The Price of a Dream

 By: AnnaTheKitten

 

Prelude

 

            Many people live their lives as if walking through a dream. Every day, they wake up, tidy themselves up, eat, go to school or work, pass the time, return home…each day a monotonous repeat of the next, year after year, time blurring in endless repetition until final release comes in a few short years of peace followed by the inevitable darkness. This is a life bereft of hope, a life not truly lived, a life wasted.

            A small few, however, rebel against this. Unable to find happiness in reality, they wander increasingly far into realms of fantasy. Realms usually contained solely within their own minds. This is the story of one such dreamer, a teenage girl named Alice. Like her famous fictional namesake, Alice is about to wander in and out of another reality.

            The question is, which will become the true world, and which will be but a dream?

Chapter 1 – The Dream

            The first indication that something was out of the ordinary was when Alice glanced down and found herself to be floating two inches above the ground. Normally, this would have led to panic. However, a quick glance at the walls snared her attention...Where she would have expected to be inside of her bedroom, nestled under the protection of warm, comforting bed sheets, she now occupied a room seemingly created by a painter who hurled color-filled water balloons at the walls. A mad kaleidoscope of color surrounded her, along the walls, ceiling, and floor, mystifying and confusing at the same time. At first, Alice thought herself to be dreaming. After all, this is the sort of thing one would expect to find in dreams, and yet…she had woken within dreams before, and they had never felt as real as this. That was what kept her from declaring she was asleep…the sheer feeling of reality that permeated the area.

            “But, if I’m not asleep, and I don’t remember having come here…I must have been moved somehow. My parents would never do anything like this, and I can’t think of anyone who could pull a practical joke of this scale. So, where am I, and who did this?”

            Pondering this question, Alice came up with three possibilities. One, she had been kidnapped by a mad painter. It fit the room, it was a halfway realistic scenario, and glancing down, she realized in fit her clothing too. She was clad in a bright tie-died shirt, swirls of color radiating from the center. Her pants were of similar nature, as were her socks.

            “No shoes, however…” she mused to herself. “Well, if this is true, I had best find some way of escaping…”

            The second possibility was that she was an unwilling participant in some sort of crazy scientific experiment. That presented interesting possibilities, but she doubted it was the case; she had volunteered for nothing, her parents just weren’t of the temperament to do such things, and with everything she had seen so far, she could so no reason for this to be conducted under such strange circumstances.

            “Of course, if this is the case, they must want to see what I do. And, since I didn’t ask to be here, escape seems good once more…”

            The final possibility, and the one she personally was hoping for, is that she had been abducted by aliens. Not only was this far more interesting than the other two, it confirmed her suspicions about intelligent life in the universe, and could just maybe turn the drear tedium of normal life into an altogether new, exciting experience. Plus, aliens might have cool technology she could play with, or use to gain superpowers, or accomplish some other sort of fantastic dream.

            “And, if this is correct, I want to go meet them!”

            The though aliens would be of harmful intent never crossed her mind. After all, insane evil aliens hell-bent on murder wouldn’t go about creating such a beautiful room.

            Yes, she though to herself, it must be one of the above. She was also wrong. However, ignorant of this knowledge, Alice began looking for some way to depart her current surroundings, making sure to be careful since she never knew if that mad painter or crazy scientist was lurking in the shadows…although, with the amount of light present in the room, there were no shadows to hide in. Speaking of which, where is this light coming from? She glanced about, yet there was no evident source of light.

            There was, however, a door. Doors opened into other places, and other places where were she wanted to be. Alice strode over, grasped the knob, turned it, and pushed. The door swung open, pitch darkness spilling forth into the room. The light was devoured, until none remained. Alice was unafraid, however. This clearly ruled out the mad painter, since he could not possibly have the resources to accomplish such a feat. It didn’t seem very science-like either, so she began steering herself to be the first person to meet an extraterrestrial.

            She began to see white light twinkling in the far distance. The ground below her lit up slightly…not enough to reveal anything nearby, but it did allow her to move forward. Following the path, she walked for some time. The path wound onward, the white light ahead growing steadily brighter, yet obscuring any form of detail until it was just in front of her. Painfully bright by this time, she was forced to close her eyes and reach forward. Her hand found another doorknob, and twisting it, she moved forward.

            She was in another brightly lit room, lushly carpeted, paintings lining the gold-plated walls. Such a display of opulence amazed her, and as her gaze traveled along, she noticed a throne. Upon that throne was a figure, and…

            Alice woke up.

            “A dream? But…it was so real…” she whispered to herself. She simply couldn’t belief it was nothing but a dream. At this time, her senses caught up with her, a warm, wet sensation... Hurling back the sheets, she discovered, to her horror, that a slowly widening wet spot was radiating outward from between her legs…

 


 

Chapter 2 – The Troubles Begin

            Alice simply could not believe it. She could not, she did not, and she simply NEVER wet the bed. It was inconceivable, and yet right before her was clear evidence to the contrary, the contents of her bladder voided without her consent. Even now, she could feel the last little bit that remained trickling out, soaking into the thirsty sheet below.

            Lip quivering, Alice sat there, wondering how this could possibly have happened. She knew it was possible for one to wet the bed because of dreams…the last time it had happened a few years ago had been such a situation. I THOUGHT I was on the toilet, came the inevitable defense put forth so long ago. Yet, this just-past dream had been nothing of the sort. There was no bathroom, no urge to go, just a few strange rooms leading to a throne, and then…

            “Then, what? What happened next?” Memory eluded her. Alice sensed there had been something that occurred between the throne and her waking in a wet bed, but the nature of this experience was unknown.

“Could that have been the source of my problem? But why would I forget it?” Sighing, Alice sat there, trying to decide what to do next. She glanced over at her clock…the red LCD was showing 7:30 AM. Thankfully, it was a Saturday, although the sun seemed to have forgotten to come up today, for it was still dark. Leaning to glance out the window bordering her bed, she parted the shades and looked up. Dark clouds obscured the sunlight, as a white powder rained down from above.

“Snow!” she chirped, delighted, her present predicament forgotten for a moment. The wetness called her back as soon as she rose to go investigate further, and at that moment her door opened.

“Good morning, Alice!” came the cheery voice of her mother. Mary Alistrade was a bright, beautiful woman in her mere 40s, a kind, loving mother whom Alice cared for deeply. “I hope you slept…oh!” cried her mother, noticing Alice sitting there in the midst of a dark spot on her bed. “Honey, what happened?” she asked, concerned.

“I…I…I just don’t know, mom…” responded Alice. “I was having some sort of dream, and I was walking, and then…I just can’t remember, but as I woke up, this was happening!”

“I…see” came the slow reply. “Well, this is probably just a one-time accident…” Alice visibly winced at the word ‘accident.’ “Why don’t you go take a shower, and I’ll go throw these in the wash? Michelle won’t be home for a while, so we can get this cleaned up before she gets back.” Michelle was Alice’s older sister, a college student who managed to remain at home because her first choice happened to have been in her city of residence.

Alice meekly complied, finally rising off the bed and plodding out towards the bathroom, bare feet slapping against the hardwood floors. Reaching her destination, she turned the faucet on, hand held under until just the right temperature had been reached…then, she began filling the tub, and, shedding her clothing, stepped in to enjoy the sensation of rising, pleasantly hot water. She lost herself in comfort, floating peacefully within for a long period of time, allowing the warmth to drain away the negative emotions brought about by her unfortunate accident. Worry, stress, sadness, curiosity, all drained away into the water, cleansing her mind and leaving behind an empty reservoir to be refilled once more.

Slowly returning to reality, Alice rose from the bath, letting the water drain into the pipes below. She wrapped herself within the luxurious softness of a freshly laundered towel, while another was used to enclose her blond tresses, allowing them to dry within their own private sanctuary.

For the rest of the day, Alice was free of concern. After breakfast and a short mental war in regards to clothing of the day, she spent her Saturday out with friends, going on an impromptu skiing trip at a nearby resort, and then enjoying the combination of movies and warm cocoa before returning to bed to slip into slumber once more.

Time passed, although Alice remained unaware of it. Inside her mind, her brain was busy re-organizing itself, storing memories of the past day and performing its own unique form of mental housekeeping. However, just as it had last night, her mind disturbed something within her. It rose to the surface of her mind, and suddenly Alice once more found herself within a strange area.

Alice was within a snow-blanketed forest. The scent of chocolate wafted through the air, and in the distance she could hear cries of laughter and enjoyment. This time, she was clad in a pure white hooded sweatshirt, along with matching white sweatpants and slippers. The air was slightly cool, but not uncomfortable.

“So, here I am again…” she whispered. “Another strange dream…” This time, she was much closer in her hypothesis. Alice began walking through the snow-covered forest, admiring the austere beauty of the trees, the sparkling clusters of ice, and the scent of cocoa in the air. “Well, at least this time things make somewhat more sense…I can see how this dream is inspired by what I did today.” Once again, Alice was somewhat right, but still slightly off the mark.

As she walked through the forest, the trees began thinning until she arrived on a steep snow covered slope. Far below, Alice saw a cabin, warm yellow light spilling forth. Smoke was rising from the chimney, and somehow she knew that it was generating the tantalizing smell. The laughter she had heard earlier echoed from down below, but Alice was afraid to brave the slope within no form of aid. There was a sudden…ripple…and before her was a sled.

“Well, ask and ye shall receive,” she happily stated. Lying down upon the sled, she pushed off, and slowly tipped over the side of the hill. Alice had been on s rollercoaster before, but they could not compare to the blinding speed she now experienced. Her stomach was left behind, caught at the top of the hill and leaving fluttering butterflies in its place. The hill flew by, and she shrieked in fear and delight.

Almost as quickly as it had begun, the ride was over, and Alice was at the bottom of the hill. She rose from the sled, and approached the cabin. Finding the door, she opened it, spilling forth the light. Entering she noticed a large shape loom before her, and then all that was left was a faint echo in her mind…”And the price must be paid…”

Once more, Alice woke up. Once more, she felt the unwelcome sensation of warmth, and once more helplessly watched the results unfold before her. Her bedroom door opened…


 

Chapter 3 – Twice in a Row

“Good Morning, Alice!” said her sister Michelle, walking into the room. Like her younger sibling, Michelle was a green-eyed blonde, although she had a good half-foot on Alice’s slight 5’6” frame. Whereas Alice had a petite, cute look of innocence about her, Michelle had the body of a swimsuit model. Alice was always slightly envious of this, yet her caring for her sibling dominated any form of resentment. Besides, there were things to be said for being cute!

“I don’t have to go work today and thought we could maybe…umm…” Michelle trailed off as she took in the scene before her. Here was her younger sister, sitting in what was clearly a wet bed, a look of helpless distress radiating from her eyes. Michelle wilted at the sight, flying over to Alice, and cradling her in a hug, one hand stroking her hair gently. “Oh, you poor thing…”

“It…its…I just couldn’t help myself!” Alice cried out, burying her face in her sister’s arms and sobbing quietly. Yesterday may have been a fluke, but two days in a row had scared her…Alice was certain this didn’t happen, especially not to girls as old as her, and yet the evidence to the contrary stared her in the face. For now, all she could do was take comfort in the caring embrace that presented itself.

Michelle sat there, calmly reassuring Alice that she was fine, that it was just a small accident, that she had had problems before…all the sorts of little lies which are transparent, yet helped make Alice feel slightly better about her situation.

Finally, Alice’s sobbing stopped, and she pulled herself upright, one arm going to wipe the remaining tears from her eyes.

“Is…Mom home?” she asked quietly.

“No, she went out to pick up some groceries. She should be back in a couple hours; she said she might have lunch with a friend.”

“Oh,” came the soft reply. “Well, I guess I had better get cleaned up.”

“You go into the bath and relax. I can get these sheets into the wash.”

“You…you don’t have to do that. I can get it myself.”

“Nonsense…what are big sisters for?”

Alice’s response was to hug her sister tightly, once more finding strength in the warm embrace. She finally rose, and padded into the bathroom for the second time in two days, ensuring the water was a perfect temperature, and once more wrapping herself within its embrace.

Alice floated about in the water, wondering what exactly was causing her problem. Her last memory before waking came to her…”And the price must be paid.” What did that mean, exactly? Were her dreams somehow connected to this? It made some sort of weird sense- two nights in a row, exceptionally vivid dreams whose endings she simply could not recall, and the unpleasant sensation that accompanied her waking.

“That’s nonsense! Dreams can’t cause bedwetting!” she exclaimed to herself. “Well, maybe they can, but not in this manner. It’s a preposterous idea!”

And yet, it simply wouldn’t go away. Who was that mysterious voice at the very end? Why was she having such vivid dreams? If it weren’t for her waking up, she wouldn’t even believe them to be dreams. Dreams FELT different. You didn’t notice it in the dream itself, but you could definitely know when you were awake, and last night felt like one of those times.

Her thoughts were getting nowhere. Sighing, Alice gave up pondering the mystery, and left her aquatic sanctuary. The towel felt as fluffy and comforting as yesterday, and its warm embrace diverted her thoughts into lighter matters.

“Let’s see…what can we do today?” Alice lightly floated into her room, noting that her bed was bare. However, she couldn’t help but see that there was an unsightly stain on her mattress, and a slight odor was present in the air.

Pushing her mind away from such matters, Alice spent some time on selecting clothing for the day. The day’s outfit was always a few moments of enjoyment. Clothes allowed such fun combinations, so many ways to invent oneself as a whole different person. Did she want to go in casual wear, jeans, t-shirt, ponytail? No, today that didn’t suit her mood. Perhaps a bit more proper…what about a dress?

“Ick, no.” Worse than casual wear. It was then the pink skirt caught her attention.

“Perfect!” she cried, plucking it out from among the many clothes hanging within the closet. The rest of the outfit was easy. Cute blouse, cute socks, hair in ribbons! Yes, the cute look was the choice of the day, and cute was the one area in which Alice excelled.

