Barnstatter Path, the last good ol’ fashioned unpaved dirt road in all of Treeburg, is normally a quiet stretch of semi-developed woodlands. Located at the midpoint of a steep hill that’ll make a marathon runner feel crippled with exhaustion just driving up it, it’s neighbored above by White Road – home to a slew of unimaginably successful African American families and a single token house of Native Americans who hit the jackpot when they bought the local watering hole and renovated the basement speakeasy into a casino – and below by Fricker Drive, a pond-butted stretch of bumpy asphalt along which more than half the houses are owned by one dude because all the families keep moving away.
Across the street from the pond, asphalt gives way to dirt and Fricker’s end becomes Barnstatter’s halfway point. This junction is wider than the rest of either road and rarely traveled, so the locals like to use it as a parking lot of sorts. At one point, Fricker’s pond was the local hotspot and block parties were held there every weekend, but these days it’s the forest beyond the pond that attracts all the foot traffic. One dude – the older son of the first family to evacuate Fricker Drive – was just crazy enough to carve out an absolute snake’s nest of trailways through the forest around Fricker before he mysteriously disappeared, and now that he’s gone, everybody else in the area feels comfortable with walking his paths. Normally there’s plenty of room to park by the pond without worrying about getting your paint scraped by the swinging of someone else’s car door; normally, it’s the perfect place to hike because the only sounds are the birds chirping and the tree frogs chirping back; normally, the first neighborhoods after the Monksville Dam are a beautifully pleasant place to either live, laugh, love, or if you’re fortunate enough, to do all three.
Normally, that is, but not lately, and especially not tonight. Lately there’s been a string of break-ins on this side of the Monksville Dam, the latest of which went down just tonight. Half the town’s police cars are currently parked beside the pond at the end of Fricker; the other half of them are parked along the front half of Barnstatter in a single file line leading to the Milligan house, the home of the wealthiest family in all of Treeburg.
The first robbery occurred on White Road. It happened in the smallest house, the one owned by a single man and his twentysomething son who weren’t home at the time because they were out doing this or that – they wouldn’t specify exactly where they were, partly because they wanted to see if the police would accuse them of robbing their own house, which they did, probably just because the men in question were black. Treeburg is a very Caucasian town; hell, one neighborhood off the back end of Stonetown Road was colonized by a gaggle of German families who flocked to the states right around the 1950s, and if that doesn’t do some explaining then you need to get your head checked. Nothing of any real value was stolen, mostly just knickknacks, artsy decor pieces and action figures from the twentysomething’s collection in the basement – unboxed action figures specifically, the ones of lower value. At first the pop and son wished they had been home so they could have dealt with the robber themselves, but after the second robbery, they changed their tune and decided to be thankful.
The second robbery occurred in a house on Fricker Drive a few weeks after the first robbery went down. There was just one guy living there at the time, a man in his mid-twenties who took care of the house for his parents in exchange for room and board. The parents – and the guy’s little brother – all moved to Boca a few years back, and when their Treeburg boy wouldn’t answer their phone calls, they started calling the neighbors. Only one guy answered their calls – that guy being Mister Williamson, the one who owns the majority of the houses on Fricker – and when he went over to check on the boy, Williamson found that he had been dead for quite a few days. Or weeks, but probably days; Williamson is a head doctor, and even though the boy died from blunt force trauma to the head, Williamson couldn’t make an accurate analysis. Plus, Williamson is a very sensitive man and the smell inside the house made him wish the robber got him instead, so he couldn’t spend much time wafting it in.
On the bright side, the boy likely didn’t feel any pain, as (according to the certified examiners) he was taking a dip in a deep brown bottle when he had his run-in with the robber, but it was still a tragedy, a tragedy only made more uncomfortable by Mister Williamson’s subsequent attempts to buy that house over the phone. The family did end up selling it to him – they couldn’t bear to come back to the place where their son died along with his lack of ambition, plus they didn’t want to clean out whatever junk was left. But I’m beginning to digress.
Again, nothing of any real value was stolen during the second robbery aside from the boy’s life; only decor pieces and the random mancave stuff the boy had scattered around the house. At the time of the second robbery, this detail was seen as a simple string of coincidences, a string which the detectives refused to weave into a pattern because of the inconsistencies prevalent in the cases, namely that one robbery involved a murder – that is to say, the burglars were clearly different perpetrators. However, when the pattern was seemingly repeated in the third robbery, the one that happened tonight in the first house on Barnstatter Path where all the police officers are gathered, they decided it couldn’t hurt to look at all the potential possibilities.
