Commissioned by Areat. Wendy is an ex-gifted kid struggling through law school. On the verge of a crisis, she discovers a rip in reality leading to another one where her parents and everyone else think she's much younger, and little by little, the universe in her closet adjusts things so that she fits.
(Commissioned by Areat)
Wendy sat at the dinner table with her mom and dad, numbly shoveling meatloaf and spoonfuls of peas into her mouth while her parents talked about their days. Her ears were picking up every little sound that came out of her parents’ mouth but her brain wasn’t translating it. Their conversation was basically white noise mixed in with the scraping of her fork on the plate, gulps of water, and her talking to herself.
Wendy looked up from her half eaten meatloaf. “Hmm?” She looked up and brushed a patch of her own brunette hair out of her face. “What?”
Her father, whom she inherited her hair color from (not that one would know it now), repeated himself. “I asked ‘How are you doing with your studying?’.”
“Oh,” Wendy stuttered. “I’m doing good with it.”
Mom smirked. “You mean ‘You’re doing well’,” she said. “Doing good is Superman. Doing well is progress.”
Dad rolled his eyes. “We can’t all be English Teachers. Wendy’s getting her Law degree, not English.”
Playfully, Mom pointed her fork across the dinner table. “Precise use of language is one of the cornerstones of determining legal precedent and procedure. How can she hope to get to the Supreme Court if she’s using language like ‘It’s going good’?”
“Supreme Court?” Dad guffawed, bits of chewed up peas and mashed potatoes spilling forth from his lips. “Let her get her degree and pass the Bar first!” He wiped his mouth with his napkin and then looked sideways to his daughter. “Not that you can’t be on the Supreme Court, dear.”
“So,” Mom repeated, her fading blonde to white locks framing her middle aged face. “How exactly are you doing?”
Wendy’s lips rose up in a playful, if mischievous grin. “I’m doing good, Mother.”
“BWAHAHAHAHA!” Dad pounded the table with his fists to punctuate his full on belly laughs. “That’s my girl!”
“Howard!” Mom scolded, “Don’t encourage her!” She didn’t sound too upset, however. “I swear, you two. She gets this stubborn streak from you.” Dad was too busy laughing to argue.
“But I am doing good, Mom,” Wendy doubled down, a wry smile still framing her dainty chin. “If you look at it in the long run, me being able to pass finals will be yet another step to me getting my degree, passing the bar, and yes eventually getting to the Supreme Court where I can do the most good. So I am technically correct. In studying, I am doing good.”
“No,” Mom countered, “you’re just preparing to do good.”
“And the effectiveness of any legal argument rests on the amount of research and preparation involved before trial.”
Mom didn’t laugh. It wasn’t her way. She did, however, seem particularly pleased with her daughter. “Touche, counselor. “ She pointed her fork between her spouse and offspring. “She gets the stubbornness from you. She gets her wit from me.”
“Good looks, too.”
“Can’t argue with that, Jody”
Wendy had already gone back to her plate and back inside her head, trying to figure out her next move. Were Morgan Freeman narrating her life, this would be the point where time froze and in his comforting baritone the audience would hear, “It was not, in fact, going well or good for Wendy.”
“Done,” Wendy said. She stood up and took her half eaten plate. “Thank you for dinner,” she said. “I gotta go back to my room.”
“Hittin’ the books, darlin’?” Dad asked.
Wendy left her dishes in the sink. “You know it.” Mentally she was already back in her room, and that sent shivers along her spine. She could already feel herself breaking into a sweat and it had nothing to do with the dark green sweater dress and black leggings. The weather was just starting to turn chilly outside and her skin and bones frame relished in the extra insulation; though oddly enough her feet were never too cold for sandals.
The world had dealt Wendy a pretty good hand. Her family was upper middle class and she was an only child so the bulk of the finances and parental attention went to her upbringing and continued security. She lived in a college town, and although that meant she’d been pressured- more like gently nudged- to stay home to save on living expenses the University had a very good law school and she’d gotten in on scholarship. Wendy’s night life might not be as wild as some of her classmates who came from out of state, but she’d always had someone to pick her up if she had too much to drink and didn’t have to get a job or pay rent. Very fair trade as far as everyone was concerned.
