I parked the car at the side of the road and stared at the tower standing over the dry, dusty field. I glanced down the road both ways, not a car or house in sight.
This was the place, though, according to the map on my tablet. Someone in that tower was hiring an editor.
At least, I assumed it was the tower, but it looked rusty, top-heavy, and teetering. No one would really work in a place like that, I thought, but there were no other buildings. I sat in the car wondering if I should just head back home.
I hadn’t found any information on this HoleWorld company that was supposed to operate here, but I needed a job. I’d moved closer to my friends under the thought I’d secured a job here, but that fell through. They understood the situation, but I still didn’t want to be a drain.
Hex, part of my impetus for moving closer had been so I could help them, but my savings would only last so long.
I stretched in the car. I might as well head up and see what I was dealing with.
As I approached the tower I saw a flimsy mailbox, as well as holes as long as a truck.
I wondered what kind of work they did. It sounded like science stuff, but…
When I applied for the job I had a brief phone interview (gag), the lady on the other end asked some pretty basic questions but one was odd.
She asked if I had any formal science education. Not really.
I’m interested in science, and I’d taken a few courses in school, but I never had a focus in it.
Her response had been, “Good.”
I wondered if she misheard me. Why would she have asked that if the negative answer was good? Why would a negative answer be good at all?
At the base of the tower was a speaker and an elevator. I pressed the speaker button.
“I’m afraid the Duchess of Dimensions is not seeing anyone today,” spoke a lady’s voice–the same I’d had the phone interview with. “Or, really, any day. At least in this dimension.”
I stared at the speaker.
Most people would have walked away at this point.
To me, though, now things were interesting.
“I have an interview here today,” I said. “For the editor job?”
“Oh, all right! Yeah, let me send the elevator down, Dr. Fara should be available soon.”
Duchess of Dimensions, or Dr. Fara? This seemed like it would be an interesting place to work, at least.
The elevator light blinked on and I waited a minute for it to come down, then another go back up. The walls weren’t whole: spaces between them let me see the fields as I rose.
I imagined the elevator getting stuck. It’d suck to get stuck in an elevator like this; seeing the surroundings as you went up was interesting but only for a moment.
Once I entered the tower interior proper the walls were full again. After another moment it stopped and opened.
I walked into a mess of boxes and machinery strewn over a wide floor, cubicle walls blocking the view here and there but never forming an actual cubicle. It looked more like a messy storage room than anything else, but across a few rows of boxes stood woman who waved me closer.
“Hello!” she greeted me. Her long, statuesque curly hair was dyed a deep aquamarine. She stood behind a tall desk up to her chest, which she leaned over with a grin, her sweater hanging over her thin frame. Between that and her dark sunglasses her outfit looked out of place.
“So you’re here for the editor job?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said, glancing back and forth across the rows of boxes for the most direct path through the maze. Eventually I had to step over some.
The lady chuckled. “Good, I’ve told Emma she’s needed an editor for a while.”
She smiled, chin on her hands, “And I can just tell you’ll be perfect for the job.”
“I hope so.” I gestured to the boxes. “Is this an intentional maze, or can I get hired as an organizer, too?”
The lady laughed and extended a hand. “I’m Alya.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said, shaking her hand.
“Likewise.” Her nails and lips were blue like the sky, her sweater a more cloudy lavender. “Go on in, Dr. Fara knows you’re here.”
“Thank you.” I entered the door near the desk and saw a host of buzzing machines and swirling tubes.
I thought the walls were painted black, but they were covered with what appeared to be star charts, but many were missing stars and had white circles instead.
“Great! Here, hold this!” A tall woman in a winter coat and gloves handed me the end of a rope.
“Wha?” I held the rope.
I watched her run to the other side of the room, her black hair trailing behind her. Not just black, night black. No—night black would have stars and nebula. This was void black.
She pressed a button on a wall. I blinked and a door opened, up to the ceiling and just as wide.
Beyond was an expansive room that looked designed after a winter tundra. I felt a chill of cold from it, and if it weren’t contained within a room in a tower I’d have said it was a winter tundra.