Her clothing chosen, she cheerfully bounced through the halls and down the stairs, drawn by the alluring aroma of pancakes and syrup. Michelle was renowned throughout the Alistrade family for her skills with pancakes, and they were by far Alice’s favorite breakfast in the whole world. Pancakes make everything good, everything warm, the entire world bright and sunny and happy and perfect, she cheerfully thought to herself.

“Hello precious, you look amazing!”

“Thanks, Michelle. Mmm…that smells delicious…” If there was some sort of world record for salivation from desire, Alice had it long beat by now. Michelle’s pancakes were of the sort that could only be described by experiencing them firsthand, and the lucky few whom got the chance were forever changed.

A few more agonizing minutes passed before the meal was ready. A few more minutes of nonstop devouring and the meal was finished. Alice sat back contentedly, sighing in pleasure. “Big sister, you sure know how to cook. You need to dot his more often.”

“Oh, and spoil all the fun when I do?” Michelle laughed gaily. “I don’t think so. And Alice, there’s syrup on your cheek. Better not let anyone see!”

Alice responded to this by quickly cleaning herself up, and darting out of the room to nestle in some dark corner with a book for a few hours. Comics, fantasy, mystery, drama, she loved them all. Reading allowed her to depart her world for realms of fantasy were anything was possible. It wasn’t that she wasn’t happy. She loved her family, she had great friends, did well in school…it was just that there was always some small sense tickling the back of her mind, some sense of something missing, and every so often it would surge forth in a sudden tide of sadness, a melancholy which could engulf for five minutes, an hour, or, occasionally, days at a time. When that happened, nobody understood why such a spunky lass could be so sad, when she had everything going for her. Truth be told, Alice did not know either. It was just that…she jumped forward with a start as the doorbell rang.

“Alice, it’s for you! Ben and Carrie are here!” Ben and Carrie had been her best friends since kindergarten. When they were learning the alphabet, the teacher had commented on her own specials ABCs, and ever since then, they had been inseparable. In fact, the nickname had stuck, and they had claimed it for their own. “Hey A, what’s up?” asked Carrie, entering the room. “B and I have this lead at the secret movie theater near you-know-where. It seems today is half price day, so we’re going.”

“Oh, I’m not sure…” replied Alice, suddenly hesitant for some unknown reason.

“Oh, come on A, you can’t be serious about not wanting to go to the movies!” said Ben, entering the room. “Besides, are you telling me that you are going to stay home looking like this? It would be a waste of such a cute ensemble to not show it off!”

Suddenly convinced, Alice allowed herself to be ushered into the car with her friends, and in moments was engrossed in chatter about who was going out with who, school, local events…the great thing about the ABC club was that they could talk about anything.

Well, NEARLY anything. Alice wasn’t going to mention her troubles over the past two days. The movie Ben and Carrie had selected was called Ping Pong…it was a Japanese movie, specially showing at their secret theater that only they knew about (at least, among their social circle.) It was a tale of two boys sharing a passion for table tennis…one, the confident hero; the other, his best friend, eternally caught up within his own world of internal melancholy, such that he was nicknamed Smile, because he never did. It was a new spin on the classic tale- the hero is defeated, confidence crushed, and must find the strength within, strength tapped by the hope of others, so that by the end they may come back and be triumphant.

Still, the movie was filled with bittersweet scenes, and Alice found the sadness welling up once more. Enveloped inside her eternal bubble, she barely noticed the passing of events around her, and suddenly found herself at home, darkness fallen with the headlights of Ben’s car slowly fading away in the distance. She opened the door quietly, and the whispered hush of voices caught her ear. The door was shut in silence, Alice straining to hear what was being said.

“…happened yesterday, also,” came the voice of her mother.

“I’m worried, mom. Why would this happen?”

“I have no idea. I can’t think of anything that could be wrong with Alice, but…”

“They have to be a pair of coincidental accidents. Nothing to worry about, and certainly nothing to bother her about. She looked so broken up about it this morning…”

“Yes, yes, it’s best not to say anything. Everything will be fine tomorrow. Alice is fine.”

Alice slunk dejectedly upstairs. She knew they were only talking about her because they cared, but she could plainly sense that they were trying to reassure themselves. They wouldn’t be surprised if it happened again, and somehow, Alice knew she wouldn’t either.

Dinner was quiet, a slight feeling of tension in the air. Alice couldn’t help but feel guilty, knowing all this worry was about her, but nobody brought the subject up. A few hours later, after some Sunday night television, Alice rose to go to bed.

Slipping into her pajamas, she made sure to go to the bathroom before sliding under her covers. The warmth and security of her bed enveloped her, and she began drifting off to sleep within moments…

As she slipped deeper and deeper into sleep, once more the strange presence rose within her brain, immediately influencing her dreamscape…

Alice slowly floated into awareness. The air was a dense fog, so thick she could seen no more than a few inches in front of her. There was a strange crackling in the air, sounding like the static of an empty television station. Slowly, the fog and static faded, revealing her to be on a seemingly endless, featureless plain. The fog curled about in the distance, and the sound of static was still faintly present, as if it permeated the very air itself.

“Here we go again…” said Alice. The one nice thing about these dreams is I know where I am, and am able to think clearly. And this time, I’m finding out what’s going on. Alice began advancing across the plain, time slowly passing as she attempted to find somewhere to go. Slowly, she began to become aware of a rising brightness in the air, steadily growing. She paused, wary, not wanting to encounter her final destination just yet, and reversed direction. The brightness continued to grow, as if pursuing her. Glancing down, Alice noticed fog lapping at her feet. Glancing up, she gasped as she beheld a white palace floating in midair, resting upon the clouds. The gleaming white spires beckoned her silently, and almost without a thought, Alice rose from the ground, floating up to meet the castle.

The bridge lowered before her, the portcullis raising silently to allow her to enter. Alice passed into the courtyard, the brilliant luminescence causing her to shield her eyes. It was empty, no other life present. She entered into the great hallway, the light growing increasingly bright, until she was forced to close her eyes and move forward blindly grasping with her hands.

Suddenly, there was nothing under her forward foot. Unbalanced, Alice tumbled forward, crying out in surprise and fear. She fell into the void, certain she would die. As she fell, the light dimmed out until she could open her eyes. Gazing below her, she saw the ground rushing up, and clamped her eyes shut, preparing for the worst.

The impact never happened. Moments from the ground, she rapidly slowed, her feet touching down on the bottom with a light click. She hesitantly opened her eyes, quivering in surprise. She was at the bottom of what appeared to be a long well shaft. Before her was a small passage cut into the wall, and Alice advanced within.

“I’m tired of being toyed with. I want answers!” she cried out, pressing forward. The passage widened before her, finally opening into an empty room, the only feature a door in the wall. The handle was ivory, and Alice knew that whatever was responsible was behind this door.

She opened it up, and pushed in. Within, she saw someone facing away from her, gazing into a mirror. The person was obscured by the cloak they were, its folds enveloping all detail.

“Welcome, Alice. I see you’ve made it here for a third time.” There was something strangely familiar about that voice. Something she couldn’t quite place.

“Who…are you?” asked Alice. Suddenly, it hit her. The voice…it was her own! At that moment, everything began to blur.

Alice started awake once more, the ethereal environment fading away once more. All that was left was the image of herself, and another strange comment…

“What is true and what is not? That is for you to decide…”

Accompanying the echo of her own voice, spoken from a different mouth, was the suddenly all too familiar sensation of spreading wetness…


 

Chapter 4 – Medical Misery

Faced with her third wet bed in three days, Alice buried her face in her hands and began sobbing. Why is this happening to me? I haven’t done anything! It’s always the same, too! I’m dreaming, and then I wake up, and then this! Why? Why why why WHY WHY!?!?

Unfortunately for Alice, the answer to her question did not materialize out of thin air. She was left there, amidst her soaked sheets to deal with her problem.

“I…guess I’d better go tell Mom. Best to simply get that out of the way…there’s no use trying to hide it…” she glumly uttered to the air. First, however, she would once more go visit the bathtub. It would give her some time to be alone before facing her mother, and she desperately needed the comfort it offered.

When the water began running, Alice’s mother heard. Alice did not commonly take baths in the morning, so Mary suspected that it had happened once more, and abandoned her cereal to go check upstairs. Entering Alice’s room, her nose confirmed what her eyes told her: three days in a row.

Sighing to herself, she began gathering up the sheets to take them down to the wash once more. As she bundled them up in her arms, she noted the growing stain on Alice’s mattress with some concern.

Something will have to be done about that today…she thought. I don’t want to embarrass her, but the mattress can’t be ruined, either. Ruminating on the problem, she carried the sheets downstairs and dropped them in the wash, before returning to her breakfast.

Alice’s thoughts, meanwhile, were on her dream of last night. Why am I having such vivid dreams? I mean, they don’t even feel like dreams. I could swear I’m awake if it weren’t for stuff like gravity breaking and falling and…let alone seeing me. How was I seeing me in there anyhow? Why are there two of me? The other Alice said she’d met me before, but…why can’t I remember anything?!

Alice growled in frustration, her head suddenly hurting. Something is blocking my memory, and whatever it is, it is making me mad!  As she fought to remember, the pain blossoming within grew in intensity, until Alice cried out in shock at the sudden backlash. As soon as she stopped trying to focus on her lost memory, the hurt receded, rapidly diminishing into nothing. Not only can I not remember…something is fighting to stop me from doing so. The other me?

The tranquility of her bath forcibly shattered, Alice let the water out in irritation, yanking her towel off the wall and roughly assaulting the water clinging to her body. Once her body was dry, her hair endured the same rough treatment, culminating in an encounter with a maximized blow dryer than burned her head with its intensity.

Entering her room, she noticed that her bed was stripped of its covering. This means that Mom knows. Alice sighed to herself. Well, at least I don’t have to tell her, but…how is she going to react? She sure seemed worried last night. And, to make matters worse, I have school today!

It seemed fortune was smiling on Alice in this regard, however, for at that moment, her radio blared out the following:

“Due to the amount of snowfall last night, all schools in the area have been cancelled until further notice.”

Alice let out a cheer at that news. Any day school w as cancelled promised to be good. In fact, the first thing I want to do is go back to bed and sleep in and…oh, right. Suddenly reminded of her problem, her cheer was slightly dampened, but bedwetting couldn’t simply hold up to the simple joys presented by a snow day. Grabbing some sweatpants and a shirt, she quickly and happily dressed herself.

She put a hold on her newfound exuberance as she slunk downstairs. The thought of facing her mother was not attractive, but she knew it must be done. Entering, the kitchen, she noticed her mom reading the newspaper.

“Good morning, Mom. Did you know school is closed today?” Alice walked over to the cupboard, taking out a bowl, and then began hunting for a spoon amongst the chaos that made up the silverware drawer.

“Yes, they broadcast it on the news this morning. I expect you are quite happy about the situation.”

“Any day that school is cancelled…” she said as she started pouring her cereal.

“Is a good day? You’ve been saying that for years, dear.”

“Well, it’s true!”

Her mother couldn’t help but laugh at the conviction in her daughter’s voice.

“I suppose there’s nothing wrong in a day off…as long as you use it for something positive.”

“Being lazy is always positive!” With that, Alice dug into her food, oblivious to the outside world for a few short minutes. Once she had finished, however, an awkward silence hung in the air. Her mom was the first to say something.

“Alice, dear…I couldn’t help but notice that this morning…well…” She couldn’t bring herself to continue as anguish began appearing on Alice’s face.

“It’s…just…happening…” Alice said, quietly. “I mean, it has to be a coincidence, right?” By now, she was grasping at a vain hope.

Her mother didn’t respond, letting the question hang in the air. Once more, an awkward silence hung, but was broken once again by her mother.

“Have you been feeling alright? This could be a side effect of getting sick.”

Alice sighed, “I wish…but, aside from this stupid problem, I’m feeling fine. It’s…not anything medical.”

“Well, I’ve made you an appointment with Doctor Landers in an hour, just to make sure you are okay.” Doctor Landers, bet known as Lana to Mary, had been both Alice and Michelle’s daughter since they were infants, and had gone to high school with their mother. The two of them had been friends since childhood, and Alice’s mother trusted her word.

“I don’t have any choice in this?” Alice protested weakly.

“No,” her mother firmly replied. “I’m not taking any chances with this being something worse. It’s better to try to end it now than let it become a bigger problem. Besides, wouldn’t it be nice to know how to keep you from having…accidents…again?”

Alice nodded her head meekly, then left to go mope the half hour until they left. In the car, she was mute, ignoring her mother’s repeated attempts at conversation. Mary could sense her daughter’s anguish, and it melted her heart…but she also knew that it was best that professionals looked after Alice, to make sure nothing was wrong.

Upon arrival, they were quickly ushered into Lana’s office, one of the perks of being a close friend of the family physician. Once the door closed, Lana’s professional demeanor momentarily vanished as she hugged the other occupants.

“Good morning, you two! And to what do I owe the honor of this visit?” She sobered up slightly as she noticed Mary wince as Alice sat there numbly, staring at the wall.”

“Well…” Mary began slowly, “it’s just that…Alice has been having a few…nighttime problems?”

“What do you mean?” asked Lana, her cheerfulness evaporating into the persona of the serious physician.

“Alice has been having…accidents…when she’s asleep.” Lana nodded, understanding.

“How long has this been happening?” she asked as she began examining the mute statue Alice had become.

“Three days in a row now,” responded Mary. “I was hoping you could find the reason why.”

“There’s lots of possibilities,” Lana began. “Alice, have you been getting to bed on time?” Alice silently nodded. “Feeling stressed at school or at home at all?” Alice shook her head in disagreement. “Any other problems I should know about?” Once more, disagreement.

