There was a bottle on the counter. It had a curious looking green liquid inside. Someone had propped a note up against it, and it said, “Open it. Or not. It’s up to you: but, don’t wait, the time will never be just right.”
Lisa walked over to the counter and stood there, staring at the bottle. It intrigued her.
The room was a little chilly; she shivered and rubbed her hands over her arms to warm up.
“Pandora’s box,” Lisa muttered, “the last thing I need.”
Lisa had booked this B & B because she didn’t want or need the extra expense of a hotel room. The lady had left her code to get into the house, but Lisa hadn’t seen her hostess when she arrived. So, she followed the instructions and went to her room, and viola, the bottle on the counter.
Her curiosity turned to annoyance as compelled she stood before the bottle; drawn to it as though in the fabled Wonder Woman, a lasso had tugged her towards the bottle, against her will. She was powerless, and that’s what miffed her, she rather prided herself on being in control of her environment, not it controlling her.
With a shake of her head, Lisa broke away, walked over to the window and stared down at the street. Light snow was falling gently; the pretty snow that nobody minded. It wasn’t enough snow to make traffic miserable, which everyone dreaded. It was more like fairy dust, swirling in circles, like a globe shaken, making the world look like a frosted cake decorated with lace.
Lisa’s tummy rumbled. She was hungry, so turned back towards the little kitchen where the bottle stood winking at her.
“Ack,” said Lisa, again that strange pull, that irresistible whisper beckoning, the sense, stronger now, that she must open that bottle.
Lisa reached for the bottle and pulled the cork. A green vapour floated up and out of the bottle, and a sickly sweet odour filled the room. Lisa was falling, falling. And somewhere in the distance, faint, mocking laughter.
When Lisa opened her eyes, the room changed; the furniture no longer there. More colours were spilling out of the bottle. Each tone musical; red, a trumpet, loud and militant. Blue, a flute, lilting and lyrical; yellow, a piccolo, high and bright. Black, the tuba, deep and sonorous; purple, the oboe, sweet and sensuous. And all the while, the green vapour curling and twisting in between the kaleidoscope of colours.
Lisa‘s heart pounded. Confused and overwhelmed by sounds; by the orchestra of music and by the scent of yeast and burnt sugar wafting through the air. It was too much. She tried to get up, struggling, but her muscles like water were loose and liquid with no strength at all.
“Help me,” Lisa cried, “help!”
But there was no answer – only once again, Lisa knew of laughter, elusive and snide. And she was sinking once more into the darkness, falling unconscious, being swallowed, consumed.
When Lisa awoke, it was light outside, and the weak winter sunshine was pale as butter. The sky was grey, and clouds skittered across the horizon.
This time Lisa could sit up. The furniture was in the room again, but the bottle had vanished. Lisa shook, trembling violently. Terrified she struggled to her feet. Had it all been a dream, or more to the point, a nightmare? She took deep breaths, walking around the room trying to orient herself, anchor herself in the here and now. She went to the washroom, washed her face; her eyes had dark circles under them and looked hollow and scared.
“Get ahold of yourself, Lisa,” she reproached her reflection. “You have had some kind of dream, just get ready and go home.” Home to Mike and the kids, Jenny and Bruce; back to reality, safe and sure.
Lisa grabbed her bag and left the room. She went downstairs calling quietly for her hostess. Once again, there was no answer, only a hush in the room and a note with instructions for payment. Lisa took the envelope and put the money in and closed the door, hustling away and not looking back.
At the main road, Lisa hailed a taxi to the train station, boarded the train and headed home. She texted Mike on the train, and he was there to meet her with the kids, who were hopping up and down and excitedly pointing to her. She rushed to them pulled them into a warm hug, kissed Mike, and then they went to the van and drove off.
At home, crossing the threshold, Lisa felt a profound sense of relief. Everything was as it should be. “There’s no place like home,” she recited contentedly to herself, and she sighed.
Lisa went into the kitchen to start lunch. She heard Mike and the kids chortling with laughter. The kids delighting in the games they were playing with her husband. Lisa felt a fissure of annoyance, they should laugh with her, shouldn’t they? She’d been away, had just gotten back, and the kids were not paying any attention to her at all. Silently, she chided herself, “where on earth did that thought come from,” usually Lisa was happy when the children were playing with their Dad.
