Aphelion Issue 250, Volume 24
May 2020
 
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The Seventh Folding of Willow Sprite

by Marjorie Kaye




McKenna never goes outside. Now that Kressin's Bakery delivers, she doesn't bother. She gives the box a tap and a shake. Crumbs dust the white enamel and cling before a spray of water takes them. How long has it been since she's left the house? Thinking back, she remembers it was Lindsey's twenty-fourth birthday, almost three years ago. There was pizza and then cake at Kressin's. She had gone home to check her email and there was the Gamezworlders friend request.

Almost three years ago, Kevin had come into her life. She sings and hums as she prepares the box. "So young, you'd just begun ..."

He lived in a place near Chicago, he had said. "Or where Chicago would be if the Windy City existed in the Seventh Dimension." Kevin teased, "It's windy here too, lol."

She giggles, remembering Lindsey's face when Lindsey had made jokes about how lame this Kevin guy must be. What did he look like? There was with no picture, only an avatar that looked like ET. "He does sound cute," Lindsey had finally admitted, "but why won't he say where he's from? Doesn't that bother you?"

McKenna wasn't bothered. Unlike former friend Lindsey, McKenna still isn't bothered. There were weeks of chats, discussing games and favorite characters, and colors. McKenna liked all things aqua-blue; Kevin loved all shades of red. McKenna loved role-playing games and romantic movies; Kevin was devoted to hunting and liked role-playing fantasies. McKenna and Kevin had fallen in love.

Being a loyal friend, she had promoted Lindsey to Kevin as a Gamezworlders player for the Seven D, hoping there might be someone for Linds. McKenna wouldn't just ditch Linds, but there was no invite for Lindsey. She had felt guilty but thrilled. The thought still thrilled her.

Unfortunately, Lindsey's negative attitude persisted. "McKen, I don't like this; he's not telling you enough. Why won't he at least say where he's from?"

"He does, Linds; you don't believe him, but I do. That's the difference."

"The Seventh Dimension, McKen?" Lindsey had been stubborn and trying to turn McKenna against him. "He says he lives in the Seventh Dimension, McKen? C'mon."

"That's why he turned you down." McKenna had to be blunt so that Lindsey would know the score. Sadly, it had been too late; McKenna wouldn't ask again. "Lindsey, I told Kevin you didn't believe him. Uh, so, I'm a player in the Seventh D World Game. Sorry Linds, but you weren't invited."

Lindsey hadn't given up even then. "Why can't I find Seven D anywhere, McKenna? Doesn't that strike you as weird?"

"Okay so, Seventh D World Games isn't found on search engines, Linds. That's because SDWG is super exclusive and private." McKenna had finally run out of patience. When it became clear she had to choose, McKenna blocked Lindsey's emails and avoided her calls. Despite her resolve, McKenna had felt sad--she and Lindsey had been friends since the third grade.

Kevin had sympathized, saying it was for the best since Lindsey took time away from games and time away from folding. Folding is important.

McKenna folds the cupcake box, making it a five-fold. The ends must meet exactly. Pressing ... pressing ... be patient. Crease the cardboard, then fold exactly, press, crease ... The box resists. She hums a kindergarten song, "The People on the Bus." Creasing and pressing, "All through the town," she sings. "You're not a box anymore; you're décor." Décor is a better word, more accurate than decoration.

The halls where McKenna had walked in 1997 had decorations, like homecoming banners, dance notices and the one in her English class, a black marker smeared on the Animal Farm poster, starring "McKenna the pig as Napoleon's wifey." Décor is a sophisticated word. McKenna is cosmopolitan. "Cosmopolitan" is one of Kevin's favorite words.

She adds the five-fold to the pink tower on the window side in the living room. The bakery pink transforms the wall. The wall is beautiful. Pink is better than margarine yellow. There's not enough room to view the full effect. The hall ends in Aunt Jemima bottles and egg cartons, useful in mapping dimensions.

Her late mother's bedroom walls host layers of TV Guides and Enquirers complimented by Pond's cold cream jars and Planter's Peanut jars. Kevin had remarked on their value in making intra-space assessments. He appreciates her ingenuity.

