A Song of Yuletide

A Song of Yuletide

“I know I told you to die,” Maria said, pulling her bathrobe tighter around herself, but not before I saw a hint of her diaper’s waistband above the top of her pajama pants, “but I didn’t mean for you to do it on my back porch, Devlin.”

“What?” I glanced around, somewhat surprised to find snowflakes dancing through the moonlight all around, piling up quickly. It was the kind of snow that I always wished for, the kind that could make the next day, Christmas day, like some beautiful storybook. I had never gotten that wish before; perhaps having lived in Florida until just a few months before had something to do with that. “Oh, I’m fine.”

“I’m thrilled,” Maria sighed. “Why the hell are you here?”

Even though I had gone to her house with one very clear purpose, something I knew was right, and that I probably should have done long ago, now that the time to actually do it was upon me, I could feel the words crumbling on my tongue. How did I phrase it? What could I say to possibly make up for everything I’d done, and said, already?

“Why don’t you come back when you decide?” Maria shook her head, backing further into the doorway. “Or better yet, why don’t you go tell someone who gives a crap about what you think?”

“I’m sorry!” I blurted out, those two simple words somehow busting the flood gates of my mind wide open. “I’m so sorry about everything! I know I was horrible, but…”

“Yes, you were,” she interrupted, her voice colder than the air outside, which I was finally beginning to feel. “You have no idea…”

“No, I do!” I nodded quickly. “I know what I put you through now, and I’m…”

“Sorry? Yeah, sure. You just had some big personal revelation, huh?” She shook her head. “Do you honestly think I’m going to fall for this?”

“But I did!” I reached for her hand, only to have her pull it away. “This is going to sound crazy, I know, but you have to listen to me…”

It had all started earlier that night, after my big brother, got “home”, though, to him anyway, it could hardly be called that, since he had never been there before; I was still barely able to think of it as home, and I’d been living there almost six months. At any rate, the tree was all trimmed, there was a pair of stockings, marked Ashley and Cheyenne, hanging at the fireplace, and we’d both opened our traditional one present, in honor of Christmas Eve. I’d gone to bed, but wasn’t quite asleep, just drifting happily in that space right at the edge of consciousness, nimbly dodging dreams of sugarplums - it was pretty easy, since I can’t honestly say I know what a sugarplum actually -is- - in favor of listening to the strangely comforting sound of the twin symphonies of snoring coming from dad and Ash.

I can’t say I had anything in particular on my mind, though I was, at least a little, probably still being amused by the fortune I’d gotten the night before when I’d gone to China Garden with Laurell and Ivy. “An alien of some sort will be appearing to you shortly!”, it had claimed, and was, for whatever reason, much funnier at the time. Still, I had, of course, shown it to Ash when he came in and told him he was certainly the fulfillment of this most astute of prophecies.

I don’t put any real stock in that sort of thing, or astrologies even, no matter how fun they can be to read from time to time, but this time it stuck with me. Seeing as I also don’t believe in aliens, I can’t really say why.

“You’d better get to sleep,” a voice said suddenly, plunging me back into full awareness. “It’s Christmas in just a few hours. Do you still get up at 3 to go look at the tree?”

“Holy Jesus!” I shouted in response, flinging my blankets aside and starting to roll out of bed before my brain registered a pair of facts - first, that there was a strange shadow at the foot of my bed, which seemed to be the source of the voice, and second, that the shape had just been propelled across the room.

I allowed myself a moment or two to calm down before continuing to stand, detouring over to my desk to grab my vase, dumping out the fake roses I kept to brighten up my room a little, before moving over to the shape’s landing spot. “What are you?” I asked, as civilly as I could manage while holding a hunk of glass over it threateningly.

The shape stood, on four legs, shook itself off before looking up at me calmly, clearly not thinking of me as dangerous. “Nice to see you, too, Cheyenne.” It’s wings shook a bit, too, as if clearing themselves of dust from the floor. Then the shape sat, and slowly began to lick it’s front paw, so that it could then use it to clean behind it’s large, triangular ears.

“Fido?” I whispered, blinking. “Is that you?”

“Of course it is,” she said, sounding none too amused. “Hmm… I keep forgetting how horrid humans are with their eyes. Maybe this will help.” She shook her head, and a tiny halo appeared above it, raining light down on her tiny, calico body. “That better?”

I knelt down, setting down the vase to reach out, almost brushing against her fur, but stopping just short. “But…”

“Yes, I’m quite aware of my status, as far as life or, in my case, lack of it, goes,” she told me. “I’m also aware that, last time you saw me, I couldn’t speak, so please don’t bother to bring that up, either.”

“But…” It sounded just as stupid the second time around.

“Tell yourself you’re imagining all this, if that will help,” she shook her head, starting to walk around me. “I can assure you you’re not, but then, I’d likely say the same thing if I were a hallucination, so I may not be completely trustworthy.”

“Or I’m not, since this is all coming from my head,” I countered, happy to have finally found something less monosyllabic to contribute. “I just don’t know what in the world made me think of you, after all this time.”

“It’s good to know you forgot about me so readily,” she huffed. “Glad to have made such an impact on your life.”

“I was, like, eight,” I shrugged.

“You were nine,” she corrected me. “And at least you were broken up at the time. I guess that silly fish was enough to help you get over your grief and forget about me.”

She was right, I suppose; my young mind, previously so enamored with my pretty kitty, had quickly moved on to other things, blocking out that particular bit of early trauma associated with her death. However, I had other things on my mind than agreeing with her. “What are you doing here? Are you my guardian angel or something?”

“What? No, don’t be ridiculous. I’m just doing you a favor, this once, because you weren’t half bad, as people go. You know, back when you remembered I existed…”

“Well, it’s nice to see you, I guess, whether it means I’m losing it or not, but I’m not sure how that works as a favor.”

“Oh, the favor’s not me,” she said with a little, knowing smile, the kind only a cat can do right. “I’m just here to tell you it’s on it’s way. I’ve got three… acquaintances coming tonight, to help you out with a little problem.”

“Acquaintances?” Though, I guess if a cat can come back as an angel, she might as well have friends, too. “So they all have to come tonight? Honestly, I’m kinda tired, and…”

“Yes, they have to come tonight,” she interrupted me irritably. “After Halloween, Christmas Eve is pretty much the easiest time for us less-than-physical manifestations to… Well, manifest. At least to people who aren’t kids. I thought about bringing them by on Halloween, but I thought that maybe you’d do the right thing by yourself.”

“The right thing?”

“That’s what this whole thing is about. The others will show you more. I’m pretty much just here to tell you that you’re gonna want to pay attention.”


I got the distinct impression that, if she could, she would have rolled her eyes about then. “Are you going through that phase again? Really? Just trust me on this, okay? We’re all trying to help you out. If I could explain it all to you now, I would, but it just isn’t that easy.”

“Yeah, but…”

She glanced upwards, in the direction of my clock. “Damn, I have to go. Listen, the first one should be by at midnight. The second will get here at one, and the last ought to make it by two.”