I’d thought that was an outer wall to the tower, actually. I guessed not.
The woman—Dr. Fara, I assumed—tied the other end of the rope to a tree, the only one I could see with any leaves hanging on. With this done she returned, pressing the button to shut the door in an instant, leaving the rope stuck in the door—or wall—or something.
She removed the winter apparel, revealing a black lab coat, though nowhere near as black as her hair. She pointed to the rope’s end.
“You probably don’t want to be holding that.”
“What?” I asked. She took the rope and tied it to a pipe next to the door.
With a saunter to the desk in the middle of the room she sat down and looked me in the eye.
“Whatever you’re selling, we don’t want it.”
“What?” I shook my head. “Sorry, that’s all I’m—I mean, I’m not selling anything.” Dr. Fara leaned forward.
“We currently have nothing to buy.”
“Well, there is the dinosaur, I suppose, I liked it as a mascot but it’s hard to keep fed.”
“Dinosaur?” I asked. “No, hold on, I’m here about the editor job.”
I swallowed. “The editor job?” I thought I would be leaving very soon.
Dr. Fara pressed a button on her intercom. “Alya, I thought I decided not to hire an editor.”
“You changed your mind yesterady,” Alya said.
“No, I changed it again this morning, did I not tell you?” She looked at me. “No job opening. My treatises are perfect as they are.”
“Oh. Um.” I looked down. “Okay. No problem.”
“Thanks for holding the rope, though,” Dr. Fara said.
I exited the room back to the mess of boxes and Alya. She shrugged.
“Sorry, she’s changed her mind on the subject like 5 or 6 times this week.”
I glanced back. That was a lot.
“But,” Alya said, leaning forward, “since you’re not going to be an employee…”
I felt something brush my leg, but I pushed it away.
“Wait, hold on. How many times did she change her mind yesterday?”
I looked at Alya. “How many times might she today?”
Alya laughed. “If you want to wait and see if she changes her mind again today, feel free to have a seat.”
I glanced around. There were no seats. “Have a seat where?”
I approached a sturdy set of boxes.
“Not there!” Alya said. I jumped up before I sat down.
“Sorry,” Alya said, practically jumping onto her desk. I tried not to look but thought I saw some sort of blue rash on her skin under the sweater. “Some of these boxes have fragile stuff in them. Maybe just—” Her desk buzzed.
“Alya! Is that editor still there?” Dr. Fara asked.
“They’re still here,” Alya told her.
“Send them back in, I changed my mind.”
Alya smiled and waved me back into the room. I sat back in front of Dr. Fara’s desk, and she tossed a hastily stapled set of papers to me.
“All right, so I was thinking an editor would only limit me.”
“I thought, I don’t need someone telling me how to change my treatise.” She paced across the floor. “Is it really mad science if it doesn’t come from the gut? Might someone normal not dilute the message?”
I wanted to protest to being called normal but she kept talking.
“But no, that’s how my fellow mad scientists would think. No, that’s not how the people I’m sending these treatises to would think!”
I shuffled through the papers. I started to suspect a joke was being played on me. Did she say mad scientist?
“I’ve realized something important!”
“It’s hard to instill fear of my powers into the populace if they only laugh and point out my spelling mistakes!” She pointed at me. “Might the power of an editor instead magnify the threatening aura of my disquisitions? Prove it to me!”
I stared at the rambling essay.
Half of it was science jargon I barely grasped–something about the shape of dimensions I gathered–and the other half was threats about armies and domination.
I quickly stopped paying attention as all I noticed was how poorly it was written.
I looked back up at Dr. Fara.
“I’m sorry, what kind of scientist are you?”
I still suspected a joke was being played on me.
“And what does that entail?”
The pipe she’d tied the rope to flew off and zipped past my head, clanging against the wall. I stared at it, ears ringing and heart beating.
“Aha, they found the bait!” Dr. Fara grabbed the pipe and pulled the rope back, struggling as if something pulled the other side.
