Cocooned under what felt like silken covers, her eyes shut, Sandra noted how alarmingly quiet her apartment was. Usually on waking she heard water coursing through her neighbor’s pipes or footsteps patrolling the apartment above.
When she hesitantly opened her eyes, she was confronted with an alien setting.
Was it a dream?
She closed her eyes again, waited a few seconds and cautiously lifted her lids. Then, to ensure she was awake, she squeezed her fists until the nails bit her palms. The pain confirmed she was awake but where?
The place had a sterile institutional quality, clockwork orderly with no personal items strew affectionately about. It couldn’t be a hotel; she hadn’t stayed in one for years and hotel rooms had doors.
The space–with sides and top a luminous white–seemed more like a plastic container than a room. There were no windows and wherever the door was located, the handle was hidden. She must be in a hospital and considering there was no apparent exit it wasn’t a regular hospital. Perhaps it was a mental institute.
Take it easy, Sandra told herself. Think. Had there been an accident during the night?
Perhaps her apartment had been blown up by a gas leak or by terrorists?
But although terrorists were blamed for most things that went wrong nowadays, Sandra would have been surprised if they plied their trade in a small town like Willowbean. On the other hand, she had always suspected old man Murphy, with his mangy half dead dog and his pretense that he was a master at Sudoku puzzles, was up to something.
Maybe she had been hysterical when the firemen rescued her and they had confined her here for safety’s sake. Jim Spacey was on the force and would have remembered how she had baked gluten-free cookies for the volunteers during the flood the previous year.
Whatever was happening, this was her moment to show her stuff. Prove that she was resilient, quick witted, able to deal with any challenge that came her way.
The moment she had prepared for her whole life.
To date there had been no dramatic ordeals in her life. All her challenges had been prosaic: low wages, overdrafts, hives, a nagging mother, and a groping boss. Did any heroine ever have to deal with such dreary events? She thought not!
The year before when she reached fifty-two, Sandra had worried that her chance for heroics had passed. She had been looking to the left when opportunity–dressed in a tuxedo or decked out in scuba equipment–had bowed to the right.
But though worried that her moment might not come or had come and gone, Sandra had continued vigilant: on the alert, always calculating how she would respond to unknown forces.
Whenever she read in a newspaper or a book, or witnessed in a movie or on TV, a situation that seemed impossible to deal with: the heroine falling down an elevator shaft, chased across a field by aliens, corrupt forces in league with other foreign governments taking over her country, she could not settle for the night until she figured out what she would do should she find herself in such a plight.
Short but wiry, at 5’2″, she had developed formidable fighting skills due to her Karate lessons and regular workouts. “You seem to be planning to take on the world,” her trainer, ignorant of her ambitions, had commented. He imagined himself strong but she knew she could beat him if it came down to it. As for heroics, she was certain her trainer couldn’t jump from roof to roof or scale down the side of a building.
Unfortunately, sometimes her survival preoccupations led her off the trail. Like now, her mind was wandering when it should be focused on her dilemma.
Let’s put our life’s lessons in play, she instructed herself. She assumed there would be surveillance judiciously hidden. Some guy would be sitting somewhere watching a surveillance screen, a leaking sandwich in hand, rubbing his eyes or slopping down stale coffee to keep awake. She knew not to let him see that she was confused. And if she was in alien hands, she wanted them to assume she was aware of her predicament.
No time to waste. Something might happen and soon. She had to plan what to say when someone came in. Not to look surprised if it were a nurse or even an animal–a horse for example (you had to be prepared for anything) and she would have to respond quickly.
The problem was she didn’t have the information needed to strategize. She didn’t know if it was morning (her watch had disappeared leaving only a thin bleached strap line) so she couldn’t say “Good Morning.” In any case they might speak another language: Marsian or Spanish for example.
She had a few words of Spanish but not enough to fool a Spaniard. And there were a thousand other languages–well hundreds anyhow–which she didn’t know.
Having focused her life readying herself for this moment, Sandra was dismayed to realize she was unprepared. She didn’t even know the names of all the countries in Africa nor those in Asia or South America. In fact she could hardly describe the boundaries between Asia and Europe.
Forget it, deep breath. No need to panic.
The feel of the sheets–silky and inviting against her raw body–indicated she was naked. This pointed to an alien abduction; aliens always took your clothes.
She considered getting up and inspecting the place but she could see there was nothing to check, except possibly underneath the bed. If someone were hiding there, that presented a challenge. She and whoever’s natural first reaction would be to grasp one another and call out in relief, but it would be best if they communicated by subtle eye messages. She’d leave that possibility for the moment.
The truth was she had no idea where she was and why. What if she had fallen into a story?
She read a lot of murder mysteries; ten or more had been piled beside her bed the night before. She could have inadvertently tumbled out of her bed and into one of them?
If so her best course, assuming it was a cozy mystery, would be to wait until a maid came in, threw back the curtains and left her a pot of tea. In which case, should she casually ask the young servant to set out her clothes for the day? Hopefully it would be a woman; the last thing she needed was to have the morning ritual carried out by some stuffy old fart.
Whoever did come, she’d pretend she couldn’t remember what events she’d be attending that day: opening the country fair or doing a shop at the local village. Speaking of clothes, where was the cupboard?
Of course, it could be that she was the maid? She might have been relegated to sleeping in the attic or a cupboard. Would someone soon be yelling at her to get down to the kitchen? One certainty was that this was a new experience; one she’d never seen in any movie or on television.
Suddenly she felt chilled as if she were floating high above the earth, the cold wind buffeting her. Maybe she was dead? If so, what should she do?
No dead person had ever come back to earth with a how-to book or set up a blog. No dead person had ever toured from town to town earning exorbitant fees for talking about their experience in the afterlife.
If she were dead, the good news was it had not been painful–a great concern of hers–and that she wouldn’t have to go to lunch with her aunt Gertrude next week. It was always a bleak affair with her aunt regaling her with fantasies about the wheat farm they had in Garysburg forty years ago or assuring her that it would be better to settle down with another woman than to live a single
And if she were dead, was this the waiting room? Limbo as the Catholics called it.
Having only eaten a small salad and two gluten free buns the night before, Sandra’s stomach started to growl. She was hungry but she had never seen folks eating in the afterlife. Well maybe they did, her education was flawed; she hadn’t studied all the religions with sufficient care.
Much like her limited knowledge of Africa she knew now her research about the afterlife was inadequate. Paradise, to her, was a long table under the trees in the south of France with all her friends and family eating, drinking and enjoying clever and convivial conversations. Sandra closed her eyes. Que sera sera, she sighed.
In the end, just as her brother Nathan had warned her, you couldn’t prepare for everything. And as Hamlet had advised, well before there were these constant alien sightings, “There are more things in this world than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.”
She’d go with the flow and, just as the Victorian ladies had done when getting banged by an insistent hubby, whatever happened next, she’d close her eyes and think of England.
~ Melodie Corrigall
Originally published in Cosmic Vegetable: Anthology of Humorous SF/F, December 2013.