Normally such a police presence isn’t called for in Treeburg no matter what crime is committed, especially for a simple break and entry, but this is the Milligan household, home to Bill Milligan, the founder and proprietor of Buyify, the world’s leading ecommerce/social networking platform. Moguls from all over the world set up profiles with Buyify to keep tabs on one another and run businesses which they all buy and sell from each other, and Bill Milligan gets a cut of every transaction, no matter how many zeroes are involved – and there are often a lot of zeroes involved. Stated simply, Bill Milligan has pull in this town, and now that the robber’s existence has affected him directly, he wants the perp bagged, tagged, and roasted in an oven like the turkey he is. This means the police want the robber bagged and tagged as well; unfortunately, that’s not going to happen tonight, because they only have one witness to question: Gill Milligan, the only Milligan offspring and the legal heir to the Buyify throne, and he slept through the invasion. That means he had nothing to offer the cops but disappointment, and so the robber got off free again.
And with all that said and out of the way, the actual story can begin.
Hazy vision and a dull pounding inside his head bring Gill to a waking state. He didn’t sleep very well last night – well, that’s not true. He was sleeping deeply for quite a few hours before the lights and sirens woke him up, and even then he was half convinced he was dreaming. It’s sometimes hard for Gill to differentiate between waking reality and dreaming reality, no matter how dreamy the dream may be; one time, Gill dreamed he and his nonexistent family were out on Monksville on his father’s ocean boat, and when he woke up he mistook his sweat for the residual spray from the waves. Of course, when he asked his father what time they got in last night, he was made perfectly aware of how ridiculous he was to even so much as think it was real – ocean vessels aren’t allowed on Monksville, of course he it happened in a dream.
“Am I dreaming right now, Dad?” he asked, and was answered with a heartfelt If you were dreaming you’d be a lot more successful, now wouldn’t you?
But last night, when his bedroom filled with flashing red and blue lights and the siren pierced his ears like an arrow through thin metal, that was no dream. At first he thought he had imagined himself some sort of twisted disco party; the only thing missing was all the females from his old high school he never got a chance to dance with. They almost always show up in Gill’s dreams, disco or not.
Had Gill asked them to dance way back when, they probably would have obliged, but he was always too afraid. Gill has never exactly been a lady’s man – when Gill got the talk, it was delivered in drunken slurs from his first Step-Mom on the night before her and Gill’s father’s divorce. She told him that it was wrong for men to look at women first, that if a man so much as thinks about a woman’s (and I quote), “… luscious, supple breasts, her firm, tight ass, her delicious, glistening [you get the idea], then he is headed straight to Hell, and with each further thought he allows himself to entertain, he shaves off another minute of his life, and another centimeter of his dirty, dirty Peter!” She was a troubled woman; in her suicide note, mailed to Bill Milligan half a decade following their divorce, it was revealed that she was raised by a questionable band of Gypsy nuns who gave her a similar treatment that Catholic priests give to choir boys. She also thanked him, sincerely thanked him, for never touching her. That’s about all you need to know about Gill’s father Bill, although it’s more than Gill himself knows.
Sitting up on the edge of his bed, Gill reaches out blindly for the water bottle he left on his nightstand last night. He finds it by way of knocking it down, and by the sound of the glugging, he remembers that he didn’t replace the cap. ‘You need to replace the cap, Gill. You’re stupid. So unsuccessful and stupid.’ He waddles out of his room and down the hall to the bathroom to grab a towel. On the way back, he momentarily stops at the door and closes his eyes, as to focus his ears.
The air is still; nobody walking around, nobody watching the television. That’s good.
Gill returns to his room and throws the towel on the soaked spot in his carpet, stomping it down with his feet to soak in the moisture. That done, he moseys on over to his desk and turns on his computer to check if he had any sales last night.
