she smiled, but obviously confused.

Peter shook his head, "Nothing. Everything is very, very good."

She sighed contentedly, then rolled over and kissed him. "I was thinking that we could transplant some of the honeysuckle into the backyard. You really like them, and they're all over the place out here."

Peter grimaced. "No. Honey, that garden was your dream. I want to help you make it come true."

"Really?"

"Yes." He took the flower from her hand, tossed it off into the distance, and smiled. "Let's go plant your roses."

how to find the shadowlands

To find your way to the Shadowlands, the twilight realm where the Night Things dwell, you must first pay homage to the Raven Queen. The customary offering is a bushel of dates, left under under an oak tree at midnight on the eve of the new moon. She is most hungry when the air is cool and there are more leaves on the ground than in the trees, but some have reported reported rare success when the world is still vibrant and green.

At the light of dawn, if you count four and twenty blackbirds at roost in the tree, then you will know the Raven Queen is pleased with your offering, and has decided to grant you access to her realm.

On the very same day, head into the woods during the golden hour - when the sun sets the trees on fire, filling the forest with amber and gold and scarlet. Head due east, past the creek and through the valley. You'll know you're on the right path when you pass a fallen tree in the middle of a glade of ferns.

Keep walking until just after you start to doubt yourself and just before you give up hope. Then you will see an old, gnarled tree with twisted limbs that could have been an oak if it weren't for the coal-black bark.

Place your left hand on the trunk of the tree, and then walk around it backwards three times. When you open your eyes, you will see a set of rough-hewn stone stairs leading down a hillside that was not there before. Follow the stairs, and you will find yourself on a path that looks almost exactly but unsettlingly not quite like the path you had traveled previously.

At this point, you might notice that the trees sway against the wind, as if determined to display their independence from the spirits of the air. You may hear the roar of beasts in a timbre that you have previously only heard in dreams. You will be safe as you walk along this leaf-covered path, but be sure not to stray, for out in the shadows, in the darkest recesses of the wood, lie creatures that even the Night Things fear.

Continue down this path until just after sunset, and you will reach the edge of the wood. When you peer out from beneath the canopy of the forest, you will see, nestled in the valley before you, your destination - the goblin city of Ix, with its ten thousand smokestacks silhouetted against the starry night sky.

sacred geometry, part 5

 

>> New to the series? Start with Part 1.


"Why wouldn't you want to be probed?" asked Jim. "How many other people can say they've been abducted by extraterrestrials and had their DNA extracted? That would be so amazing!"

 

Scarlett thought for a moment, and struggled to find a response. Finally, she just shrugged. "I'm not sure how to answer that."

Scarlett had ventured out of the city to investigate a report of UFO crop circles at a local farm. What she'd found was the handiwork of what she suspected was school kids. The news came as a huge disappointment to Jim Brown, the owner of the farm.

"Well, what can you do?" the elder farmer frowned. "Guess I won't be able to add the crop circles to the collection."

The Brown family farmhouse was a wunderkammer of the esoteric, occult, new age, and downright weird. Bookshelves lined the wall, filled with tattered and obviously well-read treatises on the occult. Every inch of wall space that wasn't covered by bookcases was lined with pictures of pyramids, crop circles, mandalas, sacred symbols, and quotes from nearly every religious text ever known to man. Tables filled the corners, and were covered with candles, crystals, skulls, skull candles, skull candle-holders, crystal skulls, and crystal skull candle-holders.

Scarlett was impressed.

As she looked around, she noticed a hand-painted sign hanging on the wall. It read, "But take courage, the race of man is divine." Something about it made her uneasy, but she couldn't place why.

"That sign," she said, pointing to it, "where is it from?"

"Oh, I lifted that from a hotel down near Columbus." said Jim, "It's part of the Pythagorean creed."

Scarlett clutched her head as a wave of dizziness hit her. Numbers tumbled through her head: 780, 1351, 153, 265. Her knees buckled, and she felt herself heading for the floor, when a strong pair of hands grabbed her and steadied her.

"Woah, there," said Ben, "You ok?"

"Sorry," Scarlett replied, unsteadily. "I just...need to sit down." Ben helped her to a chair, and then she continued, "It's been a rough few weeks."

"Yikes," said Ben. "You're welcome to hang out for a while."

