Donna slept. I managed to scoop her up off the floor—no mean feat; she was not exactly petite—and put her on one of the red sofas. While in my arms she murmured a syllable or two, the sleepy mutterings of an exhausted child. It occurred to me then that between the riots and Danielle’s emergency, she’d probably had very little sleep lately. I covered her with a Cinderella afghan and sat on the edge of the sofa watching her sleep. Her brow was furrowed in a tense frown. I reached out and gently stroked her forehead, just above her eyebrows. After a moment, the frown faded and she relaxed into a deeper sleep. Her eyelids flickered as she began to dream.
The moment had an odd déjà vu about it: my old girlfriend Millicent had suffered from migraines, and I had spent many a similar time with her, as she napped on my sofa. Now I was getting a little misty-eyed; I hadn’t thought about Mils in years. Where was she right now? Had she survived the Trumps? The last I’d heard she was in LA, working as a personal assistant for some powerhouse attorney. I’d found her on Facebook and after a pleasant enough few months of sporadic email exchanges, she had suddenly invited me, ever so politely, mind you—the kind of politeness that can give you a chill—to buzz off. Cease and desist. I’d looked back over my last note to her: it had been a slightly sentimental reminisce about a little outing we’d taken to Torrey Pines, hardly a love letter or anything, more of an effort to remember better times. I’d basically thanked her for being so nice to me once upon a time. (Diplomatically left unsaid was that these moments were exceedingly rare.) But she said she was “disturbed” by my recent email letters, and while she hoped we might meet at a college reunion or something one day, meanwhile “please don’t write to me again.” I don’t know, maybe her husband was reading her email or something. Maybe I’d touched a nerve I didn’t know was in any way sensitive. All I knew for certain was that over the years Mils had always found a way to have the last word. During our on-again, off-again time together—standing me up, brushing me off, breaking up with me and making me feel guilty about it—she had made an art of reaching down my throat, ripping my heart out, and coolly smiling as she did a little tap dance on it. Yet, for over four years I kept coming back for more. Finally, Gareth had said to me out of the blue one day, “You can’t be a doormat if you don’t lie down.” And apart from our ill-fated Facebook exchange, I’d gone cold-turkey off my Millicent addiction ever since. And now, here I was wiping a tear away as I thought of her. Pathetic.
I shook off these bittersweet musings and stepped away from the sofa. I slipped on my silver shoes and picked up the Ishim helmet as I spoke Eloi’s name.
“I am here.”
“When Danielle is well enough, can you bring her here, to the apartment?”
“If you wish.”
“I think that’d be best. Donna can look after her in private here.”
“Good. We have of course healed the girl, but she will need time to regain strength and recover emotionally.”
“Understood.” (“We have of course healed the girl...” Did he intend that to sound so arrogant?) “Listen, I need to touch base with the kids at the Diamond Horseshoe. Can you just pop me over there?”
And before I could even take a breath, I was once again next to Danielle’s empty bed. I had been pacing as I spoke to Eloi; the sudden Transition threw me off balance, and I stumbled a few steps, juggling the helmet, and almost falling on those awful bloody sheets. Kind of spoils the magical impact of your entrance when you come stumbling out of the void like Jerry Lewis on absinthe. I pulled myself together and looked around. Only poor Geoff was still in the room, and he again—or still—sat with his head in his hands, oblivious to my bumbling arrival.
He raised his head. “Danielle?” he asked in a hoarse whisper.
“She’s fine. Resting. You’ll be able to see her soon.” There was just room enough to sit next to him on the crate. I put my arm around his shoulders, or at least as far around as I could reach. “I promise.”
He looked at me with those startling amber eyes, now finally dry. “The baby died,” he said simply.
“I know, buddy. I’m sorry.” I patted his back, as if he were a giant six-year-old. “But Danielle’s going to need you to be strong, okay?”
He made a little scoffing noise. “Yeah, right. Everybody knows she’s the strong one. She practically runs the joint.”
He was already starting to rally. We chatted for another minute or so; our conversation attracted the attention of those closest by, and soon Kimberly and Jake joined us. I set the Ishim helmet down where I’d been sitting on the crate and turned to meet them. “She’s fine,” I said preemptively. Kimberly rushed into my arms, tears bursting out all over again.
Jake held back, shaking his head as I patted his girlfriend’s back in what I hoped was a sufficiently avuncular manner. I was going to need Jake if I was to have any chance of pulling off this “Governor” thing. Kimberly let go of me and reached out for his hand. He had matured even more since I’d seen him last—he seemed a good inch taller, and was sporting a pretty impressive beard, a darker shade of red than his hair. He wore a denim jacket with a Diamond Horseshoe logo embroidered above the breast pocket. He took Kimberly’s hand without taking his eyes from me and said, “Where the hell have you been?”
I shook my head. “That doesn’t matter any more. I’m here now.”
“Well, you look ridiculous. Like a refugee from Star Trek.”
Geoff chimed in. “Yeah. Old goofy classic Star Trek.”
