Chelsea thought surprise had vanished with hope, but then the man arrived at the window. Two fingers snapped, and the pane swung open. He slipped inside, tilting broad, spiral horns left and right to get through, and his hooves clopped softly onto the linoleum.
“You never called,” he said.
Her eyes watered, and she felt across the pale chenille blanket for the morphine button. From the hallway, the squeak of orthopedic shoes. Somewhere an intercom crackled fitfully. Not the silent Avalon that Chelsea had imagined as a doleful teenager, but at least she had the power to make it go away. She found the slick plastic cylinder and settled one finger over the red button. He reached out and took her hand in his.
“Don’t vanish, not yet. I told you I would come again.”
The sweats had started, and despite the wall monitor that said eighty, a shiver took her. His face something glimpsed in an oak grove outside a schoolhouse, a place where lonely girls might play before coming home to lonely houses.
“Fucking hallucinations,” she whispered, pushing away memories of lips that had scored her flesh, left bloody weals that should not have pleased. “I’m going to sleep now.”
Chelsea dreamed flowers. The corsage she’d worn to senior prom, where Warren Sanderson had been too drunk to finish in the back seat of his Edsel. The bouquet of Edelweiss her sister had bought when they flew to Geneva one Christmas. Roses on her parents’ grave, as if flowers brought rebirth. Plastic daisies in a bucket by the door of her apartment. The orchids at Dr. Zimmermann’s elbow when he had said there would be no escape this time.
Among the flowers, buzzing bees and flitting hands and mouths voicing languages not hers to understand.
The sun cast rectangles of warmth across Chelsea’s bed, enough to take the chill from her legs. A hospital table extended across her lap, set at just the right height for bed-bound hands. She reached for one of the sheets of brilliant, dappled origami paper that lay on it and hesitantly lifted one. A perfect square that could transform into anything. She rolled it in her hands, trying to decide.
“Make me three fine paper fruits,” the oak-man had said in a dream just before dawn, “and I’ll be there at the end.”
No promise that she would become one thing or another, only that she would not be alone.
Chelsea thought about the way that her body burned at night now, tingling with every hunger she had ever known. Her fingers worked slowly, folding and scoring. She remembered a tiny mandarin orange one summer by the sea-salt thick in the air, a jet of acid against her palate, and sweetness that rolled over her teeth like a wave.
J. T. Glover has published short fiction in Dark Recesses and Underground Voices, among other venues, and he is hard at work on a novel involving gardens, ghosts, Seattle, and numinous wildlife. Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, he currently resides in Richmond, Virgina with his wife and a not inconsiderable number of aquatic friends. By day he is an academic reference librarian specializing in the Humanities.