By the time my heart stopped thumping from almost being hit in the head I realized she was yelling at me to help her pull the rope. I stood up.
“What the hex is going on here?” I asked. “What do you mean mad scientist? What is that rope? What is this place?”
“I’ll explain after we have cookies!” Dr. Fara said. “At least call my assistant in here!”
I pressed the intercom button, humoring her in hopes Alya would explain.
“Alya, get in here!” Dr. Fara shouted.
“What?” Alya asked. “I—did they sign? You told me to stay hidden until—”
“You!” Fara shouted at me. “Sign the employment paper on the desk!”
“Not until you explain what all this is!”
“Good enough for me! Alya, get in here!”
The door burst open and I stared as Alya rushed in, her body below the waist a long snake tail, scales a deep aquamarine like her tail. I jumped back.
“A lamia?” I asked. Alya grinned to me with a flick of a forked tongue.
“Naga.” She gripped her tail around the rope and pulled.
“Nagas aren’t real!” I shouted. It was a fact I was sharply, sadly aware of. “None of this is! What is going on?”
Alya snickered. “You’d better tell them so maybe they’ll help.”
“Plebs,” Dr. Fara muttered. “You’re lucky you’re a cute pleb.”
I crossed my arms. “Okay, now that’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard all day.”
“Listen, I’m a mad scientist,” Dr. Fara said. “I deal in physics, specifically universal and dimensional travel, like wormholes.”
Alya grinned. “Like pulling a poor innocent naga from her home and not knowing how to get her back.”
“So a dinosaur?” I asked.
“It’s hard to feed because I don’t know if its diet is extinct or from another dimension,” Dr. Fara said.
I stared at her void-like hair. “Are you even from this dimension?”
“At this point,” Fara said, “I don’t even know. But the one thing I do know…” They gave the rope a heave.
The wall warped as short figures tumbled out. Fara grinned.
“I always know how to find Christmas cookies at the source!”
Dainty elves glared around the room, eyes glowing red and green.
Look, when this all started I didn’t know it’d end up being Christmas-related, but here we are
The smooth elves stood no higher than my knee, moved with the grace of a ballerina, and shouted and growled like feral animals.
They charged right at us.
“Whoop, scatter!” Dr. Fara and her assistant ducked to the sides, leaving me in the path of the elves.
Despite their size they hit like a flying log, and before I knew what happened I was on the floor, arms pinned. One stood on my chest, glaring at me. I glared back.
“What are you looking at?” I asked.
With where Fara found them, I expected the elves to smell like musty woods.
Instead, they smelled warm. It was an oddly familiar scent. A strongly familiar scent.
Cookies. These elves smelled like cookies. Well, Fara had said something about cookies. Maybe they actually were baking cookies.
My thoughts scattered when I heard a jingling bell in both ears.
I couldn’t think over the noise; I clenched my head but the bells were louder than my thoughts. I slowly unclenched as the scent of baking relaxed me; I listened to the bells without thought.
I felt a need to bake cookies. I must…
The elves disappeared off me and Fara laughed.
It was hard to hear through the jingling in my ears but I heard Dr. Fara say, “If they don’t work out as an editor at least they work out well as a meat shield.”
My sight was hazy but I saw Fara hold up a shaking butterfly net full of shouting elves.
“I better process these quick,” she said. She nodded to me. “Alya, can you deprocess them?”
“Yesss, certainly!” Alya said. She leaned over me and removed her sunglasses, revealing snake eyes, green with tall pupils. Her pupils disappeared under a rippling waterfall of color.
A ring of deep azure, a ring of sparkling aquamarine, and a ring of light plum swirled through her eyes, stealing my attention. The colors rippled beyond her, like I was looking through water. Alya giggled.
“That’sss it, sssleep… Sssleep your fog away…”
I felt a weight curl around me, hugging me tight as cool scales stroked my face.
“I don’t see how that’s necessary,” spoke a voice far away.