She shook herself again, and her wings started to spread out, as light poured from them as well. “Wait!” I begged. “I still don’t understand…”

“You will,” she assured me. “It was nice to see you again, Cheyenne.” And then there was a bright flash of light, and Fido was gone.

“Goodbye,” I said, a second too late. Typical, I thought. She always had been the impatient sort, even as cats go.

After staring at the space where she’d been for a moment or two, I turned to follow her last gaze, towards my clock, sitting on my bedside table, reading 11:58 in bright yellow numbers.

“Man, I must’ve eaten too much,” I muttered to myself. I’d never actually had that sort of thing lead to weird dreams before, but I had heard that such a thing was possible. I’d always kind of assumed it was an old wives’ tale. I’d been wrong before.

Still, there was an easy way to find out for sure that I was either still hallucinating, or that I wasn’t. I stood back up, set the vase back on my desk, though I didn’t bother trying to put the flowers back in it. I turned back to the clock, which had helpfully changed to 11:59.

I walked over to my bed, sat right on the edge and stared into the face of the clock, waiting. My eyes seemed somehow drawn into the blank space surrounded by the yellow sticks that made up the top of the number 9, and I allowed myself to slump down a little, getting closer, staring deeper and deeper into the darkness, only vaguely aware of the light around it until that light suddenly exploded outwards.

I jumped back a little with a blink, which gave me enough time and clarity to see that the 9 had changed to a 0 before I noticed that it was still getting bigger. I scrambled back on my bed, somewhat hindered by the pile of blankets, still sitting where they’d been thrown earlier, as the number grew too large to be contained by the clock, and so, naturally, broke loose, to hang in front of it instead.

Finally, it settled on a size, which was, honestly, a bit of a relief, as I was beginning to wonder if it wasn’t going to wind up growing larger than my whole room. Once it had stopped, it hovered there for a moment, and then something came flying - or, rather, swimming, though in the air - out. Once it had made it’s way free, the zero quickly turned, so that only one of it’s sides was visible, and retreated back into the clock, making it 12:01.

“Dr. Fishenstein?” I don’t know why I was so surprised, considering my first encounter of the night, but even so, I have to say I was glad I was sitting down when I recognized the goldfish floating in front of me.

“Hello, dear,” he bubbled - literally, as he didn’t actually speak, but rather bubbles came from his mouth, with his words written on them. They were a bit hard to read from time to time, since they had a habit of spinning, and, eventually, popping, as bubbles do, but I got the hang of it pretty quickly.

“What are you doing here?”

“Did Fido not get here yet? I swear, cats…” His little mouth was puckering quite rapidly, so I decided I should probably calm him down.

“No, she was here,” I assured him. “She just didn’t actually explain anything to me.”

“Well, what did you expect? Cats aren’t exactly known for giving straight answers, are they?”

“And fish aren’t known for their long attention spans, either,” I shot back, my pride feeling strangely wounded. I guess I shouldn’t have expected something I’d named after a monster, or rather, the creator of a monster, to be the nicest person… thing.

“I am a doctor,” he pointed out. “But, at any rate, I’m here to show you a few things.”

I waited, but after the clock changed to 12:03, I realized that was all he was planning on saying. “Like…?”

“Things from your past,” he expanded. “Important things.”

“I’m pretty sure I haven’t done anything important.”

“Are you a doctor?” he asked, bubbles suddenly sporting tiny spikes. “They’re things which you will soon recognize the importance of. Or not. They’re things you need to see again, at any rate. Now, we’ve wasted enough time already, so come along.”

There was a flicker of motion, but he had to repeat it before I recognized it as him holding one of his flippers out. “Do I have to?” I asked with an apprehensive shudder. “Your skin always felt freaky…”

“They’re scales, not skin,” he informed me, as if that made any real difference. “Come along.”

I still hesitated, so he sighed, the first real noise I’d heard from him, and swam over to me, brushing up against my hand. I could feel my skin crawl, even before the top of the 4 opened up and swallowed us whole in a flash of yellow light.

If I’d had time to consciously think, I probably would have advised myself to endure Dr. Fishenstein’s slimy touch until we got to wherever he was taking me, but we got there before I had the chance. I pulled my hand away from him, wiping it on my pajama pants. “We didn’t have time for me to change into some real clothes?”

“Nobody will be seeing you but me,” he told me.

“That’s not really the point…” I trailed off to try to disguise the fact that I wasn’t entirely sure what the point actually was, taking the time to look around. We were standing in the middle of a department store, one I had a vague recollection of, I think from when we were living in Oregon.

“Just wait,” he said, “and see.”

I heard laughter from behind me, and I turned to find a younger version of my mother there, chatting with some older woman I didn’t recognize. “Oh, there’s me!” I pointed out, surprised at how tiny I was, and how adorable, with my little round cheeks, clutching at my mom’s coat. I was maybe four, maybe three.

“You are correct.” He floated past me, closer to the little group. I followed, kneeling down to get a closer look at myself.

“Do I get a cookie?” I asked absently, trying to straighten out little me’s coat, only to have my hand pass through her.

“It’s so good to see you,” my mom gushed above me. “I keep meaning to call you, but you know how it is.”

But if the other woman did, in fact, know, I would never find out, because the little me suddenly tugged at mom’s coat more severely. Mom bent down, nearly bumping heads with me, if my head had been solid at the time, and little me whispered something into her ear, too quietly to hear.

“Excuse us,” mom said, taking the little girl’s hand.

“Oh, no problem,” the woman smiled. “Gotta get to the potty?”

Mom’s expression turned slightly embarrassed as she shook her head. “Well, no, she already did.” When the woman looked down at me - both mes, technically, since I was still down by myself - with confusion, mom clarified, “She’s still in diapers.”

“Oh,” the woman blinked, but managed to cover. “Well, some of them can be pretty difficult. She’ll get it eventually.”

“I hope so,” mom sighed. “It doesn’t seem like it sometimes.”

The woman gave her a sad smile and patted her arm, smiled down at me and headed off into the vast jungles of the store after saying her goodbyes. “Let’s go, sweetie,” mom said, leading the other me away as well.

“It’s not like I’m the only person in the world who potty trained late,” I told Dr. Fishenstein. “What’s the big deal?”

But he didn’t answer; perhaps he didn’t have time, because the yellow light chose that moment to show up again.

After a sharp rush of wind, the light became the rays of the sun - or had it been all along? - and I raised a hand to shield my eyes before thinking just to lower my gaze. By doing so, I was able to see that we were now standing in the middle of a playground.

The other me, which we were obviously here to watch, was about six, pigtailed and short-alled. If it wouldn’t have sounded so conceited, I might have pointed out how cute I was.

I didn’t see my mother, but I assumed she was around somewhere, and even left myself alone for a minute looking around the playground for her. At least until I noticed Ash, hanging out by the slide, already chatting up some cute girl, with freckles and a tiny little nose, but a horribly annoying laugh. Assuming he was supposed to be watching me instead, I settled back down into the sandbox.