As the son of Bill Milligan, Gill was one of the first mogul-to-bes to open up a store on Buyify. His company is called Gill Bottles, and through it, Gill sells old glass bottles – beer, soda, milk, you name it – that he finds buried in the leaves while out exploring in the woods behind the pond on Fricker. According to the owner of the auction hall across the dam, there’s a big market out there for antique glass bottles (so long as they’re in good condition), and Gill’s are pristine – no scratches, no unsightly cracks or chips, and every time he finds a new one he always takes it into the bath with him and scrubs all the dirt off by hand. He puts all of his effort, all the effort in the world into selling his bottles; but yet, like all the other days since he opened this store back in high school, Gill has no sales. Zip, zero, zilch. On the upside, Gill knows that this can’t possibly be a dream. Like his father said: if he was dreaming, he’d be a lot more successful, now wouldn’t he?
Gill is about to close out Buyify when a little red circle in the top left corner of the screen catches his eye. In addition to being an ecommerce platform, Buyify is also a social networking sight; moguls (that’s what the users are called) have profiles where they can post status updates and advertisements for new products or sales, they have both a friends and competitors list to keep tabs on their close and closer ones, and, perhaps most importantly of all, a virtual mailbox for sending and receiving private messages. This morning, Gill has two letters in his inbox. His pulse picks up just looking at them, and he begins to salivate.
The first message is from his father. It reads:
I just wanted to thank you for being so, so helpful in the police investigation last night. In case you forgot – or, in your specifically delusional case, thought you were dreaming – our house was broken into and robbed, and you slept through the entire thing. Fortunately the bastard didn’t steal anything of real value, just a bunch of toys and knickknacks from your childhood, but that doesn’t make it right. Because you were asleep, the guy got away and the cops had no leads to go on, so I’m assigning the project to you. I want you to investigate the house and find evidence; a strand of hair, a dried pile of spittle, a clue of any kind, and if you can’t? Well, I won’t be surprised in the slightest.
You know what? Don’t even fucking bother, you’d probably just fall asleep during your search or turn in one of your own hairs, because that’s the kind of man you are. A failure of a man, one who will never have success no matter how hard he tries. I’ve tried with you Gill, I really have – the fact that I even referred to you by your name just now should tell you exactly how hard I’ve tried – but you’re a lost cause. There’s not even hope that you’ll become someone’s trophy husband one day, because you’re not a trophy. You’re a goddamned consolidation ribbon they give to the untalented kids who still have the guts to perform at their talent shows. Untalented kids like you, that is, except you don’t even have any guts, you only performed because I fucking made you. You’re a fucking disgrace.
By the way, your rack of ribbons was among the things stolen. No great loss in my opinion, and as far as you’re concerned, my opinion is fact.
You disappoint me,
After wiping the tears from his eyes with the neck of his white tee, Gill presses the save button and stores his father’s correspondence with all the rest so he can go back and read them one day. On the inside, Gill doesn’t think he’s a total lost cause, he still has some semblance of hope about his future – but he also knows how smart his father is. Not just anyone could have developed Buyify, and the fact that Bill was able to swindle the developer out of the company without paying a cent in lawyer fees just speaks on the man’s intelligence; if and when the day comes where Gill realizes how much of a failure he really is, he wants to have this archive of emails to remind him why he is the way he is, to keep him anchored in reality, to give him a way to know that it’s not all just a bad dream.
The second message is from a Buyify user named Smells, of the firm Smells Inc. It reads:
Hrll0 they’re, Gi1l Bootless! Mi nmae is Sm3llz, amd I an am djincense salismen. I wuz luokngi ay tuor syte nad its perty guud! Du yoo wnat two trie s3lli7g my djincense burneys? I cn synd yew a fr3e s4mp1e! Jsut rpley me yur adres nd I wi l l s3nd i+ 3 yiu.
Although the message is hard to read because of the apparent learning defect in the mind of its sender, Gill doesn’t waste a single second – like his father always says, when an opportunity presents itself you better as hell jump on it, because they’re quick like a jackalope and, in your case Gill, a lot smarter than you are. A lot smarter than you’ll ever be. He types up a quick reply to this Smells, taking care to proofread his writing so Smells can maybe learn from his example, and hits the send button. The whoosh sound brings a smile to his face, the first in days, and within seconds he gets another message in his inbox. It’s from his father, and it reads:
P.S. I will not be coming home for a few days, as the rage I feel towards you has convinced me to leave the state. You don’t need to know where I am, and I doubt the burglar will come back – hitting homes twice in a row is not part of his pattern.
