Tuesday, July 28, 2009

She licked her lips like a hungry wolf

They had been friends for ages it seemed; a decade of laughter and tears. Despite several moves that forced miles between them, they managed to keep in touch the old fashioned way; they wrote letters.

Maia loved stationary, and derived great joy from acquiring a vast array of paper on which to send the words that described a snapshot of her life at any given moment. The drawers of her desk were filled with paper in colors that ran the rainbow, was textured or patterned, and even some handmade with flower petals pressed into it.

It didn’t bother her that Jason only ever wrote on plain white binder paper. His tidy handwriting always hovered ever so slightly above the blue lines, the black ink from the fountain pen she given him always stark against the pale paper.

They exchanged thoughts and ideas, philosophies and hopes. They shared the mundane happenings of their lives, as well as their deepest desires and dreams; nothing was taboo.

Slipping into her favorite fringed sweater Maia made her way outside to drop a letter in the mailbox, the thick lavender envelope addressed in the sweeping lines of the calligraphy she’d learned and she smiled as she dropped it into the mail slot.

Turning on her slippered heel she headed back up her front walk, pausing when the headlights of a car splashed across the front of her house like vandals with a bucket of white paint. With a confused frown she watched as the taxi door opened and Jason emerged, his own handsome face very serious.

Jason paid the driver and slung the strap on his black leather duffel bag over one shoulder, standing in the middle of the driveway as though frozen to the spot. It had been at least five years since they had seen each other, their letters never containing photos, their words the only pictures, and he had forgotten how beautiful she was.

Maia’s last letter to him was full of heartache and was stained with her tears. Her boyfriend of two years had left her for another woman, her best friend, and she was devastated. Reading her words had stirred such anger in him that his vision actually went red around the edges and he’d had to take several deep breaths to regain his calm.

He’d always thought of her as a sister, his to protect and comfort, but seeing her standing there in the dark altered his reality. She wasn’t his sister. She wasn’t helpless and in need of his protection. She was strong and independent and in that instant he wanted nothing more than to bathe in her nearness.

Maia could see whatever inner battle he was fighting in the changes of his expression. He looked angry, then anxious, then stunned and finally reluctant. She was sure her own face had run the gambit of emotional responses too, and with effort she pushed them all aside and focused on feeling the energy he was giving off.

He wanted her, and that knowledge sent a great swell of lust crashing through her. Arching one eyebrow at him she licked her lips like a hungry wolf, eyeing him from under heavy lids, and the combined scent of their desire carried them toward each other.

They collided like waves, liquid and turbulent, eager to consume and drown them in their passions. Jason broke free from her lips, gasping for air as she sought to pull him under again.

“Maia, I…”

She buried her fingers in his hair, silencing him with a gentle tug, “Don’t tell me, show me.” With that direction they made their way inside to shake the pillars of heaven.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

I'd laugh, if I could remember how

I felt I’d gone crazy enough that I’d laugh, but I couldn’t remember how. It seemed all I could remember how to do was sleep, and even that was a fight that I lost more often than not. I lay in the middle of my bed, my body naked and exposed amid the wide expanse of the king size mattress, making me feel like driftwood lost at sea.

I stared with unfocused eyes at the fan blades spinning slowly overhead, the quiet hum of the motor competing with the steady drips of water from the bathroom faucet – humdriphumdriphumdrip. Nothing brought me comfort; I wanted only to tear down the world around me, convinced that only destruction would bring me peace.

I never expected it to end like this; frankly I never expected it to end, so my mind was refusing to process the fact that it had. She had been gone only a day. One day. It was a moment and an eternity all at the same time and my every cell presented me with its own memory of what had been: her caress, her scent and her laugh washed over me like waves of untouchable perfection now forever out of reach.

The phone rang; I ignored it. I curled onto my side and closed my eyes, squeezing them tighter and tighter with each persistent scream from the phone. I buried my face in her pillow, inhaling the scent of her shampoo that lingered there; honeysuckle, the scent of my heaven, which now only brought pain.