Lana leaned back against a counter, thinking. “There are many possibilities,” she began. “It could be as simple as an injured muscle. Alice, I’m going to need to examine your abdomen a moment.” Alice quietly took off her shirt, and allowed her self to be lain down upon the examination table. She endured a few moments of gentle prodding as Lana hunted for any abnormalities, repeatedly asking Alice if anything hurt when she touched it. Every response was negative, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary until Lana pressed a bit too hard on Alice’s bladder, and…

Alice cried out suddenly, the crotch of her sweatpants suddenly darkening. “Oh, my…” Lana whispered as Alice began sobbing. “It’s okay, Alice. Nothing we can’t fix…” said Lana, trying to soothe the girl. She moved aside to allow Mary a few moments to calm her daughter before summoning a nurse and asking her to find a quick change of clothes. Lana then motioned Mary outside.

The door had barely shut before Mary fired off the first question.

“What happened in there?” she asked, almost frantically.

“I’m not completely sure…” said Lana. “But…it’s possible Alice’s bladder muscles have somehow weakened. That would cause them to both be more vulnerable to strong pressure, and more likely to relax during sleep…which could be causing our problem.”

“Is there any way to make sure?”

“There’s a test I can run, to make sure. Do you want me to go ahead?”

Mary thought a moment, before consenting. “I’ve known you for years, and you’ve never let me down. I’m willing to trust your gut instinct.”

At that point, the nurse returned with some temporary clothing. She had a pair of hospital scrubs and what looked like…

“A Pull-up?” asked Mary, taken aback.

“Well, the patients clothing was wet,” responded the nurse professionally. “Standard procedure is to ensure that we don’t have to deal with repeat problems.” Lana nodded to the nurse, who handed her the replacement clothing before departing.

Mary glanced at her, worried.

“Are you sure this is the best idea?”

“Well…the nurse was right about procedure. Plus, with us needing to run tests, there is a decent chance it could happen again, and it’s best if we’re prepared. Also, with Alice’s current detachment, there’s a decent chance she won’t even notice if you go ahead and do it yourself.”

Mary was unconvinced, but accepted the scrubs and Pull-up before entering the room. Lana waited outside until Mary exited once more.

“It looks like you were right. She didn’t even notice, although…” Mary bit her lip, worried. “I just don’t think it’s good that Alice is that…out of it….right now.”

“She should be fine in an hour or so. If this turns out like I suspect, she’ll know it’s not her fault.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s what is worrying her most, the not knowing.”

At that, they separated, Lana going off to bring Alice to run the tests, while Mary returned to the waiting room, anxiously hoping for good results. An hour passed by, the minutes on the clock each seeming like an eternity before an orderly appeared and beckoned Mary to follow.

Mary was led back into Lana’s office, where Alice sat in a chair and Lana stood glancing at a chart.

“What’s the prognosis? Hopeful?”

“It’s…confusing. You’ll be glad to know that Alice is basically fine.”

“Basically fine?” asked Mary, sharply.

“In simplest terms, her bladder muscles have slightly atrophied, and I have no idea why. However, that is what is causing her accidents.”

“She didn’t have another, did she?” came the quiet whisper of response.

“No, Alice has been fine, but…she’s going to keep having problems at night, at least for now.”

“Oh…she’s not going to be happy about that.”

“She doesn’t know yet. I thought it best if you tell her.”

“Yes, that will probably make it easiest…but, if it’s not going to end now, what should we do?”

Lana outlined several options. The first possibility was to do nothing, which was rejected both for reasons of embarrassment, and the possibility of a ruined mattress. The next idea floated was that of a bedwetting alarm designed to wake Alice in the night to prevent accidents.

“Would that work?”

“Most likely…no. The problem is that her muscles are weakened, and if anything, the shock of being abruptly awoken could easily shut them off.”

“What other options do we have?”

The next idea was adding a special sheet designed to protect the mattress, which Mary quickly assented to.

“Still, that leaves the issue of laundry…”

“You have an idea about that?”

“Well…Alice already has what she needs to keep the bed dry.” Mary was confused.

“What exactly do you mean by that?”

“I mean, she’s wearing what she needs to…”

“Oh,” came the quick response. “But…are you sure that’s the best way to deal with things? She already feels bad enough…couldn’t this make it worse?”

“What do you think would make her more embarrassed? More wet beds, or dry beds and wet Goodnites?”

“Goodnites?”

“It’s the name of the Pull-Up brand she has now. Designed for older children. Alice is still petite enough to fit in them. They are specially designed to be discreet and to minimize embarrassment.” Mary was skeptical, but Lana slowly talked her into the idea.

“The best thing now, though, is simply to take her home and let her relax for the day. Do something she loves, get her mind off the problem, get her out of this catatonic state she’s in right now. The biggest danger right now is that this is depressing her, and you need to get her away from that, at least for now.”

“And tonight?”

“You’ll find a way. After over 20 years of friendship, I know you always do.”

With that, the visit to the doctor’s office was ended, and the pair left to head home. As home neared, Alice began emerging from her silent state, slowly becoming more talkative and aware of the world.

“So, how am I doing?” she began. Mary slowly explained the last few hours to her, taking special care to preserve Alice from as little embarrassment as possible. It seemed Alice had been running on autopilot and barely remembered the last few hours. Everything was fine until…

“They put me in WHAT?!?” she shrieked, outraged.


 

Chapter 5 – Silly Happenings

Mary sighed, both irritated and sympathetic to her daughter’s earlier behavior. Alice’s reception of what had happened earlier had not been…positive. Upon learning that she was sleeping in Goodnites, Alice had thrown the tantrum equivalent of Hurricane Andrew. Deep down, Alice knew everything her mother was saying was correct, but that wasn’t going to stop her from protesting the situation with as much force as she could muster. It was only after Mary put her foot down and threatened to ground her for a year that Alice gave up in resignation, and stormed off into some dark corner of the house to curl up with a book Alice had gotten so lost in her anger that she had forgotten what caused the initial storm in the first place, and thus was unknowingly waltzing around the house wearing the very object that had been the target of her anger.

Her mother, meanwhile, left her daughter to fume, driving off to the store to pick up both dinner supplies and Alice’s Goodnites. As she pushed the cart up and down the aisles, Mary was pondering what exactly could be the cause of Alice’s problem in the first place. Muscle deterioration…what could cause that? After all, it’s not like this is a normal condition, and Alice hasn’t ever had any problem like this before. Could this be a symptom of something worse? A tumor? No, no, it can’t be…there has to be some simpler explanation. Maybe she just overstretched them somehow and this is a temporary response while they heal. Yes…that has to be it. She’ll be fine and this will be done in a week or two and we’ll laugh about it next year. So satisfied, she turned her attention to shopping, hunting for that rare combination of meat, vegetables, spices, and assorted side dishes that made the perfect dinner. Her daughter Michelle may have been the Queen of Pancakes, but Mary was a wizard at dinner, and loved every aspect of it. Tonight was going to be a spiced pork roast with gravy-soaked potatoes and a broccoli-carrot soup on the side. As she glided down the aisles, the cart steadily filled with the necessary item. However, at the 18th aisle, she paused for a moment. This was the one she had been dreading, the diaper aisle. Mary hadn’t had a reason to go down this one in years…the last time had been to help a sick friend who couldn’t go out and pick up groceries.

Sighing, Mary stepped over the invisible barrier, scanning the rows of brightly colored packages for the one she sought. Near the end, she spotted it- a maroon colored package, the Goodnites label adorning the front. She paused a moment, hand hovering in midair; suddenly, it darted out, snared the package, and she was done. Mary didn’t know why she was so reluctant to do this. After all, they would save her wet sheets, and Alice would grow used to them if she needed them that long. Yet…Mary couldn’t help but think she was stepping back, as if Alice had suddenly grown younger, more vulnerable. In a way, she had.

The last item acquired, Mary began moving towards the checkout line, deftly weaving the cart to dodge oncoming shoppers. Spotting a sudden opening in the checkout lines, Mary darted into place, securing her spot behind…

“Mom?” asked Michelle. “What are you doing here?”

“I’m…picking up groceries for dinner. You?”

“Oh, snacks, food, scrumptious things that are horrible for me,” she laughed, before noticing her mother’s look of slight discomfort. “Is something the matter?” she asked, as her gaze trailed downward into the cart below, before noticing the package that lay within. “It happened again, didn’t it?”

Mary related the tale of what had transpired from the beginning of the day, starting with the morning and ending after she and Alice had arrived home, while Michelle listened, concern etched upon her face. After a moment’s silence, she spoke up.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Just…be nice to her. I don’t know what’s going to happen tonight, but the one thing I’m certain of is Alice is very fragile at the moment. Her total numbness at the doctor’s frightened me, and I don’t want her breaking down.”

The cashier suddenly drew their attention away as he motioned for Michelle to pay. As money changed hands, Michelle turned back to her mother. “I suppose I’ll see you at dinner, then.”

Her mother nodded, and proceeded to pay the cashier as Michelle walked out of the store.

If Alice’s first tantrum had been Hurricane Andrew, her second would barely qualify as a light rain. After having been served a delicious dinner, followed by a lengthy discussion with her sister about school, the mall, clothes, and life while playing chess, and then an hour or two of TV, Alice was in a positive mood when the moment her mother had been dreading came.

Then Mary enlisted the help of Michelle to break the ice. The two of them somberly crept up the stairs, before popping into Alice’s room. The plan was the usual good news/bad news routine.

“Oh Alice dear, we have some good news and some bad news!” Michelle chirped. Alice glanced up from her reading, where she had been engrossed in a fantasy epic of dragons and lost princesses.

“Oh? What would that be?”

“Well…” began her mother, “we’ve found a way to keep you from wetting the bed!”

Alice brightened up at this. “Oh? What would that be?”

“You may not like it!” said Michelle. “But, trust me when I say it’s far better than the alternative. Why, I’ve had friends who should have done this, and didn’t, and let me tell you…”

“Tell me already!” cried Alice.

“Are you sure you want to know?” asked her mother.

“Yes!”

At that, her mother removed the Goodnites from the bag and placed them on the dresser before Alice. “The solution to all your troubles! Well, some of them, anyhow.”

Alice stared at the package, momentarily annoyed, preparing to bring forth an outburst, but her good mood rapidly quelled that. I really don’t want to do this…at ALL! But…I have to admit, it could be better than the alternative. Wait, what am I saying? No it isn’t! But…Michelle says she’s had friends, and she’s worthy of trusting, soooo…I guess it can’t hurt. But I’m not gonna be happy about it!

Her inner turmoil quelled, Alice nodded, accepting the offering.

“Well, I’m sleepy, so the two of you shoo so I can change! No dastardly plots to see anything indecent!”

With that, Mary and Michelle left the room, satisfied their mission was accomplished. As they were preparing to go back downstairs, a sudden high-pitched giggling coming from Alice’s room startled them. Rushing back in, they saw her sitting on her bed clad in her shirt and a Goodnite, as the package lay undisturbed before her. Perplexed by the situation, Michelle popped the first question.

“What the hell is so funny?”

“I….I…” Alice began, attempting to quell her giggling. Moments passed as she slowly regained her composure.

“Well?”

“Okay, remember how I had a tantrum earlier mom?”

“Yes, how could I forget? It had to be the tantrum to end all tantrums!”

“And what was it about?”

“The fact they’d……protected…you at the doctor’s office after your accident.”

“Exactly. And then you know what happened?”

“Something that’s making you laugh, clearly.”

“I forgot to take it off! I threw a huge tantrum, and then was all depressed, and got so distracted I’ve been sitting here all day in this and didn’t notice it!” And here, Alice began giggling once more. Her laughter was soon joined by two accompanying voices, as if laughing gas had been let loose in the room.

“You mean, you didn’t even notice when you went to the bathroom?” Michelle asked, wiping away tears.

“Nope…I must have been daydreaming or something!”

“You know what this DOES mean though, don’t you?” asked her mother.

“What?”

“No more complaining! If you went an entire DAY without noticing, then it clearly can’t be all that bad!” By now, the laughter was dying down, although the occasional giggle still popped up.

“Well…I suppose you are right,” Alice said a bit more seriously. “That doesn’t mean I’m going to like it when I DO know about it however!” Her mother just shook her head. Children will be children…With that, Alice was left alone once more to sit on her bed and enjoy a joke at her own expense. After a few more minutes where she just sat there, Alice exploded into a blur of motion…PJs, teeth brushed, hair brushed, reflection studied in mirror for any blemishes, then a final dart into the security of bed. The light went out, and Alice lay there, thinking.

I guess this isn’t so bad…it doesn’t really feel that different even when I’m thinking about it, and not wetting the…no, that’s not going to happen, best not to even think about it. I wonder if I’m going to have another of those…dreams…tonight.  They’re…so…strange…and…

Alice slowly faded into sleep, her breathing slowing as her consciousness slipped away. For much of the night, she slept uninterrupted except for an hour where there was a strange dream involving a lost girl and a dragon, but the memory of that faded as it ended…however, at about 3 AM, something…changed. There was a thickness in the air, one that disturbed Alice’s cat, Emma, who slowly uncurled from slumber, hissing at the disturbance. Alice merely shifted uneasily in her sleep, but it was not enough to wake her.

Then, just as suddenly as it had appeared, the presence was gone from the air. Alice shivered as her consciousness was invaded, silent sobs wracking her body as her mind was ransacked. Eventually, the presence found what it was looking for, a sudden burst of anger radiating forth and wracking Alice with the most intense spasms yet. Then, as rapidly as it began, the presence faded, leaving behind both anger and sorrow.

