Annelise’s eyes snapped open, only to find that it didn’t make much of a difference if her eyes were open or not. It was still the middle of the night, and the inside of the van was still pitch black. And that meant that it was also still the time when she should be sleeping.
Closing her eyes and listening to the heavy, rhythmic breathing of her friends, hoping that it would help her get back to sleep, she immediately realized that they were breathing strangely. Their breaths were heavier than they should have been, and there was some kind of a trilling snore to them as well.
Putting the weird breathing out of her head, she rolled over onto her side facing Athena, only to have her face brush against something hairy. Lurching back and opening her eyes, she saw a white, luminescent horse head next to her.
As she screamed and recoiled away from it, she realized two things. #1: it wasn’t a horse head at all, it was a unicorn head. And #2: it wasn’t just a head. It was connected at the neck to Athena’s body.
Awakened by Annelise’s screams, unicorn Athena woke up as well. As soon as she saw Annelise she began screaming too. Well, neighing, to be precise.
Then, awakened by both of her friends, Dianna’s unicorn head peeked over the seat to see what was going on. Like Athena, as soon as she saw Annelise she began neighing in surprise as well.
Annelise woke up to find that she was still in the van, though it was light out, and that Athena’s arm was lying across her neck. Still not entirely rational or recovered from her dream, Annelise lurched away from Athena’s limb, kicking her friend in the process.
“Ow! What the hell?” Athena asked, jolted awake.
“What?” Dianna asked, propping herself up on the seat so she could look over at them, still half asleep.
“Sorry. Freaky dream,” Annelise apologized when she realized that they weren’t sporting luminescent unicorn heads.
“You and your dreams,” Athena remarked, shaking her head.
“Yeah. Just come back into the saucer and it will all be fine, baby,” Dianna added, plopping back down on the seat, sound asleep once again.
“I think it’s safe to say that it wasn’t that freaky,” Annelise said.
“I don’t even want to know what’s going on in her head right now,” Athena said, sitting up.
“Sorry for waking you. You should go back to sleep.”
“I won’t be able to now even if I try. What was your dream?”
“You and Dianna had unicorn heads.”
“So like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but with unicorns instead of donkeys?”
“I don’t think I read that book.”
“How could you have Dianna’d A Midsummer Night’s Dream? It’s all about fairies, and you love fairies.”
“But it’s also Shakespeare. And I don’t understand that language.”
“Oh my gosh, you and Dianna are basically the same person.”
“Am not,” Annelise responded, offended.
“I can hear you guys, you know,” Dianna said, sitting up in the seat and stretching.
“Now that you’re out of the saucer, right?” Athena asked.
Annelise and Athena couldn’t help but laugh at the confused, shocked expression that came onto her face.
After explaining what actually happened and reassuring Dianna that they couldn’t read her mind, they got on with their morning, quickly getting changed and eating breakfast.
That day Athena was doing the driving, with Annelise up front, and Dianna navigating in the back.
“Please don’t lose the map this time,” Athena requested.
“I’m not going to lose it again. I’m not a complete idiot,” Dianna assured her.
Taking her word for it, Athena started the van, and they got on their way.
Their morning in the van was quiet and peaceful. Athena silently drove, focused on the road ahead, while Dianna was attempting to apply makeup in the back seat and not poke her eye out with an eyeliner pencil. With her friends occupied, it gave Annelise the perfect opportunity to record her dreams in her journal.
When she finished about twenty minutes later she put her journal away, leaned back in her seat, and looked out of the window.
At first she looked at the trees, hoping to catch sight of one of the sprites that she was so eager see. Yes, she knew for a fact that they were nocturnal, but her excitement was immutable.
Eventually, though, she did give up on seeing a sprite, at least until the sun went down. And with the miles of road and trees passing by just as they had for days, her mind began to wander.
It was still hard to believe that they were so far from home. Before their road trip, she’d barely even been a few miles outside of Sunnyville. Now she was many hundreds of miles away, with many hundreds more to go. Already she’d seen sights and had experiences she would have only been able to dream about in Sunnyville. And she couldn’t wait for everything that was yet to come.
With that thought, she was reminded of when she was little. Back on her seventh birthday, a year before her goldfish dream, her parents had given her a book titled My Day With The Fairies. Grandma Emily hadn’t approved, and went off on a rant about how they were indoctrinating Annelise with pro fae propaganda before she could even think for herself. Exercising judgment far beyond her years, Annelise decided to wait until Grandma Emily left to read it.
The story was rather simple: a little girl walked into the forest outside of her village, looking for her lost cat. During her search, she met many different kinds of fae, who told her all about themselves, and then helped her in her search. Eventually, of course, they found her cat. To thank her new friends, the girl invited the fae she met over to dinner and they all eagerly accepted and headed back to her house.