She had quite literally fallen into my life at my brother’s graduation party, tripping on his cat and falling into my arms as I lunged forward to catch her. The surprise in her smoky gray eyes refused to give way to embarrassment, and finally amusement won when she burst out laughing. That had been five years and a wedding ago.

Each night we had lain in bed, fingers laced together as we talked softly about our high/lows; the high and low point of our day. My low varied day to day, but my high every night was lying in bed with her, and she prodded me endlessly for something new; nothing ever displaced her as the best part of my day.

Our morning routine was the same every day; up at 6:00, shower, get dressed, pack up lunch and head out the door to carpool to our respective jobs. Yesterday hadn’t felt different from any other day; not to me anyway. She had seemed a little off from the moment she woke up, her gaze drifting off and staring into space not blankly, but as though she were listening to something only she could hear.

The longer it went on the more concerned I’d become, asking her repeatedly if she was all right, and she assured me she was. The drive to work was uneventful, and as I kissed her goodbye a feeling of dread began creeping over me, compelling me to beg her to stay with me and play hooky for the day. She laughed, called me silly, and climbed from the car to head into her office.

Halfway through the day she had called me, her voice quiet and sounding far away. She told me she loved me, but her dad had called and she needed to go see him.

Her father had died a year earlier.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Eat Hot Death

I walked into the bar looking for a one night stand. I didn’t want complications and I didn’t want strings, I’d had all that and now I just wanted sex. I wanted the passion that had leaked away after so many years together. I wanted the mystery that gets solved when nothing about your lover is unknown. I wanted to feel beautiful and desirable and important, even if for only a little while.

Kicking Matthew out had been easier than I thought it would be. Despite ten years together it had been at least five since I’d started feeling more like his roommate and less like his girlfriend. He had stopped calling me sweetness and doll face, replacing them with hey or just a grunt. He’d stopped being interested in any of the things we’d once had in common, and he was spending more and more time away with his buddies.

It wasn’t like I hadn’t tried to keep things alive: surprise dinners, sexy lingerie and a plethora of new sex toys, but when my efforts were consistently met with apathy, indifference or disinterest I finally stopped trying. Relegated to oversized T-shirts and cotton panties, TV dinners and virtually no conversation at all, we slid down into a depressing routine.

I could remember the exact moment when I realized I was letting life slip by in a cloud of mediocre companionship; Matthew had been sitting on the sofa in his dingy boxers and mismatched socks watching the newest trash reality show. I’d seen him like that a hundred times, it wasn’t a new ensemble, but seeing him there I was filled with such an overwhelming sense of panic that I had to run to the bathroom to throw up.

It was the very next day that I had told him he needed to go. At first he was shocked, his mouth opening and closing like a landed fish, and then the yelling started. He went on about how I’d miss him and what would I do without him, all the while angrily packing his things. I knew he’d have to make several trips, after all you can accumulate a lot of crap in ten years, but the moment the door shut behind him that first time I felt light enough to walk on air.

Once the last of his things were out of the house I spent weeks celebrating. I celebrated by reclaiming my friends who had drifted away. I celebrated by throwing out all the clothes that had displayed the apathy I’d saturated myself in, replacing them with things that reminded me I was attractive and female. I spent time on my outward appearance so it would reflect the freedom I felt inside.

And now here I stood, a solitary hunter searching for worthy prey. My black hair had been cut into a steep A-line, the heavy locks framing my face while a wisp of bangs softened my hairline. My make-up was simple save the deep red lipstick that matched my dress perfectly. The silk felt like a caress of fingers when it fluttered against my thighs, the thin straps crisscrossing between my shoulder blades.

I wasn’t shy, having discarded the need for timidity with my oversized T-shirts, and spotting an intriguing face across the bar I picked up the shot I’d ordered and walked directly toward him. He was sitting with a group of his friends, two empty beer pitchers standing like valiant soldiers who had given their all, and it was his friends who noticed me first. One by one their faces turned in my direction, their gazes boldly looking me up and down, and by the time I reached the table his green gaze had found me.

