I slowly came back to myself. The light outside the window was a little brighter now, so it must be day again, but the snow still whirled down. I was stiff and sore and my mouth tasted like my boots probably did. My eyes were crusty and my nose was still stuffy from crying. A big wet spot under my face told me I had been drooling. Well, there was no one in here but the Skink and me, and he could just put up with the drooling and the snoring that the stuffy nose had undoubtedly caused.
I slowly pushed myself into a sitting position on the edge of the bed, unwrapping myself from a throw that the Skink must have put over me. I sat there, staring around in a daze, still too half asleep to cry anymore and too completely bummed to make myself move. Back where I began. Big surprise.
The Skink appeared beside me and immediately starting chattering. “Jane, Jane, look at this! Look!” He poked at the comforter on the bed.
I shrugged. “And? It’s the comforter. It’s been on here for a while.”
“I don’t think so. Really LOOK at it,” he said, rubbing his hand over the surface and plucking at it with his gnarled little hands.
I leaned over and looked at it and then looked up at him again. “So?”
“There’s no dog hair!” the Skink practically shouted at me.
“No dog hair?” I repeated stupidly. Even half asleep, I understood that this was not normal. There should have been dog hair from our two black Labrador retrievers literally imbedded in the fabric. Even when things were freshly washed, they always had black dog hairs woven into them somewhere. I took a good, close look at the comforter. Nope, no dog hairs.
“And I checked out the plastic storage drawers. There aren’t any rubber stamps or paper or stamp pads in them,” the Skink added.
I turned and reached for the computer on the desk. Pressing the power button, I waited for it to power up – but nothing happened. No lights, no humming, no nothing.
“What on earth…” I began. Then I looked at the doors. My face must have reflected what I saw, because the Skink looked up too and gasped.
Each door – the one to the outside and the one to the rest of the house – was barred with five swords.
“Ten swords. Jane, that’s not good,” the Skink started.
“It’s not telling me anything I don’t already know,” I said, grimacing. Still, I went over to the door that led to the rest of the house and examined the swords across it. They were heavy and sharp and set securely into place. “It’s just confirming what I said last night. It’s all over. There’s no point in going on – She Wolf is lost forever.” I stood there staring at the floor while the Skink stared up at me.
A noise from across the room made us both look up. It came from where I had thrown my backpack the night before. The flap on my pack wiggled a bit and a small round tin box came rolling out and across the floor towards me.
“You!” I laughed bitterly. “Yeah, I guess you’ve been starving, too, haven’t you? If I’m not writing, there’s nothing for you to criticize and devour. Well, I guess this isn’t all bad, then.” I kicked at the box as it rolled to my feet and the lid popped off. The insectoid form of my inner critic climbed out and wiggled antennae at me mockingly.
“Oh, I don’t know – he and I are friends,” came a voice from behind me. I whirled around to see who was there, but only caught a glimpse of a black shadow zipping to the other side of me. “I make sure he gets a snack here and there – we share, don’t we little buddy?” The creature on the floor flipped an antenna in reply.
The Skink and I turned around and around, trying to get a look at whatever was in the room with us but all we succeeded in was getting dizzy.
“Who’s there?” I demanded. The shadow came to a stop and laughed. The smoky form coalesced into a vaguely human figure.
“I’m your fears,” it said. “I’m all of the things that make you put up walls to hide behind, and I remind you to keep them in place so you don’t get hurt.” Its tone was mocking. “For instance…” and the form in front of me changed from a smoky humanoid to a viewing screen showing me things that ate at me, things that I feared, happening. I cringed.
“Jane, you can’t give it power over you!” the Skink tugged on my pants leg, but I was too mesmerized to pay him any mind.
The Thing cycled through vision after vision, and I could feel the world fading around me as I became lost in the sorrows and pain it offered. Walls, I thought to myself desperately, walls. I began to erect the protective walls around myself as I always did when life became too stressful. I could hear, distantly, the thing laughing in triumph. I crumpled to the floor, arms around my knees and my eyes squeezed tightly shut. I could feel the tears seeping out and trickling down my face. Somewhere, far away, I could hear the Skink calling my name, but I was afraid to open myself enough to answer him.
Then I heard another voice, and someone hauled me roughly to my feet. My eyes came open in surprise, and to my shock and wonder I saw the She Wolf standing there. Her eyes were blazing and she held that wolf’s head walking staff between us and the black Thing. She snarled wordlessly.
The Thing stopped what it was doing and snarled back. “You aren’t welcome here,” it said. “Jane’s mine now. There’s no room for you. Look!” At that all the walls in the room went blank. All of the furniture disappeared. The windows and doors become solid, too, so that all that was left was a solid expanse of white wherever I looked. The Skink was fading out before my eyes, and the She Wolf was already almost gone.
The Thing laughed again. “Walls. All the walls you could ever want, Jane. Walls that the She Wolf can’t come through. You’ll be nice and safe…” and it faded away, too. I stood alone in the room.
“NO!” I shouted again, but this time it wasn’t a cry of hopelessness. It was a shout of defiance. “NO!” I shouted again, louder. This time I saw a crack in the walls, and the Skink reappeared beside me. He joined me in shouting and then, suddenly, there was an enormous BOOM! And the walls flew apart. I could see giant fragments flying off and disappearing into nowhere. And for a fleeting moment, I thought I saw something else, buried behind the walls, before everything disappeared.
Then the Skink and I were standing in the snow, my backpack at my feet and the flakes soft and cold on my face. The house and fence were gone, but I could see the willows in the distance through the snow. He looked up and me and asked, “Did you see that?”
I nodded. “The She Wolf’s room. It was behind the walls – I could see prints on the walls, and hand-spun wool hanging in loops. I could see that quilt that I’ve always meant to make on the bed, and all kinds of things that I’ve dreamed about doing over the years.”
The Skink nodded and added, “And I saw stacks of paper with printing on them. The computer was open to a word processor.”
“So she’s still there, behind the walls.” I paused. “I hope that wasn’t her last stand.” I added fervently.
Before I could droop disconsolately, the Skink shook his head and said, “No, no. Look over here,” and he scampered across the snow to a strange set of tracks. I followed him and looked. The prints of a pair of boot and the circular mark of a walking staff led off into the snow. The Skink looked up at me slyly and said, “I don’t think she’d have left a trail if she didn’t want you to follow it.”
I thought for a moment and then nodded. “I think you’re right, Skink.” Then I picked up my backpack and set off towards the willow thicket.
-Jane ©April 2010