Soon after, Alice found herself within the Dream once more, realization sparking as soon as she felt herself awake and yet not within her own bed. It’s the only word I can come up with…it’s not a normal dream, but rather some sort of special Dream…

This time, she was in an ancient forest, surrounded by trees of epic size. Moss and lichen clung to the bark of trees more than twice as thick as she was tall, while hazy light filtered down from the canopy far above. The atmosphere was soothing, the chirp of birds and hiss of insects darting through the air, while the scent of verdant life caressed her nose.

Alice was standing beside a crystal pond, lily pads adorning the placid surface. Gazing into the clear water, she was astonished to see her reflection so different from what she would expect. Her hair was done in ornate ringlets that encircled her head, a diademed tiara upon her brow. She was wearing a strange dress, both beautiful and haunting, and although she had never seen it before she felt a strange sense of possession…no, not possession, but rightness, as if she was meant to wear this, as if it were natural.

This is all very strange…very strange indeed. I still can’t get over how real this feels…

“If this is a dream, then why do I feel awake?”

“Because…” answered a voice from behind her, “this is not a dream.”

“Who?” she asked, whirling behind her, searching for the intruder, but spotting nothing. “Who’s there?” she called out, nervously. Not a dream? But it has to be!

“Alice, it’s not safe for you here. You must leave until you are ready!” The voice came from right beside her this time, but there was only empty air when she whirled to face it.

“Who are you, and how do you know my name?”

The air before her shimmered, a hooded figure appearing from nowhere.

“Who I am is not important, but you must be protected. Take my hand, and we will return you until it is the proper time…” The apparition suddenly froze, as if listening. “We must leave now!” came the growl, urgency now gripping the voice. “It isn’t safe anymore!”

Alice shrunk back, but then she felt it to…a growing sense of palpable menace, of palpable malevolence within the air. She reached out, grasping the figures hand, and the world simply…fell away.

They were within an empty void, grey fog curling all around. Alice was now clad in a simple grey dress, her hair returned to its normal disarray, while the figure remained disguised.

“You should be able to return easily from here…I must go now, there are things that must be taken care of until the time arrives.” With that, the figure vanished.

“WAIT!” Alice screamed. “Who are you? Where am I? What’s happening?”

There was no response from the whispering fog, and Alice ran through it in mounting frustration.

Why am I here? Where is here, for that matter? Oh, I just want to go HOME!

With that, the world fell away once more, and Alice flashed into consciousness within her own bed. Her breath came in hard gasps, her body soaked in perspiration. The clock on her beside read 6:00 AM, while the silence was rent by the sound of starving lungs and the yowls of a disturbed feline.

Alice slowly regained her composure, becoming aware of the world around her. Everything seemed well, nothing out of place, until the unmistakable sensation of wetness around her midsection hit her.

Not again…she sighed to herself, flopping back down in exhaustion and drifting into a dreamless sleep.


 

Chapter 6 – Questions That Remain Unanswered

            The sound of her door opening was the beginning of Alice’s slow swim to consciousness. As she groggily opened her eyes, blinking in the harsh light of morning’s glare, she slowly became aware that someone was speaking to her.

            “Huh…hold on…a…minute,” Alice moaned, attempting to bury herself under a pillow. She lay there, attempting to block all external stimuli until the sheets were snatched away, and after a brief struggle, lost control of her pillow as well.

            “What is it?” came the sullen reply, eyes opening to behold the clock displaying the time 12:00. “ohmygodImlateforschool!” Alice’s eyes darted open, awareness flooding through her body, a rapid surge that brought her to immediate wakefulness.

            “You’ve slept long enough kiddo!” laughed Michelle. “Now I’m demanding you eat breakfast!”

            “But what about school? I’m late and the teachers will kill me!”

            Michelle giggled to herself.

            “Look out the window, Alice.”

            Alice glanced outside. The day before, the snow had been enough to cancel school, although the roads were mostly clear a few hours later. Today, a blanket of solid whiteness enveloped all she could see. Pristine snow had fallen across the landscape, undisturbed except for a few driveways betraying the vain attempts of their occupants to escape the fluffy imprisonment nature had sown.

            “Oh…wow. Well, I guess that means I’m not late then.”

            “A master of the obvious, indeed! Sleep well?”

            “Until you woke me up, yes! Well…except for this strange dream I had…”

            “A dream?”

            “Yeah, I was…” Alice stopped a moment, wondering if she should go on. “Actually, I…forget. It must have been nothing.” Michelle nodded, unconcerned.

            “Well, come down and eat something. We’re snowbound and there’s daytime television that needs watching!” Alice complied, swinging herself off the bed, her feet making a soft thump upon the carpeting. She suddenly froze, as her memory caught up with sensation, and cast her eyes downward, a resigned sigh escaping her lips. Michelle glanced over at her sister, noticing the sudden slump in her posture. One word was all she needed.

            “Again?”

            Alice nodded glumly. Michelle walked over, and gently raised Alice’s chin to face her own.

            “Don’t be so down, ‘punkin. It’s nothing you can help, and it’s best to just treat it like any other problem and deal with it as best you can. “

            “Yeah, but…” Alice began.

            “Nope, it’s not worth worrying over! Why don’t you just go take a shower and I’ll see you downstairs in a few minutes?” Alice meekly complied as Michelle left for the kitchen. Moving into the bathroom, she gently closed the door behind her, then allowed herself to slide down to the ground, sighing. This entire affair was wreaking havoc on her self-esteem, and she couldn’t shake off a dull ache reverberating through her brain, her very thoughts feeling jumbled…muddled…ravaged.

            I’m sure all of this is linked to all those other…places. That guy said I wasn’t dreaming and…I think I’m starting to believe him. But, if I’m not dreaming then…I’m somehow traveling somewhere…else. But where? And why me? What do I have that’s so special, that needs to be protected? I…I wish…but I’m never…he wouldn’t know anyhow, stupid leaving jerk.

            Alice abandoned thinking about the father she had never known, blocking off the empty void within her that constantly threatened her happiness. Yes, she wished she could have known him, whoever he was…Michelle barely remembered him, as he left right after Alice had been born. Her mother always refused to talk about it, her eyes betraying loss every time the subject came up, and what little Alice knew came from Michelle, and one incidental comment her mother had made years ago when she thought Alice to be asleep. Alice absently rubbed the small ring-shaped birthmark on the ring finger of her left hand, a mark that, if she had heard her mother right, was inherited from him.

            Well…the best thing right now is just to hop in the shower and stop thinking about all of this…focus on getting clean and getting food. And God, why won’t that stupid headache leave?

            Alice gobbled some aspirin before turning on the water. After warming it up, she began removing her clothing. When her hand touched the wet Goodnite, she shivered slightly before tearing it off and throwing it into the trash. Once in the shower, she allowed her worries to be cleansed by the water, let herself be renewed in the rising steam. Soaping…done…shampoo…done…conditioner…ooh, the best part. Although she may not have had Michelle’s swimsuit model hair, Alice loved the feel, the shine, the sheer softness that conditioner imparted. It was like the hair-care product from heaven, and was great for softening everything up and making the brushing of tangles much easier.

            After a time, Alice found herself wrapped within the warmth of her towel, the fluffy layers feeling like a layer of soft down. The Alistrade towels were a novelty, far larger than ordinary bathroom affairs, nearly the size of blankets themselves…they allowed for the lucky occupant to completely enfold themselves from head to toe. Perhaps not the most practical, but a good deal more fun.

            Once dry, Alice glided into her room, wrinkling her nose slightly at the slight pungent scent that had accompanied her nightly problems. She rapidly dismissed it, turning her attention to the matter of the day’s clothing.

            Today we’re snowbound, so I may as well put on something comfortable and easy…let’s see…ooh, the pink angel T-shirt works…and sweatpants. Definitely sweatpants.

            Alice then tied her hair into a ponytail, and thus adorned, bounced downstairs to eat. Unfortunately, Michelle had refrained from waffles this morning, and Alice had to make do with cereal. Soon after, she managed to engage Michelle in a battle of wits, Chess style. The game ran relatively even, pawn for pawn, bishop for bishop, until Alice spotted an opening and was able to pin Michelle’s queen and swoop in with a knight to finish her off. The game became very one-sided after that, with Alice’s queen free to dominate the board, and within ten turns Michelle found herself left with only her king and a few pawns that were rapidly eliminated. The end came soon after, Michelle conceding with a tip of the king. She got her revenge during Monopoly when Alice was instantly bankrupted by rolling doubles, landing on Michelle’s hotel-adorned Park Place, and then rolling snake eyes onto Boardwalk. Clue went to their mother, who successfully nabbed Mrs. Peacock with the revolver in the dining room.

            After the board-game session, Alice found that her headache had returned. She decided to rest by flopping down on the couch and watching movies. Browsing through the channels, she discovered Kate and Leopold to be on and settled in to watch that. As  Kate slowly fell in love with the gallant Duke of Albany, Alice’s headache slowly rose to a painful drum inside of her skull, aching pulse after pulse. The pain caused her to begin quivering as her brain, unbeknownst to her, fought to heal the aftereffects of the nighttime intrusion. As the agony slowly overwhelmed her, Alice found herself staggering into the bathroom to attempt respite via medicine, but as she shut the door behind her, the pain became so intense she blacked out.

            Alice first became aware of the lonely whistle of wind as she awakened. The air was cold against her skin, damp, and as she opened her eyes, she found her vision limited to a small pool a few feet wide within a sea of darkness. Slowly rising to her feet, small echoes of pain remaining from her earlier migraine, she glanced about her surroundings. There was nothing to see. This is the first time I’m wearing the same thing I…fell asleep…or in this case, blacked out in. Seeing nobody around, she began walking through the blackness, and the pool of light accompanied her. Glancing downward, she was startled to find her hands glowing faintly, the source of what little light she had.

            Hmm…I wonder…this place does seem to respond to…Alice concentrated, willing the light to grow. She clamped her eyes shut, and focused, attempting to force a change within the environment. Slowly opening her eyes, she looked down at her hands, and was disappointed at the lack of change. Sighing in defeat, she began walking once more, only to pause as the light seemed to…flicker. Looking down once more, she gasped as the glow began to suddenly grow in intensity, rapid flashes of growing magnitude. She shielded her eyes with her forearms as the nova of light enveloped her, a sudden final flash that left her blinking purple spots from her eyes. As her vision slowly cleared, she found the glow had more than doubled in intensity, and this time as she focused, it responded to her will, growing and shrinking at a mere thought.

            Alice shrieked happily, delighted in her small victory. She began practicing, going from bright flares to absolute darkness, and soon found that she could control what parts of her hands glowed, allowing her to turn them into mobile headlights. She began scanning the vicinity, finding herself on a long desolate plain, dark clouds blocking out the sky only a few hundred feet above. As she swept the landscape once more, she noticed a sudden tide of dark shapes surging forward in the distance, a rising wave that grew closer by the second. Oh…my…god…she thought, as the wave of malevolence she had sensed earlier suddenly washed over her.

           Panicking, she turned and ran, rushing across the landscape as fast as possible. Frantically glancing over her shoulder, she noticed the darkness slowly closing the distance, coming closer until she could perceive individual shapes. At this point, they slowed, keeping pace with her. Oh no…they’re waiting for me to get tired. There’s…there’s no way out. Oh, please…please please please…

            Already her lungs burned, the surge of adrenaline she had first experienced wearing off. Alice gasped, suddenly tripping on a root, finding herself flailing forward as the ground rushed up to meet her. A sudden jarring impact left her groaning, the wind knocked out of her, and she realized that her bladder had chosen that moment to release itself, yet strangely enough the wetness did not spread past her crotch. Rising her head, wincing at the pain, she gingerly felt herself for injury, her hand coming back wet and sticky from a wound on her forehead. As she slowly focused on her surroundings, she found that she had been caught, and was now trapped within a rapidly constricting ring by her pursuers. Harsh voices rode on the wind, a guttural tongue she could not understand. Alice struggled to her feet, raising her fists defiantly. She could feel blood trickling down her face from the gash, and every breath brought with it a sharp sting, perhaps from a bruised or broken rib. The first shape broke away from the pack, rushing at her, and Alice screamed, fist flying forward to meet it. The two impacted, and Alice was flung backwards, landing on her left arm with a sharp crack. She tried to push herself up and the arm gave way, pain lancing along its length in searing agony. Alice collapsed, sobbing, and felt herself being picked up by one of her assailants. She was dimly aware of the terrain rushing past, her tears carried away in the cold wind. As hope faded, she began feebly pleading for help, her voice a mere whisper on the wind.

            “Please…someone…anybody…I need…help…”

            As she slowly sunk once more into unconsciousness, she was dimly aware of a sudden bright nova, and the sound of harsh screaming. The last she felt before succumbing to her wounds was a warm presence hovering over her, bearing her away on the winds.

            Once more Alice began the long swim to awareness, eyes opening to behold herself laying on a small cot within a strange room. She slowly sat up, surprised to find that only mild twinges remained from her earlier injuries. The room was Spartan, containing only the cot and a few scattered bags and pouches, along with a small mirror along the right wall. Pushing herself to her feet, she walked over to the mirror, glancing within. She was surprised to find herself relatively well groomed, the only evidence of the earlier attack being a multitude of tears within her shirt and sweatpants. One hole caught her attention, and as gingerly lowered her pants, she found the one thing that had changed during her transition between realities…her normal undergarments had been replaced by her Goodnites, which, as she realized, was just as well since they were clearly soaked.

            Goddamnit, I’m not even free of this here, she swore to herself. Pulling the sweats back up, she walked over to the door, pausing as she decided whether to go beyond or not. Well, I’m not getting any answers here, and I want to know what the hell happened out there. So resolved, she grasped the handle, opened the door, and walked into the out.

            She was astonished to find herself suddenly outside in the vast forest she had been in the night before. Turning, she realized the door had vanished, camouflaged within the bark of a huge tree. As she turned once more, she noticed a burning campfire, and a solitary figure sitting on a nearby log.

            “I…take it…you are the one who rescued me?” she began.