Back then she didn’t give any thought to the fact that the girl went out in the dangerous forest by herself. Nor did it occur to her that the girl’s parents were probably startled half to death when their daughter returned with a flock of fairies behind her, and most likely very pissed to have so many new mouths to feed. All she knew was that like the girl in the book, she wanted to meet the fairies. She wanted to see them for real. From that day on, that desire never left her, even when she learned about the more dangerous fae that were more likely to eat the girl’s cat, and then the girl, than help her. And the more she learned about the fae, the more she desired to see her dream through. For she quickly realized that the truth about the fae was even better than the book that had awoken those desires in her. The truth was better than even her own imaginings. There was more magic in the world than could be fathomed by anyone other than God. And now she was experiencing a little bit of that magic. Now, she was living her dream. She was relieved that it was her dream to see the fae that she was living, and not her unicorn headed friends one.
The morning whiled away until it wasn’t even morning any more. At one o’clock, as they ate lunch, they passed a sign advertising the largest compact disc in the world.
“Why would someone want to look at something that plays music?” Athena asked, puzzled.
“Because they’re shiny,” Annelise answered. “And shiny is always a good thing.”
“I like shiny,” Dianna agreed.
“So what, are you guys saying you want to stop?” Athena asked.
“Why not?” Annelise shrugged. “We have time.”
“And it sounds cool,” Dianna added, opening up a bottle of apple juice to wash down the granola bar she’d just finished.
“Fine. Where do we need to get off, then? And how far is it?” Athena asked, turning to Dianna.
“Um,” Dianna said, raising the map with her right hand, while she held her apple juice in her left.
“I don’t think we need the map,” Annelise said, looking ahead.
“We’re not turning whatever way you did in your dream last night,” Athena replied. “Do you know where it is yet?” She asked Dianna.
“Athena!” Annelise exclaimed to get her friend’s attention.
“What?” Athena asked shortly.
“It’s right there!” Annelise said, pointing outside the windshield at the next exit, which was only a couple hundred feet away.
“Oh. Okay, never mind,” Athena said.
A few seconds later they made it to the exit, and Athena turned off of the highway.
Dianna, meanwhile, was still holding the map with her left hand and raising the apple juice to her mouth with her right, about to take a sip, when they turned onto the exit. And as she wasn’t ready, and not holding onto anything, she toppled over onto the seat on her left side and in doing so, spilled her apple juice all over the map.
In silent terror, Dianna looked down at the soaked map. The folds of the cheap paper were completely stuck together. She tried to unfold it, hoping that it would be alright once it dried, but instead of unfolding it tore in half.
Terrified by what her friends would say when they found out, she casually stuffed the map under her seat, almost hoping that in doing so it would just disappear.
“How much further is it?” Athena asked her.
“Shouldn’t be far now,” Dianna answered, hoping that her guess was correct.
“Oh yeah, here’s the place now,” Athena said, turning into a tiny parking lot in front of a miniscule building that was more a shack than anything else. Behind the building there was a fifty foot high, seventy foot wide wooden wall.
“Think that’s to conceal the CD from gawkers, or to keep the Huns at bay?” Annelise asked.
“The who?” Dianna replied.
“The CD might actually be one of theirs,” Annelise remarked lightly.
“Wow, you’re on fire right now, Anne,” Athena chuckled.
“What are you people talking about?” Dianna asked, still completely confused.
“The Who was a band over a hundred years ago. And you wouldn’t be interested in hearing about the Huns,” Athena informed her. “They’re literally ancient history.”
“Were they a band too?”
“You’re right, that doesn’t sound interesting. Let’s go see this thing already.”
So they got out of the van, and entered the tiny shack.
The walls of the building were covered in hundreds of compact discs. Tables were set up so that there was only a thin walkway between displays of novelty CD themed souvenirs, such as earrings, bracelets, and even books about the history of the compact disc. Behind a counter on the far side of the building stood a middle aged, grizzled man with a frown on his face.
“Howdy. You ladies here for the compact disc?” He asked them.
Annelise was tempted to ask for what other reason people would go there, but from the man’s expression, thought it best not to.
“Yes,” Dianna answered simply.
“That will be $5 a head,” he told them.
“The sign didn’t say it cost money,” Athena whispered to her friends.
“I’m sure it will be worth it,” Annelise whispered back.
“Shiny is always worth it,” Dianna added.
“Fine,” Athena sighed.
Each of the girls paid the man his money. With a grunt, he lurched up off of the stool he was sitting on and led them out of a back door and then through another door in the wall.
