Patton fell asleep feeling miserable, and had the strangest dream. An army of really tiny soldiers was assaulting a mountain – him. A dragon was in the cave of his nose, chained to three dancing gypsies and breathing flames that incinerated swarms of marauding sprites. A strange wizard with huge eyes was casting some sort of spell, and other wizards and monsters seemed to be flickering in and out of his sight. “You are not what you were,” came a great, hollow voice.
The next morning he woke up feeling strange. He felt hungover, although he could swear the beer he’d had with dinner was out of his system before he went to bed. He had a hard time getting to the bathroom — it seemed like his feet barely reached the floor.
On his way back down to the kitchen he glanced out the window and noticed the face of a fox staring at him from bushes at the back of his yard. Wearing a hat. He stopped to confirm what he’d seen, but the fox and hat had both disappeared.
The rest of his morning went much the same way. He kept seeing strange things, like he could have sworn he saw a G.I. Joe doll with a shepherd’s crook chasing after a groundhog. And a blue Mickey Mouse sneaking under a car at an auto repair shop. And a tiny creature shedding rainbow dust being chased through the trees by a crow. Strange things. He was glad he was driving the winter beater and not the bike or he’d be dead for sure — he was definitely not paying very good attention to the road.
Am I going mad? was his constant thought all morning, distracting him from the networking he was doing to try and land a job. Being unemployed was stressful enough without suffering from headaches, nausea, and hallucinations. He kept wondering if the Gruff sisters were also hallucinations, then he’d reach into his pocket and pull out the card Elaine had given him. It was real (or is it?) so they must be, too. He’d put the card away, and then not five minutes later the same thoughts would occur and he’d pull it out again. Over and over, all morning.
He was headed back home for lunch, trying to convince himself to call them, when a car came barreling out of a driveway just as he was passing it. It missed him, continued across the road, and hit the curb which launched it into the air. It smashed into the house opposite a good six feet off the ground and just hung there with its rear end sticking out of the wall.
He stopped his car and ran over to the house. The engine of the car in the wall was still running, but the car wasn’t moving. There were noises from inside the house, as well as from up and down the street as people came out to see what happened. Patton started pounding on the door.
“Anybody in there? Anyone hurt?” he shouted over and over as he kept pounding. Moments later the door opened and a guy wearing a bathrobe staggered out.
“What happened? Who are you, and why are you pounding on my door?” He was more dazed than Patton was.
The sheriffs arrived, followed by an ambulance and a fire truck. Before Patton knew it there were blinking lights everywhere, strobing in time with his headache. The authority got everyone out of the house and corralled the growing crowd on another neighbor’s lawn.
The car’s owner said she was in her house at the time, and had no idea what happened. She heard a crash and was shocked to see the back end of her car sticking out of her neighbor’s house.
It was another two hours before he finally made it home. While he was waiting to make his statement he called the Gruffs.
“We were hoping you would call today,” said one of them. Was it Elaine? Patton couldn’t tell over the phone.
“Yeah, well things have gotten way too weird for me,” he said. “When can you see me?”
“Come over any time. We’re expecting you. Just be sure to do one thing right before you come.”
“Oh? What’s that?”
“Do you have a loofah?”
“We need you to get really clean before you come here. Take a shower, and scrub yourself everywhere with the loofah. Everywhere! You need to arrive with pink, glowing skin or we won’t be able to help you. And no aftershave or deodorant, please.”
“That’s a pretty strange request,” Patton said.
“Any stranger than what you’ve been experiencing today?”
“Not really. OK, I’ll be really clean. I haven’t had any lunch yet, so it’ll be a while. Depends on when the cops let me leave.”
“Yeah, there’s been a strange accident.”
“I hope you weren’t hurt!” From the concern in her voice Patton was suddenly convinced it was Elaine he was talking with. He didn’t know how he knew, he just did.
“No, I’m fine. It’s just going to be another two hours or more before I’ll be able to get to you.”
“Take your time and drive safely! We’re here waiting for you whenever you arrive.”
By the time he got to the Gruff sisters’ house Patton’s condition had gotten so bad that he was walking with a definite list and kept bouncing off walls and doorways. He drove slowly, making the trip from Henrietta to Penfield take almost twice as long as usual. He only got lost twice.
The house was in a semi-rural area, with modest homes on large lots overgrown with vegetation, and right on the county line. People there prided themselves on being out in the sticks, even though they were only ten minutes from downtown. That’s Rochester for you.
One of the sisters opened the door.
“We’re glad you came. All is prepared for you. Come with me.” Patton’s vision was so messed up that he couldn’t tell which sister was talking to him. Whoever she was, she took his hand and led him inside to a room with lots of windows. He could see the sun shining through the trees behind the house, and the air smelled fresh and cool. His head became steadier than it had been since the morning of the “spider” encounter.
