sacred geometry, part 6

 

Last time on Sacred Geometry: Part 4 | Part 5

"So what's the plan?" asked Ben as he joined Scarlett in at the window.

 "Plan?" Scarlett stared at him.

"You don't have a plan?"

"Stay the fuck away from any cows. Scare the kids off. That's about all I got."

Ben frowned. "Do you think they're dangerous? I could grab the shotgun."

Scarlett winced. If there was one thing she liked less than cows, it was guns. "It would scare me away, that's for sure." She shook her head. "I don't think they're violent, no."

Ben shrugged. "I feel like I should have something to defend us, though."

"He said, 'us'" Scarlett's brain pointed out.

"I know," she said to herself as she smiled.

Ben looked at her quizzically. "What's up?"

"Oh," she shook her head and waved. "Nothing."

"Ohhhhhh-kay," said Ben. "This is your area of expertise, not mine."

"Right, well," she turned to him. "We could try to scare them. Make it seem like an actual UFO is showing up."

Ben chuckled. "I bet they'd shit themselves." He frowned. "That seems like a lot of work, though. Unless you have an alien costume in the trunk of your car."

"Do not admit that we have an alien costume in the trunk of our car," Scarlett's brain instructed. Scarlett stayed silent.

"You don't actually have an alien costume in the trunk of your car, do you?"

"No," she said somewhat unconvincingly.

"You know, you're pretty hot and all, but you're a little weird."

Scarlett shrugged. "Completely normal people don't tend to become paranormal bloggers."

Ben thought through the truth inherent in that statement, then shrugged his shoulders. "Well, I guess I should get used to it."

She smiled, then took his hand and squeezed it. "I'd like that." After a moment, she asked, "Do you have a tractor?"

"Yeah, why?"

"I think I have a plan."

#

Meg was high. Her friends were high. Meg and her friends were very, very high. Being outside, sitting next to a campfire under the stars, getting stoned with her friends, and worshipping the sky gods was what high school was all about, she thought.

Actually, she thought that the sky gods thing was a load of crap, but her boyfriend, Jared, believed that he'd been abducted by aliens on multiple occasions, and she loved him, so she rolled with it.

He also had the absolute best weed around, so all of her other friends were more than happy to hang out in a field and sing and dance and praise the sky gods along with the two of them. Hell, some of them might have really believed in it, too.

"Friends," Jared began, "we are here tonight to pay homage to the lords of the nighttime sky."

"And get high!" screamed their friend Jay.

"The sacred herb is the gateway to communication with the sky gods," Jared replied in a more than mellow fashion. "So yes, we are here..."

"To get high!" Jay screamed again. Everyone else cheered. Meg thought that Jay was kind of an ass.

"Friends," said Jared, "let us sing our song of praise!"

"To getting high!"

"Dude," said Jared.

"Sorry, man," said Jay. "I just like to get high."

"It's cool, man," replied Jared, "let's just say the chant first, and then you can get baked."

"Right on."

Meg had already used a stake and twine to draw out the same intersecting circle pattern that Jared had tattooed on his bicep a year ago onto the grass of the field. Jared had then traced the pattern with lighter fluid, and now stood ready, lighter in hand, to set the grass ablaze.

"Oh, awesome and benevolent sky gods," Jared intoned, "please hear our shout out to you, in all of your infinite awesomeness."

"Fuck yeah, Sky Gods," the group responded in unison.

"We are here to pay homage to you, in all of your infinite awesomeness."

"Fuck yeah! Sky Gods!" the group responded, louder this time.

"We are here, to partake of the sacred herb, and listen to your song, in all of its infinite awesomeness."

"Fuck yeah! Sky Gods!"

Jared bent down and lit the interlocking circles on fire. Flame raced along the ground, tracing the path of the vesica piscis through the field. It burned out within a few seconds, at which point everyone clapped and cheered.

Suddenly, a rumbling sound, low and rhythmic, filled the air. Jared motioned the group to be quiet as he stared out past the light of the campfire, into the darkness.

Then, from the direction of the rumbling, a powerful cold light, more than ten times as bright as the light produced by the campfire, snapped on, blinding the group. Meg grabbed onto Jared with one hand even as she shielded her eyes with the other. Everyone was silent, waiting to see what would come next.

A tall, slender figure finally appeared, silhouetted against the source of the light. The light was so strong that it seemed to bend around the edges of the figure, blurring it, making it impossible to focus on, and accentuating its otherworldly proportions.

Its legs and arms were far too long, and its body far too slender for it to be human. Finally, it slowly stretched out a single hand and pointed directly at them with one of its inhumanly long fingers.

"Holy shit!" shouted Jay, "It's an alien!"

Meg screamed, and then Jared shouted, "Run!"