Unless he makes it so, starting with our house. Try not to sleep through it this time, hm?
Gill’s smile widens. He debates pulling up an adult video site to treat himself to something special this morning, to celebrate his father’s absence and his upcoming success as a seller of incense products, but ultimately decides against it. Once the money starts rolling in he’ll be able to hire actors and actresses to make videos just for him, videos that won’t be seen by anybody else. It’ll be worth the wait.
After opening the site anyway – just to look at the thumbnails, don’t worry, he’s not that depraved – Gill’s smile widens to the lobes of his ears. With the cuffs of his pants up stretched around his mid-calves, he walks downstairs to get himself some breakfast.
Two Incense Burners
After eating his daily breakfast of six scrambled eggs – no cheese, no salt or pepper, no herbs; just eggs, as Gill is an eggy boy if ever there were one – Gill washes up the dishes and proceeds to the couch to watch some television. The morning cartoons have all come and gone, much to his disappointment; it’s at this point that Gill finally checks the clock and sees that it’s a quarter past noon. He really must have slept in today.
‘I wonder if the mail’s come yet,’ he thinks to himself. Suddenly, as if on cue, Gill hears the rumble of the delivery truck laboriously making its way up Barnstatter. He foots it to the door, belching along the way and catching a hit of eggbreath that makes him stop and retch, which is good. Bill Milligan has gotten many complaints from the mail truck drivers about Gill running out and meeting them at the mailbox; it isn’t that the drivers don’t like Gill, it’s just that the eggy boy always tries to hop in the back of the truck when they’re not looking. He even made it all the way back to the post office one time, what a travesty that was.
But today, Gill has no plans to attempt an escape from his life in Treeburg. The light of success is shining over the horizon and Gill is just about ready to catch those rays – just about, that is, because he knows the free samples won’t arrive today. They can’t, he just sent the message to Smells a few moments ago, it would be downright nonsensical, downright dreamlike if they arrived. But still, he’s excited to get the mail, so he waits with the top of his head poking over the window of his front door like Kilroy anytime the graffiti was here.
The driver peers over to the house and locks eyes with Gill. After stuffing the mailbox with blinding speeds, he stomps on the gas and zooms off in a storm of dirty clouds and flying rocks. When the dust settles, Gill heads outside.
The sun is shining bright and Gill has to squint his eyes to a horizontal slit to not burn his corneas. Only seeing a fraction of what he needs to, Gill stumbles and falls across his now rocky front lawn and scrapes his knees and elbows on the sorry excuse for a road. Upon opening the mailbox, however, all the pain leaves his mind – among the bills addressed to Bill, there is a small package addressed to Gill, or more specifically, Gill Bottles. Leaving the letters in the box, Gill takes his package (upon which no return address is scrawled) up to his bedroom and locks the door behind him, just in case the burglar comes back.
Gill tears the top off the package and dumps its contents onto his floor, then crumples it up and tosses it in the general direction of his garbage can. As he bends down to pick up his winnings, the towel he threw down to soak up the spilled water catches his eye, and he ignores it. Laying on his floor are two incense burners, stained wooden disks with carved pieces of soapstone in their centers. Both the stones are a pale, pea smoothie green, both have flower petals carved around a cylindrical depression in their centers, and one has a dark streak running through it.
There are also two boxes of incense cones – one reading Romantic Rose that bears a picture of a heart made of roses, and one called Wicked which shows a picture of a woman with long black hair wearing nothing but shiny black thigh-height stockings, a shiny black bikini top and bottom, a shiny pair of black gloves that come up almost to her armpits, and a cat mask. A black cat mask. Dangling from the woman’s right hand is a long, golden whip. Drooling a little bit, Gill strokes the image of the woman with the index finger of his right hand, then immediately smells his finger. Then he licks his finger, and then he takes a deep breath and tries to get a hold of himself.
Succeeding, Gill notices there was also a little slip of paper that came with the free sample. He assumes it’s a form to order more incense products, but upon unfolding it, our eggy boy realizes it’s just a hand-written note from the proprietor of Smells Inc. Gill tosses the note into the packaging without reading it, as he’s never been one to read into things, and then throws the repacked packaging into the garbage. Then, he busts open the incense boxes.