            The figure nodded.

            “May I…ask who you are?”

            “You may call me Kaleros, Milady.” The voice was melodious, soothing, and yet powerful. Despite knowing nothing about her rescuer, Alice felt this was someone she could trust.

            “What happened back there?”

            “You were attacked,” came the trite response.

            “So I noticed,” Alice began wryly. “What I meant was, why was I attacked?”

            “You mean you do not know?” Kaleros sounded surprised at her lack of knowledge.

            “No, I don’t. This entire place is crazy, and I have no idea what’s going on.” Kaleros nodded, rising and walking over to Alice.

            “They want you…because of this,” he said, raising her left hand and gesturing at her birthmark.

            “And what exactly does that mean?” Alice’s confusion was mounting.

            “There are those who can explain better than I, Milady,” he stated.

            “Why do you keep calling me that?” she asked, slightly annoyed. “I’m nobody special…just lost.”

            “If you do not know, it is not my place to tell you.” He glanced about warily. “It’s time to go. The enemy is nearing once more.”

            “And…?” she began, suspiciously.

            “And they are hunting you.”

            Alice sighed at the news.

“How could one mark make me so special?” Kaleros grasped her hands, and energy surged between them. The world began becoming hazy, slowly fading away, Kaleros becoming ghostlike in her grasp. As the grey fog rose up, she could hear his voice speaking from as if from a great distance.

“They hunt you, Princess, because of your…” The last words were lost, fading away into the ether before she could catch them.

“Princess? But I’m just…ordinary.” She gazed down at her hands, which were glowing once more. “Why is this all happening?” She felt herself fading away, being drawn homeward.

Alice blinked, and was within her bathroom once again. She was laying on the floor, the cold tile pressed against her cheek. As she raised her body, she gasped, realizing she was laying in a cold puddle. As she pushed herself to her feet, both confused and fighting back tears, she gazed at her face in the mirror. She was astonished to find that where the deep cut had been before, there was now a faint white scar adorning her forehead.

“So…it is real…” she whispered to herself. There was a sudden knocking at the door, Michelle’s voice coming through. “Alice, are you all right in there?” Alice began softly crying, confused and hurt about everything that was going on. The door opened…


 

Chapter 7 – Anxieties

Michelle hesitated, holding the door only halfway open. She could hear Alice crying, and didn’t want to disturb her if she wanted to be left alone.

“Alice, is it all right if I come in?” she whispered softly. Alice lifted her eyes from her soaked clothing to the door, wiping away a tear with one hand. “It…it’s…it’s okay…” she said softly, and the door opened wider, Michelle slipping in. Michelle stood there, stunned for a moment at the scene before her. Alice had been having problems at night, and it had happened once at the doctor’s office, but…she still was shocked that Alice had wet herself in the middle of the day.

“Oh, my,” she began. “Alice, what happened?”

“I…I…fainted…and then…” Alice gestured miserably.

“You fainted? How?!” Michelle cried out, concerned.

“I had a headache, and it hurt so bad, and I came here to take medicine, and then I passed out and I had this dream, and the dream was scary, and then I went in the dream, and then I woke up here and it was the same way and oh it was horrible!” She broke down, sobbing into her hands. Michelle walked over and hugged Alice tightly, oblivious to the cold wetness soaking through Alice’s clothes.

“Shh, shh, it’s okay. You’ll be fine, it was only a dream…” she led Alice over to the bathtub, and began running the water.

Because it was outside her control, the entire situation only served to make Alice feel worse. This wasn’t some fixable problem, something she had a solution to if she only followed a certain path. It wasn’t grades in school or trouble with friends, but something utterly alien to her experience: A problem she truly had no cure for. That’s what made it hurt so much…the fear that this may become permanent, that she would be eternally stuck this way. She stood, mute, allowing Michelle to undress her and gingerly place her in the water.

Michelle looked at Alice, worried. The poor girl was just laying there, water rising around her, tears still trickling down her cheeks, dripping into the bath. She sighed, knowing there was little she could do now, but leave Alice alone. Closing the door behind her, she realized that her clothing was damp from the earlier hug, and returned to her room to change.

Alice, meanwhile, was lying there dazed, confused. The same questions circulated, although there seemed to a small light in the tunnel now. Why me? Where is that place? How do I keep going there, and why am I always asleep? That strange man…Keleros…no, Kaleros…he said it’s because of this…She gazed at the mark encircling her finger. A symbol, maybe? But a symbol of what? And why did he keep addressing me with such respect? And how did I do that light trick? I wonder if I can do it here…Alice focused, willing the light to re-appear. Just as she was about to give up, she noticed a tiny glow springing forth…it held for a few seconds, then faded. Sweat trickled down her brow, a sudden wave of exhaustion flooding through her body, so much energy consumed for so little response.

“I…I can’t believe it…” she gasped. It was almost nothing, but I still did it! I did something…totally like, impossible! In reality! And this means…oh my…this means everything he was saying could be true. But if it’s true, then what? That other world isn’t safe, every time I go there something attacks me. Never mind the first 2 or 3 times where I am sure something happened, but I can’t remember what.

She was suddenly very tired, as the aftereffects of her little trick fully caught up with her. Best not to try that again, at least not here, not until I know more…She wearily began scrubbing herself, washing away the stickiness left behind from another accident. They are becoming more frequent…She thought, sadly. Four nights in a row so far, plus one at the Doctor’s office, plus one just now…that’s 6 in less than 4 days. If it’s weak muscles, why are they weakening?

Dropping yet another unproductive line of thought, Alice sighed. The answers to all of her questions eluded her, and there was one place certain to know them. The problem was, she couldn’t go there at will, stuff wanted to kidnap or kill her, and it seemed like nobody there would answer her questions anyway…everyone she’d met seemed intent on harming her, or ejecting her from that place, “For my protection,” she said, irritated.

Damn them all! I didn’t ask for any of this! I was perfectly happy with my life; well, mostly happy, happy enough, and suddenly I’m surrounded by problems. Imagine what would have happened if it hadn’t snowed again…how has it snowed so much, anyhow? I don’t remember hearing about any predicted storms on the news.

Now here was a mystery she could solve! She let out the water and proceeded to dry off, then went to her room for new clothing. She picked out a simple nightshirt, too tired to hunt for anything more complicated, and as an afterthought figured it might be best if she wore protection, too. I feel like I could fall asleep any minute, and the worst possible result would be an accident on the couch.

So attired, she slunk downstairs, yawning, padding over to the couch and laying down. Her mother entered from the kitchen, walking over, concern emanating from her.

“Michelle tells me you fainted, earlier. Are you okay?”

“I…I’ll be fine. It was just a really bad headache, and well, I passed out.”

“She said you had an…” Alice sighed, interrupting.

“…Yes, I did. But it’s cleaned up now.”

“You look exhausted! You should get to bed!”

“I will be, soon…but there’s one thing I want to see on TV first. Can you hand me the remote?” As the remote was passed to her, Alice flicked on the television and surfed until she found the weather channel.

“Is there anything else I can get you?” Alice smiled wearily.

“A blanket would be nice.”

“One blanket, coming up!” Her mother’s voice rung with false cheer, attempting to conceal her worry. Alice turned her attention to the television.

            “…still unsure as to the origin of last night’s snowstorm. It rapidly amassed out of nowhere, a freak weather phenomenon, radiating outward from a central nexus located here.” The anchor gestured to one part of the map, and Alice realized it was her hometown.

            “Even now, another appears to be gathering, and all residents of the area are advised to avoid going out if possible, to stay indoors and keep warm.”

            The blizzard is centered here. It’s all radiating from here. This…this has to be connected, somehow. Am I doing it? No, no, I can’t be. That little light took so much out of me…but if it’s not me, then who? And why?

            Her mother returned, gently covering Alice in the blanket’s soft embrace. Alice sighed contently, nestling under it, eyes drooping.

            “Alice, dear? Are you sure it’s the best idea to fall asleep here?”

            “D…don’t worry, Mom. I…already…dealt with that. I was…<yawn>…tired after the bath, so…I put one on…<yawn>…then.” Mary nodded at her daughter’s foresight, then returned to the kitchen to work on dinner. Hopefully Alice would awaken before it was cold.

            For the first time in a while, Alice slept peacefully. She was free to dream unmolested,  her mind taking short trips through worlds of her own creation. There was the pleasant dream about going to the mall and seeing a movie, the cute one where she was a kitten, and the strange one where the entire world seemed to be made out of yogurt. Alice was busy swimming in a pond of it when something outside caught her attention, a disturbance shaking her, unwelcome noise intruding.

            “Alice…Alice…wake up, Alice…” She yawned groggily.

            “Go’way…” she began. “Me sleepim!”

            “It’s time to eat, silly! Come on, get up!” Michelle cheerfully kept on shaking Alice, jostling her left and right. Alice feebly tried slapping her hands away, but Michelle persisted, forcing Alice into a state of undesired wakefulness.

            “Ugh…you know I am going to get you <yawn> for this…” Alice said, finally sitting up, as she rubbed her eyes awake. Michelle plopped down on the couch at Alice’s feet and tugged off the blanket, exposing Alice’s legs to the cold. Oh, eep. It’s a good thing she wore one of those before her nap.

            “Uh…Alice?” Michelle began.

            “What?”

            “You…had another accident.” Alice sat up at the news.

            “I did? Oh well, I kind of expected it.” She reached down and checked herself. It’s still warm…I must have wet just before waking up. But, it’s mostly dry, so that’s good! Still, I’d better go get changed. Hey, at least I’m not crying about it this time. That’s a plus!

            “Say, Michelle? What’s for dinner anyhoo?”

            “Mom made spaghetti, ‘cause she knows you love it.” Alice shrieked happily at the news, drowsiness banished, and she ran over to the table, and began squirming impatiently in her chair.

            “Careful, kiddo! One might think you were five with this behavior!” Alice stuck her tongue out at Michelle in response. “So much for thinking!” Michelle laughed.

            When the food arrived, Alice scarfed it down eagerly. “Mmm, scrumptious!” She said, licking her lips clean, plate clear, and looking over at the other two occupants. “Not even half done? You guys are slllloooowwww!” she taunted, happily.

            “Now, time for dessert…let’s see…Ice Cream!” Alice darted away from the table, returning a moment later with an overly large filled bowl of Cookie Dough.

            “She’s acting very…bouncy…tonight,” Michelle whispered to her mother.

            “It’s far better than the depression we’ve been witnessing the past couple days,” came the reply.

            “True…” replied Michelle, but she couldn’t help looking at Alice now. Here she was, stuffing down way too much ice cream in naught but a long shirt and a wet Goodnite. Compared to her resistance even last night, this was a whole different Alice. The transformation was a bit…strange. It’s probably just a reaction to all the stress she’s been under…she’s swinging far to the other side of things now, and should be back to normal soon.

            Meanwhile, Alice was preoccupied with stuffing her face with ice cream. She wasn’t entirely sure why she was acting so bouncy…it just felt like all the happiness lost to stress had bubbled up at once, and she was experiencing the effects of it. Soooooo tasty…mmm…yum, yum…and shoot, I’m done. Alice wanted more, but her common sense reared up and told her she’d had enough.

            Alice decided to go upstairs instead. She gleefully charged up and into her bedroom, leaping onto her bed and bouncing a few times in contentment. She proceeded to bury herself under her sheets, accompanied by Emma, who was in the mood to snuggle. Time passed, and Alice found herself growing tired once more. It had been a full day, but she was ready for sleep. She reluctantly left her purring kitty, and after a trip to the bathroom to brush her teeth, she returned to her room. She was about to hop into bed when she remembered that she still had on her wet Goodnite from earlier. Oops…better get into a clean one…Pulling the garment down, she was about to toss it in the wastebasket when she paused, frowning slightly. She thought she remembered being mostly dry when she woke up, yet it was obviously quite wet now. Hmmm…must have remembered things wrong. Oh well!

            Alice put on a dry Goodnite, enjoying the knowledge that it would keep her bed dry. The flower print didn’t even bother her this time…it was rapidly becoming something she wore to bed, something to not be concerned about. As she lay in bed, Alice concentrated. Hopefully, I can bring myself into that foggy place. It seems like its some sort of border, and I have yet to be attacked there. There, maybe I can get some answers. She felt herself drifting, falling into sleep, but even as she passed out she could feel the cool dampness of…

            Alice found herself within the fogbank. Looks like there’s been no delay this time…or I don’t remember any, since I’m pretty sure I just fell asleep. Okay, now let’s see…I know I can do that glowy-light thing, and that it works a lot easier in the other world than at home. The thought that she shouldn’t even be able to do it at home didn’t occur; after all the strangeness she had been experiencing, further oddities were beginning to seem ordinary.

            Well, let’s try the light trick first, and then see if I can do anything else! Remembering last time, Alice concentrated, and within moments her hands were flickering once more. Hmm…not as strong as the other world, but a lot easier than at home. So…that means the power is probably tied to how close I am to the other place, but I can still use it wherever…it’s just a lot harder. Now, let’s see…I wonder if I can do anything else…

            Alice knew she could make light beams, which could prove useful, but were still limited. And I know something out there wants me…I wonder if…Concentrating once more, she attempted to focus the light into a ray, but with a small twist. A beam lanced out through her hands, a solid line through the fog. Alice stood there, sweat beading on her brow, and she…twisted…the beam. It began glowing red, and suddenly the fog was evaporating away. For a few moments, a hole remained punched in the fog, until the vacuum was filled once again. Alice stared at her hands in wonder. I can make light…and now heat. It’s like…magic. Maybe it IS magic. But, how can I do it? Why can I do it? And why can I only do it here?

            Alice felt herself growing weary once more, drained by her exertion. She decided to switch gears, and hoped to find out some more information.