#

"Ha ha! Fuckers!" Scarlett muttered as she watched the group of teenagers take off into the darkness, screaming as they sprinted across the field.

Once the sounds of their screams had faded, Ben turned off the tractor and hopped down from the seat. "Man, that thing is bright," he said as he shielded his eyes from the LED floodlight that they'd attached to the front.

"I think I recognized one of those kids," said Scarlett as she pulled the alien mask off. She turned toward Ben and wobbled forward, the stilts built into the legs of her costume sinking into the soft earth of the field.

"Wait, really, where from?"

"He's a UFO blogger. I've met him at conventions." She reached out toward him. "Help me back to the tractor."

"Oh shit," said Ben as he took Scarlett's hand to support her while she walked. "He's not going to write about this and turn my field into UFO-spotters central is he?"

"I don't know," said Scarlett, "'I Pooped Myself and Ran Away' doesn't make for a great blog title. I think he'd lose any credibility he had in the community if he wrote about it."

"Good God, I hope so," he replied as he helped her back into the tractor.

Suddenly, a rumbling sound, low and rhythmic, filled the air.

"Oh, you've got to be shitting me," Scarlett whispered as a bright, cold light suddenly appeared in the sky above their heads. It was powerful, about ten times as bright as the campfire, and Scarlett grabbed Ben with one hand while she shielded her eyes with the other.

The two stared skyward as the light hovered, motionless, above them.

"Fuck yeah, Sky Gods?" Scarlett's brain whimpered.

"Scarlett?" asked Ben.

"Yes?"

"Is this bad?"

Before she could respond, the light suddenly accelerated, moving faster than any aircraft Scarlett knew of, and flew north - disappearing over the tops of the trees in the distance in a matter of seconds.

"What the fuck?" shouted Ben. He stared at Scarlett. "Was that what I think it was?"

She nodded slowly, "Yeah. I'm pretty sure that's what it was."

"Whatever we do, we can't tell my dad about this," said Ben. "He'll be so pissed off that he missed it."

Scarlett's heart sank - she knew he was right. If she wrote about the encounter on her blog, his father would read it, and he'd be devastated. "Damn it," she whispered.

"Sorry."

She sighed. "At least I got a cute guy out of the deal."

Ben smiled at her. "It is always like this with you?"

She thought for a moment, then shrugged. "Pretty much."

He laughed, then shrugged in return. "Sounds cool."

#

"So tell me about this guy," said Jeff, Scarlett's best friend, as he sat in her kitchen, drinking a cup of coffee. Scarlett sat across from him, sipping from a cup of green tea.

Scarlett smiled, "He's really hot."

Jeff shook his head.

"And...he's used to weird people."

"Well, that's significant, actually."

"I know!"

Jeff chuckled. "I'm happy for you."

"Thanks, man."

"Hey, I'll tell Mary about him - maybe we can go out on a double date!"

"Maybe. I kind of want him to myself for a while, first."

"Well, sure. You've got to get all the sex out of the way."

Scarlett laughed. "Yes. Yes, indeed."

"So anyway, you coming to church on Sunday?"

"Yeah, I'll be there. I haven't missed a week yet."

"Good. There's a couple that wants to meet you. Friends of Mary's. They think their house is haunted."

"Oh nice," said Scarlett as she leaned back in her chair and relaxed. "I could go for a good haunting right about now."

###

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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."

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

sacred geometry, part 2: golden spiral

"The one thing that I never thought I'd find in church…" Scarlett paused, frowned, and deleted the text. She'd been trying to figure out how to start the newest post for her blog, Things That Go Bump in the Night, for the better part of an hour. Each time she thought she had the first sentence, she ended up deleting it.

"So sleepy," her brain muttered to her. "Let's go to bed."

"No, I need to get this out of my head," she argued with herself.

"There's plenty of time for that later. I'm no good to you now, anyway."

"I really want to write this now, while the experience is still fresh," she thought as she sat back in her chair, took a sip of green tea, and sighed.

"Well, good luck with that," her brain said in a huff, "I'm out of here."

"Fine, I'll do this without your help," she declared to her now absent mind.

#

Earlier that day, her best friend, Jeff, had picked her up so that the two of them could go investigate the Church in the Woods, just south of Cleveland. Scarlett had gotten wind of the possible existence of a holy relic less than fifteen minutes from downtown, and she instantly knew it would make a great story for her blog. After the trouble she'd ran into on her last investigation, she appreciated the company.

"I thought you hated churches," said Jeff as they turned off I-480 and sat on the exit ramp, waiting for the light.

"I don't hate churches. I've been in plenty of them."

"Really?"