Much to his dismay, each box only contains one single cone. ‘It’s a free sample, all right,’ he thinks to himself. Deciding to save the Wicked incense for tonight’s instance of Gill Time, Gill pops the Romantic Rose cone into one of the burners – the one without the dark streak, by chance – and then runs downstairs to fetch his father’s trigger-action grill lighter. He comes back to see that nothing has changed, and after taking a breath of relief to signify the fact that the burglar hasn’t broken in when he was gone, Gill lights the cone. The tip ignites and burns rather quickly, releasing plumes of gray smoke into the enclosed airspace of his bedroom, and he takes a big whiff which pulls all the blood out of his head and sends him plummeting into unconsciousness. As he falls down he generates a small gust of air which extinguishes the flame, which is good for Gill, because otherwise, the house would have likely burned down. And then the burglar would have nowhere to hit a second time.
Gill wakes up on his side a few minutes later. He sits up to see the incense cone is no longer spurting flames, although it’s not much of a cone anymore. Only the bottom third of thing remains, but it’s smoking nice and good and his room irrefutably smells of Romantic Rose. Gill takes another big whiff of the air, being careful to sniff it rather than snort it, and he leans back on his carpet with his hands folded behind his head to bask in the aromatherapeutic pleasantness.
And that’s when he sees the djinn.
Looming from the smoke is a thick green stem lined with rows of razor-sharp thorns tipped in a red deeper than the color of blood. Two leaves sprout from either side of the apparition, and at the end of the stem bursts trillions of crimson petals, each of them actively wavering and unfolding to reveal the magic which lies at the center of the floral mass. The stem bends towards Gill and his eyes water as he sees what lies in the center – nothingness, a pure absence of things, the most beautiful and glorious sight Gill has ever not seen. It speaks to him, the voice booming in his mind like the shifting of tectonic plates.
‘Gill Milligan, you have lit the incense and awoken me. In order to rest, I must grant you a wish. Choose your words wisely, as they will cost you dearly, but not in the way you might presume.’
Gill tuned out after the rose whispered the words I must grant you a wish into his mind. He thinks about it for a moment, he considers his entire life – his relationship with his father, his business and the negative cash flow it brings in, his goals and accomplishments he’s not yet accomplished – and smiles, again, two separate smiles in one day. He opens his mouth and says the following:
“I wish for romance, flower genie. I wish for the woman of my dreams.”
The rose lunges at him. Gill is blinded by the light of its core.
Then, as if he blinked, Gill wakes up on his side. Feeling dazed, more so than when he got up this morning, Gill sits himself up and rubs his eyes until it burns to touch the lids. ‘I must have been dreaming,’ he thinks, then proceeds to curse himself out for a few minutes. The flow of expletives comes to a screeching halt, however, when he looks at his carpet and sees the large black soot stain, as if the incense he lit had burned all the way out, taking the burner with it, soapstone and all.
After picking up the remaining burner – the one with the dark streak running through it – and the Wicked box and throwing them into his pillow case for safe keeping, Gill runs into the hall and gets the vacuum. He’s afraid the stain won’t come up, terrified in fact, for when his father sees it Gill will surely catch the meanest of looks, but it comes right up without fuss. It’s like it was never there.
Gill goes back to the hall closet and stores the vacuum away. On his way back to his room to have an early Gill Time sesh (as the idea of the woman of his dreams has not left his mind), he hears a bare knuckle banging against the wood of his front door.
Gill crawls up to the top of the stairs and looks down to the foyer, his eyes wide like a cat’s moments before it pounces. Who could be knocking at his door? His father is the only one in the house who gets any company; Gill doesn’t have any friends in the neighborhood, or town, or the entire county, for that matter. Who could it be?
knock knock knock
‘It could be the burglar.’ It could be Gill’s father coming home early… no, that’s ridiculous, he wouldn’t forget his key, he would just come in and start talking down at Gill. ‘It could be the burglar.’ It could be his first Step-Mom, back from the dead and hungry for both of Gill’s brains… no, that would just be nonsensical, that only happens in Gill’s dreams. ‘It could be the burglar.’ It could be Gill’s mother Jill, his birth giver who died during childbirth because Bill Milligan, never a fan of hospitals because of how much money they charge, insisted on a home birth… no, that would be impossible, the Milligans lived in a different town when Gill was born.