“If you look closely,” Dr. Fishenstein said, “you can tell that you’ve managed to get yourself into some big girl panties at this point.”

I shuddered a little. “Okay, that’s a little creepy.”

“I’m just helping you find your path,” he claimed. “Believe me, I take no pleasure from discussing your underpants.”

“Then don’t do it,” I begged. “Please.”

“I’m only trying…”

“Yeah, I’m well aware. But if you could…”

“Bloody hell, now we’ve gone and missed it.” If he’d had a voice, it would have sounded annoyed. Instead, I guess his bubbles popped a little more quickly. It’s probably difficult for a fish to get emotions across.

I turned back to myself, only to find a large wet spot spreading across the seat of my short-alls. Somehow, I didn’t find myself too surprised at the situation, despite my fish’s claimed indifference to the state of my panties.

The smaller me didn’t seem shocked at the development, either. In fact, she didn’t give any indication of noticing at all. She continued working on her sand castle, though at the time it looked more like just a random pile of sand, as if everything were normal.

“That’s just how little kids are,” I reasoned out loud. “They have accidents. Why is this some big deal?”

But I think Dr. Fishenstein was mad at me, because he refused to answer, and he didn’t take us anywhere else. We just stood - floated, in his case - there and watched.

All of a sudden, I saw myself fall down into the sand. I figured it was simple klutziness until I heard the giggling.

“What do you think you’re doing here, baby?” the little boy asked. He looked to be a touch younger than the young me, and an equal touch shorter, but by the way I was cowering, you’d have thought he was Ash’s size.

“Don’t call me that!” I sniffled, scrambling to my feet.

“Why not?” he asked, moving closer. “That’s what you are, if you need diapers.”

I had been holding out a slim hope that I was saving up some brilliant move to show the boy who was boss; instead, as I backed away, I stumbled back and landed on my already sand-coated butt and started to cry exactly like what I was claiming not to be. Honestly, I was starting not to like six year old me - I had forgotten what a pushover I used to be.

“I don’t need diapers!” I protested. I guess it probably sounded a little less absurd to me when I was that age, but looking at it now, it was hard not to laugh, or cry, at myself, making such an absurd claim. And even just needing to, especially to defend myself from that little boy.

I watched myself stare up at him, eyes quivering and shimmering, and I begged myself not to do it. The boy wasn’t even doing anything, just looking down on me as I sat there in my wet pants. Apparently that was enough, however, as the younger me quickly disregarded my request and began to bawl.

“Can we just go?” I asked Dr. Fishenstein. “Please? I got past all this, I really don’t need to see it again, no matter what you and Fido think.”

“Just a little longer,” he said.

Ash glanced over towards the sandbox, apparently remembering what he was at the playground for in the first place upon hearing my cries of distress. I was a little surprised to see him bolt away from the freckled girl and over to my side, where he stood towering over the little boy.

“Why don’t you go find somewhere else to play?” I doubt he would have actually hit someone so much younger than himself, but upon standing up and moving to get a better look at the scene, I began to wonder. His eyes had a strange fire to them that I could remember way in the back of my mind, my knight in an almost-white T-shirt.

“Fine,” the boy pouted. “The sandbox is all gross now, anyways. Plus, swings are better.” And with that, he ran off, leaving me and Ash alone. Only long enough for him to help me to my feet, though, and then the freckled girl wandered over from the slide, all dreamy eyed.

“You’re so sweet,” she gushed at my brother, then wrinkled her nose when she saw the wet spot on my clothes. “You don’t actually know her, do you?”

Both of me looked up at him, wondering what he was going to say. And for the briefest second, likely too short for me to have noticed the first time around, I could tell that he was wondering as well.

He wiped the tears from under my eyes and gently took my hand. “She’s my sister,” he informed the freckled girl.

“Oh,” she said, unsure of what else to add, and so finally she just wandered off.

“Are you okay?” Ash asked in the mean time. I nodded in response, and he smiled down at me. “Let’s get you home, okay?”

I tried to follow as he led me away, my little face upturned towards his with a look of pure wonder and awe the whole time, but even as I took the first step, the light began to flood the area, slowly this time, washing out the background of the playground first, then consuming the sky and the ground, and then, finally, the image of me and my brother.

“I forgot we were so close,” I said quietly.

“Then I would bet you also forgot this.”

As the last bubble popped, we were in a school room - somewhere in the first through third grade range, though to be honest they all sort of blended together, so I couldn’t honestly say which. Looking at myself, seated at my desk, intently working with some crayons, didn’t help, either. I did notice there was a tooth or two missing, which I thought meant I was closer to the first grade than third, but I wasn’t entirely certain.

I braced to watch myself have another accident, sure that when I raised my hand after the teacher asked if anyone was ready it was to ask, too late, for permission to go to the bathroom. Instead, when I was called on, I got up from my desk and picked up the drawing I’d been working on, holding it up for the rest of the class to see, and try to decipher. I could tell it was supposed to be a person, but other than that, I have to say the current me was just as baffled as the former me was pleased with her work.

Luckily, apparently part of the assignment was explaining, as I then started to talk. “This is my hero,” I said, talking too quickly and without much in the way of volume. “It’s my big brother Ash, and he’s the best big brother in the world. He’s in the Boy Scouts, and he has a bunch of badges, and he always looks out for me. When I grow up, I want to be just like him.” I started to set the picture down, then picked it back up again, looking nervously around the room until at last I declared, “The end!”, about three times as loud as any of the rest of it, and sat down again.

I was expecting a little more, but the light was already bleeding through the room, this time seeming to originate from the clock on the wall - the old kind, with hands and all. “That’s it?”

“It is.”

The room that replaced the classroom was my own, and the one I had come from earlier that night, not one of the many others I’ve lived in over the years. “I don’t think I get it.”

If I thought that would encourage any kind of explanation, I was sadly mistaken, as there was no real help to be found in, “I’m not surprised,” nor in the, “Perhaps later you will,” that followed shortly after.

“Is this what this whole night is going to be like?” I asked. “I think I’d prefer to just go to sleep… I can only watch me pee on myself so many times. That may be how you roll, but honestly, I just don’t…”

But when I looked around, Dr. Fishenstein was already swum back into my clock, as it changed from 12:58 to 12:59.

“Yeah, thanks a lot,” I grumbled. Stupid fish. He didn’t even give me a chance to point out that he wasn’t a real doctor.

In a way, I kind of wished Dr. Fishenstein had stuck around for an extra minute or so, instead of running off so soon. Not because I particularly liked him, now that he’d died and learned to communicate with me, or because I wanted to sit through more pointless flashbacks of my rather inglorious past, but so I wouldn’t have been stuck on my own, wondering what to expect next.