She follows the path to her bedroom office. Out of breath, she hesitates. Stairs are becoming a problem. The extra pounds she guesses, pounds added to the three hundred fifteen that had been her weight on the last doctor visit. The entry has become an arch of tri-fold cellophane with bits of nutrition facts on the food McKenna eats as she socializes.

Be careful. Remember the roach attack on the Styrofoam. Collected from weeks of dinner deliveries, she had created a wall of Styrofoam behind her bed. The boxes had been exciting because they resembled oysters, common in a mermaid's environment.

Proud of her ingenuity, Kevin had gone on about the wall being useful in plotting a bridge map. Then the roach invasion had ruined it all. Remembering the roaches, she winces and berates herself again. You better not pout; you better watch out. Worms march in, they march out; worms play pinochle on your snout. Be careful.

Attracted by wafts of cheese fries and chicken ala king, they had streamed through the boxes, gathering an army before dropping to the floor and traversing the worn carpet to her desk. They had scaled the oak frame like a mountain, their antennae twitching as they overwhelmed Mac.

The message from Kevin had come through while she was screaming. Crunching them under her feet, she swept away handfuls of twitching insects, scooping and flinging them to the floor. Then, fighting the urge to run, she had answered.

Puzzled by her agitation, "Just eat them," he had urged. "Catch them as they run. Pop them in your mouth and enjoy a snack." Kevin had laughed at her.

Humiliated, she had protested. "No," she had sobbed, "roaches are gross." Minutes of silence became an eternity of loss. Waiting to be forgiven, she had stood, staring at Mac as she flicked roaches from her hair and brushed them off her sweats. At last, seven hearts had popped up; he was back. Anything, she had promised herself then. I'll do anything, oh please.

Discard the box shells, he had told her as waves of remorse threatened to overwhelm her. She must be more careful. Her tears had softened him. She could tell he cared by the double seven hearts. "Oh Kevin, so many ..."

She remembered the insects had paused, before continuing their journey across Mac's screen. Maybe they knew, she thought, that they had gone too far. They should have fled then, scurried into the peeling walls, back to their twitching families hidden in dark chambers. They would have been safe.

"Go work on the pink wall and don't come back for an hour."

Tears had trailed paths on her cheeks, her best feature, Lindsey had often said. McKenna checks her mail and cries as she remembers her humiliating failure. The roaches had been gone when she returned. Erased was a better description. All that was left were smears where her feet had crushed them.

What had happened? The Seven D had remapped her office, Kevin explained. She tells herself it doesn't matter because a message had appeared with a link to Seventh Neighborhood. She had clicked "About" and "FAQ," but there were few facts available. "Residents" would collaborate on "custom" environments. No one uninvited could apply; no profile was necessary. Invitations were based on personality and data.

She had im'd Kevin, "What do you mean by 'custom?' Is there a theme?" Her heart had raced with possibilities. Willow Sprite and Quiver's Truth might share a private little corner of My Seventh Neighborhood. See Lindsey, see what you missed!

"The theme is in my universe," he had answered.

Universe? She had been anxious, her stomach hurting. She had hyperventilated something she had done on the first day of every school year. Fight or flight, the doctor had explained to her mother when McKenna was ten.

Silly to be worried 'cause look at what happened. She checks her email, scrolling through Willow fan mail, looking for notes from Kevin, or from Seven D gamers, the human ones. There's nothing yet; it's early. She considers logging on to Seventh Neighborhood but decides to wait. If Kevin's not there, what if there's someone or something else?

After the roaches, McKenna had begun to question her sanity. The words, "Lindsey might be right," had crept into her thoughts, ready to slide under a door and into her dreams. Again, she had searched for Seventh Neighborhood and Seven D World Games, but had found no links, nothing to use against Lindsey's words.

After the roaches, the world had surely changed. Something had happened to make it spin. "No, revolved" was a better word, because everything had turned, Mac, her desk, her chair, everything. Her bedroom wall with the six-folds of colored plastic had rotated like Mom's lazy Susan.