‘It could be the burglar.’
It could be… but why would the burglar knock on the door? Had he done that the other night Gill wouldn’t have slept through the invasion, and his father would be home to answer the door now. But… well, there’s only one way to find out who lurks behind the door. Tentatively, Gill steps down the staircase. At the bottom he draws in a deep breath, closes his eyes, exhales, opens his eyes, then answers the door. Standing there on the stoop, the sunlight dancing off her wavy black hair, is a beautiful woman, a woman with skin like a porcelain doll, a woman who looks like she came straight out of Gill’s dreams.
“Hello!” she chimes, giving Gill a smile’s worth of pearly whites that brightens his entire existence up. “I’m Rose Williamson, my uncle lives down on Fricker Drive. We’re out of eggs, do you have…”
She trails off while staring into Gill’s eyes, seeming to fall into a trance. This makes Gill feel very uncomfortable and exposed.
Gill averts his eyes to his feet, then mumbles, “Uh… hi. I’m Gill. Do we have any what?”
But she says nothing, and though Gill is staring at his shoes, he can see the tips of hers out the top of his eyes. She isn’t moving. The wind blows, the planet turns, the fishermen out on Monksville don’t catch a single thing, and finally, Gill looks up and begins to say, “Uh, hello? Did y-”
He’s cut off when she leans into him, pressing her lips up against his. Gill pulls away immediately, if only to prevent her from feeling the… the uh… the gun in his pocket, yeah, let’s go with that, Gill’s badass. He’s definitely the type to carry a gun around in his pocket.
“What are you doing?” he stammers, out of breath. She just looks at him, bewildered, as if she doesn’t know where she is, as if she doesn’t know who she is. As if she doesn’t care. Then, she kisses him again.
Then, they fall on the floor.
Then, with the front door wide open, Gill becomes a man twice in a row – the first time while still wearing his pants, the second time with his pants off – and the best part? She doesn’t laugh, doesn’t sneer, doesn’t call him a failure. She just keeps kissing him.
And kissing him.
And kissing him.
And the wind continues to blow.
Crossing a Line
The next few days of Gill Milligan’s life are nothing short of a dream come true for the eggy boy. Rose does not leave the Milligan household; neither of them even leave Gill’s bedroom on that first day, save for Gill’s occasional run to the kitchen to eat his eggs and get some energy back, energy that he quickly spends like he never had it in the first place; later in his life when he finally talks to a therapist about all this, Gill will say that Rose sucked the soul clear out of his body, but that’s just Gill, and that won’t be for at least a few weeks, anyway.
Following the first night of not sleeping, Gill makes Rose breakfast. In return, Rose treats Gill to a lovely dessert. When lunchtime comes around they leave the bedroom again, walking out this time, and Rose makes Gill an eggy lunch. In turn, Gill treats Rose to a lovely dessert, followed by an extra helping of afternoon delight. They eat each other for dinner, and it’s just as grotesque as you think it is. Disgusting even, absolutely nasty. Gill relishes every second of it.
The third day starts at noon. Forty-eight hours of not sleeping will do that to you, even if you’re as young and restless as Gill and Rose are, and the crawl to the kitchen is hard on both of their worn-out knees, more so for Gill if you’d believe it scribed on a surface. Rose makes herself an extra helping of eggs and Gill watches her eat it, mesmerized like a dog watching its owner eat dinner.
“What?” Rose asks him when she notices him starting to slobber.
In response, Gill gets down on the floor and bows as if he was praying. When he lifts his head up, Rose is no longer leaning against the counter. He’s petrified for a moment, terrified, and that’s when the first doubt crawls into his mind: ‘Is this… have I been dreaming this whole time?’
Then Rose’s hand makes itself present between his legs from behind – neither of them have worn clothing since Rose chased Gill up to his bedroom on the first day, you see – and Gill’s doubts go away… for the moment, at least. They come back for a second or two after lunch, then Rose scares them away with her mouth. They resurface later when Rose is in the bathroom, this time in the voice of Gill’s father whispering in his ear, but they shut right up when Rose suffocates Gill in a better way than he could eve dream of. They come back a third time when Gill is in the bathroom a little bit later, this time in the form of his reflection taking on a mind of its own and berating him from the other side of the mirror – Gill stifles this by taking Rose to his father’s bedroom and living out his greatest, most gnarly fantasy. They go at it in Bill’s bed until Rose is unable to walk and Gill is unable to, shall we stay, raise an obelisk in praise of his goddess, but it’s just as well. The sun is setting and Rose is getting very, very sleepy, so she asks Gill to change the soaked sheets on his bed so they can get some rest together.