            “Kaleros!” she called. “Kaleros? Can you hear me?” The void did not respond, and there was only the swirling of fog. Alice sat and waited, hoping for him to show up. After a few minutes had passed with no response, she gave up. I’m done for now. Answers can come later- right now, I think I’ll just try and sleep for real. This time, the exit was easy, and the foggy landscape melted, Alice feeling herself drawn back into slumber.

            The night passed, Alice dreaming peacefully. Midnight passed without incident, as did the first of the early hours. At 3 AM, the silence was rent by a disturbed yowl from Emma, causing Alice to stir. The invading presence had returned, and once more it dove into Alice’s mind.

            This time, however, the environment was different. Although Alice herself had been unaware the first time, her subconscious had worked to prevent another invasion, creating a sort of barrier. The presence encountered the barrier, and as it attempted to destroy it, it was drawn into Alice’s mind.

            Alice suddenly found herself within a dark field. She was wearing a white split-tunic along with matching skirt, feet bound in sandals. Her hair was pulled back, held in place by a small circlet. In her hands were a short sword and shield. Across the field waited the presence, a dark hooded figure on a black steed.

            “Step aside, girl. You will only hurt yourself fighting me…” The voice was thin, an unpleasant hiss that rattled the air. Alice felt herself drawing backwards in fear.

            “Who…are you?” she managed to force out. “And why are you in my head?”

            “You have something I wish to find…and I am here to take it…” came the answering wail. “Now, surrender and I will make this as…painless…as possible…” Alice trembled in fear, yet her voice rang with conviction.

            “No.”

            “You dare to defy me? Very well…sssssuffer….” The horse charged, the figure drawing out a sword. Alice stood her ground. I know this is my head, and this means that I’m on the defense. And, if it’s my head…I control the rules. Which means…Alice held up her sword, and pointed it at the attacker. The ground erupted beneath him, the horse emitting a startled whinny before slipping on the cracked earth, bucking the rider from its saddle. The rider hit the ground, and was up in moments.

            “Very clever…but it will not be good enough.” He began advancing once more, drawing inexorably closer to Alice. Approaching melee range, his sword flashed out, only to ring against the shield Alice had barely raised in time.

            This is my territory, and I control the rules here. I can do anything! Even as the attacker’s blows rained forth, Alice could feel them, somehow see where they were coming. Block…parry…block…and jump! Alice’s feet left the ground as she leapt forward, sailing over her attacker and landing neatly behind him. Before he could react, she pointed her sword, focused, and light lanced out, imprisoning the wraith within glowing bars.

            “Don’t…come here…again!” Alice said angrily. “Whoever sent you may be stronger in that world, but this place is mine!” She gestured once more, and the cage contracted, the screams of the wraith tearing a harsh cacophony across the landscape as it was ejected from Alice, forced to flee into the nether from which it had came.

            Alice sunk to one knee, savoring her first victory. With her enemy defeated, the landscape began blurring, and she felt herself falling into sleep once more. The rest of the night passed without incident, the passage of time marked by Alice’s clock, and the constant growing wetness of her Goodnite.

            Morning came, and Alice was woken by her cat. Emma had leapt onto her back and proceeded to go to sleep, but had failed to take into account this would disturb her mistress. Alice pushed herself upward, Emma sliding off with a loud protest. She sighed contentedly, enjoying the first night where nothing bad had beaten her. Her hand slid down to check her Goodnite, and she found herself to be completely soaked. Wow…a few more hours and I might have leaked…Still, it was a new day, and her first action was to look out the window to see if school was cancelled once more…


 

Chapter 8 – Mysteries Revealed

            The roads remained blanketed by a glistening crystal carpet, sparkling in the morning sun. Alice sighed happily…it would be another day without school. She turned, flopping down on her bed, the soaked garment squishing against her waist. Alice glanced at the clock, noticing that it was already 10:23. Wow…I’ve been sleeping a lot lately! I wonder why I’m so tired?

            No answer forthcoming, Alice waddled into the bathroom, every step a reminder of her nighttime troubles. Still, it’s better than a wet bed…and it’s not the end of the world or anything…well, as long as nobody else finds out about it. Another day, another shower…

            After she finished her shower and completed all necessary morning preparation such as hair brushing and styling, Alice found herself in her room once more at 11 AM. Today, she picked out a red t-shirt with a cute heart in the middle, along with blue jeans, and then wandered downstairs in the pursuit of food. The kitchen was empty, although Michelle had clearly been at work here earlier. Grabbing several of the remaining pancakes, Alice greedily dug in, devouring them in great mouthfuls. She was finished in minutes, and sat back, surprised at the amount she’d eaten. Sleepy AND Hungry…it’s like…I’m using up a lot of extra energy…Alice glanced down at her hands, and for a moment thought she saw a faint glow. Is it…these…powers? It would make sense, I suppose…tapping into whatever this is needs fuel, and my body provides it. Maybe it’s like singing opera…all the stress of a football game with few visible results.

            At this point, Alice tackled the mystery of the missing family. It was solved moments later when she looked out the front windows to find her mother and sister hard at work shoveling off the driveway. Her quest complete, Alice wandered over to the computer and hopped online. Let’s see, what to do, what to do…nobody is online to talk to, and there’s no homework I need…I wonder…Alice fired up Google on impulse and typed in ‘Kaleros.’ I doubt he’s on here, but you never know!

            The first few results were worthless, people using the identity for a screen name or character or something equally pointless. The next few results were the same, as were the following. After a few minutes of browsing through worthless result after worthless result, Alice gave up. This was a stupid idea anyhow! As she stood up, she felt a slight dampness below. Rats…I must not have dried off well enough after the shower. Oh well, I’ll stop noticing it in a few minutes. She looked out the window, noticing her mother and Michelle hard at work on the driveway. You know, it’s kind of silly for them to be doing that, since they can’t drive anywhere anyhow! Still…I bet they’d like some hot cocoa! Ooh, that’d be fun to do! Alice delved into the kitchen cabinets, locating the cocoa packets behind a box of cereal she’d forgotten to put away properly earlier.

            After mixing and brewing the cocoa, she took it outside in an insulated pitcher along with several mugs, signaling the presence of refreshments to Michelle and their mother. The gift was gratefully accepted, and they sat on the porch, drinking in silence.

            The tranquility was broken when Michelle walked off, and Alice was suddenly hit in the arm with a snowball. The scene rapidly degenerated into an all-out sibling snowball fight, with their mother presiding as judge. After a frenzied few minutes, a truce was called, both sisters collapsing in the snow. Alice was especially cold and wet, having failed to put on proper attire.

            “Okay, I’m freezing! I’ll see you guys inside when you finish up!”

            “Bye little sister! I know you’re just leaving because you know I’d win!” Michelle taunted gleefully. Alice retorted with a stuck-out tongue and retreated indoors, curling up under a blanket in front of the television with what was left of the cocoa.

            About thirty minutes later, the driveway was finished and the house populated by three people once more. Michelle wandered upstairs to change, and Alice drifted over to talk with her mother. The conversation was going well, drifting between life, the universe, and everything, until Mary happened to look down and gasp.

            “What is it, Mom?” Alice allowed her gaze to travel downward, and then she shrieked in alarm as she realized her jeans were now sporting a visible wet spot, which was even now slowly growing. Alice slowly sunk to the ground, sobs welling up within her throat. “I…I…can’t…feel…anything…” she said, weakly, before bursting into tears. Her mother stood there, dazed. I knew Alice was having problems but…I can’t believe they’ve come this far so fast! It’s just not right! And…oh, I don’t know what to do! She sat down, dizzy, Alice crying on the floor. At this moment, Michelle entered the room.

            “So, whose up for a…an…oh my…” Michelle stood there a moment, taking in the scene, before rushing over to Alice and scooping her up in a hug. She held her tightly, Alice’s sobs muted against her chest, her frustration at her lack of control flowing outward. Michelle gently picked her up, carrying her upstairs and into Alice’s bedroom, after grabbing a towel from the nearby bathroom. The towel was laid on the bed and Alice gently placed on top, while Michelle sat to the side, stroking Alice’s hair and murmuring soothing noises. Alice slowly calmed, hiccoughing as her tears subsided.

            “Oh Michelle…” said Alice softly. “Why is this happening?”

            “I…don’t know…but we’ll find someway to help, I promise.” Alice sighed wearily at the response, sitting up.

            “I’d hoped I was just mistaken last night, but…it looks like I’m not safe in the day anymore…” Alice began. Michelle gazed at her, pity resonating within her eyes, sensing what was coming. Alice padded over to the package lying on her dresser. “Guess these aren’t just for night anymore…” Weariness permeated her voice, resignation evident on her face.

            “I’ll…just leave you alone for now.” Michelle quietly slipped out as Alice changed into the Goodnite, slinking into her own room as tears of sympathy and anger clustered in her eyes. Alice swapped the wet jeans for dry sweatpants, and stood there, thinking. This all started with those dreams…and the more vivid they get, the worse this gets. They have to be linked, and it’s time to go get some answers. I want to find out what is happening, and why it is happening, and anything that tries to hurt me…Alice smiled grimly, her hands clenched into tight fists. She climbed into her bed, and allowed herself to relax, to slow her breathing. She focused on the foggy realm that seemed to mark the border, concentrating.

            Alice opened her eyes as the chill hit her, gazing at the billowing fog that enveloped her. “Well now, that was faster than normal. I must be getting better at this.” She closed her eyes once more, willing herself to jump once again, and the chill faded, replaced with the songs of birds. “Victory!” she cried jubilantly, pleased at her success. She was surprised to find herself wearing the same clothing she had gone to bed in. It’s almost as if I’m traveling here physically…no, I can’t be. Right now, it’s time to find answers, and I know who has them.

            “KALEROS!” she yelled out, the piercing sound causing birds to scatter in surprise. “Kaleros! Can you hear me?”

            “You needn’t shout, milady. Unpleasant things could hear you…” came the quiet whisper from behind. Alice whirled around at the sound of his voice.

            “Well, that was certainly fast…”

            “I am…attuned…to your presence. When you pass over, I know.” His voice was quiet, reserved, yet strength permeated through it. “And, as I have said before…you should not be here, not yet…”

            “Damnit!” Alice cried out, anger bursting forth. “Every since I started traveling to here, wherever that is, my normal life has been shattered! Somehow, I know that all that snow and my headaches and my other…problems…are all linked to here, and I want answers! AND,” she said, holding up her hand to stifle any comment, “this time, I will not take no for an answer.”

            “Very well, Milady. However, I am not the one to provide such answers. For that, we must travel…”

            “Whatever I have to do to get someone to explain this, I will do.” She took his proffered hand, and she felt a sharp tingle as they traveled into the fog realm. “This place is some sort of transport nexus, isn’t it?” Kaleros said nothing, and the fog faded away once more…

            They were standing by a small stream that sprung forth from the mouth of a small cave. Kaleros ducked inside, and Alice followed hesitantly. The cave opened up into a small cavern, but Alice could spot nothing important until an opening suddenly split forth from the rear of the cave. She followed Kaleros, passing through winding tunnels dimly lit by torchlight, until they entered what appeared to be a study. Vast shelves of books lined the walls; the area was brightly lit by hovering globes of light.

            Seated in the middle of the room was a robed and hooded man who was currently reading one of the many tomes scattered on tables nearby. Upon their entrance, he rose, walking over to Alice.

            “So…you have come…” the voice was that of her unknown rescuer from several nights ago.

            “Who…are you? And why do you seem so…familiar?”

            Wordlessly, the figure lowered the hood, revealing his features. He was blond, hair cropped short, and there was the echo of former handsomeness amongst the many scars that covered his face. Piercing green eyes gazed directly at her, and Alice felt a distinct chill, as they seemed to delve into her. He raised his hand in greeting, and Alice gasped, warmth flooding her midsection, as she gazed upon an all-too familiar mark upon the 4th finger of his left hand…


 

Chapter 9: Revelations

 

            Alice gazed at the man before her, shock etched deeply into her face. “But... but …how?” she gasped weakly, sinking to the ground. A sudden bout of dizziness overwhelmed her, and the world faded into darkness. As she fainted, she could hear the faint echo of a voice coming from far away, calling her name…

            Alice awoke feeling cold and wet. She gasped, and then began coughing, opening her eyes to find herself lying upon a bed. Something was moving her about, ignoring her weak expressions of protest. She felt tugging at her clothing, and tried to swat away the intruding hand, but a sudden surge of weariness removed any attempts to awaken, and she felt herself slipping backwards into sleep.

            The next time Alice was awoken by someone gently removing the blankets that covered her. She yawned, blinking several times, slowly sitting upwards.

            “Oh good, dear, you are finally awake!” The voice was warm, motherly, emanating from a middle-aged woman standing nearby. The woman was slightly short and slightly plump, brown hair pulled back into a bun. Alice sensed an air of practicality about her, yet at the same time she felt calm, as if this was someone she could trust. Of course, Alice would only consciously realize this later; for now, she was simply trying to wake up.

            “My, my, wet again,” murmured the woman. “Well, best get that changed.” She wandered off for a moment, as Alice lay there, confused, trying to get her bearings. Reality intruded with the woman’s return, as Alice felt a tugging about her waist, and then her legs were suddenly in the air. She squawked loudly, thrashing to get free of this indignity, and felt herself kick free.

            “What in hell are you DOING?!?!” she shrieked. Fully awake now, she sat there, glaring at the woman, before she realized had nothing on below the waist. This prompted another shriek, this time of embarrassment, and Alice grabbed a nearby pillow and attempted to preserve her modesty.

            “You know, dear, you are making this unduly difficult,” said the woman, amusement trickling through the air.

            “Difficult? DIFFICULT?!” Alice yelled. “Here I am, waking up in the middle of nowhere, some stranger molesting me, and you accuse me of being difficult!?” In response, the woman held up a bundled up object. Alice gulped as she realized it was an obviously wet diaper, and surmised she had been wearing it. The woman gazed at her with satisfaction as Alice abruptly quieted.