“Never mind.” I thought I had more of a Day the Earth Stood Still thing going, but these kids wouldn’t know anything about that. “What’s the biggest venue here, someplace nearly everybody can fit?”
“No such place. They’ve all been converted to, well, whatever this is,” Jake said, gesturing inclusively. “Apartments or whatever.”
“What about those ‘town hall’ meetings you mentioned once?”
“Those fell apart months ago. The various tribes all kind of mind our own business. I mean it’s not like we have weather emergencies or food shortages or any big common crises to deal with. At least not until last night.”
“Were any of you guys anywhere near that?”
“Hell, no. When the ruckus kicked up I sent a couple of guys out to keep an eye on it, but they kept their distance. I just now talked to them.”
He let that hang. “And?” I prompted.
He eyed my new wardrobe up and down. “And, they said big guys in silver suits blew away a bunch of people with ray guns or something. They were pretty shook up.”
“Anybody else came back with that story, I’d’ve said they were full of shit.” Kimberly made a face and tugged on his hand. “Sorry, Kimmie. Anyway, these guys are solid. They saw what they saw, didn’t they?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“And somebody really had captured one of the—the aliens?”
I hadn’t wanted to get into this now, but the page had already turned. “Also true. Captured and killed her.” Kimberly let out a little gasp. “What your guys saw was a kind of recovery-turned-retaliation mission.”
“Huh. And the big lurch after that? The sudden time shift outside?”
I took a deep breath. “All in due time, Grasshopper, all in due time. I need to talk to everyone, let as many as possible see me. If there’s no auditorium or whatever, then what, maybe Main Street? Or by the lagoon, where Fantasmic was?”
Geoff said, “There’s the parking lot.”
“What do you mean?”
Jake nodded. “He’s right. There’s a big hunk of parking lot inside the pyramid. Kind of a No-Man’s Land since the Drill Team moved on. It’d work.”
“Perfect. What time is it now?”
Jake checked his Mickey Mouse watch. “Not quite six a.m.”
Wow. The sun was high overhead, but then it would be for days to come here inside. The last personal time reference I’d had was in the middle of the night, which seemed far more than just four or five hours ago. Of course, my body clock had long since surrendered. I ate when food was presented, slept when I staggered back to Walt’s apartment. For all I knew Eloi had me on thirty hour days or whatever.
“Okay. I want to address everyone at noon in the parking lot.” I took a breath, gave them my best impression of an encouraging smile. “Things are going to be a little different from now on.” I turned and walked a few steps away, quietly querying Eloi at the same time.
Jake said, “You want us to start spreading the word?”
I turned back to them. “That won’t be necessary.” I cued Eloi with a sub-vocal “now.” When I spoke again, my voice reverberated through the Disney PA system, echoing loudly here in the Horseshoe, and presumably ringing out all across the park. “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, your attention please.” Okay, no points for originality, but hopefully this familiar approach after so many months without any voice of authority would cause everyone to stop what they were doing and listen. I had thought through and rejected all sorts of possibilities from this point, and had decided on the simplest possible: “At noon today, please gather peacefully in the parking lot. My name is Graham. I am one of you; I have been chosen to speak for them. I will address you all at noon today in the parking lot.” I was tempted to close with “Be there or be square,” but thought better of it. I added a simple “Thank you,” and let Eloi know I was done. Then I stepped a pace or two away and had a brief private sub-vocal conversation with him.
Satisfied, I walked over to Geoff, leaned close: “As soon as I can, I’ll send Donna for you, and you can see your wife, okay?” Calling Danielle his wife seemed to hearten him. He smiled and nodded. I picked up the Ishim helmet and tossed it to Jake. “You can talk into this and reach me; you don’t have to put it on; just say my name—‘Graham,’ okay?—then talk and listen.”
“Check around. See if anybody needs medical attention. If so, we can work the same magic we did for Danielle. Just stay in touch.”
“I’ll see you at noon in the parking lot. Bring the helmet.” Then I signaled Eloi and disappeared.
I popped into Walt’s apartment just in time; Donna was starting to come around. An Ishim was just laying out breakfast. When he saw me he gestured towards a closet; I looked inside and saw that it now contained a selection of clothes intended for Donna and Danielle. There was even a pile of sneakers on the floor. I told him thanks; after a moment he nodded, then disappeared. A quick quiet check with Eloi confirmed that they would bring Danielle whenever I gave the word. I poured a cup of coffee, pulled a chair over to the sofa and sat down just as Donna opened her eyes. They were a brown so dark they were nearly black, and surprisingly clear—whatever whammy the Angels had put on her had plainly worn off. “Hi,” I offered.
She sat up, eyeing my cup of coffee. “That smells great.”
I stood. “What do you take?”
“Just black is fine.” I poured another cup and brought it to her. She took it and held it under her nose, breathing in the steam. “Where am I?”
She certainly wasn’t a slave to the polite little amenities. “Walt Disney’s private hideaway above Main Street. And no, I’m not kidding.”