“Why can’t we just sleep in here?” he asks her.
“Because that would be crossing a line, my eggy little man,” she answers, then does a thing with her right foot that almost makes Gill pass out cold.
Gill hobbles into his bedroom – yes, hobbles, the eggy boy’s walkin’ with a limp at this point– and before he even makes it to his bed, the doubts rear their ugly claws and slice him to ribbons.
“This can’t be real… this is all a dream, it has to be a dream!” he shouts, and he’s lucky he wore Rose out so much because that’s not something he’d want her to hear… if she’s real. But how can he tell? How can a man, an eggy little man like Gill who has trouble differentiating between a state of dreaming and a state of waking consciousness possibly hope to figure out if this sexed up goddess that randomly appeared on his doorstep is real or not all by himself? He’s a depraved, eggy little man, he’s never so much as touched a woman before Rose appeared out of the blowing wind, and all this woman’s done is touch and touch and touch him some more, and when she touched him with her right foot just now? Jesus Fucking Christ!
Gill wakes up on his floor a couple moments later. All the blood rushed out of his head, it seems, but he’s back at equilibrium now. After checking to see if Rose was still laying on his father’s bed – she was, and god damn him if the moonlight glistening off her ripe, sweaty body didn’t almost knock him out again – Gill returns to his room to clear off the sheets. He supposes there’s no way to really know if this is a dream or not; reality is the baseline from which all fiction springs – kind of makes you wonder about all those indie writers out there, doesn’t it? Well keep wondering, ya chinless chump – so is it really that hard to grapple with the idea that real life can be stranger than the fantasies in Gill’s head? Of course not. Gill just happened to get lucky – so, so lucky – when this Rose Williamson walked up from Fricker Drive in search of eggs (Gill’s most favoritest food) and that’s just what it is. As Gill wrestles with his blankets, he accepts that his life has taken a pleasant, amazing, miraculous turn, and he accepts it with a grand smile and dirty thoughts.
Then, the other incense burner and box fall out of the pillowcase.
Then, the doubts fuck him harder than Rose could ever hope to, whether she’s a fantasy or not.
Gill doesn’t waste time. He sets the burner on the floor, the burner with the black streak running through its center, and lines up the incense cone. Using the grill lighter he never returned to the kitchen because his father isn’t home to use it anyway and as long as his father isn’t home Gill is the man of the house and he gets to make the rules and do whatever he wants, Gill lights the incense. When the tip is glowing an effervescent orange, he blows out the flame and, while waiting for the smoke to build, puts his hands to his crotch. When the apparition takes form, he drops his dirty, dirty Peter and his bottom jaw follows suit.
The djinn presents itself in the form of the cat-masked woman from the incense box, except the mask is the only thing she’s wearing. The handle of the golden whip is clenched in her teeth, the tail coiled around her voluptuous body like a snake around a curvaceous tree.
‘State your name, you eggy boy,’ the djinn hums seductively in Gill’s mind. The whip, as if it has a mind of its own, wraps its tail around the point where the incense smoke becomes the djinn’s plump, curvy thighs and slithers up her body, caressing her in a way that Gill could only dream of doing to Rose. Then, she gently bites her bottom lip and throws Gill a wink.
Gill states his name, though it comes out in a dry puff of air rather than in his voice – it seems his breath has been taken away.
“You have awoken me, Gill, after rousing the rose, no less. To return to rest I must grant you a wish – anything that you desire. Choose your words carefully, you eggy, eggy little man, though not for the sake of your soul; that egg’s been cracked and the shells sucked dry, and there wasn’t much yolk to speak of.”
Not bothering to contemplate what that might mean – not now, at least – Gill looks the mermaid of his doubt in the eyes and gives in to its terrible serenade. “I want to know if I’m dreaming, sexy genie, if the past few days with Rose has been nothing but a dream. That’s my wish – to know if any of this has been real.”