I hadn’t had any other pets after Dr. Fishenstein’s untimely demise, mostly on account of our relocations, from dad’s job, growing more frequent again, after a fairly long - by our standards, anyway - stay in Maryland, where Fido had lived out her life, and Dr. Fishenstein had started his. What, then, would be coming to see me once 1:00 rolled around? And what was it going to show me? What was all this leading to?

At the time, I couldn’t for the life of me see the point, which only made me even more certain that it was all just some strange, elaborate dream. Perhaps, as dreams sometimes did, it would end up going in some new direction. Maybe there wouldn’t be a third visitor, much less a fourth. After all, there were no more memories of pets for my sleeping mind to exploit; it might simply give up.

I nodded, feeling somehow sure that was what would happen after all, up until I heard a throat clearing behind me. “Or maybe not,” I muttered under my breath, turning around slowly.

The first thing I saw as I turned was a large mound of white fur. As I got further around, I saw even more white fur. Once I had gotten all of my next guide in my sight, I saw still more white fur, with a large black nose seemingly stuck haphazardly on one end. As I was staring, two eyes open, blue as the morning sky, and finally, I realized just what I was looking at.

When I was about twelve, we were living out in the country in Texas, near a sheep farm. We’d visit the older couple than owned it every now and again. Or, rather, my parents would visit them, and me and Ash would go out and explore the farm. The sheep themselves were not particularly interesting, though the lambs were cute, but there were also a couple of big, white dogs that lived with the sheep. They were about the same size as the sheep, sometimes bigger, and there was one that had the prettiest blue eyes I’d ever seen.

I’d wanted more than anything to have that dog for my own. I was still having trouble with bullies at school then, and I wanted to take him with me every day, and just wait and see if they picked on me then. I also thought that he might be big enough for me to ride, which would also have been pretty cool. I had, obviously, never gotten around to “liberating” him from the farm, though, and once we moved away, I’d pretty much forgotten about him.

And yet, here he was, laying on, and taking up nearly all of, my bed. I was pretty sure he’d gotten a little bigger, but I wasn’t sure exactly how much, since he had been pretty large to begin with.

“What are you here to show me?” I asked, after staring into his eyes for a silent minute or two. He stared at me for a little longer, and then he blinked, plunging my room into darkness for a split second before he opened them again, and I found myself somewhere quite familiar.

“You know where you are, don’t you?” he inquired, his voice both loud and slow, like lazy summer thunder. He was still laying down, on the sidewalk now, looking even larger than before as people walked through him. It wasn’t long before one of those people was me, hands wrapped into fists and then stuffed into the pockets of my jeans, looking ever so much as if I had absolutely no idea where I was, or even what I should be searching for to correct that.

“First day of high school,” I said quietly. The dog didn’t bother to answer; he didn’t have to. Now I was really confused. Did he really think I’d have forgotten this? It had only been a few months ago, and my memory wasn’t -that- terrible. Well, obviously, since that was where all this was coming from…

I began to follow myself up the steps to the front entrance, only to overtake myself very quickly. I decided to go all the way up to the doors, then turned. The other me hadn’t gotten much further, and my head was ducked down, like I was being marched off to my execution, and didn’t have the courage to take one last look at the world before leaving it.

The dog apparently decided he’d better catch up with and stood, shook himself off, and took a couple of huge, lumbering steps that would have wiped out about half of the freshman class, and sat back down beside me. “You look scared,” he pointed out.

“No, I’m getting used to this, I think,” I shrugged. “I mean, it isn’t like I haven’t had weirder dreams than this. One time, I…”

“That you,” he interrupted, nodding towards the figure still struggling up the steps.

“It was my first day,” I said defensively. “I didn’t know anybody, and I didn’t know what to expect. I think most people would be at least a little scared.”

“Perhaps you’re right,” the dog agreed. “Do you think she was, then?”

He didn’t give any indication who he was talking about, but I didn’t need it, since it was right then that I caught sight of Maria, taking the opposite tack as me, and trying to get up the steps as quickly as possible. I tried to look away from her, only to have her pass right through me on her way inside.

“Well, yeah, I suppose so,” I answered. “But its different.”


I opened my mouth a time or two before settling on, “Do I really need to explain?” By then, the other me had made it to the top, and thus stopped dead in her tracks, right in front of me.

“Hello?” I held up one hand, waved it slightly. There was no response, though that could have been from the shock of seeing a slightly older version of herself and a gigantic white dog, so, to be sure, I turned to the dog. “Can she see us?”

My answer, such as it was, came as the younger me’s hands clenched even tighter in her pockets and she walked inside. I jumped off to one side - having one hand briefly inside a younger version of myself was freaky enough for me, thank you very much.

The dog got back to his feet, something that puzzled me for just a moment. “We’re following, huh?” He nodded, and proceeded to step through the outer wall of the school. I took the more civilized route, joining the other students, although I had to cut through several of them in order to catch up with myself. Even then, I was too late to see that fateful collision, coming in only on the aftermath.

Me and Maria were on the floor, her backpack open and upside down, notebooks and folders encircling us. Luckily, most people were ignoring and going around us, making us a sort of eye in the storm.

“I’m so sorry,” I was babbling, gathering up the nearest folder. “I must not have been looking where I was going, and…”

“No, no, it’s my fault,” Maria insisted, eyes darting madly about at the chaos surrounding us before snatching for her backpack.

Except that I, trying to be as helpful as possible, already had ahold of it, and was starting to turn it back right-side up. I hadn’t been paying her much attention then; now I could see Maria’s mouth working anxiously, eyes large as the dog’s, arms outstretched, but not far enough.

“I’ll just put these back,” I mumbled, narrating my own actions for some strange reason. I stuffed the folders back into her backpack, my attention almost turning immediately back to the rest of them down on the floor. Somewhere in that almost, however, my eyes picked up just the slightest hint of something strange inside the bag and, without thinking, I took another look.

I only had a second or two until Maria started moving again, with her first action being to tear her backpack away from me, yet that was long enough for me to see all I needed to, and for my eyes to go just as big as hers had been a moment before, telling her instantly that she’d been too late.

“Th-They’re not mine,” she stammered. “I live with my grandmother, and I just… I mean, I guess I just accidently put those in there.” She gave a nervous, totally unconvincing, laugh.

Unfortunately for her, my eyes had gone from her backpack to her waistband, the top of which was still visible since she had yet to readjust her size and a half too big for her shirt after plopping down on the floor to get her stuff. She remedied that as soon as she let her gaze follow mine, but again, she was a hair too late.

Her voice got quiet as she scooted closer to me, and I could see tears welling in her eyes. “Please,” she started. “Please, you can’t…”

I’m not sure what I was thinking. Maybe I was happy to find someone worse off than me, or maybe I was feeling charitable. “Don’t worry,” I winked. “I won’t tell a soul.”

She sighed and slumped back in obvious relief. “Thank you so much! You have no idea how freaked out I am.”

“A lot,” I wagered a guess, getting a smile. We finished getting her stuff picked up and put away before either of us spoke. “If you don’t mind me asking,” I said, my tone showing that I obviously figured she -would- mind, “why…?”