"Well, it's not like I burst into flames when I step inside one," she said as she reached down to change the radio station, "I mean – I've been to weddings and stuff. I just don't…" She stopped, and looked out the window of the car. "I can't…believe…in church," she sighed, "Not since Sam disappeared."

Scarlett's younger sister, Samantha, had disappeared while walking home during her freshman year of high school. No trace of her had ever been found – her missing person case had never officially been closed. Trying to find her, and then later, when her family had finally given up hope, trying to find out what had happened to her, was one of the reasons that Scarlett had been drawn to the paranormal in the first place. She'd visited quite a few psychics and mediums over the past twelve years.

"Oh, ok," Jeff was quiet for a moment. "I understand."

"Yeah?"

"Sure. Sometimes things like that make you stop believing. Sometimes they make you start."

"I guess."

"Well, when Maggie was stillborn, I didn't go to church for a whole year."

"I didn't know that." Scarlett turned to look at her best friend. "Why didn't I know that?"

"I didn't really make a big deal about it. I just didn't go."

"Huh."

"Mary was the opposite. She couldn't wait to go."

"I remember she was always talking about how she couldn't wait to get to church on Sunday – that's why I thought you went, too."

"Nah. I stayed home and played video games."

Scarlett squinted at him. "Oh, so that's how you got so good at Halo. No wonder you keep kicking my ass now."

"I could kick your ass before then, too," he said with a smile. "Anyway, if you ever do decide to start believing again, and I'm not saying you should, of course. But if you did, you're always welcome to come with Mary and me and the kids."

Scarlett smiled in return, "Thanks man, but even if I did go back to church, I'm not Catholic."

"Oh, I know. It's just an open offer, that's all."

#

The Woods Church was nestled in a deep wooded lot in the middle of a sea of tidy, post-war, baby-boomer, planned-community houses. Constructed as a large A-frame building, the roof touched the ground on both sides. It was a striking building, and with snow covering the lot, the whole scene had an mystical air. Scarlett briefly contemplated taking time to sketch it, but decided not to keep Jeff waiting around in the cold winter air.

Scarlett knocked on the front doors and, after a moment, a man in his fifties poked his head out. "You must be Scarlett, I presume?"

"Hi, Pastor Tim? Thanks for agreeing to meet us," she said as she extended her hand.

"Oh, it's no trouble. I'm a big fan of your blog," he said excitedly as he shook her hand. "Please, come in," he continued as he ushered them into the vestibule.

"Wait, really?" asked Jeff.

"Hey," Scarlett pouted. "People read my blog."

"Yes, really," the pastor chuckled, "I'm kind of a paranormal buff, myself."

"Cool. Well," Scarlett closed the door behind them and then pulled a sketchbook and pen out of her bag, "I've got a few questions to start with."

"Sure! Go right ahead."

"Well, I read that the church was built in the early sixties."

"That's right. Nineteen sixty one. She just turned fifty this year." He sighed, "It's a crying shame."

"A shame?" asked Scarlett.

"They're closing her down. We're holding our last service at the end of March."

"I'm sorry to hear that," said Jeff, "A lot of the Catholic churches are closing too. Mine was shut down last year."

"Yes, there's quite a lot of that going around right now." Tim nodded. "There aren't as many church-goers in Cleveland these days."

"Do you think they're losing their faith?" Jeff asked. Scarlett squinted at him.

"Faith? Maybe," he paused to think, "More likely that the same thing's happening to us that's happening to all of Cleveland. The economy stinks, and everyone young is moving away. So, our congregations are growing older and shrinking."

Jeff nodded. "Yeah, that makes sense."

"I'm sorry to hear that, too," said Scarlett as she made note of the conversation, "I'm glad I was able to get in and see you before it closed."

"Well, you're giving it a new life, in perhaps a different form, by writing about it. So, what's next?"

"So, I also read that it was built by the owner of a lumber yard who had just returned from a trip to the Holy Land."

"That's also true," he smiled, "Pete Wysocki was inspired by his trip to finance the construction. He did the design himself, too – he was an amateur architect of sorts. He passed away a few years after it was built." He stopped to allow Scarlett to write notes, "Well, keep going, though I'm pretty I know what you're going to ask next."

Scarlett took a deep breath, "I read that he built the church to house a holy relic that he brought back from the Holy Land."

Pastor Tim chuckled again, "Well, that's the story as I understand it. From what I've learned talking to the previous pastor, and from some of the folks who knew him, he did claim to have brought 'something important' back with him that he hid here. The trouble is he never told anyone what it was."

"Nobody?"

"Nope. He kept mentioning it in his journal, which I've got in my office, if you want to take a look at it, but he never really described it and he never recorded where he put it. That's assuming he actually put anything anywhere at all, of course, and he wasn't just pulling everyone's leg."

