Claire woke with her heart pounding. She’d had the same, damn dream again, the one with a massive owl flying in a misty forest, and her stuck in a dress like a blueberry meringue. This was the third month of waking abruptly from that image; it was unnerving.
She slipped out of bed, careful not to lift the covers and send a chill across Yvette’s legs and wake her. Groping through the dark, she found the knob and inched the door open enough to sneak through. Once in the hall, the moonlight coming in the far window got her to the stairs without knocking her shins into the eighteenth-century English tea table or the Jin Dynasty vase.
Downstairs, she made tea and pondered her dream. What in the hell did it mean? Why the dress? She’d never been one for dresses, even as a little girl. When her mother had made her wear one, she’d cavorted around the yard like a puppy, showing her underpants and covering the skirts with grass-stains—her mother had stopped trying after that. And why the swirling mists? They’d been more like ropes than water vapor. Just before she’d woken, the mist had tangled around her legs so that when she’d tried to move, she couldn’t; they’d tied her to the skeletal forest as perfectly as shackles.
She shuddered and stood, pacing into the living room.
“Claire, you are being loopy,” she said to herself, clicking on a lamp and settling down in the one piece of furniture that was comfortable—her grandfather’s Naugahyde chair. Yvette had frowned when she’d brought it home after his death that summer. But, because it was the one piece of furniture Claire really cared about, her partner had finally relented, regardless of how it looked next to the Louis the Fourteenth fauteuils.
Claire pulled the afghan—another remnant from her grandfather’s house—around her shoulders and yanked on the chair’s lever to kick up the footrest. It protested with a squeal, but clanked into position, allowing her to stretch out her legs. As she leaned over to spread the blanket across her feet, a glint of something on the floor near the chair caught her eye. She looked closer, and found the tail end of a red ribbon sticking out from under the chair.
Her vision narrowed and she felt the world tip; she’d seen this ribbon in the talons of a bird, the dream owl.
She pulled the end of the shining strand, feeling resistance on the other end, something bumping the springs and metal rods as the ribbon brought it from its hiding place. What emerged was a bundle, wrapped in purple silk, tied with the red ribbon.
Scarcely breathing now, Claire brought the thing into her lap and slipped the ribbon from the cloth, letting it fall away to reveal the bundle’s contents. A carved crystal, the size and shape of an egg, lay nestled in a bed of white feathers. Immediately, her gaze was tugged into the endless facets. In the next breath, she felt herself following, head-first into the maze of prisms. She tried to look away, but the room began to fade beneath glinting rainbows which swirled this way and that until the color became white mists twining around skeletal trees.
Just as Claire felt the cold twisting fingers around her ankles, the footrest of her grandfather’s chair snapped closed with a resounding crash. The room sprang back into focus as the crystal egg launched from her lap.
With shaking fingers, Claire picked up the nest and scanned the floor. She found the egg winking beneath the edge of Yvette’s Turkish settee. Keeping her gaze averted, she picked it up and wrapped it back in the silk, concealing it completely.
A flash of white at the window made her look up. Golden eyes on a swiveling head met hers, and once again she felt caught out of time.
“It’s this you want,” she said, her voice a whisper, or perhaps nothing at all.
Opening the window, she laid the bundle on the sill. A brush of fall air, the softest rustle of feathers, and then the night was still. The crystal and silk were gone.
With shaking knees, Claire climbed the stairs and slipped back into her blankets. Yvette murmured in her sleep before rolling over to lay an arm over Claire’s belly, tying her as perfectly as a life-line to their bed.