She shrugged uncomfortably. “It’s a long story,” was her answer, short and simple, and I could tell that was all she planned to say on the subject, even before she abruptly changed it. “So, where’s your homeroom?”

“115?” I’d written it down the day before so I wouldn’t have to remember, and then, of course, forgot to bring that piece of paper with me. “Something like that.”

“No way!” she giggled. “Me, too!”

Maria and I walked away, nervously chattering away, as I did my best to keep from staring down at her diapered ass. I could tell I was being a little more reserved than usual, and not completely because of what day it was.

A Song of Yuletide

Before I could follow any further, the dog galloped over me, taking up the entire hallway. “Are you ready for your next memory?”

I almost said no to see what he’d do - none of the other “guides” had bothered to ask what I wanted - but shrugged instead. The hallway blinked out, replaced by the cafeteria, where I was wandering about, seemingly aimlessly, Maria trailing behind. We were wearing different clothes than we had been, so it was at least the next day, though if memory served me, it was more like three days later.

I looked much less like I was going to have a heart attack at any moment, but there was still a hint of nerves there, probably brought about largely by the fact that I had yet to make any friends there, other than a girl who wore diapers, and was tagging along behind me. She looked much happier, though there was still some temporary worry there, a little less deep than my own, likely triggered by our survey of the cafeteria that had revealed a complete lack of empty tables.

“Well, there’s only two people over there… I guess that’s our best bet.” I didn’t turn back to see if Maria agreed, though I saw now that she nodded in response.

“I don’t need to see this,” I told the dog, who didn’t reply, so I just started to walk away, only to find the whole room spinning around me. I stumbled, starting to feel dizzy, and by the time I had regained my balance, Maria and I were sitting with Laurell and Ivy, as I heard them introduce themselves after I’d done the same. They were juniors, and seemed to be infinitely entertained by watching the two of us nervously eating, uncertain whether we should try to make some polite conversation or just pretend we weren’t there.

It wasn’t long before I “solved” that problem, by accidently knocking my glass down and across the table. The two older girls jumped to their feet as the water began to spread over to their side of the table, while I did the same to start gathering napkins, apologizing profusely, cheeks burning red.

“Look, I know what happened!” I pleaded with the dog.

“Sometimes, we have to see things more than once,” he said sagely.

Laurell and Ivy were laughing now, while I scrambled around the table, trying to gather up the napkins I’d just ended up throwing all around like gigantic flakes of snow. Later, I’d told myself it was all good-natured, friendly ribbing, but at the time, it hadn’t sounded that way. And looking at it now, I wasn’t so sure.

“It wasn’t my fault!” I growled at the dog. “I didn’t do it on purpose! People are allowed to make mistakes, you know!”

Then I heard Maria’s giggles joining the other two girls’, and felt my hands spasm into fists, like I saw the younger me’s doing across the cafeteria. My face was redder than I think I’ve seen anybody’s before, and though I wasn’t close enough to see, I was pretty sure I was at the very least on the verge of crying.

“Maybe we should just get you a bottle to drink out of, if cups are too difficult,” Maria laughed.

The color drained from my face as I turned towards her. “Well at least,” I said, my voice louder than it really needed to be, just like hers had sounded to me, “I don’t wear diapers!”

They all went silent at that. Laurell and Ivy seemed set to start laughing again, amused at a weird little joke, except for the look Maria gave me, so full of betrayal and hurt that it was obvious that there was no joking going on.

“See?” I pointed out to the dog. “It was her fault! If she had just stayed cool, it would’ve been fine, but she had to go and freak out about it!”

“And she didn’t have to make fun of you to begin with, did she?” the dog asked. It sounded pretty rhetoric, but I nodded anyway. “And if she hadn’t been so clumsy the first day, you never would’ve found out to begin with.”

“Exactly! Finally, someone understands!”

He didn’t answer before blinking us a few weeks further into the school year, into the hallway outside of my, and Maria’s, Algebra class. It was the first memory the dog had shown me so far that I hadn’t immediately recognized, so I was kinda curious, in a cautious sort of way.

It took a moment to find myself in the throng of people - I actually found Maria first, and then saw myself approaching. Obviously, it was either right before or right after class, probably before. Maria was clutching her backpack, eyes nervously scanning the crowd.

“Maria,” I told her in a stage whisper. “You might want to get a quick change. You’re leaking.”

She gave a light gasp, tried to get a look at the back of her pants, which was, of course, difficult, and resulted in a scene that looked remarkably like a cat chasing its own tail. I watched myself go back through the crowd, over to where Laurell and Ivy were waiting, barely containing themselves. Laurell slapped me on the back and they gave up, their laughter filling the hall. I was a touch behind them, and a little uncertain at first, but it happened just the same.

“It’s not as bad as it looks,” I tried to explain.

Blink to Halloween. “Here we go,” I smiled. I guess the dog knew I wasn’t such a bad person after all.

“Come on, Laurell, quit it,” I was saying, sounding even more authoritative than I remembered. “This is stupid.”

We were in the girls’ bathroom, alone - we’d locked the door, if my memory was correct - and Laurell and Ivy were busy unloading plastic bags.

“You agreed, Cheyenne,” Ivy reminded me. “Don’t back out on us now.”

Laurell stepped away from me, surveying the big, adult diaper she’d just taped on over my jeans. “That looks pretty good,” she nodded. “Do you have the pacifier?”

Ivy nodded and handed it to her. It was one of those costume ones, humongous and obviously fake, which made me wonder why they hadn’t used the fake diaper that came with those instead of buying a whole package of real ones.

“Nobody’s gonna know what this is,” I pointed out.

“Nobody but Maria,” I added in, letting the dog in on my internal monologue.

“This is pointless.”

Ivy put the pacifier around my neck. “Of course nobody would get it like this,” she agreed. “We’re not done yet, dummy.”

Laurell was the one who had the package of name tags, which she was opening then, while I fidgeted, not noticing her, trying to keep my pants legs from bunching up in the diaper.

“This is what’ll do it!” Laurell proclaimed, slapping the finished tag onto my chest. I didn’t have to look down to see what it said, nor did I really have to then, and yet both mes did.

I’m not sure what it had been about seeing Maria’s name on me that had set me off - perhaps some deep, repressed memory of my own teasing, back at the hands of that little boy, or maybe a fresher memory of when she had actually considered me her friend - but something did.

I ripped the sticker off my shirt, glaring angrily at Laurell. “I told you to stop it!” I yelled at her. “I don’t want to do this!” Not being particularly familiar with how diapers worked, it took me a try or two to get free, thus making the tearing off of it much less dramatic than I had anticipated. “What is your problem?!”

“What’s yours?” Laurell shot back. “Why are you throwing a tantrum? It isn’t like we’re forcing you to do this; you volunteered!”

“I don’t care!” I threw the diaper at her. “I’ve had enough of this!”

“God, don’t get your panties in a wad,” Ivy rolled her eyes. “We get the point.”