"Hell, why don't you stay for dinner?" asked Jim.

"No, thanks. I couldn't. I should probably go."

"I guarantee that you'll never have a steak this good anywhere else," said Jim.

"My dad is one hell of a cook," said Ben.

"Well," she said after a moment's hesitation, "I am kind of hungry."

#

Jim Brown was, indeed, one hell of a cook, and Scarlett eagerly cut into the perfectly rare rib-eye. "This is fucking amazing," she said between bites.

"I told you," said Ben with a smile as he filled up her wine glass.

"And the wine goes perfectly," she continued, alternating bites of steak with sips of wine.

"I like this one," said Jim with a chuckle as he pointed to Scarlett. "Say, are you single?"

"Dad!" exclaimed Ben. Scarlett blushed.

"Well, not for me!" Jim retorted, "I'm old. For you. You're single, she's smart, you should get together and give me some grandchildren finally."

"Oh my God," Ben said as he covered his face with his hands.

Scarlett narrowly avoided snorting wine out of her nose as she struggled to suppress a laugh. She set the glass down and took a deep breath. "Well, I'm not seeing anyone right now, no."

"See?" said Jim.

Ben peeked through his fingers as Scarlett who blushed more fiercely and covered her own face as a result. "So..."

"So...?"

"Well, you want to go out sometime?" asked Ben as he put his hands back down.

Scarlett dropped her hands and smiled at him, "Yeah, I'd like that."

"See!" Jim said, smiling. "I'm glad that's settled. Now who wants more mashed potatoes?"

#

Scarlett, Ben, and Jim ate and talked for hours, until Jim finally excused himself to go to bed. "Lots of farming to do in the morning," he explained before he left the table.

Ben watched his father disappear upstairs, and then turned to Scarlett, "More wine?"

"That depends," Scarlett smiled, "are you trying to get me drunk?"

"Heh," Ben chuckled, "Yeah, I guess so."

"So that you can take advantage of me?" she said, hopefully.

Ben paused for a moment before smiling and nodding, "Yeah, I suppose I am."

"YES!" her brain said.

"Shut up, he will hear you," she said back to her brain. She smiled. He smiled back.

"Well," she said as she leaned forward, "I don't think you're going to need to get me any more intoxicated than I already am to accomplish that."

"Is that so?"

"That," she said hungrily, "is so."

Scarlett was not prone to one-night stands. On occasion, though, with just the right man, on just the right night, she was willing to make an exception. And, she was hoping that this might turn into a two or three or ten-night stand.

It also provided her with an excuse not to sleep in her own bed.

She helped him clear the table, and clean up, giving Jim enough time to fall asleep, and then Ben led her upstairs. She took hold of his rough hand in hers, and followed right behind.

His hands and arms were strong, and he guided her body in just the right way. While she normally preferred to lead, this night she was content just to feel his skin next to hers. She was happy not to be alone. She was happy to feel alive.

#

The noise of chanting awoke her. It was distant and unintelligible, like a television turned up too loudly in a house down the street, but it was definitively chanting.

Ben was sound asleep. Scarlett pulled the covers back, glanced admiringly at the nude body of the man who had been sleeping next to her, and then padded quietly to the window.

The nice thing about being this far away from downtown was that that it was dark at night. It wasn't middle-of-the-desert dark, but it was still better than in the suburbs. The relative darkness allowed her to spot a spot of light halfway across the field - near the spot she'd examined earlier in the day.

"No shit," her brain said to her. "They're back."

"Oh, this is going to be good," she replied.

She walked back to the bed, and gently roused Ben. "Hey handsome," she said as he looked at her, sleepily, "Want to go tell some damned kids to get the hell off your lawn?"

###

Part 1 | Previous | Next

sacred geometry, part 4: vesica piscis

 

>> New to the series? Start with Part 1.


"This is why I don't do UFO stuff," Scarlett thought angrily as she gingerly removed her foot from the middle of a cow patty. "Too many fields, too many cows, too much bullshit."

 

The past month had been a blur. She'd survived an attack – the details of which she still didn't remember – that had left her in the hospital for a week. Then she'd spent another week at home, trying to get her strength back while simultaneously having the worst sleep of her life. She was terrified of being attacked again – every time she closed her eyes, she felt a rush of fear.