“I need to sssubsume them in another ssscent to remove the elves’ scent,” Alya said. As her tail squished my face I could smell her scent.
Soft, cool, fresh, a little damp, removing the traces of the elves’ cookie scent. I felt a tickle at my ear.
“Jussst let me sssoften your senssses,” Alya whispered, her tongue flicking at my ear. Her voice dulled away the bells as I grew drowsy. “Sssleep…”
“Return to your senses… Regain control of yourself…” Alya quickly added, “And if that involves being attracted to me then by all meansss but you have to determine that yourssself.”
She backed away and looked me over; I was half asleep or more, eyes drooping. She smiled.
“You know, I think they might have fed them a bit of poisoned cookie, too,” Alya said. She leaned closer. “I should kisss them, too, jussst to be sure there’s no lingering–”
She yelped as Fara pulled her back by the hair.
“If you turn them into your pet, you’re paying for them.”
Alya huffed. “I would never.”
“You’re the reason I’m in debt to that delivery company,” Fara said.
“Fine, fine.” Alya sighed and pulled her tail away. “Let’s just lay them somewhere so it can all drain out of their system.”
As I rose in the air my eyes shut and I drifted asleep.
I don’t know how long I was out, but when I awoke I was sprawled on a couch. I twitched upon smelling cookies, but it passed; they were ordinary cookies. At least, as ordinary as something could get around there.
I stood up and followed the scent to find Fara and Alya at a table.
“Hey, you’re up!” Fara said. She held up a Christmas cookie. “Want a cookie?”
I gripped the backrest of a chair. “What the hex?”
Dr. Fara smiled. “I already explained. I’m a mad scientist. I work in wormhole and dimensional physics. I need an editor. You start Monday.”
“Hold up,” I said. “I haven’t agreed to anything. We’re going to have to discuss terms and perks.”
Alya grinned at me. I slowly looked at her with the straightest face I could muster.
I wondered if she could tell I was into hypnosis.
And, I had to admit, her.
Fara grabbed my chin and turned me to face her, self-assured in her smile.
“There’s nothing to discuss. You’re going to take the job regardless of the terms.”
I tried not to tremble from her soft yet strong grip on my chin.
“What makes you say that?” I asked.
“You haven’t glossed over the weird stuff,” Fara said, “and you haven’t screamed and ran away. You’ve stayed. You’re interested. And you’re not going to walk away from something outside your old reality.”
She stood, pulling me closer to her face. I tried and failed to not tremble
“I’ve read what you’ve written online,” Fara said, smile low and smug. “You’ll be perfect to edit my work. And maybe other tasks I need you for.”
I turned around and stepped away. “W-Well, I st-still n-need to think it over!” I said. “Just give me, um, let me—”
“Just come in at 9:00 on Monday when you’ve decided,” Fara said. I turned around.
She actually blinked, but quickly replied, “11:00.”
I was about to haggle for 13:00 but found myself answering, “Deal. I mean, if I decide to come.”
“And, oh, um, please email me all the details of employment so I can look it over.”
“I’ll do that,” Dr. Fara said. “I’m looking forward to seeing you on Monday.” Alya rose in her seat over the table.
“I’m really looking forward to working with you!” She laughed. I swallowed.
Was I really going to start working with these two?
I mean, was I really going to consider working with them?
It seemed like a dangerous idea…
What other option was there?
I mean, obviously the option not to work. Because I hadn’t decided yet. What I would do.
I left them and rode the elevator down to the base of the tower. I tried to weigh the pros and cons but repeatedly thought about the pros. I needed a job, after all. It would be an interesting job. I could do what I enjoy.
When I got in the car I felt something new in my pocket.
I pulled out a small device with a tag attached. On the tag was an imprinted pair of black lips with a message: Press the button to see a job perk ;) -Dr. Emma Fara
I stared at it for a minute before pressing the button.
The car and world disappeared as I fell into a void.
I yelped as I shuddered onto an upholstered dining seat at a sparkling table, glasses and candles set out as if for a date.