I stood silently for a moment, simply staring at him while his friends made testosterone laden innuendos. I sat the shot glass down in front of him and smiled, “Buy you a drink?”

He looked at it dubiously, “What is it?”

“It’s called Eat Hot Death,” I replied, placing my hands flat on the table and leaning toward him, forcing him to lean back to meet my eyes.

“Sounds like a hangover waiting to happen.”

“Perhaps, but isn’t that typically a reasonable price for what comes before it?” I asked, straightening up and several heads turned as I walked over to the jukebox, dropping a quarter into the slot and making a selection. Turning back to him my eyes made it clear that I expected him to join me and with encouragement from his friends he got to his feet.

Frank Sinatra’s voice crooned out The Way You Look Tonight as he moved toward me, stopping right in front of me and I wordlessly reached up to push the heavy leather coat off of his broad shoulders, tossing it back at his friends.

His breath was coming fast and he visibly tried to slow it down, taking a deep lungful of air and letting it out slowly as I stood a mere six inches away. Placing one arm around my waist he took my hand as I wrapped my arm across his shoulders and we began moving together.

I could feel all the eyes in the bar on us; I could feel the emotion that was stirred by the simple movement of our bodies. My eyes never left his and neither of us spoke; only the music and the feel of our bodies pressed together existed, and the three minute song seemed to go on and on.

The silence that fell when the song ended was like being doused in cold water and he tried to step away but I refused to release him, my arm holding him against the length of my body. The asking in my eyes was plain, and my answer was in his. I released him so he could retrieve his coat, and I don’t think his friends’ crass comments even penetrated his ears.

Making his way back to me I gestured at the untouched shot glass with a small nod of my head, “You forgot your hangover,” I said softly.

He smiled at me, a fiery flash of white teeth promising passion, “You’ll see to it I feel hung-over in the morning, won’t you?”

I gave my own wicked smile in return as we made our way out of the bar, “You better believe it.”

Monday, July 6, 2009

Illusions can kill when used with skill

She made me weak. I couldn’t deny her anything and on some level I knew that wasn’t healthy, I knew I needed to stop spoiling her, but I couldn’t help myself. It wasn’t that she expected it, needed or demanded it; it was the way her face lit up when I brought her things that made me want to do it again and again.

She was made happy by the simplest things: a flower, a pretty shell or a lovely leaf, anything found rather than bought. Often when I presented her with my token of affection she looked at it as though she’d never seen it before, her eyes sparking with a child’s innocent wonder.

Each gift found a home through careful consideration; stones and shells were arranged in bowls around her tiny apartment and flowers and leaves were pressed between the pages of the old books I bought her second hand. A rose could be found between the pages of Romeo and Juliet. A particularly bright Aspen leaf was in Walt Whitman’s book Leaves of Grass.” A tumbled shark’s tooth was fashioned into a necklace, which she never took off.

She had a quality I’d never before encountered, an enthusiasm and appreciation for everything, nothing was too mundane to fascinate and enthrall her. Her vivaciousness was infectious, and I found that it was slowly rubbing the apathy and cynicism off the surface of my life.

She enhanced my awareness of things everyone takes for granted; guiding my fingers through lush grass just so I’d know its texture, feeding me bite sized morsels of things I would have shied away from if not for her persistence and laying in the sand on a cloudless day just to listen to the varying tones of the water.

The first time we’d slept together I was as single-minded as any other man would have been with such a divine creature in his bed, rushing toward the finish line as though there was a prize for getting there first. Patiently she taught me that there was much more to intimacy than I had imagined, and while frustrating at first, I learned to take pleasure in touch, scent and sound; the run became a marathon versus the sprint it had been.

The only aspect of her that perplexed me was her evasiveness when I asked about her family or her past. She skillfully dodged my questions like a champion slalom skier dodging flags on a mountainside, and I knew no more about her now than I did when she first came into my life almost a month before.