In the meantime, she struggled to get work done for the clients of her day job, a private graphic design firm. Deadlines loomed and blog articles had to be written. She put out an ad for a roommate, hoping that having someone else in the house would make her feel safe. It was all very overwhelming, and now she was standing in the middle of a field with cow poop on her shoe.

"Where there's cow shit, there are cows," her brain reminded her.

"Fuck. Don't tell me that." She clenched her fists and resisted the urge to start screaming.

"Lots of them."

"Ugh." She shivered and looked around nervously, then took a deep breath. "It could be worse," she told herself, "At least the farmer is cute."

#

"I really don't investigate crop circles," Scarlett said, "They've been pretty thoroughly debunked."

Jim Brown, of Brown Family Farm, had left a message on her blog, Things That Go Bump in the Night, asking her to investigate the appearance of crop circles in his field. She'd called back in order to politely decline, but got his son, Ben, on the phone instead.

"It's probably just college kids," she explained.

"That was what I figured, but my dad's a really big fan of your blog. He thinks you'd find it worth investigating."

"I appreciate that," Scarlett replied, "But the odds of it being supernatural in origin are incredibly low."

"Well, would it help if I told you that we're also missing a cow?"

Scarlett paused and grimaced. "A cow?"

"Yes, my dad and I raise cows in a sustainable fashion. We supply meat to local restaurants and butchers."

Scarlett sighed. She had a number of friends who worked in the Cleveland restaurant scene, so she had a great deal of sympathy for the locavore movement. "You think the cow might have been…abducted?"

Ben laughed. "Hey, it's a possibility. Or maybe whoever did this ran her off."

Scarlett took a sip of the bourbon that had become her nightly companion. "I'm still not sure there's anything there for me to see."

"It would mean a lot to my old man. He's a big fan of your blog."

Scarlett sighed again. She felt like she was sighing at everything lately. "Well, hold on a second," she said as she googled the Brown Family Farm and pulled up their website. On the front page was a picture of an older man with gray hair and a potbelly; and a chiseled, brown-eyed, and very attractive younger man. The labels identified them as Jim and Ben, father and son.

"Well, hello, farmer Brown," she thought to herself.

"It would do you good to get out of the house," her brain reminded her.

She checked the address – 15351 Kinsman Rd. It was about a half hour drive into one of the more rural areas of Greater Cleveland. She stared at the picture of the younger farmer. "He has a nice smile," she thought.

"Are you still there?" said the voice on the phone.

"Oh! Yes," sorry, Scarlett felt her cheeks get warm. "You know what? Maybe I will check it out, if you don't mind me spinning it into an article about how to debunk crop circles."

#

"There it is," said Ben, pointing to an overlapping set of blackened circles that had been burned into the green grass of the pasture. Each circle looked to be twenty feet in diameter, and they overlapped so that the center of each fell on the circumference of the other.

"Huh," Scarlett said, "It's a vesica piscis."

"Sorry?" replied Ben.

"It literally means 'bladder of a fish.' Beyond just being a cool kind of shape, it's important in several mystic traditions." She frowned. This was not what she had expected at all.

"Ok. Like mystic UFOs?"

"Not exactly," Scarlett pointed to the almond-shaped section where the circles overlapped. "That part there is called a mandorla. It's a shape that you'll find a lot in illuminated manuscripts, plus it factors into Freemasonry and other organizations."

She could feel a headache coming on – they'd been frequent ever since the assault – but she tried to block out the pain. She bent down to look at the circles, and found that the grass was carbonized. She sniffed the air and caught the faint smell of gasoline. "Figures," she thought.

She stood back up, carefully stepped over the charred grass, and walked toward the center of the left circle, peering intently at the ground as she went. "There it is," she thought, and then bent to look at where the outline of the right circle crossed the center of the left. Sure enough, there was a hole about an inch in diameter. She stuck her fingers in it and felt the sides – smooth and tapered to a point about four inches deep.

Scarlett stood up again and then headed to the very center of the set of circles. When she stepped into the mandorla, though, she immediately felt dizzy and disoriented.  She grabbed her head, closed her eyes, and waited a minute for the vertigo to pass.

After the sensation subsided, she opened her eyes, looked around and saw a cow standing immediately to her left. It looked as surprised to see her as she was to see it.