Scarlett frowned. "I imagine that people have looked for it?"

"Oh, absolutely! Heck, I spent the better part of my first year here turning over every pew to see if I could find something. Other than dust bunnies and about five bucks in loose change, I didn't find a thing."

"Hmm. Ok," she jotted in her notebook, and then continued, "Well, the other thing I heard was that the church was built according to the golden ratio?"

"Ah, now that is definitely true, yes – it's an unconventional design for a church to begin with, what with the A-frame construction, but the interior is especially different. Wysocki wasn't a typical architect, so he didn't feel compelled to design it like a typical church. You'll see once you look inside."

A phone chirped, and Scarlett went to pull hers out of her bag. Tim, however, pulled his iPhone out of his pocket, frowned, and then said, "Sorry, I've got to take this, so feel free to look around. Just don't put holes in anything without asking first, ok?"

"Sure thing," Scarlett agreed.

After Tim wandered off, Jeff turned to Scarlett. "Golden ratio? What's with you and all the weird math, lately?"

Scarlett shrugged, "Dunno. It does feel like there's some overarching theme, though, doesn't there?" She poked her head into the nave, "Oh, weird – come look at this."

Jeff walked in beside her, "Huh. That is weird. Everything's off center."

Instead of the traditional layout of a center aisle running the length of the nave, the pews were configured in a semi-circular arrangement that faced the back, right hand corner. "It looks more like a theater than a church," said Scarlett.

The raised chancel had a set of stairs on the far left. At the far end of the building, a sanctuary framed by a set of soaring picture windows housed a large wooden cross, which was suspended from the ceiling. Midway between the sanctuary and the front of the chancel stood a wooden altar, and in front of that, at the very front of the chancel, the pulpit.

"Why did they put the sanctuary two-thirds of the way to the right, though?" asked Jeff

"It's not quite two thirds," Scarlett said as she began to sketch the layout of the interior. The vestibule and nave formed a perfect square, she realized, and the chancel and sanctuary together made a rectangle just deep enough to form the golden ratio.

"Look," she pointed to her sketchbook, "The ratio of the length of the whole church to the length of the front part is the same as the ratio of the length of the front part to the length of the back part. The whole thing forms a golden rectangle."

"You can do this all in your head?" Jeff asked.

"Well, and on paper."

"Still."

"I'm an artist, it's what I do." Scarlett shrugged, then marked down the position of the cross, altar, and pulpit. "Hmmm."

"What's that?"

"I think the reason that everything's off center is that it's all on the border of smaller golden rectangles. See, if I split this back rectangle into the correct parts, then the cross is right at that border of the two smaller pieces."

Jeff nodded, "Looks right."

"And if we continue to subdivide," she said as she scribbled furiously. "And then we draw a spiral that connects the corners of each square, then the spiral reaches its limit," Scarlett looked up and pointed to the altar, "right there."

"No kidding."

"No kidding," Scarlett smiled.

"It's like he designed a path that leads straight toward it."

#

Scarlett and Jeff spent the better part of an hour looking at the altar, around the altar, under the altar, and on top of the altar. Pastor Tim rejoined them, listened patiently to Scarlett's explanation of the golden spiral, helped them move the altar, helped them move it back, and then left to take another phone call.

Scarlett was getting frustrated. "Well, this sucks. I was really hoping we were on to something."

"Maybe it isn't where the spiral terminates," said Jeff, "Maybe…"

"Maybe?"

"You're familiar with labyrinths, right?"

"The minotaur kind or the cathedral kind?"

"The cathedral kind."

"Yeah, I've read about them."

"Well, Mary walks with one of her friends at Trinity Cathedral, downtown, every other Tuesday night after work. She says it's meditative and reflective."

"So?"

"So, what if that's what's going on here? What if the process of getting to the center of the spiral is the important part?"

"You mean walking the spiral like walking a labyrinth?"

"Right."

Scarlett looked at her sketchbook. "Well, that means that you'd have to start," she turned around and walked back into the vestibule, to the front-right corner of the building, "here." She looked down. At her feet was a small golden cross inlaid into the tiled floor.

She envisioned the spiral in her mind – a glowing twisting line that wound from the corner of the church through the doors and into the nave. "That's pretty convenient," she thought as she began to follow the path.

The spiral followed the curve of the rear pew, and she walked its length slowly. As she exited the pew, she saw another golden cross inlaid into the first step leading up to the chancel and sanctuary. "No shit." She couldn't help but smile to herself. As she walked slowly across the hardwood floor of the chancel, she kept the golden filament in her mind, feeling a little like Theseus, following his ball of twine.

