First I’m in the office, and then I’m not. I squeeze my eyes shut as a swirling vortex surrounds me. Or maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but if the inside of a tornado had an evil twin brother, this would be it.
I’m spinning, spinning, until I think my ghostly stomach might launch from my body, and then I’m doing nothing at all. When I open my eyes, there is only white, stretching on for…well…forever, I guess.
Next to me there’s a lurching in the air and suddenly Mary is standing beside me, her eyes clamped shut so tight I think she might push them out the back of her skull. Suddenly the idea of back-eyes is so hilarious I have to cover my mouth to keep from laughing outright. I must have made some kind of noise because Mary opens her eyes, finding me amidst the white, and glares.
“What did you do?” she spits and I cross my arms.
“Me? This was clearly your doing.”
She huffs indignantly. “Oh? And how is that?”
“Clearly that man was some kind of wizard and just now sent us into another dimension. If you hadn’t have been sassy to him, this would never have happened.”
“Oh you have to be kidding me. Book-man? There’s no way that twit is a wizard. Besides, if he was, then wouldn’t Randy be here too—?”
Before she can finish what she’s saying, there’s another ripple in the air around us and we both step toward one another, waiting for someone or something to appear. On the horizon (or, at least, somewhere in the expanse of white) a dark figure begins to form. It’s not Randy, I realize, slightly disappointed, as it approaches.
In fact, it’s not human at all. It has little wings that flutter rapidly as it moves toward us. Its beady little eyes look between us as it tugs at a sash wrapped around its body. A sudden feeling of dread grips my stomach and I feel as if I might be sick all over again, but now for a totally different reason.
“Hello,” it says, and I can hear Mary draw a quick breath beside me.
“Oh, not you again.” I’m not sure who says it first—me or Mary—but we exchange a knowing look before glancing back toward the pixie-nymph-gremlin thing that floats in the air in front of us.
“Where are we?” Mary asks impatiently. “I was in the middle of something.”
I scoff. “And I wasn’t?”
“Busy?” she asks me. “Doing what? It wasn’t like you were asking any of the questions—”
“Excuse me,” the little creature interrupts, “but I was busy too. You came here. What do you want?”
Mary’s hands slide down to her hips as she cocks an eyebrow. “Is this like one of those reverse-prank calls? You bring us here and then pretend to wonder what we’re doing here? I tried one of these once on the White House in order to access their server. It didn’t really work though, because I think the guy was beginning to catch on…” She trails off when the little pixie-thing gives her a haughty glare.
“Welcome to the Norelands,” it says in a practiced speech, tone flat. “A place neither here nor there. What do you want?”
“You act like you don’t know us,” I say irritably. “Why don’t you tell us what you want?”
The thing makes some creepy hissing noise through its teeth, which I realize as it opens its mouth, are actually really sharp. “I’ve already told you. You came here.”
“Wait.” Mary reaches out a hand as if she’s going to tap my arm, but pulls back thinking better of it. “This wouldn’t be because of the letter Book-man had, would it?”
“Letter? You mean that scrap of paper? Find the King,” I quote.
We pause, exchanging a look, before looking back to the pixie in unison.
“Oh, the King,” it says as if that explains everything. “Have you made an appointment?”
“Appointment?” Mary asks. “With the imaginary King?”
“Do you have the appointment slip?”
I stare at the little demon-thing as Mary glares. I can sense the hatred shooting out from her eyes like a million little fire balls.
“This is all too much with only one scoop of ice cream for breakfast,” she says. “It’s the most important meal of the day, you know.”
“I don’t think the person who said that intended for your breakfast to be ice cream,” I sneer. “Besides, I don’t even need to eat and this is still too much.”
“The appointment slip,” the thing says, ignoring our pointless commentary. “Do you have it?”
“What would an appointment slip from a king say?” Mary says, a small giggle escaping her lips. When she speaks again, her voice is low, forcing a fake manliness. “Please meet me in my throne room at five p.m. We will have tea and crumpets. Do not be late.”
“I sincerely hope not,” I mumble. “Crumpets are disgusting.”
“No, you idiots,” the pixie says, slapping a tiny palm against the side of its face. “The appointment slip is simple, three words in gold writing. It’s His Majesty’s trademark.”
“Do you mean something like this?” I hold up the scrap of paper from the newspaper editor’s office, and the thing flies at me, its little wings buzzing. I move to swat it away, but it dodges my hand, plucking the paper from between my fingers, and darting off through the white until it is only a speck.
Mary and I just stare after it, mouths slightly agape.
“This is wrong, so wrong,” Mary keeps saying, and I can’t help but agree with her. I know I should probably be a bit more optimistic (seeing as how I’m a zombie-ghost and all) but at least I was a real human…once. This thing—this place—there’s no way that it’s real.
“Are you coming?” the pixie calls impatiently and, following Mary’s lead, we slowly begin to walk after it.
“I don’t like this,” she whispers to me.
“Me neither,” I say, “but maybe it will take us somewhere a little more…” I gesture around us.
“Colorful,” she supplies.
“Yes, sure. Let’s go with that.”
When we finally reach the empty space where the creature is waiting, scrap of paper still clutched in its little hand, it signs for us to stop, which we do. Mary’s shoulders tense and I can sense my dead pulse beginning to race—if that’s even possible.
“What—?” I begin to ask, but it stops me.
“If you want to meet the king, you must do as his instructions tell you. Find him.” The little creature’s hand reaches forward, gripping something I cannot see, a veil of some sort, and pulling it aside.
Suddenly, the world around us is ablaze with color, and my jaw drops. As we stare up at our new surroundings Mary shakes her head.
“Oh Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore.”