It took me most of the morning to work up the courage to return home. There were few places that I could escape to where Gerald or Hanz would fail to stumble upon me. So I abandoned the campus and the town, instead opting to be by myself in the wet chill that the birch wood and creeping mosses offered.

At first I was furious with myself and I raged once I disappeared into those cool morning depths, unable to fathom the decision that I felt was unavoidable, a freight train of misery. But before long my eyes ran dry and my apprehension slowly evaporated like a muddy puddle. I was left cracked and raw, but it felt good. It made me feel alive and free of whatever subversive force that had its claws buried in my mind.

After lunch I returned to campus and joined the crowds that milled about. It was a day of games and leisure. My peers enjoyed themselves in the little warmth the sun could spare. I smiled and waved to several of my class mates, but I didn't dare join their games for fear of another bout of crazed impulse. They blissfully had better things to do than pursue me.

After I had my fill and felt that I was human once more, I returned home. I found Hanz lounging on our tiny bed, a novel cracked in one hand. It was a science fiction serial that I didn't recognize. He rarely read anything nonacademic.

A smile creased his sweet face when I discarded my shoes at the door. A warmth welled up in my chest and I joined him on the bed, resting my head over his heart and inhaling his scents. He folded his book and set it on the nightstand, preferring an embrace to the wild imaginations of the deep future.

"Missed you." I squeaked.

He ran his hands through my hair and breathed in deep.

"You smell like the forest. Is that were you've been off to this morning?"

I nodded.

"I hope you had fun. I'm sorry you missed us this morning. We didn't want to wake you up. There were things we needed to work out in town, I figured you'd be bored. Plus, after last night.."

"Last night?" I asked, still not fully aware of the events that took place. I looked up and saw his face creased with lines of worry.

"I figured you'd want to sleep in. You were up really late reading."

I confessed that I wasn't fully aware of what I had absorbed. He made a faux display of ignorance, but he was transparent as he was brilliant.

"You must have just over did it. It's pretty heavy reading. I lost a lot of time when I first found it too. It was tooth and nail for Gerald, the poor thing."

"About that," I began. I wasn't fully sure how I'd elaborate. "I don't think I over did it. I think something else happened. Something weird. It's powerful."

I could feel his muscles tense. We sat there for a long moment, our hearts pounding.

"I'm so sorry Wendy. I'm so sorry."

To say that I heard it would not be accurate. I caught a whisper of it on the air. I snatched it out of the ether that laid between his mind and mine and made it my own. I pushed and focused without forethought or intent. His breathing grew heavy and labored.

"This is Gerald all over again. God, she should have stayed away. It's too much for her. It's going to break her. Make her like him."

I ripped the soundless statements from him and devoured them unintentionally. They melted in my mind's eye like a sugar cube in the mouth of a babe. I grew curious, but I could feel something beneath it. A raw hunger, something that had previously been absent.

I adjusted myself alongside him. That was when I heard her. A quiet chuckle that lived in the ether between minds.

"My dear. You worry too much. She isn't your toy. She's mine. When I've had my fill with her curves and thoughts I'll stop tormenting you with her. Plus, you never enjoyed it. Really, you know you prefer the company of men."

I could just make out a distant clockwork ticking in that queer ether that was Hanz fogged mind. I reached out with my mind, unknowing and childlike. It burned and we both flinched. His breathing resumed and I lost the disembodied voices.

I nearly thought myself mad. That in the morning something critical had snapped inside of me in the company of serviceman Aeolus Aeneas. But on some level I knew that to be a fallacy.

"Do you have any more suggestions? Books, I mean. You picked out a good one." I ran my palm over his flat stomach and hugged him sideways, hoping that he'd flee from the subject or otherwise offer me an escape. On some level I knew that the book contained an evil they had unleashed upon me intentionally. The thought was wild and under normal circumstances would have been produced by a fevered imagination. Whether that was true or my madness was cracking my fragile psyche was uncertain.

He failed to hesitate. It hurt me in more ways that I could describe.

"Loads, sweetheart. More than you could read in any stretch of the imagination."

I hated him for that and I abandoned him on the bed. When he inquired what was wrong I lied and said it was cramps. I prepared a cup of darjeeling and sat at the table, barely able to enjoy its bitter sweet and exotic tang. The ancient tome that had sparked that madness was curiously absent. I stared at Hanz after he returned to his world of space cadets and sunless monsters in the gulfs between worlds. Something had changed in him since the previous night. Or maybe it was my perspective of him.

He wasn't my Hanz any longer. Just like how I was not myself. We were both strangers and impostors. My mind drifted to that morning and the breakfast I shared and soon I found myself at a crossroads.

I decided that it was time to get ready for my date.


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