She had found herself within a game and she was Willow Sprite, who was the reality, not a figure on a monitor, but real. Graphics from Wraith World, the Fifth World of the Seven Plains had surrounded her with paint-by-number images, rendering some elements in color, while others had the thinnest wash of tint, or no color, like an outline waiting for crayons.

"Willow," someone had whispered. Quiver's Truth, had appeared as a cartoon at first. Then, he too, had become real and as solid as she. Taking her hand in his, he had stroked her hair, the silken tresses falling on her shoulders. "Close your eyes," he had sung.

It felt as if a thousand fingers had stroked her, their touch a soft breeze of sensation, then pressing gently and then there was... As she folds the bakery five-folds, McKenna remembers. Groaning, she closes her eyes. The first tryst had been too brief. To her disappointment, Wraith World had ended abruptly, and she had found herself back at her desk, her hand resting on her chin. Mac's corner clock said she had been in Wraith World an hour. Staring at the Mac, she had wondered when she could return. Although it wasn't long before she did, Lindsey's words kept nibbling on an edge of her mind. Oh please. It would be disloyal. McKenna had refused to doubt his love.

How long has it been? How long since the roaches disappeared? Time in Kevin's universe is not the same. Bank notices connect to her old life. They tell her that it's been months now that Willow Sprite and Quiver's Truth have lived together on Willow Island in Seventh Neighborhood.

She folds and thinks of Mom's favorite phrase, "Every cloud has a silver lining." McKenna nods and mouths the words. She wants more than her father with his dealership, more than her mother, who had sighed and smiled when she deposited the insurance checks, the silver lining from Daddy's murder during a customer test drive of a Lexus minivan. Daddy's hands and feet had been tied, trussed like he was a Thanksgiving turkey, and he'd been tucked in a drawer under the last row of seats. The van had been top of the line and Daddy's number one seller.

Daddy was a shadow on the screened porch, a pair of black socks resting on the foot of a recliner, but mostly her father was the dealership. McKenna might have had more of his attention if she had been born with a luxury interior and chrome wheels. When Daddy died, Mom had quit her office job, married her new plasma screen, and devoted herself to American Idol.

The stroke took Mom, but banished the bathroom scale, the weight loss programs, The Price is Right mornings and the Fox News nights. Now, the two-story brick house is an island ruled by McKenna. Lindsey had wanted McKenna to take classes with her, but Lindsey also wants to be her roommate.

"You're by yourself too much McKen," Lindsey had argued. "You need to get out." Lindsey never calls now, but it doesn't matter. McKenna will stay with Kevin and be his Lady of the Seventh Dimension. Her secret heart had searched in chat rooms and games of fantasy. She had played the field, experimenting as a wandering elf, a princess warrior, and a lovely cyborg battling fierce trolls and sly wizards.

She found Kevin and her true self on an island surrounded by warm oceans, an island covered in rolling mists. Willow Sprite is now a water nymph. She had role-played in other worlds, but when she became a mermaid, Willow Sprite, the princess warrior, had discovered her power.

Pitting one suitor against the other, promising favors she plays in the oceans and lagoons of Poseidon's Undersea Kingdom, in The Secrets of King Arthur's Lake and Sea Treasures of Atlantis. Soft blue hair lazily drifts and caresses her face.

Hearts and friendships were broken. Until Quiver's Truth, huntsman of the Seventh World, claimed her, she had played the coquette.

When Shadow Siren and Journey's Wench had called for a vote to shut Willow "Spite" out of Wraith's World, Fifth of the Seven, Quiver's Truth had put Willow under his protection, declaring her his lady. Quiver's Truth is a hunter with straight yellow hair. He is, like she is, part elf. He is her true love. "We shall be as one," he tells her. Though now she is unavailable, though now she is Kevin's alone, they still beg for her.

McKenna remembers her father's words on making a sale. Pay attention; focus on the buyer. Any remark might be exploited to close the deal. She is observant and considerate, careful to "like" Kevin's Neighborhood posts.

Comments can often be confusing, but Kevin has explained that many of the Seven Worlders are new. Many are 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. Are the new smiley faces clues, part of a different game? She decides it isn't important as long as the magic envelops her.