She looked around. “Huh.” She rolled her head, creating an audible pop in her neck. “What the hell happened? Where’s Danielle?”
“Danielle’s fine. They’re going to bring her here any minute now. As to what happened, the Transition was too much for you, I guess. You passed out. I’m sorry.” This was almost true; hopefully she’d take it at face value.
“Huh,” she said again. “Weird. I don’t think I’ve ever passed out before.” If this was a challenge, I intended to leave it unanswered. She looked at me intently for a few seconds. “Damn. I was looking forward to seeing an alien hospital—Is that where we were when I... when I ‘passed out’?”
She was going to be a tough nut, this one. I decided to come clean. I took a deep breath and told her that the aliens as she called them were Angels. That they had declined to let her see their “hospital,” and there were worse things than being knocked out and sent to Walt’s sofa for a nap. I started telling her about my first encounter with them, and what had happened to poor Leslie.
“Wait, wait, wait. Leslie Reynolds?”
I admitted I didn’t know Leslie’s last name. She described her, and I said yes, that sounded like her. “Leslie is my best friend on Earth! She was my Maid of Honor. Oh, my God—” She took a deep breath, blinked back some tears. “I thought she was dead. Our friend Joyce was dead. Then Leslie just disappeared. Left behind a little pile of clothes. If Joyce and I hadn’t dragged her along on the bus...” Of course; I remembered that Leslie wasn’t supposed to have been here that day. I think she might even have mentioned Donna as we’d sat there swapping life stories. Well, as I observed at the time, here at Disneyland, it really was a small world. Donna looked up at me. “What happened to her?”
So, once again I was dealing with the consequences of leaping before looking. (You’d think I’d learn, but there’s no evidence of that so far.) Here I had intended to tell Donna a cautionary tale about the Angels’ terrible powers in an effort to keep her natural contrariness in check. Now I had to tell her that her best friend had been sent to some unknown oblivion that I had so far been unable to crack...
“So she’s not necessarily dead?” she asked when I finished. I told her again that I simply didn’t know. “Huh,” she said, plainly a habit of hers. “Well, first chance I get, I’m gonna do my damnedest to find out.”
This was the opposite of what I was trying to get across to her, but as I may have noted already, Donna was one tough nut. “Fair enough,” I said. “But not today, okay? We’ve got enough on our plate right now.” She nodded, her brow knit in that familiar frown. I cued Eloi. “Good. They’re bringing Danielle here now.”
I was expecting the two Ishim with the magic stretcher we’d seen before, but to my genuine surprise, Eloi appeared, carrying Danielle delicately in his arms. She was again wrapped in a silver blanket, and the image of the tall, beautiful Angel cradling this tiny young woman so gently was genuinely moving, and I felt tears come to my eyes. I heard Donna inhale sharply and looked over to see that she was moved as well; in fact, tears were already running down her face.
I have no idea why Eloi delivered the girl himself; maybe he just wanted to see what Donna looked like conscious. Maybe he wanted to make the very impression he had made, the noble Angel, caring for mankind in the person of one tiny female. Who knows? Mysterious ways. He stayed only a moment, long enough to lay Danielle carefully on the sofa, nod to me and disappear.
I think Donna might have fainted for real this time—or maybe “swooned” would be a better word—if she hadn’t had Danielle to focus on. She was taking the girl’s pulse when Eloi vanished and for a long moment she just sat there on the edge of the sofa staring at the spot he had just vacated. Finally I asked if she was okay. She turned to me and said in a tiny voice, “People come and go so quickly here.” Well, it’s true; we definitely weren’t in Kansas anymore.
After she was satisfied that her patient was okay, I suggested breakfast, and we ate the fruit and pastry the Ishim had provided. While we ate, she asked why I had called the aliens Angels. I countered with a question about her religious beliefs. She answered that she was ostensibly Jewish, but for her that was more of an ethnic identity than a religion. She hadn’t been to Temple since her bat mitzvah. Bottom line, she considered herself a sort of casual agnostic (exactly the sort that my mother would have chewed to shreds). Fine, I told her, because these weren’t the kind of Angels that required any faith to believe in; they were inarguably real, and I for one was convinced that they were the same beings that had inspired all those Biblical stories thousands of years ago.
We talked for quite some time while Danielle slept. She asked a lot of questions. I answered very few. She was cynical, skeptical, and not very satisfied with my story. I was beginning to resent her attitude. We were probably both relieved when we were interrupted by Danielle stirring.
Donna sat with her again, holding her hand. As cold and contrary as she was with me, she was genuinely warm and sympathetic with Danielle. I tried to slip around the corner to give them a little space, but Danielle spotted me. “Mr. K?”
She smiled. “Teachers aren’t supposed to call students ‘sweetie,’” she said, an observation she had first made during my second week with her class. I answered, as always, “I won’t tell if you won’t.”
She held her fist out to me. I stepped over and obliged with a little knuckle bump. “Go Pirates,” we said together. We both shed a tear or two. Then she sniffled and said, “I wanna go home.”