Committed to her new life, McKenna struggled to fit in. At times it was confusing. Worse, Kevin was often impatient. She remembered her father’s words on making a sale. Pay attention; focus on the buyer. She was careful to “like” all of Kevin’s “Neighborhood” posts.
Comments were often difficult to decode. Kevin explained that many of the Seventh Versers were new. Some were from other areas of Seven D, farther from the Great Barrier.
If it hadn’t been disloyal, she would have messaged one of her human friend players, Riley (Mephisto Warrior) to ask him what he thought of Block Chairman Martin. Were the new smiley faces clues or part of a different game?
On Willow Island, the bows of willow trees shaded a waterfall. Limestone shot with emeralds, turquoise and deep reds framed the edge of the lagoon. Not role-playing, she was Willow Sprite, a water nymph with silver skin that glistened in the cool sun. Peering into the water, she saw the tilted eyes of her beautiful face.
But, itching doubt still threatened from her mind’s edge. Where, in reality, did she go? Was Willow Island an actual place? Was it created, as Kevin told her, from a cloud of stardust? If it was not on Earth, was the island a place in our universe? She was afraid to know. She feared the drabness of being sane. She suspected that doubters like Mephisto Warrior, Green Prince Sorcerer, and Moon Deer were invited to join Seventh Neighborhood for tests. Kevin explained, “We need to evaluate and understand how to make them come through.”
Moon Deer flirts with Kevin. McKenna knows her password and reads her secret posts. He always responds with LOL’s to Deer’s lame jokes. It’s not like the way he jokes with McKenna, not at all like what they have.
Until Kevin fulfills his promise, she will humor Moon Deer. She waited until “Welcome to the Seventh Neighborhood!” pulsated, the words shrinking and ballooning until they changed color.
Lights flashed and her hands were green; then they became deep purple. The desk melted into a waterfall. The bed changed to a swirl of colored stone. The bedroom walls were miles of distant forest cloaked in mist. Willow Sprite and Quiver’s Truth sighed as they tossed pebbles into the lagoon. They counted the ripples. There were always seven.
She heard wolves howling in a haze of distant trees. She summoned her courage, asking, “Where are we, really?” He pressed his long body to hers and kissed her on her nose. Grinning back at her, he jumped up to chase a deer as it hurried into the foliage.
The mist faded and became a wall. The swirl of rocks changed into a bedspread. She was back. McKenna stared at the monitor. An email from firstname.lastname@example.org popped up. Lindsey must have a new address. “It’s Riley, McKen. They can’t find Mephisto, McKen. Oh McKenna, PLEASE BE CAREFUL!!”
There was a link to a news report. A gamer had gone missing. Searching his apartment, the police found stacks of boxes, blood traces, and something viscous, a slime substance they can’t identify. Why would Lindsey send this? Lindsey was losing it, obviously jealous and paranoid.
Regretting her question, she wished she could send Kevin a rose. In one of their “private’ messages, he had confided that his world had no roses, no flowers, only the waves of “thists” that gathered at the Great Barrier. “When predators crawl near toward the Barrier, thists scream a warning,” he had explained.
She loved his stories about his nurse. During his first growth, Kevin’s nurse had warned him to be still or he would not grow enough to complete his first molt. The nurse warned that a giant krant could eat him come slaughter season. Krants, he explained, hurl themselves against outer force fields, trying to crack and attach to the Barrier Wall. “Oh Kevin, be careful,” she urged him. The thought of him dying, of her facing the world with only the memory of a tragic love, was overwhelming.
“They are seldom a threat,” Kevin assured her, “because krants wither quickly, and thists kill them. The most dangerous are scrathes, tiny creatures undetected by thists. Scrathe tentacles secrete an acid, which create pockets where they cocoon themselves. Later, when the scrathes emerge, they prey upon Seven D young, who lay helpless after the Sacred Spawn. Worse, the young are often unprotected because adults become indifferent during the Sleep of Three. Thists too can be dangerous. During the second growth, ravenous and aching for the joy of slaughter, one must be careful.” McKenna perceived just a hint of fear when he confided this. His fear made her love him more.
“I travel only in the smoothest of eggs,” he assured her. “Egg” was their private joke. McKenna had suggested “egg” when he searched for a word to describe the thing he used for travel, something wider and rounder on one end than the other. “It must have a smooth surface,” he said. “Any small imperfection, the tiniest groove or rough patch obscured by the gleam, any break in the surface, can result in destruction. Undetected, thists attach. They can suck you through the shell, and your hunt is over. I’ve witnessed it,” he said. “Thists become flush with scarlet as they feed, and they’re beautiful as roses.”
No, she will not desert him. Who knows how much time we have? However much, she will cherish every second.