McKenna is riding high, as her dad would say, because Willow Sprite now dwells on Willow Island. There's a waterfall shaded by the bows of bridal willow trees. Limestone shot with emeralds, turquoise and dark reds shimmers on the edge of a lagoon. Not pretending anymore, she is Willow Sprite, a water nymph with silver skin that glistens in the cool sun. Peering into the water, she sees the tilted eyes of her beautiful face.

Still McKenna wonders. If Seventh Neighborhood, the place where Willow Island exists, is something new, was it created from a cloud of stardust? Does it stream into her room from a door in Mac? If it is not on Earth, is it at least part of our universe? She is afraid to know.

Despite the magic, itching doubt threatens to crawl from the cracks and swarm. She fears the drabness of being sane. Many still think that Seventh Neighborhood is merely a game, and she suspects that doubters like her friends Mephisto Warrior, Green Prince Sorcerer and Moon Deer were invited to join Seventh Neighborhood for tests, to forge a path between worlds. Kevin had explained as he lounged beside her, his fingers tracing her jaw. "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. Kevin humors her, calling her "Dear Moon. " He 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, which is something cosmic.

She passes under the cellophane to her desk. Until Kevin fulfills his promise, until he and McKenna are as one, she will humor Moon Deer. She clicks on an icon, a tiny row of seven smiley faces as she and Mac wait. "Welcome to the Seventh Neighborhood!" pulsates, the words shrinking and ballooning until they change color.

Lights begin to flash, and McKenna's trembling hands are green, then deep purple. The desk becomes a waterfall; her bed changes to a kaleidoscopic swirl of stone. The bedroom walls are miles of distant forest cloaked in mist. Willow Sprite and Quiver's Truth sigh as they toss pebbles into the lagoon. They count the ripples. There are always seven.

She hears the howling of wolves in the haze of distant trees. He presses his long body to hers and kisses her on her nose, then jumps up to chase a deer as it scurries into the foliage. Grinning back at her, he reaches for an arrow and sprints away. Then, as always, the mist fades and becomes a wall. The swirl of rocks becomes a bedspread and she is back. McKenna sits and stares at the monitor.

There's an email from lindz2@gamworl.com. Lindsey must have a new address. The email has a link and before she can stop herself McKenna opens it.

"It's Riley, McKen. They can't find Mephisto, McKen. Oh McKenna, PLEASE BE CAREFUL!!"

Opening the link, she reads a news report about a gamer missing from the basement where he spends at least twelve hours of every day. She reads about boxes, stacks of boxes found and blood traces and something viscous, a slime substance they can't identify. McKenna wonders why Lindsey would send this. What does this have to do with her? Lindsey is losing it, obviously jealous and paranoid.

Willow misses Quiver's Truth already, and she wishes she could send him a rose. In one of their "private' messages, Kevin had confided that his world has no roses, no flowers, only the waves of "thists" that gather at the Great Barrier. "When predators crawl near toward the Barrier, thists scream a warning," he had explained.

She loves his stories, especially the one about his nurse. During his first growth, Kevin's nurse had warned him to be still or he would not grow big enough, and a giant krant would eat him come slaughter season. Krants hurtle themselves against outer force fields, trying to break through and attach to the Barrier Wall. They are seldom a threat, Kevin assured her, because krants wither quickly and thists kill them. The most dangerous were scrathes, tiny creatures slithering undetected by thists. McKenna perceived just a hint of fear when he confided this, and it made her love him more.

Scrathe tentacles secrete an acid, he explained. The acid creates 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 vulnerable and unprotected because adults are 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.

"I travel only in the smoothest of eggs," he had said. "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 has a silver smooth surface," he had told her. "Any small imperfection, the tiniest groove or rough patch obscured by the gleam, any break in the surface, can result in destruction. Then, undetected, thists attach. They can suck you through the shell, and your hunt is over. I've witnessed it," he had told her with a shudder. "They become flush with scarlet as they feed, and they're beautiful as roses."