She went to the cupboard, pulled down the plates. Looking at them she huffed, “these dishes are so old,” she thought. She’d wanted some new ones but had not bothered. Now it irked her.
Mike, Jenny and Bruce came into the kitchen, they sat down, eating the sandwiches that Lisa had made, talking about their week, what had happened at school, and at work.
Mike turned to Lisa, “So, what about you, hon, how was the business trip?” Lisa stood abruptly, “I’ve got to clean up, we’ll talk about me later,” she said, nervous and antsy.
Memories clouded her mind; the music, a cacophony reverberated through her. The sickly sweet smell invaded her nostrils, and she gasped.
Mike looked at her curiously, “You okay, love?”
Lisa leaned up against the counter her back to Mike, “I’m okay, I need to get things done, you know?” She turned back to him, a fleeting smile passing over her features. “Really, I’m fine.”
Mike shrugged, got up and went over to Lisa, and kissed her lightly on the back of her neck. “I’ll be in my office,” he said, “there are things I’ve got to wind up for work before I can relax for the rest of the weekend.”
Again, Lisa felt a flash of displeasure streaking through her. “Why does he have to work all the time,” she thought to herself. “We need more quality time, more romance.”
The warm lemon scented water bubbled up soap suds, and for a while, Lisa found it comforting. The routines of everyday life, making lunch, doing the dishes; brought back the normalcy that Lisa desperately needed. Her world felt skewed, murky. What had happened back at the B & B? Lisa wondered why she couldn’t shake the dis-ease, it was like humid, cloying air choking her.
The music clanged, shouted, rhythms danced around her, colours swirling in front of her eyes, the aroma of burnt sugar, saccharine, and sickly made her gag. She ran to the bathroom, closed the door.
She bent over, head down. “Breath,” she told herself, “breath.” But when Lisa lifted her head, she saw the green vapour drifting, hovering, surrounding her and heard a quiet whisper, a laugh. Lisa slid down to the floor, sat with her back against the door.
The kids were fighting, she could hear them in the family room, their bickering growing in intensity. Suddenly, Jenny was banging on the door, “Mommy, Bruce is bugging me! Mommy?”
“Go away,” Lisa said, low and harsh, “go away.” She could hear Jenny retreating, running upstairs, her bedroom door slamming. “Why can’t they ever give me a moment’s peace?” she berated. “Why can’t they leave me alone!”
Her thoughts alarmed Lisa, “this isn’t me,” she thought. I enjoy spending time with my kids, sure, they get on my nerves sometimes, but this, this growing anger, “what is it all about?”
The laughing – taunting her, returned. Lisa clapped her hands over her ears. “Stop,” she hissed, “stop!” She rocked back and forth. “I am going crazy.” Lisa wasn’t sure how long she could stand this, the noise, and the stench. But to her great relief, a moment later all she smelled was the clean lavender soap she used in the bathroom. And it was blessedly still once again. Lisa grew calm and got up and left the bathroom.
She popped her head into Mike’s office, “Mike, I’m turning in, I don’t feel well, maybe I caught a bug while I was away. Night, night,” and Lisa blew him a kiss. Mike didn’t look up, wholly absorbed in finishing his report. But he said, “night, my love.” Lisa lingered at the door, then turned peevishly and walked away.
“Why was everything bothering her, irritating her?” She rubbed her eyes, exhausted and got ready for bed and turned out the lights.
Lisa didn’t sleep well at all that night.
The next morning when Lisa got to work, she sensed the awareness of who greeted her and who didn’t heighten. When the girls went out for lunch and didn’t invite her, it ticked her off, and she was out of sorts. “It’s those nightmares I had at the B & B, and that spell I had when I got home,” she thought.
Lisa was wondering if reality had shifted, was she living in a parallel universe? The old Lisa, easy-going, in control, and rarely rattled left behind, and this new Lisa, petulant and irascible, had taken over.
When her boss praised her workmate and not Lisa, resentment coursed through Lisa’s veins. The music played loud in Lisa’s head, and the bile rose in her stomach as the green vapour, and sticky sweetness invaded her senses. Lisa was light-headed and her vision blurred.
Now she could hear the laughter, and this time there was a voice husky and seductive, “it’s me the green-eyed monster, sweetie, and I’ve taken over.”
Lisa turned a ghostly white and pale. Then Lisa fainted, falling in a heap to the floor.