            “This is the second time I’ve had to do this in the couple hours you’ve been asleep. You clearly knew you had a problem since you were wearing something similar when you were handed over to me, and since I’m not interested in washing wet blankets, I’d prefer if you made this easier. Once this is taken care of and we get you into some suitable clothing, we can talk.” Alice thought for a moment, then sighed loudly, and motioned for the woman to do as she pleased.

            “Lay still for a moment and we can get this taken care of,” said the woman, all business once again. Alice allowed herself to be positioned on top of a clean diaper as she blushed furiously. She sneezed as the scent of powder enveloped the area, and then heard the sound of the diaper being fastened, leaving her clad in the diaper and the t-shirt she had arrived in. Where her pants had vanished to, Alice had no idea.

            “There, all done. Now, why don’t we get you something to wear?” Alice allowed herself to be led over to a closet, which was filled with all manner of dresses.

           “Um, is there any chance you have something a bit less…dress-like?” she asked, hoping to snare pants of some kind.

            “At the moment dear, you get to pick from this. If you have complaints about the clothing, you can deal with them later.”

            “What about the pants I was wearing?” she asked, hoping for a last-ditch salvation.

            “Your earlier garment leaked,” came the response, prompting Alice to sigh in resignation. She began rummaging through the available options, finally settling on a one, green, buttoned up in the back, cut in a slight V down the front with lace trimming, and embroidered with various intricate patterns about the cuffs. It looked to be relatively comfortable, and was far less flamboyant than some of the others in the closet. She allowed herself to be helped into it, standing still as it was buttoned up. After spending a few moments adjusting it to her preferences, she turned and faced the woman.

            “So, you said something about talking earlier. Mind if I ask a few hundred questions?” The woman walked across the room, motioning Alice over to a pair of chairs that were set up around a small mahogany table.

            “Ask away,” she said, settling in. Alice thought for a moment.

            “Well, let’s begin simply…who are you, and where am I?”

            “My full name is Miriam Hawthorn, and I am currently assigned to be watching over you. As for where you are, this is one of the rooms in the set of caverns we currently inhabit.”

            “Caverns?” asked Alice, confusedly looking about. “This doesn’t look like it’s carved from rock…”

            “Well, we have had time to perform…” Miriam paused here, as if choosing her words carefully, “extensive modifications…on the area.”

            “And where, overall, is here?”

            “That’s a bit more confusing to explain. Basically, here is a secret fortress within the kingdom of Sanneko…”

            “Secret? Why secret”

            “The inhabitants of this area aren’t exactly…popular…with those in charge at the moment. You could say this is the headquarters of a small rebellion, in a way.”

            “And why is there a rebellion?”

            “I’m not the best one to answer that. You’ll have to ask it later when you meet with certain other, more informed, people.”

            “Okay…let’s change gears a bit then. How did I come to this room? Last I remember, I was just entering some sort of study, and then it’s all dark from there.”

            “Well, as best as I know, you fainted in there, and they brought you over to me, asking for me to watch over you until you woke up. Since your old diaper had leaked…” Alice made a squeal of protest at the word diaper, but Miriam continued unperturbed.  “I changed you out of your pants and into a new one and put you to bed; you almost woke up then, but passed out again in moments, and slept for several hours until you woke up again.”

            “And do you know anything about me or why I’m here?” Miriam shook her head.

            “Again, that’s something you are better off bringing up later.”

            “Well, I suppose that will do for now…” Miriam nodded.

            “Are you hungry?” she asked, allowing concern to finally enter her voice. Alice was about to say no until she realized her stomach was completely empty.

            “Um, yes, actually.”

            “Very well. Wait here for a few minutes and I’ll be back with something to eat.” Miriam disappeared outside, leaving Alice alone to ponder.

            Well, let’s see…what do I know so far? Hmm…well, firstly, it seems I can’t really call this place a dream realm anymore…I’m either experiencing the most vivid hallucination in the history of everything, or this is all real…I can’t remember anything beyond entering that study, except this vague sense of shock…and it seems my whole…mmm…problem…isn’t something people are surprised about. I wonder what’s going on at home…am I still even there? I know that getting hurt here can hurt me in at home…She traced the faint scar on her forehead as she thought this. So, it’s probably real then. But, if it is real, why am I coming here? It all makes no sense!

            Miriam returned carrying a tray, which she set down before Alice. The tray contained several slices of buttered bread, along with a steaming bowl of what seemed to be some local variant of chicken soup, while a small pitcher of water adorned the side.

            “Relatively Spartan food, I know…” began Miriam, but she stopped as Alice greedily dug in. Alice was amazed at how something so seemingly simple could taste so good; the bread was heavenly, defying description, while the soup contained large slices of meat soaked in delicious broth. Alice slowed down, savoring each bite, slowly making headway on the food before her. Each mouthful was simmering delight, a full repast that sated Alice’s hunger and quenched her thirst.

            Finally, she sat back, sighing in satisfaction, the tray before her cleaned of all but a few tiny crumbs. As she did this, she heard a slight crinkling, the sensations of the diaper finally catching up to her consciousness. It felt distinctly…different…that her Goodnites, bulkier somehow… As she stood, she felt it bunching together, an unmistakably different sensation than the one she had been getting used to. Goodnites may have felt like panties to some degree…but these were entirely different, and Alice did not like it very much. Still, she also recognized that her problem showed no signs of abating, and it was better to go with the flow while she was caught within this land…Sanneko, was it? What a strange name. Okay, let’s see…stomach feeling better, wearing something suitable, so…time to go answer hunting.

            “Well, you mentioned there was stuff you couldn’t talk about…is there anyone who can?” Miriam stood there for a moment, weighing her words before responding.

            “There is…someone…but you didn’t exactly take…well…to him last time…” she began.

            “What does that mean?” asked Alice, slightly miffed.

            “You passed out when you saw him.”

            “How could SEEING someone make me faint? The idea is silly! It had to be exhaustion or something!” Alice laughed at the thought of it.

            “Well…” Miriam began, hesitantly. “How about I take you over to the study, and let them sort it out over there?”

            “That sounds just fine,” said Alice, satisfied she was finally getting someone. The two departed, and Alice was led down a network of torchlit hallways, the twisting passages rapidly obliterating her sense of direction. The unfamiliar sensation of the diaper kept intruding on her awareness, and she was afraid that somebody might hear it, if they didn’t all know already.

            Finally, they arrived at a closed door. There were some strange symbols carved into it, any meaning lost to Alice.

            “So, is this it?” she asked, as Miriam showed no signs of moving beyond this point. She got a hesitant nod in response, and since Miriam continued to remain motionless, Alice sighed and turned the knob herself, quietly slipping in.

            “Hello?” she asked, as the inside was near dark, illuminated only by the faint glow of a few candles set into the walls. She gently closed the door behind herself, and slowly advanced forward, looking for anyone. Spotting nobody, she reluctantly took a seat in a chair set in front of a desk, waiting for a response.

            “I welcome you once more, Alice…” The voice rang outward, containing a tone Alice swore was familiar, but simply could not place. Slowly, the candles brightened, revealing a figure sitting in a chair facing the wall. She could make out no features, as the chair was high back, obscuring all but the voice. “I would not have had you arrive so soon, but it seems things are moving faster than expected.”

            “Who…are you?” asked Alice, hoping to finally get an answer. The chair slowly turned around, and Alice heard a clatter on the desk before her. Glancing down, she saw a picture. It contained a young girl sitting within a field, happily waving at someone off-camera. Alice spotted a striking resemblance…the girl could have been her younger sister if she had had one.

            “Who is that?” The question hung in the air, prompting a sudden silence from the hidden man.

            “She was…is…my daughter…” he began.

            “Well, she’s certainly a beautiful girl, but I don’t see what the point is…” The chair slowly began rotating, the man finally facing Alice, although his head remained shrouded in darkness.

            “The two of you look remarkably alike…” he began. Alice nodded in agreement.

            “I’d say she could be my sister, if I had another one…” The air thickened, tension visibly coagulating within it. Alice felt as if the man’s hidden eyes were piercing into her, and a sudden burst of knowledge hit her, memories from a few hours earlier returning once more. The man nodded as Alice slumped weakly in her chair, lowering his hood for the second time, once more revealing the scarred face and blond hair.

            “She…is…my sister…isn’t she?” Alice said, weakly. “And…you are…”

            “Yes.” That one word shattered Alice’s composure, and she slumped down, sobbing. The man sat there, seeming poised on the brink of rising and going over to her, one hand reaching hesitantly outward before slowly drawing back, a sudden sheen of sweat present on his forehead. Alice slowly looked up, tears staining her cheeks, asking the one question that had haunted her dreams for years.

            “Why…did you…leave?” A simple question, but it contained within it the pain of a hole she thought could never be filled, as she was suddenly confronted with the father she had believed would never enter her life.

            His eye’s filled with pain, his voice carrying the sorrow of years of regret.

            “I…had no choice. I never wanted to leave the three of you, but…I had to return here.”

            Alice sniffled, numbness beginning to set in. She was rapidly feeling a sense of unreality, as if none of this was real and apt to vanish at any moment, and emotion had scattered to the winds.

            “And…where is ‘here?’ What is the story of all of this? And what about you?”

Her father sat back heavily in the chair, gathering his thoughts,

            “Perhaps it is best to start from the beginning…” he said.

            “Go ahead, I seem to have nothing but time here…”

            “Very well…” he responded. The tale began…

            Many eons ago, there was only one world within which all life existed. Within this world co-existed both the forces of magic and science, and here, all manner of fantastic beasts and monsters of legend arose. Time passed, and eventually the first ancestors of humanity appeared. They rapidly rose to take a position of power amongst the varied races of the land, learning all that they could of the forces that governed their world. They used vast amounts of magic to shape the world into an idyllic paradise, one where peace and harmony were not ideals, but rather commonly accepted facts.

            However, perfection could not last forever. From somewhere outside of their world, a dark force entered. Its mere touch was corrupting, and seemingly out of nowhere a legion of dark foes emerged to attack the world of humanity. They won great victories at first, for their foes were unprepared. However, with their great knowledge of magic, and their ability to learn, humanity proved to not be an easy foe. They fought back, slowing the onslaught of their foes, but even as they learned the ways of warfare, they found themselves unable to defeat their opponents.

            Nor was humanity itself free of corruption; the darkness lured over many of the lands greatest heroes, casting them under its dark hold, as they willingly betrayed their fellows for the promise of power. The tide began to turn once more, but against the forces of light.

            At this time, when hope seemed to fade away, a young mage exploring ancient ruins of unknown origin discovered a book written in strange runes. He returned with his prize, and with the help of his craft was able to decipher the message within. It detailed a spell, one that promised to seal forth the enemies of light by cutting them off from the forces of magic itself.

            The spell, however, came at a terrible cost. To win the war, magic itself would have to be torn from the world; it would create a new world, a plane that would contain all the magic of the world.

            The young mage brought the spell forth to the elder mages, delivering a means of possible salvation. The costs were weighed, and in the face of otherwise insurmountable odds, the choice was made to use the spell. The mage himself was chosen as the nexus, binding himself and his line to the new world.

            The casting brought forth great devastation. Many were carried along on the waves of power to the new world, but a far greater number were left behind. The wake left by the removal of magic brought forth natural disasters of cataclysmic power, scattering the people who remained. As for the dark forces, they were cast back into the void from whence they came, unable to survive in a magic-barren world. Any remaining creatures that needed the force slowly wasted away, unable to survive.

            Thus, where one world had once been, there were now two. The first became Earth, and the people there forgot their past, the only memories being myths told to children, and, within some, feelings that something was missing from the world. Thus did Earth advance.

            The other world, meanwhile, prospered. The line of Earos, the mage who had discovered the spell, remained strong for a time, maintaining the barriers that kept darkness exiled and the two worlds separate.

            However, as time passed, something went wrong. Somewhere among the shields, a small hole opened; not enough for another full-scale war, but enough that a shadow was able to be cast over the realm. Evil appeared once more, and conflict began again. The line was shattered, the descendants of Earos scattered.

            “It was into this world that I was born, the second prince in small kingdom. However, during my youth, something went wrong; one day while riding with my father, we were attacked. Within moments we were surrounded, and he was mortally wounded. In order to protect me, he used his last energy to cast a spell, one that sent me to the one safe place – your world, for there, the enemy still cannot enter. I was lost at first, for while we had progressed parallel in some ways, a magic-bereft world was entirely different from what I knew.”

            He paused, gazing at Alice; she sat there, taking it all in.

            “And…then what happened?” she asked quietly.

            “For a time, I wandered, lost. However, it seemed I was not the first to cross over- as I was about to give up hope, I was rescued by another from my world who had been exiled decades before in circumstances he refused to relate. He took me in, he taught me, and in doing so, I learned to adapt. And then, I met your mother…”

            “And you had two children and left us! You couldn’t even care to stay!” Alice spat angrily. She was met by a prolonged sigh, sadness present in his voice.

            “It…wasn’t liked that. I loved your mother, and both you and your sister, but…”

            “But not enough to stay!”

            “NO!” His voice radiated passion. “I had no choice but to return! I could have come back here at anytime; my benefactor had found a way soon after he had arrived, but he had chosen to stay because he had fallen in love…by the time his wife died, he felt himself too old to return. I would have been happy there, but for two things…” His voice dropped to a whisper, tinged with regret.

            “What two things?”

            “Firstly…the barriers. They were weakening, and this was allowing bits of magic to…leak…into your world. My benefactor had made a study of the shields, and I knew of a way to reinforce the spell, but it could only be done here.”

            “And?”