The djinn giggles, then titters, then downright bursts into a cackle the likes of which a Salem witch couldn’t manage, no matter how much ergot-infested bread she ate. “Oh it’s real, you foolish, eggy mortal; in my granting of this wish, you’ll learn just how real it all is.”
The djinn draws the whip back and cracks it in Gill’s face, the snap emitting a thunderclap that throws Gill across his room, landing him on his bare, sheetless bed. Though his bedroom lights are on, all he sees is darkness.
Then, he sees nothing at all.
And the wind continues to blow.
Gill feels soft hands on his shoulders, feels his body shaking. Hears the wind blowing around his house.
“Gill! Wake up Gill, wake up my eggy little man!”
Gill’s eyes snap open. Rose is hovering over him, her hair in a ponytail and falling down her back, the nipples of her bare breasts grazing against his chest, tickling him in a way he’ll never be tickled again.
“Oh thank God!” she says, then embraces him in a hug, a close, pressing hug, one he will never forget, one he’ll have described many, many times in his dream journal by the time his therapist gets to read it. “You’re alive, thank God!”
“What… what happened?” Gill asks slowly as he wriggles himself out of her grip to sit up on his bed. The sound of blowing wind and pouring rain are cacophonous, louder than his heartbeat. Rose lets him sit up, then grabs him again and presses their bodies together with a somber force, as if she’s about to leave him.
But that would be ridiculous, the genie said this was all real. Why would she be leaving?
“I don’t know!” she sobs into his ear, leaving his shoulder entirely the wrong kind of wet. “I had fallen asleep in your dad’s bed – by the way, we made a mess, you should probably clean that up before he gets home tomorrow – and a loud bang woke me up. I ran in here and you were unconscious on the bed.” She grabs his bare pillow and uses it to wipe off her eyes and nose, then cranes her head back to look at her foot. “Ugh!”
Gill looks concerned at that ugh. “What’s wrong, my eggy babe?”
“No,” with a straight face. Then, as the sobbing recommences, “There’s a big black splotch on your floor, like soot or something, and I stepped in it. My foot’s all black now, look.”
He looks and can’t help but agree. The bottom of Rose’s right foot – her sweet, delicious right foot – is stark black, black as coal, a perfect contrast to her luscious pale skin.
“I’m sorry,” he says, apologizing for something he didn’t do. Just like his father makes him do. “Here, I’ll clean you up, let me jus-”
“No Gill,” she says, putting a hand on his chest and sitting him back against the wall. She holds her hand there, as if she’s trying to ingrain the way his bony chest feels into her mind. Gill raises a hand to put it on her chest, but she grabs him by the wrist and sets his hand down. They sit like that for a few moments, neither saying anything, the sound of their breathing inaudible over the falling of the rain, the clapping of distant thunder, the blowing of the wind.
Finally, Rose closes her eyes and lets a tear fall down her cheek. “Gill…” she says, on the verge of weeping. “Gill, I have to tell you something.”
Gill’s heart drops and he has no idea why. “What is it Rose, what do you have to tell me?”
“Do you remember when I first came here? When I told you my name is Rose Williamson, and my uncle lives down on Fricker Drive?”
Of everything that transpired over the past few days, Gill remembers that detail the least. But, he does remember her saying it, and he tells Rose as much.
“Well…” she swallows hard. “There is a Mister Williamson, and he does live on Fricker Drive… but… but…”
Gill attempts to process this for a moment and comes up with nothing. “But…?”
“But… he doesn’t have a brother, or a sister, or any living siblings. He’s an only child.”
The gears attempt to churn, but the rust which clings to them is too thick. “Oh… uh… well that’s pretty weird.”
Though tears fall down her face and drip on her naked body like ambrosial nectar down the flushed cheeks of the gods, Rose manages to smile. “Yeah,” a soft, rueful chuckle, “I guess that is pretty weird.”
A bolt of lightning strikes Gill’s house, igniting his entire bedroom in a blinding white light that doesn’t fade until after the foundation stops shaking following the thunder’s roar. When Gill opens his eyes he’s alone, naked and afraid, propped up against the wall. The black scorch mark in his carpet is gone, and soggy, soaked sheets are still piled on his bedroom floor. Right next to the towel.
And the wind continues to blow.
Be well Commons~