"Moo," it mooed. It blinked a few times and then began to walk toward her.

"Uh, oh," she thought. "Nice cow," she said as she held her hands to ward it away.

"Moo!" the cow exclaimed as it quickly closed the distance.

Scarlett screamed, turned, and ran – straight into the Ben. She caught herself with her hands as she collided with him, and ended up with her face buried in his chest.

"Huh," he said quietly.

"I found your cow," she said, her voice momentarily muffled.

"That's not the missing one, actually. Say, are you," he paused and smiled warily, "afraid of cows?"

Scarlett lifted her head, sighed and nodded slowly. "I had a bad experience when I was a kid. I don't like to talk about it."

"I see."

"Yeah," she stepped back, though she let her hands linger on his chest for a moment longer than was absolutely necessary. "So, um…"

The cow nudged her from behind. She froze.

Ben chuckled and stepped around her, and then led the cow away. "Be right back," he said. Scarlett breathed a sigh of relief and then rolled her eyes.

"He's totally into us," said her brain.

"He thinks I'm an idiot," she replied.

"Trust me, I'm better at noticing these things than you are."

"Oh, whatever."

Ben reappeared, and Scarlett smiled uncomfortably. "Sorry about that," he said quietly.

"Oh," she shook her head, "No, it's not your fault. People aren't usually afraid of cows."

"Anyway," he gestured to the circles. "What's your expert opinion?"

"Well," she began, "first thing – this is grass, not crops, so it's not technically a crop circle."

He nodded, "Makes sense."

"Second thing – the circles were burned into the ground – it looks like gasoline, probably, was poured and lit. Traditionally, crop circles are constructed by flattening the plants."

"Huh."

"Third thing – I can see the stake holes where someone anchored twine or string or rope in order to trace out the circles. I'm fairly certain that aliens would have slightly more advanced technology than stakes and string."

"I see."

"So, I'm going to conclude that this was constructed by the hand of man. Or men. Or women for that matter. But definitely human."

He frowned, "Why would someone burn a symbol like this into the middle of a cow pasture?"

Scarlett shrugged. "It might have been some high school kids attempting a pagan celebration of some sort."

"Like Satanists?"

"No, no," Scarlett shook her head. "Modern pagans and Satanists are two different things." She sighed. How to explain this? She took a deep breath, and then began, "You see, modern paganism was founded…"

He waved her off. "It's ok. I'll google it later."

"Oh," she felt her face flush, "ok."

"But why the middle of a field? Hell, why my field? There are lots of fields around."

"Where else are a bunch of kids going to dance around under the moonlight without getting noticed?" She shrugged again. "This seems like as good a place as any."

"Fair enough," Ben nodded in agreement. "Would you mind explaining it to my dad, though? He's going to be pretty disappointed."

"He is?"

"Yeah, he was really hoping we had a UFO."

###

Part 1 | Previous Part | Next Part

sacred geometry, part 3: sine wave

"What do we have here?" Scarlett wondered as she opened the package she'd found waiting on her front porch when she got home. She often received packages from the fans of her blog, Things That Go Bump in the Night, but she never knew quite what to expect. Sometimes they were interesting, sometimes creepy, occasionally disgusting – but they were never dull.

She cut the packing tape, folded back the top, and brushed away a handful of packing peanuts. Beneath lay a small clear, crystal sphere, about three inches in diameter.

"Huh." She pulled the sphere out of the box and held it up to the light. Inside the sphere was a series of dots that formed a pyramid shape – each side a triangle made from ten dots arranged in a row each of one, two, three, and four. She recognized it as a three dimensional version of the tetractys, a mystical symbol that she'd seen before – the symbol of a modern Pythagorean mystery cult that had tried to kill her.

"Oh, shit," she thought. "That's not good."

She quickly dropped the sphere back into the box, stepped back, and took a deep breath. "It'll be ok," she said to herself, "It'll be ok."

Suddenly, though, the crystal sphere levitated out of the cardboard box and floated up to head height. Scarlett stared as it rotated slowly in midair. It began to vibrate. "Oh, shit, that's definitely not good."

"I think you should run," suggested her brain.

"I…uh," Scarlett stammered back.

"Like, now," her brain said more insistently.