“Here it is,” he grunted.
The CD, despite what the size of the wall implied, was actually only about fifteen feet in diameter. Other than that, well, it was a CD. The shiny side was facing away from the wall, while the other side had matte red and black stripes on it. To their surprise, it was the same thickness as a normal sized CD.
“Does it work?” Dianna asked.
“Maybe with the biggest CD player in the world,” Annelise joked.
“And my damn ex-wife has that now,” the man growled angrily. “If ya’ll are going to see that too, would you mind giving her a message for me?” He asked with a wicked smile.
“We’re actually skipping that one,” Athena said nervously, having absolutely no desire to hear what kind of message he had in mind.
“That’s probably for the best. Don’t give that damn harpy any of your money. It’s not like she doesn’t already have enough of mine,” he grumbled, walking back into the building.
“When he calls her a harpy, he doesn’t mean she’s actually a harpy, right?” Dianna asked.
“Honestly, I don’t know, and don’t want to find out,” Annelise responded.
“Yeah, we’re definitely not going there,” Athena added.
They were still at the largest compact disc in the world, though, a once in a lifetime opportunity. At least they hoped it was. Still, even though the CD was rather lame, Annelise wanted a picture to mark the occasion.
Raising her camera without saying a word, Annelise snapped a picture of the shiny side they were facing, with the flash on. The blinding light bounced off of the reflective disc and right into their eyes.
“Seriously?” Athena asked, turning away too late and shielding her eyes.
“Thanks for blinding us Annie,” Dianna added.
“Sorry. I didn’t realize that would happen,” Annelise apologized.
“Are you guys ready to go then?” Athena asked shortly as she gradually regained her sight.
“Yeah. This thing is lame,” Dianna replied.
“We have to do just one more thing before we leave,” Annelise said, patting her camera.
“No, I’m not getting blinded again!” Dianna said.
“And I have to drive so…” Athena said, trailing off.
“Come on,” Annelise pled. “Just one picture of all of us. We can even do it on the non-shiny side. Please?” She asked as pitifully as she could manage, making her eyes as big and sad as possible.
“Fine,” Athena gave in.
“Let’s get it over with,” Dianna sighed.
“Yay!” Annelise exclaimed.
The three friends moved over to the striped side of the CD. Then, putting their heads together, Annelise reached her camera out, knowing from past experience just where to position it to get them all in frame.
“Wouldn’t it be better if someone else took it?” Dianna asked.
“The only other person here is that nice man. So unless you want to ask him-” Annelise responded.
“Point taken. Just take it already,” Dianna said.
With that, Annelise took the picture. And even though they weren’t on the shiny side anymore, Annelise had forgotten to turn the flash off so they were blinded again.
“Seriously?” Athena yelled. “At this rate I’m going to have to get better glasses in New San Francisco.”
“Sorry. I forgot about the flash,” Annelise apologized again.
“Trust us, we noticed,” Dianna replied, her eyes shut tightly.
“Are you happy now?” Athena asked Annelise.
“Yeah,” she answered with a nod.
“Good. Now let’s go before we catch something,” Athena said.
With that, they walked back into the shack.
“Before we leave I’m going to look around for a bit,” Dianna said, hoping against hope that there would be maps for sale somewhere in the CD themed gift shop.
Athena wasn’t pleased by the thought of staying there a minute longer than they already had, but acquiesced nonetheless. Dianna remained near the counter and the man as Annelise and Dianna wandered off, looking at the displays of cheesy souvenirs.
“Um, sir, do you have any maps here?” Dianna asked the man quietly when she was sure her friends wouldn’t overhear.
“I have a world map somewhere in the back I’ll sell to you if you want,” he answered.
“No, I don’t need one of those. Do you have any road maps?”
“Nope. Sorry, honey bunny,” he replied.
“Right, thanks anyway,” Dianna said, turning and quickly walking back to her friends, more than a little creeped out that he’d just called her ‘honey bunny’.
“Why were you talking to him?” Athena asked suspiciously.
“I just wanted to know if he has any DVDs for sale too, or if it’s just CDs,” Dianna lied.
Thankfully, Athena bought it.
“Should I get some of these?” Annelise asked her friends jokingly, holding up a pair of mini CD earrings.
“Yes. We all should,” Dianna answered, grabbing a pair as well.
“You guys are ridiculous,” Athena said, shaking her head. “But let’s do it,” she said with a shrug, grabbing a pair of her own.
Each pair of earrings was another $5, and absolutely hideous, but they all bought them nonetheless. After putting on their new ‘jewelry’ they bid the man farewell, and returned to the van. Without so much as a glance back they drove away and rejoined the highway.