This week's is again an old muse I've recycled. I do apologize. I just haven't had the time to get anything done! Hopefully once school is out for good next week, I'll be back to normal.
I stepped off the asphalt onto the gravel drive and the scene shifted, wavered, then righted again. Pausing, I had to take a deep breath and pushed the glasses up my sweaty nose. The heat was getting to me already. We'd only moved here a few weeks ago, and I still hadn't quite gotten the hang of the stifling humidity that made walking outside feel like wading through soup.
The package in my hands had been placed in our mailbox by accident. I'd thought I would just return it now, before Mom got home and made me do it anyway. But unease trickled down my spine. This house, nearly a mile down the road, hadn't looked so far away when I started. It was quaint, and charming and looked like something right out of one of Grimm's tales.
With a sigh, I headed up the curving drive, keeping an eye out for bugs. I hated horseflies. Around me, the yard and house seemed to be caught in a strange battle with Mother Nature. She was winning. The grass had been cut, but it was an afterthought. Tufts of it sprang from strange places in the lawn where the operator of the machinery had gotten distracted. The rusted hulk itself was nestled several yards away in the shade of the massive oaks marking the beginning of the woods. A large white cat yawned in the cracked leather seat.
I jumped, turned, and stood nose to nose with a whip-thin man sporting a huge smile and a dirty apron. "Elspeth has been waiting for you all day. She will be so pleased."
My mouth moved, but no sound emerged. His eyes smiled but I was more interested in the difference in their color - one was turquoise, and the other a warm amber. My total lack of apparent intelligence didn't phase the strange man. His body trembled with pent up energy, despite the beads of moisture on his lip and the dirt smudged down his nose.
"Come along then. I'll take you inside."
I found my voice. "I'm just here to deliver a letter. Someone put it in our mailbox by mistake."
His hand danced through the air; a dismissive gesture. "Our mail always seems to go just where it belongs. And we knew you would be such a neighbor!"
I mouthed his words to myself, confused. Then I shrugged and followed him to the door. The house was small and squat, and seemed to lean to one side a little, but it might have just been my imagination. Roses twined up one side, and huge bushes nearly obscured the windows. I felt a little like I'd stepped into an alternate reality. Any moment fairies would dance around, drop me into my own world, and I would have aged forty years and know no one.
The brightly painted door, in a shade my guide called coral, but looked far more vibrant than that, opened, and a tall, blonde goddess emerged. Her hands clapped and a smile lit her face.
"Lovely! I'm so happy you made it."
Despite their warm welcome and the atmosphere of comfort the entire place sent up, something gave me the willies. I didn't want to stay any longer than I had to. Forcing a smile, I thrust the envelope out. "I just wanted to deliver your mail. It was put in my box by mistake."
She took the letter in two slender fingers. It slowly disintegrated, the particles swirling once around me and dissipating.
"There was no mistake, my dear. The summons always gets precisely where it belongs."
"Well," I took a step back. There was an edge to her voice. "It was lovely to meet you, but I'd better be getting home."
Taking the steps down from the porch was easy. My shoulders ached with the urge to scrunch them and run. I kept my steps even and light. Like I had all the time in the world, and the letter turning to dust was normal. Under my feet, pea gravel crunched louder than I would have imagined. I lifted my eyes to the end of the drive, where the hot, wavering image of the asphalt road should have waited.
It wasn't there. It ended abruptly in darkening woods and I turned.
The couple stood behind me, false sympathy in their eyes. "We thought you knew."
"Knew what? What's going on?"
The blonde patted my shoulder. "The summons always get precisely where they belong. And they always bring you right back where you should be."
"I should be home."
The corners of her mouth tightened. "My dear, you are home."