Before she could move, the sphere began to emit a sound – a pure, distortion-free, fifth-octave G. As the sound filled her ears, it became impossible to tell that it was coming from the sphere at all – it seemed like it was coming from everywhere at once.

It wasn't an unpleasant sound, but, as she stood watching the sphere, the volume slowly increased. After a half-minute, Scarlett put her hands over ears. "What the fuck is that thing?" she wondered, at once both frightened and curious.

Then, without warning, it began to emit a second pure tone, midway between a sixth-octave E and F. The combination of the two produced a dissonance that immediately sent chills up her spine. She shuddered. The awful, grating noise continued for another few seconds, and then abruptly doubled, tripled, quadrupled, quintupled in volume.

Scarlett dropped to her knees as the sound blasted through her hands and drilled straight into her brain. She felt like someone was stabbing white-hot needles directly into her eardrums. Tears welled up in her eyes and she clenched her jaw involuntarily, trying to brace herself against the pain.

The sound assaulted every nerve in her body – it felt like ten thousand jolts of electricity tore through her muscles and crawled over her skin. It became so overwhelming that she could see the dissonance in her head, the competing sine waves oscillating in front of her eyes. A series of numbers swam through her vision: 780, 1351, 153, 265. The sphere seemed to pull apart into two as her eyes trembled from the intensity of the sound.

She looked down to see blood gushing from her nose and cascading down the front of her shirt. She tried to stand up, to run as far as she could from the sphere and the noise, but her legs refused to work, and she collapsed.

"Help!" she tried to scream, but her jaw was clenched so tightly that she could feel her teeth threatening to crack. Every muscle in her face seized up, each trying to pull away from each other, away from the sound. Even her fingers and toes twisted and clenched as her feet and her hands cramped and contorted.

"PHONE!" her brain screamed at her, and Scarlett jabbed a half-functioning hand into the pocket of her jeans. She managed to fish out her trusty iPhone, and then, with trembling hands, unlock it. She hit the messages button, and was elated to see that a half-composed message to her best friend, Jeff was still on screen.

"Please help me," she whimpered though clenched teeth as she added a 9 onto the end of the existing message. Darkness crept into the edge of her vision as she typed a 1. Her hand clamped tight and she struggled to reach out a finger to hit the 1 button again.

"Send," her brain told her.

"What?" She fought to hold onto consciousness.

"Send."

"What?"

"Hit send."

Scarlett reached out toward the blue "send" button, and then the blackness overcame her.

#

"Scarlett!"

She could hear her voice being called in the darkness, feel hands on her neck, on her wrist. She willed her eyes to open, and saw Jeff standing over her, holding her hand in his.

"Jeff?"

"Scarlett! What happened? Can you hear me?"

His voice was muted, muffled. She could still hear ringing in her ears. "I…the thing...oh, God…my ears."

"The thing? What thing?"

"The sphere. In the air."

Jeff looked around. "Scarlett, I don't know what you're talking about. What happened to you? Did someone attack you?"

"No. Yes. No," she stammered, "I don't know."

"Ok. Right now we need to get you to the hospital."

"Ok," she said as she squeezed his hand, "ok."

Scarlett closed her eyes and tried to breathe as Jeff called for an ambulance. She coughed, felt pain in nearly every part of her body, and then blacked out again.

#

"Can you remember what happened?" Jeff asked Scarlett as she lay in the intensive care ward of the Cleveland Clinic.

"No," she shook her head.

"Nothing? You were lying on the floor in a pool of your own blood. You look like you got beaten."

Scarlett struggled to remember. Everything seemed hazy. She vaguely remembered getting home, but that was about it. "I don't…I don't know."

Jeff frowned. "The doctor said you may have experienced some sort of head trauma. We won't push it for now. You rest."

"Ok," she closed her eyes again. "Thank you for saving me."

"That's what friends are for," he said softly. "I'm going to go check in with Mary. I'll be back."

Scarlett coughed and then grimaced again, "Ok." Images danced through her head – sine waves, a series of numbers, spheres, and pyramids – but she couldn't place them. She felt like her memories had been scrambled.

"Sleep," her brain told her. "We'll figure it out later."

"Ok, brain," she agreed with herself for once. "We'll figure it out later. At least we're alive. That's good enough for now."

###

Part 1 | Previous Part | Next Part