The large, wooden cross loomed above her, and she saw another small, golden cross set into the floor directly below it. As she took her next step, she heard the echo of another set of feet behind her. She looked around, but saw that Jeff was still standing in the entrance to the nave, watching her. Tim, the pastor, had joined him.

She took another step, and clearly heard the sound of two feet echoing. With each step along the spiral, her sense that a presence was behind her increased. Out of nowhere, she caught the scent of honeysuckle floating through the air, and she breathed deeply.

"That's weird," she thought. From her past experiences, she knew that out-of-place odors often accompanied spectral activity.

The next golden cross was exactly where she expected it to be, below a stained glass skylight where the spiral touched the right wall of the church. Suddenly, she felt a hand grasp hers. It was a feminine hand, soft, with manicured nails. It was a touch she recognized.

Her eyes began to water, though she kept the golden spiral in her mind. At the front of the chancel was the pulpit, and at its base was another golden cross. She forced herself to keep walking toward it, though it was only a few paces away.

The hand squeezed hers tightly, and she realized that it was her sister that was walking next to her. Her sister who had disappeared a dozen years ago on her way home from school, who had never had the opportunity to graduate, who had never learned how to drive, who had never held a job. Her sister who used honeysuckle-scented shampoo. "Sam," she gasped.

Scarlett made another turn on the spiral, and then saw the altar, with a golden, glowing cross sitting atop it. She felt the hand tug on hers, urging her to kneel before it, like they had done together growing up, together every day, together every Sunday.

She fought the urge to cry, fought the urge to give in to the years of grief, the years of frustration, the years of wondering if her sister would ever be found. She squeezed the hand in hers as tightly as she could, and then heard a whisper in her ear. She listened, smiled, and nodded.

#

"Scarlett?" asked Jeff.

"Huh?" she shook her head as her vision cleared.

"Are you ok?"

"Yeah," she said quietly as she stood up. She wiped her eyes on the back of her sleeve. "I'm ok. I think I'm ready to go."

"Ok."

"Did you find anything?" asked Tim, who had walked up behind Jeff.

Scarlett smiled. "I guess you'll just have to read the blog to find out."

"Hey, now. Shouldn't I get an advanced peek, at least?"

"I'll email you the article before it gets posted."

"Ok, then. Well, I don't want to rush you out, but I do have to close up for the time being. I've got to go visit one of my congregants in the hospital."

Scarlett nodded and walked with Jeff to the car.

"Are you sure you're ok?" he asked, once they were buckled in.

"I saw Sam," she whispered, "she was there."

"Wait, your sister?"

"Yeah. She was walking along behind me."

"Holy crap."

Scarlett stared out the window of the car as they pulled out of the lot. "I'm not exactly sure what to think about it yet."

"Did she say anything?"

She nodded, "Yes." Scarlett was quiet for a long moment, and then she sighed. "She said, 'I'm at peace.'"

Jeff reached over and put a hand on her shoulder. "Is there anything I can do?"

Scarlett sniffed and wiped her eyes. "Yeah, what time do you guys leave for church in the morning?"

#

Scarlett set down her tea, put her hands on the keyboard, and started to write again. "I went to the Woods Church to look for a holy relic," she typed, "but what I found was arguably more important. It was, in fact, the last thing I expected to find – my faith."

###

Part 1 | Next Part

sacred geometry, part 1: tesseract

"For a building built by an eccentric architect who supposedly belonged to a modern Pythagorean mystery cult, this hotel looks disappointingly normal," thought Scarlett. She yawned, set down her bag, and pressed the elevator button.

The drive down from Cleveland had taken three hours, thanks to a wreck on the highway, and she was already tired from staying up the night before doing research. She'd heard about Hotel Tetra from one of the readers of her blog, Things That Go Bump in the Night. The reader claimed that the architect of the hotel, Paul van Eck, was a mystic who'd gone crazy shortly after construction was completed in the late twenties, and taken his life inside one of the rooms.

After a lengthy Google search, she'd found out that, over the last eighty years, the hotel had seen an unnaturally high number of suicides, several unexplained disappearances, and continuous reports of ghostly phenomena. It was the perfect subject for her next feature article.

Having been built in the twenties, Scarlett had expected a hotel with gravitas; art deco and period decor. Instead, she found a hotel whose character had been stripped away by a series of recent renovations. There were small reminders of the hotel's history here and there, like the inscription on the stone façade over the front doors, "But take courage; the race of man is divine," but it was otherwise new, and modern, and sterile. "Might as well be a Holiday Inn," she thought.

"Was I supposed to go right or straight?" she thought as she stepped off the elevator. The building was a basic rectangle, which she also found disappointing, as she would be able to describe it as neither sprawling nor labyrinthine. "Maybe I'll have to break out 'parallelogram,'" she thought. Hallways stretched out straight in front of her and directly to her right.