I had been sitting alone on the beach, only Johnny Walker to keep me company as I contemplated the shambles my life had become. My job was going no where and my girlfriend of five years had been cheating on me with my best friend, screwing him in our own bed while I was working. All the ways of getting even were coursing through my alcohol addled brain when she stepped out of the pre-dawn fog, a vision in white that sobered me instantly.

She looked lost, and I’m sure in that moment I looked found.

And now here I was, standing at the end of the pier with her, the smoky hues of the setting sun filtered through low clouds and bathing us in muted color. Her message had concerned me, asking me to meet her here because we had to talk; and everyone knows nothing good comes after that phrase.

As she explained that she wasn’t from my world I tried to understand what she meant; was she crazy? Did I care if she was? She held my hands tight, tears leaking silently from her eyes to roll over her flawless cheeks. She professed her love for me, thanking me for all I had taught her, sparing worried glances at the sun as it dipped closer and closer to the horizon.

I didn’t understand, I didn’t want to understand, and her words while soft and as gentle as possible wounded me at the core; with these wounds it would take decades for me to bleed out. Lifting the shark’s tooth necklace over her head she pressed it into my hand, begging that I not forget her and with the cryptic parting words of “Speak to the ocean, and speak to me.” She kissed me once hard and then dove off the end of the pier just as the sun disappeared.

I was too stunned to move at first, paralyzed by my own pain. Moving on numb feet I peered over the edge, blinking at the lightening flash of silver that dove beneath the waves. My mind whirled, it wasn’t possible was it? Could she have been… I hesitated to even think it. I stared down at the necklace and realized that illusions can kill when used with skill, and while not intentional, her illusion had killed part of who I’d become.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Behind the veil of water

Finally, some solitude. Kyra had fled the city the moment her shift ended on Friday, having packed her car the night before. She drove toward the mountains, eagerly awaiting the chance to re-center herself; no car noise, ringing phones, rumbling trains or chattering people.

Kyra had felt off kilter for months, unable to focus on anything for very long, and fighting the overwhelming feeling that she was drowning in her own life. Typically she headed to the ocean to recharge her batteries, letting the waves lap at her feet and burying her fingers in the sand always made her feel calm again.

Today she was being drawn toward her friend Erin’s cabin. She knew Erin wasn’t home, she was spending the summer touring Italy but she also knew that it was perfectly fine that she use the cabin in her absence.

Turning off the main highway, Kyra spent the next hour driving down a narrow dirt road that became progressively more and more rutted, bouncing her around like a ping pong ball in a dryer. The sun was setting behind the pressing stands of evergreen trees, their peaks silhouetted against the orange light like black brush strokes.

As she rounded the final turn the cabin came into view, its steeply sloped roof mimicking the shape of the trees around it. Erin had built the cabin in a way that would have minimal impact on the forest; no trees had been cleared, no electrical wiring had been run and there was no running water, only a deep well and nearby river.

Stopping the car beside the house, Kyra turned the engine off with a sigh. Climbing out she inhaled deeply of the fresh mountain air, letting the scent of sharp pine and rotting needles fill her body like a cup. Lifting her duffle bag and small ice chest from the back seat, she made her way up the front steps, slipping her key into the lock and moving into the dark interior.

Kyra spent the next 15 minutes getting settled, which only involved lighting candles so she could see, putting her things in the single loft bedroom and opening one of the bottles of wine she had brought with her.

Slipping into the navy blue sweater that she always left on the hook behind the front door, she picked up her wine glass and slipped out onto the porch, sinking down into one of the rockers Erin’s father built for her.

The night was filled with the sounds of the unseen inhabitants of the forest. Cicadas sang loudly in the trees, small animals scampered through the underbrush, and in the distance the river roared on its way to the ocean. The moon rose overhead, shining down full and heavy and draping everything in a gossamer blanket of light.

Kyra saw something move out of the corner of her eye, just a brief flash of action that pulled her gaze, but when she looked she saw only trees. The rustle of leaves pulled her attention back to the front just in time for her to see the nude form of a man dash into the shadows of the trees. Normally she would have done the smart thing and gone into the house, locking the door behind, but the shimmer of iridescent light that followed in his wake pushed her common sense onto the back burner.