“Yeah, you don’t want to make fun of your best friend. We get it.” Laurell’s voice was cold and low, and I could feel goose-bumps racing up my arm.

Even so, I couldn’t help but feel a little shocked at how quickly I said, “She’s not my friend!”

“Really?” Laurell raised an eyebrow. Her “Prove it,” was silent, yet no less clear for it.

I took the pacifier from around my neck and stormed out of the bathroom. Maria wasn’t hard to find - in a school this size, nobody ever really was.

“Happy Halloween,” I told her, but by then, she’d already learned to avoid me as soon as she noticed me. I doubt she even saw the pacifier dangling from my hand before she turned around. I might not be the sneakiest person in the world, but Maria is also not the most observant, and sticking the ribbon around the pacifier to her backpack with the name-tag proved to be pretty quick and easy.

And Laurell and Ivy were there waiting for me, just like they always were, smiling as if the scene in the bathroom had never happened. I’d never noticed just how much like a couple of wolves they could look like.

“See?” I said to the dog, a little uncertain, not least of all because he seemed to be getting bigger. “I could’ve gone out in that costume, but I didn’t.”

“No, you didn’t,” he agreed, but I could tell he still wasn’t impressed. He was blocking out most everything now, obscuring all but a few of the students milling about, giggling behind Maria’s back as she walked, oblivious, towards her next class.

“Maybe I could’ve done more, but why should I have?” I demanded. “It isn’t my fault she’s in diapers!”

“Was it your brother’s fault when you had that accident in the sandbox?”

“No! That’s completely different!” I fumed. He obviously didn’t get me after all. “There’s a difference between a little kid having an accident and a teenager wearing diapers all the time! Besides, I’m not her sister! That’s not my job!”

“Does that mean she doesn’t deserve someone to look after her?” By then the dog had grown so large that I couldn’t even see his eyes anymore, just a mass of white. By the time I thought of an answer, I had the feeling that he couldn’t hear me.

I tried anyway. “She should be able to take care of herself,” I told him, staring up into the whiteness. He didn’t answer, and when I looked back down, I saw that the walls and floor of the school had been consumed by the white as well, and everyone else had vanished. “She’s a big girl,” I whispered, beginning to shiver.
If I had been expecting to be taken back to my room - and I did - I would have been quite disappointed. I stared around at the field of white around me, trying to decide if I should go for a walk across it, to see if there was anything there, or to just wait in one place for the next visitor to arrive, or for my room to appear so I could watch my clock and fret over what might be coming when it reached 2:00.

Before I could reach a decision, I noticed the whiteness starting to bleed out in one direction, images coming through, first of what looked like a city, and then the outline of a window framing it, and finally a whole room appearing around it. And in front of those changes, as if its footsteps were bringing them about, came an alien.

It was of the small, gray variety, the kind you saw in fake autopsy videos, so much so that, as it got closer I could see a Y-shaped series of stitches across its chest. As it got even closer than that, I could see that its eyes and mouth were being held closed in a similar manner, black x’s lined up across its face like some messed-up emoticon.

I could honestly say that it wasn’t anything I’d ever had as a pet, nor even thought of wanting as one. “My mind is just running wild with that stupid fortune,” I told myself, speaking out loud to make it sound all the more convincing.

Despite having its eyes closed - if that was, indeed, all that had happened, as from the way the eyelids looked close up, I began to wonder if there was truly anything beneath them, though I was by no means curious enough to try to find out - it walked up to me, making a clean stop right before it bumped against my chest.

I smiled feebly. “N-Nice…” I began, wanting to finish it with “to meet you,” but I could barely get the first word to come out as I stared down at the thing in front of me. Unsurprisingly, it said nothing. At first, I thought it had given no answer at all, until I saw that it had raised one of its hands a fraction of an inch, so that it was pointing behind me.

I wasn’t surprised to find myself standing there, although it was somewhat strange to see a version of myself I had never seen before. I’m not sure how old I was then, but somewhere in my twenties, I think. It was nice to see that I’d lost a bit of weight, and even if my breasts hadn’t decided to grow much more, I thought my legs might have, though it may have just looked that way because I was wearing only a nightshirt, which ended further from my knees than anything I would wear now. I looked about half awake as I stumbled across the kitchen floor to grab a glass from one of the cupboards and fill it with water.

The older me flipped open a door on one of those daily pill boxes and dumped the contents out into her hand. While she was doing that, a man, maybe five years older and looking equally drowsy, opened a door on the other side of the apartment and wandered out with a yawn.

The older me glanced over at him, in the midst of swallowing her pills, giving him an uneven smile in return for his, until he came up to her and gave her a kiss. She pulled away, began scrounging through the cabinets and drawers to pull out the makings of a bowl of cereal.

“I can make you an egg,” he offered. For a moment, I wondered if, by that point in my life, I’d gotten over my intense hatred for the taste of eggs. Then I saw myself roll my eyes, then shake my head.

“I’m fine,” I told him flatly, walking past him, brushing past his open arms, perhaps not noticing, seeing as it was so early, apparently, to sit at the little table and start to eat my cereal.

“I’ll probably be a little late tonight,” the man said, getting out a bowl of his own. “Lenny wants to finish the project today. We have most of the plans done, but we’re going to have to use the older machines, and there’s almost always something that goes wrong with them, you know?”

“I think this cereal’s been in there too long,” I sigh, staring into it as I push it around my bowl. I take another bite or two, then push get up and carry my still mostly full bowl over to the sink, turn the faucet on while I start to dump it out.

The man sets the cereal box, turning and taking the half step it takes to get behind me. He wrapped his arms around my stomach, bent over to kiss the top of my ear while I finished rinsing out the bowl, then leaned back, letting his fingers trace around my waist, then, once they met in the back, downward, to the hem of my nightshirt, which he then drew upwards.

The man and I - the current me, just to be clear - let out gasps at the same, though his had just the slightest hint of playfulness to it, while mine was pretty much chock full of shock.

“Well, my, my,” he shook his head. “Guess it’s a good thing you had that accident last night, isn’t it?” The way he said ‘accident’ made it sound as if he didn’t think that was the real story. I could see myself blushing, but it was understandably difficult to deduce whether that was for the night before, or that morning. “I guess you’d better stay in diapers for the rest of the day, too, huh? Just in case.”

“If you think so,” I shrugged meekly.

“Oh, I do,” he replied. “Let’s go get you changed.”

I trudged over to the door he’d come from, obviously knowing what I was supposed to do. I could notice a bit of a waddle then, and began to wonder how I hadn’t noticed the bottom of the diaper drooping out from under the nightshirt. The man was following close behind and, right before they both went into the room, he gave my bottom a playful pat. I could see the grimace forming on my face for all the time it took for the two of them to step inside, and then he reached out and grabbed the doorknob.

“What the hell is going on?! Why am I wearing diapers?! Who is this loser?! What is going on?!” I asked, the flood of questions suddenly pouring out of me, even before the door completely closed. “What happened to me?”