            “And secondly…THEY found me. I had to leave your mother, and my daughters, to keep you from danger. I returned here, but…” He broke off. “Well, that doesn’t matter as much right now. What does matter is you have come, something I hoped would not happen…”

            Alice sat back, taking this all in. This is all so…fantastic…but I know he’s telling the truth, somehow. But, where does all this lead?

            “So…what now?”

            “Now, you rest. I know this is all a lot for you to take in, and I don’t expect it to hit you easily. No,” he said, motioning for her to remain seated, “I can tell you aren’t feeling everything yet, and when it hits, it’s going to hit hard. It’s best you are somewhere comfortable for that.”

            Alice rose, finding herself numbly complying with his suggestion. Miriam was still waiting outside, and Alice felt herself led, robot-like, through the corridors once more to the bedroom. Miriam gently guided her onto the bed, and checked under her dress.

            “A little wet, but you don’t need a change yet…let’s get you into something less heavy…” she rummaged into the closet, producing a thin dressing gown. After removing Alice’s dress, she guided her into the gown and tucked her into the bed. As Miriam departed, gently closing the door, the room slowly dimmed into darkness. Alice lay there, attempting to absorb all she had just heard.

           Time passed, everything seeming unreal, as Alice thought. She thought of the history of a world she had never known, and thought of the father who had suddenly entered her life. A sob suddenly wracked her, and it opened a floodgate of chaotic emotion. Within moments, the full weight hit her, and she began crying hard into the pillow, the tears coming quickly now.

            Crying brought forth exhaustion, and still gently tearing, Alice fell into sleep.


 

Chapter 10: Trouble on the Home Front

 

            Alice woke up to hair matted with mucous and red, puffy eyes, the end results of her earlier outburst of sorrow. Groggily, she sat up, resting her weight on one hand as the other smoothed hair out of her face. She blinked, attempting to bring the room into focus, before darting her head towards the door at the sound of it opening. Miriam trotted in as if on cue, walking briskly over to Alice and removing the sheets.

            “My, my, you are a mess,” she remarked.

            “How…*yawn*…did you know I was awake?”

            “Oh, I have my talents, just as you have yours,” she responded, winking. “Now lay back and let’s get you cleaned up.”

            Miriam bent down, and Alice heard the sound of sloshing water. She curiously looked over the side of the bed, and jerked back as Miriam plunged a warm washcloth into her face.

            “Hold still!” she commanded, and Alice relaxed. Her face was washed off, and then Miriam proceeded to attend to her hair, rapidly restoring luster and softness to it. Feeling refreshed, Alice ran her fingers through her tresses, enjoying the luxuriating feel.

            “How did you get this so clean? That’s just ordinary water!”

            “Like I said,” Miriam began with a smirk, “I have my talents. Now then…” She dropped the cloth into the basin with a small splash and turned her attention to Alice’s lower body, lifting up the gown to check her diaper.

            “Definitely in need of a change,” she said, walking over to the closet. Returning a few moments later, she laid out wipes, powder, and a fresh diaper on the bed before un-taping Alice’s.

            “Legs up, please.”

            Alice complied, allowing Miriam to cleanse her with the wipes, and lowered her legs once the new diaper had been placed beneath. Powder rained forth, and then Miriam was taping the new one on, ensuring that it was snug with no holes for leaking.

            “There you go, dear. Now to change you into some day clothing…”

            She led Alice over to the closet, pulling out a pink T-shirt with a sleeping kitten on the front, and handed it over, gesturing for Alice to put it on. Alice removed the gown and slid on the shirt. Feeling awkward in just a T-shirt and diaper, she nervously stood there as Miriam gazed her over before burrowing into the closet once more, this time emerging with a pair of overalls. Alice allowed herself to be helped into them, and then put on the socks and tennis shoes Miriam had given her, and then tied her hair back into a ponytail. As she viewed herself in the mirror, she was startled to realize the overalls had snaps in the crotch.

            Lovely…I’m expected to wet myself…she thought, miffed. It was a problem, yes, but here it was like this was expected and not irregular. I wonder why…

            “So, um, why am I wearing relatively normal clothes now?” she asked curiously.

            “Because,” said Miriam, shrugging, “the closet is enchanted to produce whatever is most appropriate for the time. Thus, voila.”

            Well, that makes sense, since this world is supposed to be magic and all. That’s probably how she knew I was awake too, and how that wash cloth worked, and so on…

            “I wouldn’t mind having one of those for everyday use!” Miriam smiled at the comment, before pausing.

            “Is there anything else you need?”

            “Well…actually, I was hoping to see my father is its at all possible…” Miriam nodded briskly and gestured for Alice to follow. Once again, they entered the maze of twisting torchlit passages, Miriam striding purposefully through them with Alice hurrying to keep up. Nervousness kept intruding upon her thoughts, as she worried about what she would say or do. The knowledge that her father was alive and did care was a great relief, but there were still the years of not knowing, although the void was temporarily satisfied after her outburst of sorrow last night.

            Within what seemed like moments, they arrived, and Miriam left Alice standing at the door. She paused, hand hovering over the knob, before firmly grasping it and entering within. The candles cast dim shadows, the room barely illuminated.

            “Hello? Dad? Are you here?” she asked hesitantly. Receiving no response, she slowly crept over to the shadow-cloaked desk, and was surprised to find it empty when she arrived. She walked around to the chair and sat down, and at that moment the candles flared up to full brightness, banishing shadow from the room. Blinking away tears from the sudden onslaught of light, Alice looked down at the desk. The one notable feature was a closed book sitting on top. The title was written in indecipherable runes, but as Alice gazed further the book began glowing and suddenly the meaning became clear to her.

            “Tales and Prophecies of Earos…” she whispered quietly, slowly opening the cover. The first page was blank, the second contained the title once more, and the third contained a table of contents. “The Fall of Luthen…The Tale of the Great Li’Than…” she muttered, somehow able to understand the arcane writing. “The Incident at Naiar…The Second Shadow War…the…hey, wait, Shadow War?” She flipped to the page indicated and began reading. “It will begin with the finding of a hole, but how it will end cannot be known. The forces of darkness will seek to re-unite what was separated, to claim eternally and cast into eternal darkness…the Light will array under one champion, one who is…”

            At that moment, she was disturbed by a sudden dull boom reverberating throughout the room. Moments later, another boom, much louder in intensity echoed through the walls, and then a harsh screeching filled the air. Alice stood up in surprise, instinctually grabbing the book and holding it to her chest. Warmth flooded into her diaper as the door burst from its hinges, smoke billowing in, a shadowy figure striding forth into the room.

            “Stay…stay back!” she shrieked, holding the book in front of her as an ineffective shield. The figure howled and burst through the smoke, revealing a brutish man brandishing a sword, charging headlong at her.

            Alice’s response was automatic, done without thinking. She dropped the book, thrusting her arms forward, hands focused on his chest, and a massive burst of energy erupted from within, blasting the warrior backwards into the hall once more. Alice gazed at her palms in surprise, before snapping her head back up the room was suddenly filled with assailants rushing in through the door. She grabbed the book once more, backing up into she impacted the wall. The figures slowly fanned out and she began edging away along the wall, before being stopped as she was cornered.

            She couldn’t understand a word of what was being said, only that the lead figure pointed at her and said something; the response wasn’t to the leads liking and a brief argument erupted, until the larger of the two asserted dominance by knocking his ally out. He yelled something out and the entire company drew forth swords and began advancing on Alice.

            “No! Stay away! Please!” she begged, but they did not halt. Once more she dropped the book, attempting to summon whatever power had just protected her, but nothing happened. They drew closer, and the first blade began to descend. Alice closed her eyes, waiting for the end…

            It didn’t come. The sword was met in mid-swing by another, followed by a short gurgle, sudden thud, and cacophony of yelling from the enemy company. Alice tightly clenched her eyes as noise of battle erupted around her, leaving her quivering in fear. After what seemed an eternity but was probably only a few seconds, the clash ended with a final thud. Alice slowly opened her eyes, looking about to see the enemies felled around her. Standing in the midst of them…

            “Kaleros! You saved me again!” Alice leapt to her feet and crossed the room. As she rushed to him, he sank to the ground. “You’re…you’re hurt!” He was covered in gashes, but the most serious wound was in his abdomen where one hand now was tightly holding into place some torn cloth.

            “Only…doing…my job…” he said in between ragged gasps. “I’ll…be fine…once this…is bandaged…” Using some other torn strips of cloth he bound the makeshift patch into place, and slowly stood up. “Come, we must get you…out.”

            “But what about your…”

            “It’s serious, yes, but nothing the healers can’t handle, and it will be a while yet before it needs to be attended to.”

            “But why are we under attack?”

            Kaleros did not respond, simply gazing at her.

            “Oh,” she gulped visibly. “Maybe getting out is a good idea after all.”

            “Unfortunately, this area is warded and we cannot teleport here…follow me, stay close, and if worst comes to worst…” He handed her an amulet. “You must find your way outside with or without me, and there focus on the amulet, willing it to take you home. Remember, whatever happens, do not stop. Follow the green torches…”

            At this, he gestured for them to move towards the door, and slowly began moving. The wound visibly pained him, but as they entered the hall and began moving down, the effects seemed to diminish, strength returning, until they were running at full speed through the smoky halls. As they ran, Alice noticed the torches ahead of them turning green, only returning to normal once they had passed. Shrieks, roars, and the clanging of weaponry were all around them, but so far nothing had impeded their way. Alice was beginning to think they would escape unmolested when they round a turn and suddenly natural light was pouring into the corridor.

            “Almost there…” Alice said, panting with effort. She continued running for the entrance, and was sure she would make it when something caught her foot and she fell forwarded, impacting the ground with a sharp cry of pain. Kaleros whirled, immediately drawing his swords and sounding a battle cry. As he charged passed her, Alice’s foot was abruptly freed and she twisted around to gaze at the melee. He was locked in combat with some foul nightmarish beast that seemed to be made of sludge and black tentacles. His blades sung, slashing off appendage after appendage, but there was a seemingly unending legion of them.

            “Milady, RUN!” he roared. “You must escape!”

            “But I can’t leave you!” she called back, scrambling to her feet.

            “Getting you out is all that matters! Now RUN!” At that moment, the creature slipped into his defenses, ensnaring one of his arms and ripping the first sword free. Alice shrieked as he was rapidly snared and enveloped by the creature, and began running as fast as she could as it began lumbering towards her. The daylight beckoned, and she was nearly free. Her ankle was encircled once more but she kicked hard and dislodged it, stumbling into the sunlight where she grasped the amulet and focused on getting home. The world began fading into fog just as the creature burst outdoors, a roar of impotent rage crashing into Alice’s ears as she faded away.

             Then, she was in the area between the worlds, where she weakly collapsed onto the ground.

            “He…sacrificed himself for me. But…why? Why am I so important?” No answer came from the curling mists, and she wearily focused on home, fading slowly out of the between.

            She started awake inside of her own bed. Hurling back the covers, she was shocked to see herself still wearing the same clothing she had escaped in. She walked over to the mirror, gazing at her reflection. Her face was scratched from the fall, and she was rather dirty, but other than that appeared alright. Still…if I’m wearing here what I wore there…then I know now without a doubt it’s real. And that means someone really died saving me, and that real people were getting killed because of me, and…She broke down at this point, unable to handle the sudden feelings of guilt. She knew it wasn’t her fault, but couldn’t help but think people were dying because of her mere existence.

           She heard sudden footsteps as she continued crying, attempting to choke back tears and only bringing forth coughing. The footsteps paused as she snuffled loudly, before they resumed, much louder than before. Her door burst open and Michelle flew in, looking about wildly before noticing Alice sitting on the floor.

            “Oh…my…God…” said Michelle weakly, sinking to the floor. Alice slowly raised her head as Michelle sat there, dazed. Alice attempted to speak before lapsing into another coughing fit. After a few moments, she got that under control, and looked at her sister.

            “Hi…” she said softly. Michelle sat there, unmoving, unresponsive. “Is…something wrong?” Alice asked, somewhat confused now.

            “N…No…” came the reply before Michelle suddenly burst forward, grabbing Alice and hugging her tightly. “You’re safe, and home, and that’s what matters.” Alice awkwardly hugged her back, still utterly mystified.

            “Did I miss something?”

            “It’s…It’s just…I thought I’d lost you!” Here, Michelle began crying.

            Michelle…crying? But…she never cries. Ever. What happened?

            Her own dilemma forgotten, Alice did what she could to return the compassion and understanding she had been receiving the past few days, allowing Michelle to pour forth what sorrow she contained. A few minutes past, and finally Michelle began calming down.

            “So, um…what happened?” Alice asked once more. Michelle gazed at her, confused.

            “You mean you don’t know?”

            “Um…no…” came the hesitant reply.

            “You…went missing two days ago. Mom came in to say goodnight, and you were gone, and then you didn’t come back and you never do anything like that and it was so strange and then we thought you’d been kidnapped but nobody called and then we thought it was worse and were hoping the police would find you and now you are just home and…what happened?”

            “Missing?” asked Alice, shocked. “I haven’t been…missing…oh my…” I’m…actually going there for real now. She looked at her clothes. All the way…and time is passing in both places…

            “Don’t you remember?” asked Michelle.

            “Well, um, honestly…” Alice was at a loss for words. She’ll think I’m crazy…no, I should tell her…no, it wouldn’t work…what can I do…maybe if I say I… “I don’t really remember anything past going to bed that night…”

            “Oh…Well, we had better go see Mom…she’s been near catatonic since you vanished, I’m really worried.” With that, they both stood, and Michelle led Alice downstairs.

            “Mom? Mom? Where are you?” Michelle called. There was no reply.

            “She must be on the couch…she’s been laying there more or less nonstop, just watching TV and barely talking…”

            Alice allowed Michelle to lead her, still lost in thought, when she suddenly had a horrifying realization, as they turned to enter the family room.

            “WAIT!” she cried…