She looked for a sign to indicate which way was which, but couldn't find one, so she shook her head and headed down the hall in front of her. Her suitcase was old, and the wheels wobbled, so it made a thunk, thunk, thunk sound as she pulled it behind her.

On the door of each of the rooms was a number superimposed over the hotel's logo – a motif of a triangle which was composed of ten dots arranged in rows of one, two, three, and four. She frowned and, through a mind clouded by fatigue, tried to recall where she'd seen it before.

Thunk, thunk, thunk. As she plodded down the hall, she remembered seeing the symbol in a Wikipedia article. It was a tetractys – a mystical symbol important to the Pythagoreans.

"Oh, no kidding," she thought to herself. "Maybe this isn't going to be a wild goose chase."

At the end of the hall, she turned right, walked down another hall, and turned right again. Thunk, thunk, thunk. On the wall to her left was one of the infrequent reminders of the hotel's history: an oil painting of a hunting dog, bordered by a thick, gilded, art-deco frame. "See, that's more like it," she thought, and made a mental note to come back and take a picture of it later.

Scarlett stopped for a moment and looked at the room numbers – they were counting down instead of up, in contrast to the two hallways she'd just walked down. "Crap," she thought, "where the hell is my room?" She kept walking, turned another corner, and looked at the numbers again – now they were counting up. "Weird."

She turned right again, saw the elevator doors at the end of the hall, and then spotted her room two doors from the elevator – 171. "Figures – I should have gone the other way. Oh well."

She slipped her keycard in the lock, the light turned green, and she wheeled her bag into the room. Then she yawned again, rubbed her eyes, and headed straight for the bed.

She had just pulled the covers over her head, when her brain finally caught up. "Wait. How many times did you turn the corner?" it asked her.

She sat up and thought through the hallways in her mind, retracing her steps. "Four. I turned four times before I saw the corner where I started. That means that there are five corners total – five right angles. In a rectangle."

She rubbed her eyes and yawned. "That can't be right."

"It's totally right. You turned the corner four times," replied her brain.

"No. That's not possible. I'm just tired. I must have imagined it."

"You didn't imagine it. I'm telling you – it was four times."

"There's no way. I was up late last night, and it's late now. I just need to sleep." She lay back down, closed her eyes, and immediately drifted off.

She was asleep for ten minutes when her brain woke her back up again. "It was four."

"It can't be four, brain. Go back to sleep."

"Fuck you, that's some weird-ass shit right there. You need to go check it out."

"But…"

"I'm not going to let you sleep until you check."

"Are you serious?"

"Well, I can't sleep until you look, and if I can't sleep then you can't sleep."

"God damn it." She sat up, threw off the covers, and shuffled to the door. She stopped and looked at the latch. "Crap," she thought, "I forgot to lock the door, too."

"See, aren't you glad I got you up?"

"Go to hell," she told her brain as she opened the door.

"You forgot your keycard."

She turned around and grabbed the card off the nightstand. "Fine. I'm sorry I told you to go to hell."

"Whatever, don't get distracted."

Scarlett looked to her right, down the hall, then to her left, toward the elevators. She decided to start where she'd begun, so she shuffled to the elevators, and then walked down the hall, counting the number of turns she took.

Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. She noticed that the carpet was woven with a pattern of the triangular logo repeated over and over. In her groggy state, she found staring at it a bit hypnotic. "One," she said to herself, as she turned the first corner.

Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. "Two." She saw the picture of the dog again.

Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. "Three." Scarlett expected to see the elevator at the end of the hall when she turned the corner, but instead saw another hall exactly like the one she had just walked down.

"I TOLD YOU!" said her brain.

"What the…" Scarlett thought as she quickly walked to the next corner. She peeked around, and sure enough – there was the elevator at the end of the hall and her room on the left.

She looked back down the hall she'd just come from, then looked back again. "No way."

"Way."

"Ok, let's try this again." She walked quickly this time: one corner, two corners, dog painting. Three corners, four corners, and then back to the elevator at corner number five.

She ran through the halls. One, two, dog, three, four, elevator, five. "What…the…fuck."

"I'm just going to shut up now," her brain said quietly.

#

Scarlett had been blogging about the paranormal since the heyday of AOL, and she'd seen things that had both scared and scarred her, but she'd rarely felt as discomfited as she did at that moment; goose-bumps ran down her arms and up the back of her neck.

After closing and locking the door to her room, she pulled out her iPhone and called her best friend, a college classmate who had stuck around longer than anyone else in her life.

"Hello?" came the groggy answer.

"Jeff? It's me, Scarlett."

"I know. You're in my phone. That's why I answered." He yawned loudly. "What's wrong?"