McKenna hears a bell. Someone is at the door. Leaving her desk reluctantly, she looks through a window. It's Lindsey. McKenna opens the door, but is careful not to disturb the décor. Only a crack, she thinks as she places her foot against it.

"McKenna..." Lindsey stumbles on her words. Former best friend's hair is cut, something new, soft curls frame her round face. She wears a long blue sundress with daisies on the hem.

"What is it Linds? I'm kinda busy now." It's been a while since McKenna bathed and she tries to remember the last time she wore something new.

"Just worried about you Ken... maybe we could..." Lindsey looks like she might cry.

"I'm just fine Linds--you are a worry wart."

"C-c-call m-m-me." Lindsey stutters when she's nervous, "Okay Ken? Please?"

"Absolutely will when I get a minute. Bye, Linds." She shuts the door and part of the tower collapses. "Oh, God." She whispers as she makes repairs. Then she takes a shower and washes her hair. It will be tonight.

At ten o'clock McKenna sits and waits. She isn't hungry though it's been several hours since she's eaten. The pink wall is 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 message from a Willow Sprite fan appears. Will she let him "see" or will she give him a task and then perhaps let him see? Trivial, she deletes. Green Prince Sorcerer im's, "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 thinks, and her hands shake. Why am I worried? She tells Green Prince, "No worries, Moon Deer's a flake." There's another message from Green Prince; she deletes.

At ten-thirty she despairs. No Kevin. No Seventh Neighborhood. Her lip begins to tremble. As she rises, there's a whine from Mac. Loud and sharp, the whine becomes a siren. Her ears ache as she presses her hands to them. Gray light fills the room until waves of color pour in. Now? Oh Kevin my darling is it now?

Yes! She becomes Willow Sprite. Quiver's Truth is at her side. "Something's wrong," she thinks as he traces her jaw. She moves to touch her lover's hand and is startled. She can't see her own hand unless she turns it. It's not her hand at all. This Willow Sprite is flat, a creature of only two dimensions. Her flat silver arm stretches against him. She's thin as paper.

He whispers in her paper ear, "Fold."

She bends as he presses and then a crease. Is this what it takes? She wants to know. Her face hangs limp against her shins.

She hears wolves howling. They're not howls, they're screams! She hears the screams as she slides open the lids of her eyes. McKenna can't move. Her eyes shift from side to side trying to see. Am I breathing? I must be, but I don't feel it.

She sees pink. Pink boxes float above her. She notes that the room is gray, and her thin heart swells as she sees Quiver's Truth sitting on a silver egg. Oh Kevin. He moves toward her. He wants to kiss her, she thinks. There's screaming in the distance, but it's really more of a screeching sound. There is fear in his blue eyes, eyes that change to dark gray. Oh Kevin, you're afraid of the thists.

As she wonders what he sees, and if he can restore her third dimension, Kevin grins. Tiny strings shoot from his mouth, dancing and growing long as they attach to her. There's a gentle tug, and she can feel her face again! She's becoming round and smooth. She stretches her beautiful silver arms and the supple body her fans will miss. Then Willow's silver arms become the trembling arms of McKenna. She panics. Will he love her still?

He kisses her hand, "We'll be as one, my lady."

McKenna basks in waves of bliss until her lover's mouth widens, and his chin expands. The chin rolls fold and drape, enclosing her arm. McKenna would like to scream along with the thists as Kevin devours her. "As one," she dreams. The gray of his massive flesh shimmers. From slits near Kevin's snout (gills?) she notices a thick clear fluid that oozes and drips. That's the slime they found in the basement, she thinks. Sorry Lindsey. His folds envelop her, and they flush with scarlet, as beautiful as any rose.


THE END


© 2013 Marjorie Kaye

Bio: Marjorie Kaye is currently working on her second novel, Babylon Dreams, a story set in the near future when after-death destinations via mind-up loading has become big business. Her website, marjoriekayesbabylondreams.com features current related research on mind uploading, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and snippets from my unpublished book. Her first novel (self-published) is a multi-generational horror novel, Devil’s Fire. Another blog, marjoriekayesbookblog.com has book and movie reviews and snippets from Devil’s fire.

E-mail: Marjorie Kaye

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