Outside.

It was as usual.

Endless.  Formless.

Dame floated in the space he had grown so accustomed to, close enough to the Universe, to the pathway he created as a child, first venturing into the Outside, still unsure of what, exactly it was.  It was his umbilical back to himself.  He always felt uneasy as he moved away from it, from the tiny prick of light that led back into the Universe.

In the past, even in his search for Wendy, he never strayed very far from this point.  It was like a drain, his personal drain, leading back into reality, into normalcy.

This time, he knew he would have venture further away.  It was the only way he could save her.  He knew it, deep down.  Had known it since his first excursion to find her.

He continued to float, allowing himself to adjust to the new laws governing his existence.  It was always a shock, to leave what was so familiar, ingrained in his human DNA, and inhabit this Outside.

Everything was black, but of varying shades.  His eyes adjusted.  His mind calmed and he brought his breathing under control.  He reached around, felt his backpack.  Good, he thought.  It came with him.

On his right, a Star collapsed, pulling everything into it, creating a black hole.  Until it wasn’t.  In an instant, it exploded outward, sending fragments of light in all directions, racing against each other as they populated the darkness for what seemed like millennia, before they stopped, disappearing before they found anything to illuminate.

Below him, concentric circles of varying colors tumbled, gyroscopically.  They held in the middle a volcano, larger than any he’d seen or read about.  It smoked and rumbled and shifted, the circles speeding up, blurring the slopes.  It became a solid sphere, encapsulating the volcano, shielding it from the rest of the darkness as it erupted.  Or perhaps it didn’t erupt.

A presence passed him.  Dame contorted himself, looking in every direction.  A Thing.  It/They knew he was here.

He needed light.  He concentrated on a flashlight.

An object took form in front of him, but it wasn’t a flashlight.  It was a torch, flame burning, jumping and sparking.

Dame looked around.  It was the first time he’d been unable to create what he wanted since he was young.

The torch hung in front of him.  It gave off no heat, and seemed to require no fuel.  He grabbed it, and felt the light encircle him.  He radiated a faint yellow glow.

The Thing moved on.  Dame released a long-held breath.  It didn’t affect the flame.

He had no idea what to do now.  He thought about trying to create Wendy, but in the past, that always led to immense sadness and an unformed presence inside him, reminiscent of Wendy.  But that was it.  Only a memory, a tug in the pit of his stomach.

The only place he knew where to start was rain.  So he thought of rain.

Rain falling in soft whispers.  Green leaves and gray skies.  The refreshing, damp smell infested his nostrils.  Wet wood and moss; composting leaves scattered across a forest floor.

Redwoods sprung up around him, reaching their hundreds of feet into a gray mass above him.  Below him, a path through the underbrush.  Ferns and moss and boulders populated the forest as he looked first left, then right, as if it created itself only when he looked at it.

Despite the rain, the torch never flickered, never issued that familiar hiss of rain on flame.

He looked up.  The canopy wove itself together.  The rain grew stronger, more alive.  Somewhere, a bird called out.

‘Wendy,’ he whispered, trying to look past the tree trunks.

He felt….something.  But it wasn’t that easy.  Somewhere, somehow, Dame knew that much.  This was only the beginning.

At least he could walk, he thought.  Sometimes, in the Outside, Dame was unable to move aside from swimming through the darkness, which wasn’t effective.

The path curved right.  He lost sight of it as the forest grew denser, adding more trees and hills and streams, boulders and underbrush.  The rain continued, harder.

Soon, there was a stream following him, surrounding his boots, which were not his, but some construction of the perfect hiking boot.  The water carried him on.  There was no choice but to follow it.

As he walked, Dame realized he’d made the right connection.  This was the path he was supposed to be on.  He had no idea what it meant, but he knew this was right.  How he would find Wendy, on the other hand, was unknown.  Perhaps unknowable.

He shivered, the rain intensifying, bringing with it a chill, seeping through his thick wool shirt.  The torch began radiating heat, encompassing him in a warm bubble.  The rain soaked him, but he was warm.

He realized that he was playing a part.  There was something much larger going on.  He was not in charge.

In that instant, everything fell away.  He was in darkness.  There was no torch, no backpack, no rain, no smell, no sound.  No up, no down.

He laughed.  There was nothing else to do.  Of course he was in charge.  Only he could help himself.  This was a debate he often had with the Calistines: how much were they in charge of what they created, and how much was a divine being in charge.  Now he knew.