Setting her glass aside she rose to her feet and moved down the steps as quietly as she could, moving to follow him into the night. The blanket of pine needles muffled her sandaled feet, making her stealthier than she’d thought she could manage.

Again the slim line moved across her path in a flash of pale skin and dark hair.

Kyra followed. The sound of the river grew louder; helping to mask any noise she might make, even the startled scream that burst from her lips when a slender hand touched her shoulder was drowned out. Spinning around to face the owner of the hand she flailed, her arms wind milling in an effort to regain her balance, but it was the long arms of the nude man wrapping around her that kept her on her feet.

He held her against the length of his body, the green of his eyes visible even in the weak filtered moonlight. Kyra didn’t struggle, his touch gave her a sense of calm she’d never felt before and she wanted that sensation always.

He released her slowly and Kysa felt like someone was pulling her out of her own skin, the feeling almost painful, and she whimpered as her own hands shot out to clutch at his forearms. His smile seemed to shine with its own light as he caressed her cheek a moment before taking her by the hand and leading her deeper into the forest.

Kyra followed without question, unaware and uncaring where he led her as long as he stayed with her. It wasn’t until he stopped walking that she looked around, finding herself standing at the edge of a large pool fed by a thundering waterfall. The man released her hand and smiled at her before walking toward the water and wading in knee deep. Turning he curled one finger at her, beckoning her to follow, which she did with only the briefest hesitation.

Following him around the perimeter of the pool, Kyra’s heart began to pound when they reached the base of the waterfall. The man stepped into the water, the silvered rush cascading across his skin for a moment before he disappeared beneath the veil of water. With a deep breath Kyra stepped under the heavy flow, the sound of it deafening her as she reached out for something to grab onto.

His hands found hers, guiding her out of the water and into the mouth of the cave it concealed. He gave her only a moment’s pause before he turned and led her deeper into the cave, and she followed blindly. It took only minutes to reach the inner chamber where mineral deposits had formed curtains of marble, columns of calcite and clusters of white crystals that sprouted from the walls like exotic blossoms.

Turning to her he claimed her mouth without warning, pressing his lips to hers while his hands pulled impatiently at her clothes. Kyra returned the kiss and helped remove the cloth that prevented his skin from touching hers. Their hands roamed and touched, bringing pleasure and ecstasy, and drowning them in passion and heat that could have lit a dying sun.

Kyra woke when the fingers of dawn poked at her, and she cursed at them in a string of incomprehensible swear words. Opening her eyes she found herself staring up at the heavy beams of the cabin ceiling, and she blinked rapidly to clear her foggy mind. Sitting up in the bed she found herself naked and alone; had the whole thing been the product of an overly exhausted mind?

“Coffee’s ready!” came the voice she recognized as Erin’s, which only served to confuse her all the more; why was she home? Slipping to the floor she rummaged through her bag and pulled on her sweats and socks before descending the steep stairs to the main floor.

Finding Erin in the kitchen Kyra sat down at the small table and frowned down at the floral table cloth. A mug of black coffee was held out to her and she shifted her gaze to the hand that held it, staring at the long familiar fingers. Her eyes moved up the length of the arm and locked with the owner’s bright green stare, his lips curved up into a sly smile.

“Oh, I don’t think you’ve ever met my brother,” Erin said, “This is Jordan.”

Kyra smiled at him and took the proffered cup, setting it on the table. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Jordan.”

He took her hand and raised it to his lips, brushing a kiss across her fingers, “The pleasure,” he said in a husky whisper with a knowing smile, “is all mine.”

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Her touch burned like ice

If someone had told me a year ago that I would be hunting demons, I’d have called them crazy. Since finding my lover the unwilling sacrifice in a dark ritual, however, I had suddenly become a believer. Unfortunately, he hadn’t survived, and I’d barely escaped with my sanity in tact.