All three sisters were in the room. Like in the store their words were passed from sister to sister, but he was unable to follow who said what. He was just lucky he could understand what they were saying.
“Let us take your coat. Please take off your shoes and socks and then lie down on the table here.” “Part of your problem right now is that your sense of vision is normally dominant, yet your Sight is coming in. It is competing with your vision, making it difficult to see with your eyes and causing nausea and other problems.” “What we will do today is start merging your Sight with your other senses, so that as it develops it will enhance all your senses, not just mess up your vision.” We’ll start with a cleansing ritual.” “To begin we’d like you to close your eyes and just listen to our voice.”
While they were talking they were closing the blinds on the windows, so that the room gradually became darker. Patton closed his eyes and just listened. Their voices seemed to merge together.
“That’s good. Now relax your Spirit and focus on your breathing. Just breathe normally, in and out, in and out. Very good. You’re probably thinking this is some kind of hypnosis” (that’s exactly what he was thinking) “but it’s more of a relaxation exercise. You need to clear your mind and open your Spirit to new ways of feeling. Don’t think, feel. Concentrate on your senses.”
He concentrated. Everything was dark, so no sense of vision. The fresh air sent had faded so he couldn’t smell anything. He was unaware of any taste in my mouth. Was he still wearing clothes? He couldn’t feel anything on his skin. All that was left was their hypnotic voice, which was fading away. “That’s good. No more thinking, just feeling. Feeling.” The words faded into nothingness.
It started with a kiss.
Soft, velvety lips pressed gently against his. Slowly they circled his lips, then wandered across his cheek and along his jaw line. His face quivered and relaxed as the kiss worked its way to that spot where earlobe and jaw meet. A little suck, and he felt a hand on the back of his neck as a second pair of lips pressed against his slack mouth. He now had two sets of kisses meandering across his face and neck.
Every kiss left behind increased sensitivity. He could feel little puffs of breath stirring the air, but he could see and hear nothing. Sensory deprivation coupled with heightened sensitivity to touch. He felt skin touching his, sometimes soft, sometimes calloused, sometimes the electric sensation of nails. As hands and lips (and hair, he thought he felt hair stroking him somewhere) started to wander down his body a third pair of lips kissed his, drawing his attention and so confusing his senses that he couldn’t tell what was happening where. He couldn’t identify or analyze, all he could do was relax and absorb the sensations flooding his nerves.
That wasn’t quite right – one part of his body wasn’t relaxed, but rather tense and quivering, throbbing each time a new touch electrified his nerves. Gentle kisses, electric touches, warmth, pressure, fire, and …
An electric thrill flashed down his body, similar to the sensation he’d once had after rolling in a snowbank in his bathing suit, and then diving into a heated swimming pool. Wow! His skin felt strangely invigorated, like he had been vigorously scrubbed all over, then spent an hour in a sauna, and finally plunged into a freezing cold pool. He could feel everything.
Hot and cold bundles of air, averaging to warm. Waves of pressure radiating out from his heart as the blood coursed through his veins. The rhythmic resistance of his skin being scratched. The rumble of the house shifting and settling. A mosquito buzzing nearby. Heat radiating from bodies in motion.
He felt all these sensations, and many more, all jumbled together so he couldn’t identify them individually. Mixed in and overlaying them all was the sense of the sisters heightening and organizing everything he was experiencing. Patton descended into the maelstrom of Touches.
Some time later sensibility returned. Patton was lying on a soft mattress covered in silk sheets, with a warm whisper in his ear. “Was it good for you?” He could hear the smile in her voice. He turned toward the sound and opened his eyes.
Yvonne was lying on the bed next to him, not touching him. At least he thought it was Yvonne. He’d never seen her this clearly before. She had large, green eyes, an almond face framed with auburn tresses, a Mona Lisa smile, and was wearing a silk robe. Patton suddenly realized he was also dressed in silk, and wondered what had happened to his clothes.
“We cleansed away some of your past life, your old sensations, so you can start to learn to use your new Senses.” This voice came from the other side of him. He turned my head and saw Margaret, with limpid brown eyes, silky black hair, and a canary-eating look. She was wearing a similar robe.
“What do you mean, my new senses? I have some sort of ESP?”
“Yes and no. You are now a Mage — one who can sense and interact with magic. Your ordinary senses now have an enhanced frequency range, so to speak.” This answer came from down by his feet. He lifted his head to look down there and saw Elaine, also dressed in silk, sitting cross-legged on the bed. She had long blond hair framing a pale face with piercing blue eyes and its own look of satisfaction.
“Uh, did we have sex?” Patton always was quick on the uptake.
“Perhaps.” This was Yvonne, drawing his attention back to her. “We helped energize your connections to your magical senses. You will need training, but I’m certain you’ll be up for it.” Margaret reached out and ran her nails down his side, and he suddenly knew he’d be up for it, too.
Elaine said, “Are you ready for a shower?”