"I think I'm in a hypercube."

"Sorry?"

"I said I think I'm in a hypercube."

There was a long pause on the other end of the phone before he replied, "Wasn't that the name of that horrible sci-fi movie where everyone is trapped in a mysterious prison that keeps changing?"

"Er, yeah, I think so."

"And they all die in some weird, gruesome way, and in the end it has something to do with time?"

"Well, yeah, although there's less gruesome dying involved here." She shivered, involuntarily. "I hope."

"Why did we watch that again?"

"Well, it was a sequel, and the first one was good, and it was the next thing in my Netflix queue, and never mind that. For real – I think I'm in a hypercube."

"Are you high right now? Because you sound like you're high, and it’s twelve-thirty at night, and I have to work in the morning."

"I'm not high."

"Are you tripping?"

"No, jerk, I am not tripping."

"Drunk?"

"Fuck you, Jeff. I am stone-cold sober. I'm just tired. Or I was until I figured out that the geometry of this building is all screwed up." She yawned and rubbed her eyes.

"Ok, fine. Then, seriously, what the hell are you talking about?"

She explained the layout of the hotel – the rectangular floor with five right angles, the impossibility of the geometry.

"Huh," he said after he'd had a moment to think her analysis through.

"Exactly."

"Are you sure you're not on the surface of a sphere?"

"Sorry?"

"I paid attention in math class, too, you know. Can't you have a triangle with three right angles on the surface of a sphere?"

"But it's not a triangle. It's a rectangle with five sides."

"Oh, right." He paused for a few moments, then sighed. "Well, you can't be the first person to notice it. Did you call the front desk?"

Scarlett was caught off guard by the practicality of the suggestion. "No, of course not," she sighed to herself, "This is why I call you, you know."

"Yeah, I know," he yawned. "Need anything else?"

"No. Thanks, Jeff. I'm going to go see the desk clerk and ask what the holy hell is going on."

"Let me know how it goes. Oh, also, remember to throw your shoe into any of the rooms first to see if they're going to kill you. They did that in the movie."

"I'll keep that in mind."

#

The desk clerk was blond, pretty, and in her mid-thirties. She had her hair pulled up in a bun and wore a crisply pressed suit with a tiny, engraved name tag that read, "Diana." Like almost everything else in the hotel, Scarlett had thought when she'd checked in earlier, the woman was perfectly modern and somewhat boring.

Now, though, the clerk looked uncomfortable; she smiled with every part of her face but her eyes. "I'm not sure what you're talking about."

"The first floor. There are five right angles…five corners at right angles…they make a rectangle, but that's impossible."

"I'm sorry, ma'am. I don't understand." She glanced nervously at her wristwatch.

"Ok," Scarlett sighed. "Look, the building is a rectangle, right?"

"Yes."

"Rectangles have four corners and four sides, but there's a fifth one."

Diana pursed her lips and sighed, "Well, that clearly can't be. The building is, as you say, a rectangle."

"But I know what I saw. I was just up there. Look, I'm a paranormal blogger, and I came to write a story about the guy who designed this place and about the ghost sightings over the years – but this is way bigger. Can I talk to your manager? I've got to know what's going on here."

"Well, if you check back in the morning," she glanced at her watch again, "I'm sure my manager would be happy to talk with you."

"Fine," Scarlett's feelings of unease had transformed into excitement at the prospect of landing a major story that had never been covered in the paranormal press, "But I'm going to go take some pictures now and write up a post. You have wi-fi, right? This is going to be huge."

Diana stiffened. "Wait."

"Sorry?"

Diana's smile faded. "You're right, of course," she said as she stepped out from behind the counter. "There is something special about this hotel." She checked her watch again, "Why don't you let me show you what you really want to see?"

Scarlett raised an eyebrow. "What's that?"

"Room 153 – where Paul van Eck killed himself."

"What does that have to do with the fucked up extra hallway?"

"I'll explain on the way."

Scarlett shrugged and motioned to the elevator. "I'm all ears."

"So how familiar are you with n-dimensional geometry?" asked Diana as she led Scarlett down the hallway.

"I was a math minor in college. Oh my god, is this actually a hypercube?"

"We prefer the term tesseract," she said curtly as she pressed the button to call the elevator.

"For real?"

"Yes, the building was built in four dimensions. The trouble, of course, is that a four dimensional object is inherently unstable in three dimensions. As it rotates, parts of it project into and out of our world."

Scarlett's head swam. She couldn't grasp how a physically-impossible hotel could have been built nearly eighty years ago and no one had ever found out. She followed Diana into the elevator, and shook her head in disbelief. After a moment, she said, "I can't have been the first person to figure this out."