And now, with the anniversary of his death less than an hour away, I crouched in the shadows of the warehouse to which I’d tracked the human worshipers of this demon. They were all dressed in long black robes, a wide red zigzag adorning the hem and the edge of the hood that kept their faces in shadow.

I spent every free minute researching, tracking and training. I’d only just discovered which demon was responsible for his death just a few weeks before, and since then I’d dug up as much information on it as I could. I had to figure out how to kill it.

I remained motionless, watching from the shadows as the worshipers prepared their altar, drawing a circle on the floor with cryptic symbols. They lit black candles, burned incense and anointed each other’s foreheads with blood.

My pulse sped when they discarded their robes, their nude forms softly lit by the wavering sea of flames and the incense smoke wafted in circles as they walked through it. They spaced themselves out around the circumference of the circle, all facing inward, and my fingers tightened around the neck of the bottle I held as I watched.

While I lay in the hospital a year ago, recovering from the physical and emotional beating I’d taken, I’d had a visitor; a stranger. She was the most petite woman I’d ever seen, no more than five feet tall with soft curves and long auburn hair. She looked perfectly average, but she didn’t feel average; the pulse of the energy that came into my room with her choked me.

She was soft spoken, her hands clasped in front of her as she walked slowly toward my bed, stopping to look down into my battered face. Her voice was soft as a rose petal when she spoke, “I know what did this to you.”

My eyes went wide because I hadn’t told anyone what I’d seen, certain they would have me committed to the loony bin if I did, I’d claimed memory loss and that was accepted. “I don’t know what…”

“Yes you do.” She interrupted my practiced lie, her blue eyes piercing mine, and I found it impossible to lie to her. Over the course of weeks and months we became friends. She educated me on the occult, separating fact from fiction, and teaching me the ways of magic. Together we uncovered the cult of followers, and tracked them to the warehouse where they would again summon the demon.

I looked around the perimeter of the room in which I hid, my eyes scanning the darkness for any sign of my mentor, knowing I wouldn’t find any. The worshipers chanting was rising, reaching a crescendo that made my head pound. I felt their collective voices in my veins, pulsing through my bones, and it took all I had not to cry out.

The symbols that made up the circle began to glow, humming with green light that seemed to climb out of the floor and reach for the ceiling. The haze of diluted beams touched overhead, and in a brilliant flash the demon appeared. His shape was smudged, a black smear on our plane of reality, and I knew it would only take the blood of a human sacrifice to make him corporeal.

I bided my time, knowing I wouldn’t be able to kill him until the sacrifice was made. I’d had to come to terms with the fact that someone was going to have to die for this trap to work, but that one death would prevent, and avenge, thousands.

A pair of worshipers stepped out of the circle, disappearing into the shadows and returning with their sacrifice draped in semi-sheer red silk. The shape under the cloth struck a familiar chord in my mind and my brow furrowed.

With more words, and more chants, the silk was removed with a flourish and I was paralyzed; there stood my mentor and friend. She was naked, wrists bound with thick red rope, and her blue eyes found me in the darkness. He gaze bore into me, and conveyed her order to finish what we had started.

She was led to the altar, hands lifting her and laying her along the stone slab, her thick hair cascading over the sides. The demon moved toward her, hovering over her for a moment before speaking in a drawn out hiss, “Wiiiiitccccchhhhh.”

I watched the scene unfold, my body taut as a pulled bow string, knowing what had to happen. I was furious now, more furious than I thought I was capable of being; this monster had taken my lover, and now I had to give up my friend as well. I felt the rage well up inside me, the pressure inside my skin unbearable as I watched the high priest approach the altar.

He raised a sinister looking knife overhead, clutching the handle in both hands while chanting and then driving the foot long blade into her belly. I heard the steel hit the stone, heard her cry out and heard the monster sigh when her blood surged out of the wound and cascaded onto the floor.

I had to wait, despite the pain in my soul, I had to wait.