“Hello,” Dr. Fara said. She wore a long black gown to the floor, unless it was part of the floor—both were dark as could be. “Welcome to my private zone.”
I stared at her; she sat on a chair near the one I sat on.
“What?” I asked.
“A pocket dimension I created where time and space don’t apply.” She leaned closer. “You’ve been working for me a few months, from my point of view.”
“I thought you messed with space, not time.”
“Time, space, it’s all relative.” Fara placed her cool hands on my face and pulled me closer. “I’m waiting for the present you to arrive for our date, but I thought I’d give the past you a taste of what’s in store if you come work for me.”
I tried to ask how she slipped that device to me from the future, but before I could speak she pulled me to her lips and kissed me long, deep, dark. For the duration of the kiss my thoughts felt muffled. All I could focus on was her cool embrace, a dark void swirling around me.
This kiss felt human, and yet inhuman, beyond human. Who was this woman who had taken an interest in me, who seemed perfectly normal until you looked closer and by the time you noticed something different you were drawn in?
She’d said she didn’t know if she was from my dimension.
These things, however, I did not think at the moment. I only thought them later. At that moment I had no thoughts because I was wrapped in her shadowy embrace.
It felt like I kissed a portal, one I would be pulled through inexorably before too long.
Later I thought I’d glimpsed myself through the other side, writing these words.
The thought didn’t make sense at the time. Writing what words? I didn’t know.
My thoughts would orbit more around the fact I was offered a job with two attractive ladies who seemed attracted to me.
Just before Emma sent me back into normal space I had to ask.
“Isn’t it kind of unethical to date your employee?”
“I’m a mad scientist,” she said. “We’ve all broken ethics long before we reached this point.”
In retrospect that was a red flag.
I didn’t care. I started work Monday.
You blink and clench your eyes, head swimming. You try to remember what you were doing but your head aches just thinking. Eventually you remember your glass of eggnog, which increases your headache.
Your sight is blurry, only red, green, and white lights discernible at first.
You try to move your stiff legs but they’re stuck together by a thin waxy cover. A bed sheet? You’re not in bed; where are you?
“Oh, dear, you’ve awoken sooner than I expected. Perhaps you had more of a resistance to the nod’nog than I anticipated.”
Your sight refocuses. You’re lying underneath a pine tree covered in lights and ornaments. A tall figure kneels above you, skin smooth and fair, hair long and light.
You remember—you were having a drink with them, and then… blank.
Their ears weren’t so long before, were they?
They’re holding a long piece of ribbon, which is wrapped around your legs. You should and ask what’s going on, realizing your hands are tied together, also with ribbon.
“Now, now, a good gift stays silent to not ruin the surprise.” They grab another strip of ribbon.
They flip the ribbon behind your head and pull it tight over your mouth, tying it in a bow over your mouth. You still struggle and scream, muffled, trying to squirm away. The elf plucks a white bulb ornament from the tree and holds it on its string.
“Now, this simply won’t do.”
They held your face in one cold hand and pulled your head to the ornament.
“You must stay silent and still.” They swing the ornament in front of you. “You want to be an accommodating present for our friend, don’t you?”
The tree lights reflect off the swinging bulb.
You still struggle, but your attention is drawn to the swinging bulb, back and forth. The lights shine in your eyes as you follow the bulb, head rocking back and forth. The elf chuckles and releases your face. You still stare at the bulb.
Back and forth…
Red, green, white…
The elf strokes your chin and you stop struggling, stop screaming, just following, mind swaying with the swinging bulb.
“That’s right,” the elf says. “You want to be a good gift, don’t you?”
You assent with a low moan. You do want to be a good gift. Your eyes droop, sight blurry.
“You want to be quiet, compliant, and make your recipient happy.”
You do want those things. It sounds nice to do those things. It’s good to make people happy. It’s good to give. It’s good to give yourself.
“You will be quiet and compliant,” the elf says.
Yes… You stop thinking.
A good gift doesn’t need to think. A goof gift will remain silent and still until your recipient is ready to use you.
