That first day in the cemetery, Mary was less than impressive. I have seen many a sore sight—it’s something you get used to being around the dead all the time—but her travel worn appearance and self-pitying pucker was this side of nauseating.
Although, I did like her shoes. I believe the correct name is Converse. They looked so much nicer than the pinching patent monsters that clung to my feet.
So maybe it was the jealousy that first set me off to her. And then she opened her mouth.
“A Christmas Carol,” she had said, as if I could be anything out of Dickens’ imagination! A higher insult I have never heard.
I met Dickens once when he was a child and have never again met anyone so insolent. He loved to terrorize the dead; ‘ghosties’ he called them. It was like a game, a crude game that he lost as soon as he tried to look up my skirts. The gumption of some people!
I suppose I should have been more alarmed at the fact that Mary could see me, but I was a bit distracted. It was when she spoke again that the entire world went white.
That had never happened before.
At first it was as if we were floating through the white—or maybe it was flying—it was so hard to tell with the sharp, blinding light. Then, almost instantaneously, my feet met with a hard surface and I lurched forward. It had been hundreds of years since I had needed to worry about balance, and after so long a person can get rusty.
“What did you do?” Mary demanded, rubbing her elbow vigorously as though it might have somehow woken her up from a dream. But this was no dream. I had not been able to dream for centuries.
“I didn’t do anything,” I snapped back. “Maybe it was you.”
“Doubtful.” She pushed out her lower lip in that irritating expression. That’s when I noticed it: the heart-shaped mole just below her left eye. I would have become violently sick if I weren’t a ghost, so instead I turned away and refused to look at her, which was just as well because it gave me time to assess our surroundings.
I smelled the brine before I saw the water, and my empty heart cavity swelled. The ocean. It had been years since I’d been anywhere warmer than the English Channel. Hot sea air lifted my hair from my shoulders and I grinned; I could feelit.
A ship lurched beneath us and I stumbled, doing my best to right myself. It was just like the ship my father and I used to sail on, pillaging whatever towns and vessels we passed.
“What are you so smiley about?” Mary was looking out at the ocean too, but she was not nearly so enthused. “All I see is a bunch of trees.”
“Trees? There aren’t any trees.”
“Sure there are.” She looked at me hard, as if I was an idiot not to see them. But there were no trees. “What are we doing in the forest?”
“We’re not in the forest.” If I didn’t dislike her before, I certainly did now. How could she not know that we were on the ocean?
But before we had a chance to argue further—and I’m sure we would have—a massive wave broke over us, sending us both slamming to the deck. It hadn’t just come out of nowhere; it hadn’t come from anywhere at all.
My shredded dress was nearly impossible to lift soaked with water and I struggled to my feet, leaning against the ships mast for support. But when I lifted my eyes from the floorboards we were no longer on the ship. We were in the desert, the hot sun beating down so hard I had thought I might suffocate on the spot. My skirts were no longer drenched with water, though I’d wished they were; it might have helped against the oppressive heat.
“I don’t suppose it appears to you as if we are in the arctic?” Mary asked me gently and I shook my head.
“Where are we?”
I’d wished I had an answer for her. It is difficult to surprise a dead person, us being able to see everything and all of that. It wasn’t till then that I’d realized the feeling that thrummed in my empty chest was more than surprise; it was terror.
I was about to throw a blood-curdling tantrum—I’m quite good at those—when a small voice piped up just behind my left ear.
“Excuse me,” it said lightly, “but could you help me?”
Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one who’d heard it. Mary spun around at nearly the same time I did and we knocked into one another.
“Watch it,” she growled, and I wanted to reach over and twist her nose. But there was that mole sitting there and I lost my motivation.
“Excuse me,” came the voice again. I was startled to find the speaker was a small creature, its wings keeping it steady in the air before us. It was a pixie—or nymph, I’m not sure which—and its little body was covered in a Roman-like sash that ran over one shoulder and tied at the hip.
It is impossible to tell pixie genders apart with the human eye—one must be trained for such things, or so the elves say—so I could not be sure if the small creature I spoke to was male or female. I don’t guess it matters much in the long run, but after being nearly drowned and then baked in the sun, it was the first thing that came to mind.
“Welcome to the Norlands,” the creature said. “A place neither here nor there.”
“This is stupid.” Mary grimaced at the small thing, taking a step back, but the pixie did not appear offended. “You are making this up. Or maybe I am.” She put two fingers to her temples and massaged. “I’m having a hallucination, aren’t I? They’ve finally caught up with me. I knew I shouldn’t have trusted that Old Maid. Tell me,” she said, spinning toward me, “do you know how I can get back to America? Tap my heels twice? Will that get me back to Kansas, at least? I can do Kansas.”
“What is a Kansas?” I asked at the same time the pixie said, “The King needs your assistance.”
“King?” Both Mary and I repeated. A king meant jewels, gold, and riches. I should know, it was what I had always strived to be.
I didn’t know why Mary was suddenly so curious. I still don’t, not really.
“The King of the Norlands,” the pixie said as though this was obvious information. “A King most powerful and he needs your assistance.”
“Why me?” Mary asked.
“Not you.” The little squirt pointed between us. “Both.”
“Both?” Mary lifted an eyebrow, turning to face me with pure condescension.
“Do we get to meet the King?” I asked, ignoring her.
The small thing shook its head. “Not here, no help here, out there.” It pointed up toward the sky and I lifted my head to look.
There was nothing but a massive expanse of blue and a singular puffy cloud that floated along directly above us. I fixed my eyes on the cloud and it stopped, drawing nearer—or, in retrospect, I suppose we were getting closer to it—because the next time I blinked we were back in the cemetery.
Mary still sat on the headstone, pouting, and I floated in front of her, my feat a few inches from the ground. Not a single word was exchanged as we glanced quickly about us, but our pixie friend was not there.
With a huff, Mary looked up at me, crossing her arms. “I hope you know this is all your fault.”