Rain, he thought.  Take me to the rain.  The forest sprung up around him, but different.  It was older, harsher, more dense.  With his torch, he made his way through the vines and overgrowth and fallen trees.  He emerged into a clearing.

Standing in the clearing, he heard a lumbering beast.  Trees snapped and fell.  Leaves rustled.  Dame wanted to run, but he couldn’t.  Nothing responded.

And then it appeared, a green and brown Stegosaurus, breaking through the vegetation on the other side of the clearing, not fifteen feet away.  It munched on branches in its mouth, regarding Dame.  It’s tail swung behind it, clearing out anything in its path.

‘Steggy,’ Dame said, before he knew what was happening.  The Stegosaurus paused, and appeared to nod.

He had to find the jack-in-the-box.

Without thinking, he crossed the clearing and climbed up Steggy’s tail, careful not to touch the spikes.  He settled himself between two of the largest plates on his back.  Steggy turned his head to examine him, and winked.  Then, Steggy lumbered off into the dense forest, searching for a jack-in-the-box.

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He wanted a short meeting.  It was apparent that’s not what Aleph had in mind when he arrived.

Every Calistine was out in the yard when he arrived, green robed and behooded.  They looked like possessed monks, awaiting his arrival.  Aleph stood on the top step of the house, and he made his way to her.

She gestured him inside, but the rest of the Calistines stayed outside, unmoving.  Dame had thought about not coming, of setting out to find Wendy on his own.  Now, he wished he had.  The atmosphere hung heavy with anticipation and fear and excitement.  This was the most exciting thing that had ever happened here, and they were a part of it.  In a way, he understood why they were excited.  To them, Wendy’s disappearance was a sign from their god.  It was a confirmation of The Fabricate.   This is the event Calistines had been waiting for for decades, even centuries.

At first, everyone was concerned about Wendy, where she was, what had happened.  They also thought it was a sign, that she’d tried to do too much.  There was much speculation.   The second coming.  The apocalypse.  A new stage in evolution was reached. 

As time ticked, a few of the Calistines theorized that Dame helped her escape, or, worse, forced her to disappear.  Five or six of the more skittish Calistines ceased speaking to him.  He was thankful that this view remained in the minority. 

Inside the house, candles burned.  Aleph led Dame upstairs, into one of the guest rooms, usually reserved for the weary Calistine who couldn’t make it home after a meeting.  The bedroom was set up as it always was: single bed, chair, small writing desk, trunk at the foot of the bed.

In the past, two Calistines would watch over him, tend to his dehumanized body while his mind and soul, detached from the physical world, roamed the Outside.  They found out during his first search that he needed nothing.  No sustenance, no relief.  Every two days, they would change his robes, remake the bed, tucking him back in once they were done.  Other than that, he survived on Outside.

Tonight, four hooded figures stood in the tiny room when he and Aleph entered.  They all looked up, pulled back their hoods.  Steph, Wendy’s best friend.  Bernard, the one who recruited her and still carried with him immense guilt over her disappearance.  Trang, the Calistine doctor.  Erin, Wendy’s sister, who hadn’t spoken since Wendy disappeared.

‘You’ll find her,’ Steph whispered as he settled on the bed.

He didn’t react.  His only focus was Wendy.  He missed her neck, the way it curved under her collared shirts.  The way she ran her index finger over her eyebrows when she was thinking.  The way her skin smelled.  The way her eyes widened whenever he walked into a room she inhabited….

He blinked it away.  He knew from the past four months that if he continued down that path, it would only lead to hatred and sadness and utter despair.  Those were feelings he didn’t need right now.

‘Brother Dame,’ Trang said, nodding, and pulling out a heart monitor and IV.

Dame nodded.  The fact that Trang communicated out loud was not lost on him.  They were all breaking with certain parts of Calistine decorum for him, for Wendy.

Trang explained, for the sixth or seventh time, what would happen.  He let the words tumble around him, making tiny, metallic tings as they hit the wood floor.  His thoughts were of the backpack, the objects he might need, of the journey, of the jack-in-the-box and Tom Robbins.

He was afraid to admit he didn’t know where to start. 

When he created objects, he knew where to go, what to do, how to think.  It was easy.  At this point, he regarded it like breathing.  He enjoyed the travel, the exiting of what he could only rationalize as the Universe, into whatever was Outside it. 

But when he attempted to search for Wendy, it was…different.  The Outside was infinite.  More infinite than the Universe, which seemed impossible.  It was vast and complex and wistful.