You drift away, mind shimmering with pretty lights. The elf chuckles and resumes wrapping the ribbon around you, tightening it around your legs and hips.
The elf pulls the ribbon around your arms, holding them firm against your body as they wrap the ribbon up your torso. They wrap up your shoulders a few times and tie the end into a bow on one shoulder.
Gently they bend your legs and tie more ribbon to hold them in place.
With your body wrapped up neatly with some bows, the elf lifts you and places you into a tight box, your body bulging against the sides behind you. You’re squeezed against something warm and soft in front of you; through the sparkling lights in your vision you see something blue.
That blue sight disappears into darkness as the elf covers the box with a lid, leaving only the red, green, and white shimmering lights in your vision.
You’re too entranced to know how much time passes, but eventually you hear muffled voices.
“A gift for you.”
“Aw, a gift for me? You shouldn’t have.”
The lid is lifted, and you see a pink-haired lady above you.
“Why, it’s two darling slaves for me! Just what I wanted.”
The elf laughs. “I thought you would like it, Tourmaline.”
Tourmaline unties and pulls the ribbons off you.
She snaps her fingers. “Up, my subjects.”
You rise and stand out of the box next to the blue-haired subject. Tournamine laughs and holds your faces in your hands, squeezing your other cheek against your fellow subject. You sink against her grasp, thoughts orbiting around her.
The red, green, and white lights in your eyes shift to pink, drawing you to your mistress. Her touch is golden, a blessing from her.
“Two slaves to play with,” Tourmaline says, “and have play with each other.”
Whatever she says… you’ll obey… Obeying is a gift… as a gift…
Arbal flew over the cold, swampy lake, looking for a dry spot to land. She saw no signs of life, let alone anything interesting.
The phoenix sighed. She’d visited Siberia in search of notable landmarks to write about. She’d been directed to some by a lamia from a small village.
Every landmark held nothing of interest; Arbal was skeptical there was even any historical significance to them. She expected nothing from this lake, too.
As soon as she landed at a dry spot the water burst up like a fountain. Arbal stumbled back into the shallow water.
A dripping lady of liquid rose from the lake, her hair flowing long like waterfalls.
“Welcome, dear visitor!” she said, watching Arbal with yellow eyes. “I am the water spirit that watches over this lake.”
“Wow! A water spirit?” Arbal took a pen and notepad and wrote this down.
“Oh yes, and I love to greet visitors to the lake.”
Arbal felt the water rise around her feet, and her legs trembled. She looked down; it looked like water wrapping up her legs.
“And I love to show visitors around, too.” The water spirit slithered over the water closer.
Arbal felt her body numbing. When she looked up the water spirit slid up to her, around her, her hair dripping down over Arbal’s face. The phoenix felt a sleepy wave wash over her.
“Did you have a good time visiting the other landmarks?” the slimy spirit asked.
Arbal looked into the spirit’s eyes and saw familiarity. They were yellow now, on drippier face, but in the village they were red and drier.
She only had enough time to recognize this before her mind sank into darkness from the slime lamia’s soporific touch wrapping around her.
Each wet slime coil was as thick as Arbal. For all the cushiony squish her liquid tail had it squeezed as firm as a solid one.
“Aw, my warm phoenix,” Ageul said, hugging Arbal in her slime, coating her coils over her. Arbal’s wings were stuck down from the slime.
A heavy slime coil held her neck, pressing against her slime-coated face. Her mind sank in the current of the slime, a whirlpool swallowing her thoughts into sleep.
“Don’t worry,” Ageul said, pulling Arbal into the lake, “as long as you’re with me you’ll breathe just fine.”
Into the lake they sank, Ageul pulling oxygen from the air into her body and up for Arbal to breathe.
She had plenty of tail to do so; she’d absorbed so much water waiting for Arbal nearly the entire lake had become her body.
A lake of Ageul for Arbal to drift in…
Arbal is owned by Nejifan101
Tourmaline (and Lapis) are owned by LapisLazuliArt
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