But if the alien had any answers to give, they apparently weren’t important enough for it to reach up and tear out its mouth stitches, nor was I brave enough to try to do it.

I glanced around the apartment, wondering what else I was supposed to see there before the alien took me on to our next destination. I guess it wasn’t -too- bad - it was a little bigger than Ash’s, and a lot cleaner, not that that took much - and yet there was something unsettling about it, something final. I suppose it was that feeling that made me uncomfortable, that thought that this was where I was going to end up, and that was that. It felt like a cage.

I noticed the clock, the old kind with the hands, sitting on top of the television set, and thought something seemed off about it. As I looked closer, I could have sworn the second hand began to spin faster, and faster, until I heard a door open behind me. The older me and the man came out of what I assumed was the bedroom, both dressed, me in an old T-shirt and shorts, him in some kind of uniform. They were moving in fast-motion, not quite enough that they were just blurs, but fast enough that the man could go get his coat from the closet, finish the bowl of cereal he’d left sitting on the kitchen counter, and kiss me goodbye in a manner of seconds.

I, on the other hand, went back to the table and sat down, staring at the newspaper but only picking it up a couple times, then setting it back down. I sat there for a little while after the man left, too, before going over to get a glass of water to take to the sofa, just a few feet from where I was standing and watching. I turned on the television, flipped through the channels, then turned it back off and stared out the window for a while.

Eventually, I got back up, went back to the table to pick up a piece of paper I hadn’t noticed before. I started to walk over to myself, to see what it was, but luckily, I brought it back to the sofa to look at, so I easily managed to get a look over my shoulder to see that it was a grocery list.

The older me stared at it for a long time, though I lost interest fairly quickly. Finally, she gave what probably would have been a slow nod in regular time, went back into what I was now assuming was the bedroom, then came back out in a dress and sandals, with my hair finally looking as if it had seen a brush anytime that day, carrying a purse. I couldn’t tell if I was still diapered or not, which might have been the point.

I walked to the front door, then stopped. It seemed like I stood there, just staring at the door, for a long time, but at some point the hands of the clock must have slowed back down, so I don’t know how long it actually was. Finally, I reached into my purse and pulled out a different piece of paper, one that I could tell, even from across the room, was a lot older, and unfolded it.

“What is that?” I asked; the alien gave what might have been a tiny shake of its head, but likely was nothing at all. By the time I started to walk across the apartment to get a look, the other me had folded it back up and turned back around, setting both her purse and the list down on the table.

I kicked my sandals off, scooted them back into the bedroom with my foot, flopped back down onto the couch, the dress fluttering up enough to show that I still had the shorts, and thus, almost definitely, the diaper, on underneath. I picked the remote back up, but didn’t even turn the television on before tossing it back aside and standing up again, wandering over to the window.

The clock’s hands began to spin faster, yet still I stood there, staring out into the city below. When I broke away at last, I marched over to the bedroom and slipped my sandals back on. I didn’t even make it to the door, however, just picked up my purse for a moment and set it back down before meandering back to the window, then over to the bedroom, this time actually going in and closing the door behind me.

When I re-emerge, I’m wearing the shorts and T-shirt again, but the bulge around my waist is gone, and I’m looking at least a little happier. I even start to fill up the dishwasher before the phone rings. I rush over to it, but don’t make any move to answer it.

The answering machine picks up, plays out a standard greeting, then a female voice calls, “Cheyenne! Pick up!” It’s silent for a moment, then continues, “It’s Jane, Cheyenne, just wanted to see if you wanted to come get some lunch with me. Call me!”

I reached out and hit a button almost before the sound of the other phone hanging up echoed through the speakers. “Message deleted,” a mechanical voice confirmed.

I got some butter out of the fridge, made myself a couple pieces of toast, and settled back into the couch, where I shortly fell asleep.

The clock’s hands went wild then, and by the time I began to stir, the sky outside was getting dark. I stumbled off the couch drowsily, giving a yawn and a stretch that transformed into a look of shock and horror. I turned, made a mad dash across the apartment, only to stop halfway, groaning as the back of my shorts began to bulge out and begin to sag.

“Did I just…?” I started to ask the alien, who may have nodded in return.

The older me sank to her knees in the middle of the floor and sniffled softly, burying her face in her hands. She managed to get back on her feet after awhile, chest still hitching as she headed into her bedroom. The bathroom must have been off of there, because a few minutes later, I heard the shower running.

When I came back out, I was wearing a diaper under my new pair of shorts. I walked over to the table and began to sit down before I apparently caught a glimpse of the clock. I went back to the kitchen, opened the next compartment on the pill box, poured its contents into my hand, started to put them into my mouth… and stopped. Instead, I poured the pills onto the counter, examined each one.

The front door opened and the man came through with a smile. “You wouldn’t believe how lucky we got,” he announced. “A freakin’ miracle.” He walked up behind me, gave me a kiss. “Taking your vitamins, huh? A little late, aren’t you?”

I didn’t answer, so he went off to the bedroom. “Cheyenne!” he called a few minutes later, just before coming back out. “Were you out of your diaper?”

I shrugged listlessly, still bent over the counter.

“You know the rules, don’t you? When I put you in a diaper, you’re to stay in it. And now you’ve gone and ruined a pair of your panties, didn’t you?”

I stood suddenly, eyes flaring. “That’s because you’ve been drugging me, haven’t you, you son of a bitch?!” I grabbed the pills and threw them across the apartment at him, though they all fell short. “What have you been giving me?!”

“I haven’t touched your pills,” he stated flatly. “Don’t raise your voice at me.”

“Or what?!” I screamed. “What do you think you can do to me?!”

He reached one hand into the bedroom, pulled something off of the wall or a shelf inside, raised it up in one hand. It was a paddle, wooden, one end shaped like a piece of swiss cheese. “Screw you,” I spat at him.

I’m not sure if the clock sped up again for a moment, or if he really moved that quickly, but the next thing I knew, the man was over in the kitchen, grabbed me around the waist with one arm and dragging me over to one of the chairs at the table, which he pulled out and spun around with his foot, while struggling to keep his grip on me.

He sat, setting me down over his lap, and pulled down the shorts and diaper with one, quick tug, revealing my bright red bottom. He raised the paddle, and the me on his lap suddenly stopped screaming obscenities at him and began begging him to stop. I saw the paddle come down once, saw it smack against my flesh, and then I couldn’t help but cover my eyes.

I heard the paddle fall, over and over, heard it hitting the other me, so loud I could practically feel it on my own skin, heard myself pleading and crying, eventually reduced to just the latter. It seemed to go on forever.

Then I heard it stop as the man’s exasperated voice said, “Cheyenne!” I peeked out through my fingers, saw the wet spot underneath me. “See, this is why I keep having to put you in diapers,” he lectured, shaking his head. “I don’t have to give you any drugs - you do it on your own.”