And it was full of Things. 

That was the only way he could conceptualize is.  Things.  They weren’t scary, per se.  But neither were they inviting.  He often felt, during his excursions to find Wendy, that, if they felt like it, these Things could make him cease to exist.  It wouldn’t be like dying.  It would be like not living.  Ever. 

Things roamed.  He never saw them, but they were there. 

In his previous searches, he would blink and be somewhere else.  He would turn and everything would spin around him like a drain, spiraling into nothing and then exploding outward into something new.  Time progressed, and then reversed, then skipped and hopped along.  Up and down were left and right, then forward and backward, then Out and In, then disappeared altogether, only to emerge at some point in the future.  Or, what Dame considered the future in that twisted Outside. 

It was beautiful and exotic and calm and horrible and toxic and distraught all at once.  He spent what seemed like days wandering through forests, rain falling, pitter-pattering the leaves, and then he was on a beach, buried up to his head in sand, watching waves inch closer to his nostrils, before hiking along a craggy mountain top, followed by a strange mule-llama mix that carried his pack.  But everywhere he looked, no Wendy.  Not even a footprint or used napkin.

Rain. 

She passed on the passage about rain.

He stood up, almost knocking Trang on his ass.

‘Rain,’ he said, looking at the others.  He could feel it.  That was the right answer.  He would look for rain. 

Wendy was leaving him clues.

‘What are you talking about,’ Trang said, picking up the needle he dropped on the floor in Dame’s excitement. 

‘I…’

He looked at them.  They were expectant.  They wouldn’t understand. 

‘I’m ready,’ he said, lying back on the bed, letting Trang put needles in his arm, attaching monitoring equipment to his chest and head and hands. 

He felt himself slip away, into his mind.  He concentrated on the backpack, the things in it, making sure it would come with him. 

He walked past his memories, out of his brain, into the solar system, headed toward the Outside.

hello! happy monday.

due to some computer crashing and lost typing last night, i’ve had to rewrite most of the installment i had for today. i think, in the end, that this installment will be better than it would have been. but, still, not how i intended to start off a monday. and, now i have to go to work. however, by the middle of the afternoon, i should have the post rewritten and posted for your monday reading pleasure.

next week, i’m definitely going to push the save button more often. stupid technology.

in the mean time, you should check out one of these great blogs by my friends.  they should tide you over.

Travis

Kristina

Ian

Dame arranged the easel on the left side of the room, allowing the mid-morning sun to illuminate the canvas.  He almost tripped over the tarps he spread across the floor, but caught himself on long work bench.  A few brushes fell off the far side, but no paint spilled.  The 9×6 needed one more day.  Dame bit his lip, then lit a cigarette, watching the smoke curl between he and the painting.  He blew the smoke at it, then flicked the ash into one of four empty coffee cups on the work bench.

He touched the surface of the paint, how the yellow and green and red was globbed on, left to dry as unintelligible braille.  He liked texture, the way coffee grounds added grit, helped to swirl the thin brush strokes and give it a hint of outsideness.  He was also known to use foreign coins, leaves, sugar, feathers, and egg whites.  Once, for artistic reasons, he used a half-smoked joint and one tab of acid.  The acid wasn’t his.  Some girl had left it, but it seemed to fit the theme.  The joint, however, was his, and he always regretted leaving it half-smoked.

Dame squeezed a blob of midnight blue onto a wooden palette.  He swirled in a drop of yellow, and two white, mixing with a knife.  The painting itself glowed.  Dame squinted, allowing the painting to guide him through its progression.  A green blob rose up as if a mountain and pulsed, a new-formed galaxy testing its confines.  The smattering of coffee grounds swirled around the center twinkled, hummed in exhilaration.  From there, his eyes made their way out to the red blotches, nebulae spawning new stars.  Galaxies tumbled through the yellow background, disguised as curlycues of thin red figures.

Then he saw it.  Where the last blotches would go, how they would combine with the surrounding stars and bridge the gap between dimensions.  His concentration returned to the palette, how the white spiraled into infinite smallness against the midnight blue.  Everything reminded him of the Outside.  Somewhere, Wendy.  In the background, a dj rattled on about concert tickets.

The day passed, Dame in his studio, the sun wandering across the tarps.  Various lights clicked on, in between sips of coffee and drags on a cigarette.  The midnight blue required one final drop of pink, added with a toothpick.  Then, with a small knife, Dame applied the first glop, twisting the knife in his hand as he pulled away, a perfect soft serve ice cream cone.