Diana shrugged and gave a half-smile, "Oh, you're not. It doesn't happen all that often, though."

"Why is that?"

"The tesseract was built to rotate in the middle of the night, specifically so that most people would never notice."

"What about the people staying in those rooms? What happens to them?"

"Well," she grimaced, "Only one person has ever stayed overnight in a room that rotated…away."

"And?"

"It was van Eck. When his room finally rotated back, they found him dead. He'd hung himself from the ceiling fan."

Scarlett frowned. Something didn't add up; the hotel had a grisly history – suicides, drug overdoses, and unexplained disappearances. She noticed that Diana kept checking her watch. A chill ran up and down her spine.

"When did you say the hotel rotates, again?"

"Sorry?" The doors opened and Diana stepped out of the elevator. As she did so, Scarlett caught sight of a tattoo on the back of her neck, peeking out from under her collar. It was the triangle logo – the tetractys. "Oh shit," she thought.

"What happens to the people who are just walking down the hall when it rotates away?"

"Sorry? The room's just a little farther, now," Diana said as she walked briskly down the first hall.

Scarlett felt the hair on the back of her neck stand up. "Diana?"

"Quickly, now." They turned the first corner.

"You said that only one person stayed overnight, but what happens to people who are just walking down the hall?"

"Almost there." They turned the second corner and entered the hallway with the picture of the dog. Scarlett noticed, for the first time, that doors didn't have modern electronic locks – they had tarnished brass locks and handles instead.

Diana pulled out a key ring and stopped in front of the door to Room 153. "Here we are."

"What happens to the people who are walking by? What happens to the people who figure it out?"

Diana opened the door and motioned to Scarlett to enter. "Just go right in and I'll answer all of your questions."

Scarlett froze. Her blood ran cold and every part of her being screamed out at her not to step foot in that room. She knew, though she didn't understand how, that if she went into that room, she would never be seen again.

"After you," Diana said again.

Scarlett stepped forward, and then, when she was a foot from the door, reached out and pushed Diana in, instead. The clerk tumbled over her own feet and went sprawling on the old, dusty carpet. Scarlett grabbed the handle, and shut the door. She heard the lock click into place.

"No!" Diana yelled. "You stupid bitch! Let me out!"

Scarlett looked down. The key ring was lying on the floor. The handle started to rattle, but Scarlett held it tight.

"Let me out! You have to let me out!" the clerk screamed. She started pounding on the door. "Oh my god, you have to let me out!"

In the distance, Scarlett could hear a clock chime softly, the sound drifting gently through the air above the shouting and pounding and rattling.

"Oh god, No!" Diana yelled again, and the rattling and pounding grew louder. Suddenly, a shrill scream pierced the air, and the noises stopped. Then, the door in front of her started to distort inward, the handle pulling away from her hand.

Scarlett let go and jumped back. She looked to the right and could see the hallway itself stretching and twisting. "Oh, shit!"

She ran, and could feel her body twisting along with the hallway. She had to concentrate to put one foot in front of the next – the stretching threatened to tie her legs into knots. "Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck!" she screamed as she reached the corner.

With a grunt, she jumped, twisting herself around the corner and landing safely on the carpet of the next hallway. She lay still for a moment, waiting to see if her body was going to twist itself into a pretzel. When that didn't happen, she pushed herself up, and cautiously approached the corner. She peeked around and saw a perfectly normal hallway – no brass handles, no dog painting.

"Ok," said her brain, "Time to go."

"Yep," she thought. For once, she was in no mood to argue with herself.

#

"So are you going to write an article about it?" asked Jeff, as they sat at his kitchen table the following afternoon.

After her narrow escape, Scarlett had driven straight home and locked herself in her house, whereupon a healthy dose of bourbon helped put her to sleep.

"Based upon the fact that the creepy Pythagorean cult member tried to get the hotel to eat me when I told her I knew what was going on, I'm thinking no." She shivered. "I've seen some weird shit, man, but I have never had a building try to suck me into another dimension. This is a first."

"Seems like too good a story to waste, though."

"I'll break it out at dinner parties. It'll be a riot."

"Well, people already think you're crazy," Jeff snorted. "So I don't think it's too much of a stretch."

"Yeah, yeah," she waved dismissively at him.

"Ok, Scarlett, I've got to get ready to go on shift."

"Oh hey – what are you doing next Saturday?"

"I'll have to check with Mary, but I don't think anything. Why?"

"I've got a lead on a church in the area that's supposed to secretly house a holy relic. Want to come with?"

"We have holy relics in Cleveland?"

"Why not? We're just as religious as anywhere else."

"This church isn't going to try to eat me is it?"

"Nah."

He shrugged. "Sure. Sounds like fun."

###

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