I was crying too hard to disagree with him. He pushed me off of his lap, left me crumpled on the floor while he went back to the bedroom and cleaned himself up, then turned on the water in the bathroom.

“Come on,” he called. “I’m drawing you a bath.”

But I didn’t move, and after the water turned off, he came out and picked me up, carrying me back to the tub. After the clock started speeding back up, he came out and cleaned the wet spot on the floor, grabbed a couple frozen dinners out of the microwave.

I came out, slowly, by the time he had run them both through the microwave, back in my nightshirt and diaper. He grabbed the smaller of the two dinners, a kiddy one by the looks of it, with its chicken nuggets cut up into the shape of some cartoon character I didn’t recognize, and took it over to the table. I followed him to that seat, let him kiss the top of my head, and sat down with a wince.

He brought his own dinner over and started to eat, while I pushed the food around with my fork. He went on about his job, not noticing or caring that I didn’t seem to even be listening, until he noticed my purse.

“Did you go to the store?” he asked. I shook my head. He shrugged. “I can go tomorrow after work.”

“I know,” I told him. “That’s what you said.”

He nodded dismissively, chewing his food, then spotted something else. “What’s this?” He reached for the other piece of paper I’d looked at.

I jumped up, snatched it away from his prying fingers at the last moment. “It’s nothing,” I snapped at him.

He shrugged, turned his attention back to eating as time sped up once again. We went over to the couch once he was done with his food, and I’d gotten tired of staring at mine, and stayed there until we were getting ready to nod off, and then we headed back to the bedroom.

The clock had run through an hour or two before I came back out, rubbing my eyes. “Forgot again,” I grumbled, shuffling across to the kitchen. I flipped open all the compartments of the pill box, then opened one of the cabinets and pulled down almost a dozen bottles of pills, and started to fill the box.

I stopped on the way back to the bedroom, stared longingly through the window, and then at the front door, and, lastly, down at the piece of paper from my purse, not even bothering to unfold it. Then I went back to the bedroom, and the apartment was still.

The hands of the clock sped up, moving faster and faster, until I could’ve sworn I saw smoke coming from them. I came back out of the bedroom a few more times, just walking around, but it wasn’t until the sun started to come up that I stayed out, going over to the kitchen and getting a glass of water. The man came out of the room as well as I took my pills out of the box and swallowed them, sneaking up behind me to give me an all but ignored kiss.

I pulled a bowl from the cabinet, set it down, then started hunting through the other cupboards, while behind me, the bowl began to melt. I flipped through all the cupboards in a manner of seconds, seemingly oblivious that all of their contents also seemed to be melting.

The real me looked over at the alien in alarm, not particularly comforted when I saw that the clock had finally caught on fire. “Is it over?” I asked him. “What was that supposed to mean? Why am I staying with this guy? Why did you show me this?”

The alien’s hand started to rise, pointing towards the table. The paper! Of course! That’s where the answer was, it had to be! I ran across the apartment, while, having found no cereal, the older me and the man started looking through the rapidly sagging fridge.

By the time I got to the table, its contents had vanished, turning into one huge pool of sludge. I stuck my hand in where the paper had last been, came out with nothing.

I turned frantically to the alien, whose face was beginning to contort strangely. For a moment, I couldn’t figure out what was going on, but then I realized he was trying to speak. I dashed into the kitchen, where the cabinets were dripping down onto the counters, started to pull open drawers until I found a knife.

I could tell I didn’t have time to be scared, so I just sucked it up, and drew the already dripping-away knife across the stitches in the alien’s mouth. It still didn’t speak, but it opened its mouth, and I saw that there was something there. The paper.

It was melting as well, and, since the alien was making no move to get it for me, I steeled my nerves, reached in and grabbed it.

It was from a newspaper, I saw, and old - one of the seams was taped where it had been un- and re-folded too many times. My hands were shaking as I opened it, putting a few more rips in it, but none so bad I shouldn’t be able to read it, if the words themselves weren’t trying to vanish.

And there, staring back at me, was Maria. She didn’t look much older than she does now, or it didn’t seem so, before the paper turned to a puddle in my hand. I can’t be entirely certain what the type under it said, but it looked suspiciously look an obituary, a lot like the one my aunt had printed for my uncle, when she hadn’t wanted people to know the cause of his death was suicide.

I looked up at the alien, my heart racing, only to find him gone. The apartment itself was melting away now, in strips, so that it seemed as if I were looking into it from a cage. Or like looking into a cage from the outside. I turned away, closed my eyes, unable to take it anymore.

“Just take me home,” I prayed, to the alien, to Fido, to whoever was behind this whole thing, to anyone that would listen. “Just let me make it back. I’ll make it better, somehow. Just give me a chance.”

“You see?” I asked anxiously, staring into Maria’s eyes, hoping she didn’t think I was completely insane. “I’m so sorry, Maria. Please, please, you have to forgive me; I’ve been so terrible. You have to give me a chance to make it right, somehow.”

She stared at me for a long while before answering. “Yes, you have been,” she said. “You have no idea what I’ve been through. What -you- put me through.”

“I know!” I nodded. “Please, let me make it up to you.”

She shook her head. “No.”

I blinked, stopped dead by that, not having any sort of plan as to what to say in reply, should she answer with that.

“No, I don’t have to forgive you,” she continued. “And I don’t. You’re not sorry.”

That I did know how to respond to. “Yes, I am! I’m a horrible, horrible person, but I understand that now, and…”

“And you’re sorry?” she sneered with a mocking tone. “-No-, you’re -not-. You’re just scared. You’re afraid that if you don’t make things up to me, you’re going to end up like you did in that dream. You don’t give a damn about me. You’re just looking out for yourself, like you always do.”

“That’s not it!” I pleaded, falling to my knees in the snow. “I really do feel bad! I’m going to stand up to Laurell and Ivy, you’ll see, and I’ll make them leave you alone!”

“And then what? Then you’ll be pals with me again, until something better comes along and you sell me out again?”

“I won’t,” I shook my head. “I won’t.”

“It doesn’t matter. You’re never going to have the courage to go against Laurell and Ivy. You’re too scared of being alone, and if you disagree with them, you think they’ll toss you out like last week’s garbage, and it isn’t like you have any other friends, do you?”

“They aren’t that bad,” I tried to defend them weakly. “If you just get to know them…”

She didn’t seem to hear me. I may not have even managed to say it out loud. “Well, guess what, Cheyenne? That’s what they’re going to do anyway. One day, they’ll get bored with having their own little freshman lapdog. And then you -will- be alone.” She bent down, closer to my face, and her voice got quiet. “And I still won’t forgive you.”

“Maria…” I was surprised at how broken my voice sounded, until I realized I had started to cry. “Maria, please…”

“Merry Christmas,” she said, standing back up. “Now get off my property, please.”

I stared up at her, tears dripping down my cheeks. She rolled her eyes, slammed the door in my face, and I stared at that for a while. Finally, I struggled to my feet and started to walk home, raising one hand to cover my mouth as I began to cough.

The End.