At 12:30, Dame left his studio and went to find lunch.  Probably a turkey and swiss sandwich.  Few slices of pickle, mustard, mayo, tomato.  His stomach growled.

The answering machine light blinked twice.  He’d only heard the phone ring once.

He pushed play.  The first message was what he expected.  Aleph.

‘Dame, I am speaking to you to convey the importance of my message.  We must speak with you, as soon as possible.  You must come to the Compound this evening, directly after your paper route.  We have urgent matters to discuss.’

He knew exactly what those urgent matters were.  Wendy.  And the jack-in-the-box.

No one understood what it meant.  He tried to explain, how it was meant for him, to let him know she was still out there.  They wanted it to be a sign from the Universe confirming their belief in The Fabricate.  It was to be their legitimizing claim of religion.

So he took it.  Just grabbed it, while everyone else spoke, even shouted, frightened, ecstatic, shamed, humbled, and walked out.  At one point, someone came after him, Jessie or Jason or Gene.  But they must have seen his face, must have known, and let him go.  Now they wanted it back.  Or, at least, they wanted to know when they could have it back.  They weren’t so stupid as to see that it also meant Wendy was still alive, that perhaps he could still find her.  They would let him do his thing.

But any way he looked at it, they wanted to talk, to strategize, to plan.  He wanted no part of their buffoonery.  He laughed, now, as the second message started.  Sometimes they were just the epitome of—

It took him a second to realize what was being said.  Then he got it.

‘…And it rained a sickness.  And it rained a fear.  And it rained an odor.  And it rained a murder.  And it rained dangers and pale eggs of the beast.  Rain poured for days, unceasing…’

Dame found the nearest chair and flopped into it, almost slipping off the brown leather.  Tom Robbins.  Another Roadside Attraction.  Wendy.

It was her favorite book.  She asked him to go with her, to hear him speak, and be there when she asked him to read the entire passage.  It was her absolute favorite, she said.  Tom Robbins had, of course, obliged.  For months Wendy recounted the night, what they did, what she wore, what he wore, what Tom Robbins wore.  What it smelled like.  What coffee shop they were in, what they drank.  Where they went afterward, what they drank, how the sex was that night.  It had become almost as important for him as it was for her.  In a sense, that moment was her.

She was still alive.

He would find her.  He had some favors he could call in, people to cover his routes for him for the foreseeable future.  A lot of people owed him a lot of favors.

Dame pulled himself up off the chair and hurried into the kitchen, pulling out his phone book.

Ten minutes later, he had his routes covered for the next six weeks.

He wasn’t sure he needed anything for the journey.  In the Outside, he could simply create anything he needed.  Still, he grabbed a backpack and threw in a jacket, a flashlight, a swiss army knife, a water bottle, and a few granola bars.

Then, he drove to see the Calistines.

Dame was certain he’d find her mangled body.  Or perhaps just a head.  Maybe just a few fingers.  Her ankle and left calf.  It was a nice left calf.

Aleph stared at him.  His jaw hurt, but he couldn’t help biting down.  Biting and biting and biting.  He thought about the night she disappeared.

It was Wendy’s Honor.  She would get to call forth an object, to appease The Fabricate.  Of course, you could create something whenever you so chose.  But your Honor was different.  It was a right of passage, an ascension to the next level.  You had to create something larger than you did the last time.

Wendy prepared for weeks after requesting her Honor.  He helped when and where he could, mostly walking away in frustration at how limited and confined her thinking was.

That was their biggest weakness.  They were narrow.

Dame was pretty sure, no matter what was under the black sheet, that it was their fault.  He finally released his jaw.  It was sore.

It was their fault, he thought.  The entire cult of Calista was to blame.  They thought only of themselves, of what they could create.  It made them weak.  Weak and afraid.  Which made them dangerous.  He’d heard whispers of it from day one, what could happen if you didn’t focus, if you strayed from The Fabricate.  People disappeared.  Never heard from again.  They spoke of violence and hatred in what he took to be their version of the Outside.  Everything was wrong.

He did his best to drop hints, to try and lead them toward another path, but they clung so tightly to The Fabricate.  It blinded them to imagination, to letting go, to take what is given, instead of demanding.  He accomplished little.

Even Wendy laughed at his warnings, placing her faith in The Fabricate.  But she did listen, and sometimes, to make him happy, she incorporated his wisdom into her dogma.  Tiny bits and pieces, making her stronger, more prepared.  He thought they’d been making progress.  It all left her that night.