As she put Mac into sleep mode, she heard the doorbell. Careful not to disturb the décor, she looked through a window. Linds. She hesitated, wondering if she ignored the doorbell, would Lindsey go away? Probably not and… this might be the last time I see her. Her heart pounding in her ears, she moved to answer it.
“Only a crack,” she whispered. She placed her foot against the door.
“McKenna…” Lindsey stumbled on her words. Former best friend’s hair was cut ― something new. Soft curls framed her round face. She wore a long, blue sundress with daisies on the hem.
“What is it Linds? I’m kinda busy now.” She caught the scent of newly washed hair; Linds liked sweet-smelling shampoos. McKenna used to tease… It had been a while since she had bathed. She tried to remember the last time she wore something new.
“Just worried about you, Ken… maybe we could…” Lindsey looked like she might cry.
“I’m just fine Linds ― you are a worry wart.”
“C-c-call m-m-me.” Lindsey stuttered when she was nervous, “Okay, Ken? Please?”
“Absolutely will when I get a minute. Bye, Linds.” She shut the door. “Oh God,” she whimpered. Then she took a shower and washed her hair. It will be tonight.
At ten o’clock, McKenna sat at her desk and waited. The pink wall was now behind her, a last minute Kevin request, and if another, one of the others in Seventh Neighborhood had asked, she would have refused.
A chirp signaled a message from a fan. Would she let him “see” or would she give him a task and then perhaps, let him see? She deleted it. Green Prince Sorcerer IM’d, “Seen Moon Deer? We were hookin’ up, and she doesn’t answer. I even texted, but it’s like she’s fallen off the planet.”
He jumps up to chase a deer. McKenna’s hands shook. Why am I worried? “No worries,” she answered, “Moon Deer’s a flake.”
At 10:30, she despaired. No Kevin; no Seventh Neighborhood. As she rose, her lips quivering, a whine blasted, loud and sharp until it became a siren. She pressed her hands to her ears. A gray light filled the room. Then waves of color poured from the pink wall. Now? Oh Kevin, my darling, is it now?
Yes! She was Willow Sprite and Quiver’s Truth was at her side. He traced her jaw. Something’s wrong. She moved to touch her lover’s hand and discovered that unless she turned it, she couldn’t see her own hand. This Willow Sprite was flat, a creature of two dimensions. Her flat, silver arm leaned against him. She was thin as paper.
He sang in her paper ear, “Fold.”
She bent and he pressed and creased. Her head bounced on her shins. Wolves were howling. They’re not howls, they’re screams! She slid open the lids of her eyes. Am I breathing? I must be, but I don’t feel it.
She looked up. Pink boxes floated above her in a gray room. Her thin heart swelled as she saw Quiver’s Truth sitting on a silver egg. Oh, Kevin. Swinging his long legs like Errol Flynn in an old movie, he jumped off the egg and moved toward her. He wants to kiss me, she thought. The screams grew louder. Fear clouded his blue eyes. Oh Kevin, you’re afraid of the thists.
She wondered what he saw. Timidly, she asked if he could restore her third dimension. Kevin laughed and nodded. Tiny strings shot from his mouth, dancing and growing longer as they attached to her. There was a gentle tug. She could feel her face again! She was becoming round! She stretched her silver arms and the supple body her fans will miss. Then Willow’s silver arms became the trembling arms of McKenna. Her heart sank. Would he still love her?
He kissed her hand, “We’ll be as one, my lady.” Waves of bliss flowed through her until her lover’s mouth widened, and the lithe body of the young archer swelled, becoming something huge and altogether different. Does he have eyes? He must, but where are they? Oh, I see them. Like little marbles on one side, there’s a fish with eyes like that. Why don’t I… It doesn’t matter.
Kevin’s body rippled with excitement as his chin rolls enclosed her arm. McKenna wanted to scream along with the thists as Kevin devoured her. “As one,” she dreamed as she saw the gray of his massive flesh shimmer. From slits near Kevin’s snout (gills?) a thick clear fluid oozed and dripped. That’s the slime they found in the basement. Sorry Lindsey.
His folds enveloped her and flushed with scarlet, as beautiful as any rose.
Marjorie Kaye Noble lives in Southern California. After working as an actress and then as a casting director, she became a credentialed English teacher. Her first book The Demon Rift, a horror novel, is available on Amazon Kindle. She discusses The Demon Rift in a blog interview by Ginger Nuts of Horror (“Five Minutes With Marjorie Kaye”). She has completed her second book Tales From Babylon Dreams, a science fiction novel that takes place in virtual reality. Her short story “The Why of Denise” was published on Strange Fictions-zine. Non-fiction work includes The Huffington Post articles concerning the nature and history of dreams. Currently, she is working on her third novel The Daevas.
Featured image CC0 Creative Commons by Peter Pham via Flickr