The demon skulked around the base of the altar, the blood disappearing where he touched it. The more he took the more solid he became until his seven foot frame loomed over her. He plucked the dagger free of her body, licking the blade clean and tossing it aside. I knew what came next; I knew that the goal of this monster was to fornicate with his followers, impregnating the women with his poisonous seed. I also knew, however, that he always raped the sacrifice first, and I had to spare her that horror.

I stripped out of my clothes and walked toward the circle, my calm fa├žade masking the rage and terror that beat inside me. I held the bottle behind my back, my hands trembling as I hoped to blend into the masses. The demon was moving toward her, opening her legs, and I knew I was out of time.

With practiced focus I burst from the circle and ran toward the monster, smashing the bottle against the floor at his feet while uttering the words that would destroy him. The white smoke that erupted from the shattered glass whirled up and wrapped around him, heedless of his deep bellows and venomous cursing.

The cultists swarmed me, and I dove toward the discarded dagger, clutching the handle before rolling to my feet. Time seemed to slow down and speed up all at once, the air was filled with the cries of those I killed and the fading screams of the demon. In what seemed like an instant eternity I found myself standing amid a sea of corpses, my body covered in their blood, my breathing coming in ragged gasps.

As some degree of calm came over me I tossed the knife aside and ran to the altar, bending over my friend’s still form. Her blue eyes fluttered open and stared up at me as I pressed my hand to the wound in her belly. There was virtually no blood flow to staunch, she was running dry and I couldn’t save her.

“I pass this to you,” she said, using the last of her energy to lift her hand and press her palm to my forehead. Her power shot into me, her touch burned like ice, and I cried out at the overwhelming influx of magic she was bestowing on me as her life winked out.

Everyone thought I was dead. They were right.

Everyone thought I was dead, and they were right. My vision came suddenly into focus, momentarily disorienting me. I reached out to steady myself and gasped when my hand passed right through the wooden doorframe as though it were made of air. Looking down at my hands I realized it wasn’t the doorframe that was made of air, it was me.

My body ran the spectrum of pale translucence: white, gray, blue and everything in between, the colors feathered at the edges like a faded watercolor. As I moved I couldn’t feel the floor under my feet, finding myself floating rather than stepping, and it took me several moments to get the hang of moving around.

The air was filled with the scent of lilies and rain, fat drops splattering against the stained glass windows of the church. As I looked around I saw the faces of the people who loved me, some collapsed in grief and others blank with calm acceptance. The pews were filled, and despite the palpable grief permeating the air, I smiled as I walked down the aisle; as I’d requested everyone was wearing red.

The congregation was broken into several groups: dancers, family and a handful of former high school classmates. I saw faces I hadn’t seen in years, friends with whom I’d fallen out of touch, family I never saw and dancers I hadn’t known even knew who I was.

I lingered in the wings, listening as each person spoke about how I had touched their lives, the impact I’d had on them and how they would miss me. The stories made me smile, laugh and cry. I was content in the knowledge that I wouldn’t be forgotten.

My gaze shifted and I found my husband sitting in the front row, his face expressionless; dark circles under his eyes punctuating the tired pallor of his skin. In his hand he held the smooth worry stone I’d carried with me always, his thumb caressing the groove in its face over and over, like a physical chant.

Walking across the church I squatted down in front of him, reaching out and touching his cheek. He gasped, his eyes going wide and darting around the room, and I fell backwards in surprise. Had he felt me touch him? I reached out again and touched the tip of my index finger to the tip of his nose, as I had often done at bedtime, and with that he seemed to calm.

Looking discretely from side to side to see that no one was watching him, he called my name under his breath, “Melissa?” It was a question, posed to check his own sanity I guessed, and not knowing if he would be able to hear me I again touched his nose with my finger.

Color returned to his face in a red rush, clearing his eyes and bringing a tentative smile to his face. Moving closer to him I leaned down and spoke close to his ear, “What happened to me?” I asked, and I knew he’d heard me when his now bright eyes widened.

“Later,” he whispered, his pulse pounding against the side of his neck, “At home.”

Home. Heaven is what we want it to be, and being with him was mine.