She tried so hard.  He could see it on her face, shadowed beneath her cloak, in the way her robe trembled around her ankles at the strength of her thought and indefatigable will.  She wanted to prove herself so much, she tried to create something enormous.  It reversed.  One minute, she was there, trembling, the energy in the cave condensing so fast it threatened to uncreate itself.  The next, she was gone, all of the energy sucked from the cavern in one loud collapse of space.
Dame spent the next four months, three weeks, and two days searching for her in the Outside.  He found nothing.  No sign of her.  He crossed planes of nothing, roved through gardens where universes were created.  There were nightmarish shadows and tiny, territorial balls of light.  He tiptoed around the swirls of unmaking, steered clear of the black waterfalls.  No Wendy.

Sometimes, he wanted to give up.  It was an impossible task.  She was Outside.  Beyond the Universe.  He couldn’t create her.  He thought about it, but it felt, well, wrong.  It would be unnatural.  He was her only hope.  He felt responsible for her, in a way.  But then he dreamt, not of her, but around her.  He circled her in his sleep, never reaching.  It was torture.  Not even painting calmed him.  So he’d continue the search, and the dreams would fade.

The black sheet remained inert in front of him as he refocused, waiting for whatever horror was about to be uncovered.

Aleph nodded.  A man stepped forward and gently pulled the sheet off, careful not to let it touch the floor.  It was only a box.  Whatever they’d found, they’d had to keep it in a box.  Dame wished they’d just get it over with and let him deal with her death in the way he needed to.

He closed his eyes, waiting.

‘Dame,’ Aleph whispered.

He opened his eyes.

A yellow and blue jack-in-the-box.

It was Wendy’s favorite toy.

‘Do you have any idea what it means?’  Aleph must have seen the look on his face, because it was a hopeful question.

He watched her, waiting for the joke, the punch line.  She didn’t blink.

‘It means she’s still alive,’ he said, returning to the toy.

She had shown him an identical, if a little more worn, one on their third date.  She made him dinner.  Pasta with vegetables, a salad, warm bread, good wine.  After dinner, they were talking on her porch, discussing childhoods and sharing another bottle of wine.  His favorite toy had been a dinosaur.  Steggy the stegosaurus.  He was green, and Dame carried him everywhere.  They had adventures that traversed jungles and deserts and mountains and swamps, all contained within the confines of his basement.

She laughed at his story, perhaps imagining him running around the basement creating a story out of thin air, only a stegosaurus in his hand.  He never told her that he literally created the scenes for himself, pulling them into his personal existence, where Steggy was real and he was saving the world from crashing meteors and John Hammond.  It was his own childhood sanctuary.

Finally, she told him about her favorite toy, a jack-in-the-box given to her by her grandfather before he returned to Canada.  As a young girl, she was the only one of the grandchildren unafraid of the face that popped out of it, and she and her grandfather spent hours and hours winding the crank and waiting for the ‘pop’ that always came.  She brought it with her everywhere.

And now it was here, or at least a replica.  Someone found it on the pedestal that morning.  A sign, meant only for him.  She was still alive.

‘She’s still alive,’ he said, not knowing what else to do but state the obvious to the entire room.

Aleph nodded.  ‘You must find her.’

Sometimes, he wished he’d just stuck with the paper routes.

‘Yup,’ he said.

He needed to paint.

i work at a credit union.  it’s pretty sweet.  allows time for writing and, well, let’s be honest, who doesn’t like banker holidays? 

one of the things i do is write a blog post once a month, touching on this or that in the credit union universe.  i wrote a post in mid-february, and apparently people throughout the industry are reading it, according to one of my coworkers.  it makes me laugh.

anyways, i thought i should post a link to my most recent blog post, just in case you wanted to see what sort of writing i do in other aspects of my life. 

http://blog.veritycu.com/2012/2/17/pefectly-good-paperclips

that should give you something to read on a friday. 

and remember: more dame on monday.

have a good weekend.

Dame chuckled pulling into the driveway, morning newspaper run finally completed, remembering that night.  He hadn’t brought back just a spoon.  Shit, he brought back an entire dining room table.  Set for eight.

He parked the car and shut the garage door, kicking his shoes off in the mud room.  The dining room table was balanced perfectly on the top of the pedestal.  No chairs, but that probably would have made it worse.  As it was, no one said anything for at least two minutes.  The table balanced, Dame not daring to move or say anything.  Water dripping from stalactite to stalagmite was the only audible noise.  He convinced himself they were going to burn him at the stake.  Brand him a wizard or whatever and be done with it.

Dame emptied the coffee grounds from the morning into the compost and ground fresh coffee, pulling out a new filter.  Back then, from the look on Aleph’s face, he thought they were merely awestruck at his abilities.  He knew better.  They’d been at a loss.  There was literally nothing to say.  He’d certainly succeeded in scaring the hell out of them.  He chuckled again.

Coffee started, Dame moved into the living room, searching for his slippers.  His answering machine, a relic he still liked to use, just to throw the odd caller off, showed he had two messages.

He pushed the button, and the first message started.  Blank.  It lasted over a minute.  An early meeting.  Of the highest importance.

The first time it happened, a blank message, he had no idea what to do.  That night, they were confused why he hadn’t shown up at the proper time.  They asked him if he got the message.  He realized they meant the blank one.  They’d been trying to tell him something telepathically.  He apologized.  He was new, had been confused.  They believed him.  Over time, he was able to work out the code, based on what time the call was made, how long the message was, and what day of the week it was.  This was one important message.

The second message was from Ellen.  She had a habit of calling when he was out on his routes.  For whatever reason, she didn’t like to talk to him unless he called her.  It was weird, but it meant he could call her back whenever.

Dame lit a cigarette.  The coffee pot beeped, and he poured himself a large cup, retiring to the basement of his house, ready to continue painting.  By tomorrow, he would be done.  Twenty seven.  Then he’d return Ellen’s phone call.

In the basement, lights were placed behind sheets of varying color, creating a purple blue green orange yellow glow.  He flipped the radio on, a dj recounting the previous five songs.  Then a commercial for an adult store.

The painting, on a 9×6 canvas, sat on an easel, a paint and food splattered tarp spread out beneath it.  Dame tapped his cigarette into an empty paint can, and set the coffee on a wobbly, three-legged table.  It needed some more red, he thought, and grabbed a brush.

*     *     *

That night, he arrived early, going straight from his afternoon paper route.  He still had a few spots of paint on his knuckles, and his hands smelled faintly of coffee grounds, which he’d used to give texture to first the red, and then the yellow, paint.  It was a nice contrast to the flattened aluminum can he utilized as the centerpiece.

Inside, the house was a buzz of motion.  Dame thought for sure they’d discovered an ancient text, or someone, likely Aleph, had had a vision.  He threw his robe on and was one of the last to descend into the caverns.

Once there, it was eerily quiet.  A large object, covered with a black sheet, sat on the pedestal.  Aleph and a handful of the other elders were there, heads close, hoods raised, probably whispering, this too important to leave to chance looks and fake telepathy.

Dame sat with a stupid grin on his face, excited about the discovery, waiting for the show to start.  At last, everyone settled in.  Complete silence.

Aleph turned and addressed the crowd.  He wondered how this would go.  Trying to convey important messages always required decrees to be made and seconded and passed to allow speech in the caverns.  It often took ten or fifteen minutes to work out.

‘Dame.  Please come forward.’

For a second, Dame didn’t move.  He was too shocked by the words.  He looked again at the box.  His stomach twisted, threatening to eject the bagel sandwich he ate at Gil’s that afternoon.  The pressure of the room crashed against his body.

Careful, he stood, trying to gauge his balance.

Wendy, he thought.

They must have finally found Wendy.

After all this time.

He met Wendy his first night, the night they made him Special Consult.  After the dining room table, he was escorted to the sitting room in the house, and watched by five Calistines.  The rest, they talked for over an hour.  Eventually, he was invited back down.

There was a small ceremony, where Aleph commended him on his ability to use The Fabricate.  She made the point that they both had much to teach the other.  And she named him Special Consult.  A general but important position, she had assured him.  Basically, when there’s a problem, they come to him.  Pretty simple.

After all the pomp and circumstance, or what passed for pomp and circumstance with the Calistines, everyone wanted to talk to him.  Wendy paid her respects.  Later that evening, she pulled him aside and they walked the grounds.  He mostly made nervous comments about the weather and the richness of the house and its furnishings.  She laughed too loudly at inappropriate times.  Their hands brushed twice.  It progressed from there.

And then she disappeared.  Into the Outside.

He picked his way around to the pedestal, hoped his knees didn’t buckle, his eyes fixated on the black sheet and the object it covered.