Even with the deck stacked in her favor, Wendy was working herself into a more than mild panic. She was experiencing something of a quarter-life crisis. With less than two days before her midterm exam for her History of Law class, she had to cram as much information as she could into her brain or she was going to fail.
It wasn’t hard, hypothetically. All she had to do was sit at her desk for a few hours, drink some coffee, and pound as many important court cases, dates, and legal precedents into her head as she could. Within seventy-two hours, she could then forget about it and dump all of the information out of her noodle and then look it up online like a normal person if she never needed the information again.
That’s what cramming for a test functionally was.
It’s just that Wendy didn’t know how to study. At all. In Elementary School she was what they called “Gifted”. What she thought that meant was that she was super smart, much smarter than the other kids her age. And in a way, that was true. She picked up information much faster than her peers, all the way through high school.
Then came college, and she was able to skate by on her own natural talents.
Now in Law School, Wendy was struggling for the first time, her own raw and natural talent wasn’t saving her, and she completely lacked the skill sets necessary to pass her current course load. If her brain didn’t immediately latch onto a concept or bit of information in class or if she wasn’t intensely interested in it from the get go, Wendy couldn’t remember it. In a class filled with other studious future lawyers, ones who had long ago mastered the necessary discipline to fail, struggle, and get back on their metaphorical horses until they mastered something, Wendy felt more like a two year old than twenty-two. Friendly rivals like Peter and not-quite study buddies like Morgan, people who she would have left in the duss not four years ago, were now having an easier time than she was. She was surprised as anything when Tonya got into law school with her and Tonya was acing every single assignment. The gap had closed and widened itself again, only now Wendy was on the wrong side of it.
As she’d shown at the dinner table, Wendy had talent enough for twisting words, arguing and generally bullshitting her way through a conversation; a skill that was easy enough to utilize for things like essays where she was trying to prove a point, but rote facts had become the bane of her existence. Even if her midterm was an essay, she’d need facts to back it up. She wasn’t failing, but only because there’d been so few grades collected. For the hundredth time in four hours, Wendy whispered to herself, “I’m doomed”.
Stalling, she took a sharp left turn in the hallway and went to the bathroom. “I’m just gonna go pee,” she promised herself, “then I’ll get back to studying.” It was a lie, she knew deep down, but it was a lie that gave her comfort. More than likely, she realized hiking down her bottoms and lifting up her top, she’d pee, go to her room, see the empty coffee cup on her desk, decide she needed more coffee, go fill it back up in the kitchen, down it and refill, take the second cup back to her room, sit down, and stare at the same page for a solid fifteen minutes before she remembered to drink the second cup. Then she’d have to go to the bathroom again.
Rinse. Procrastinate. Repeat. Dinner had actually managed to break up the anxious monotony of it all as late afternoon bled into late in the evening. Four hours. Four hours and three chapters, and Wendy literally felt like she was banging her head against the wall. Three chapters was kind of impressive, she imagined, until she remembered that she had nine to go.
She relaxed her bladder and ignored the sound of liquid on liquid beneath her as so many did. At least something about her was managing to relax. The rest of her, brain included, was anything but. She was going to fail and she knew it. It was like finding out she had a terminal disease or something. There was no avoiding it, it was just a matter of time. The only question was how much pain did she want to put herself through in fighting against the inevitable.
Trying to delay the inevitable, Wendy sighed, cleaned up, redressed, and washed her hands. Maybe she could take the rest of the night off and then cram the remaining nine chapters tomorrow night? That made sense, right? She’d be more refreshed and less stressed. Simple. She was burned out. If the brain was a muscle, it made no sense to overstrain it.
That defense was countered by massive anxiety. No. Despite all her denial, she was going to go down swinging. Even if it took her another four hours of reading and re-reading the same chapters again and again, she’d manage to get halfway through the reading before bed. She gave her another choice.
Another shiver caused Wendy to yank down on the waist of her sweater dress. Was she sick or something? That might explain something. If she was sick, she wouldn’t feel so bad about not being able to study. Couldn’t feel bad about not absorbing information if her brain was fogged up from a disease.
Unconsciously seeing the next excuse to kill time, Wendy passed by her solid oak desk, the textbook proppedo pen on the last page of the chapter she’d just read. She shuddered again, just glancing at the “Essential Questions” portion in her book. Something told her that she’d be completely unable to answer the questions, even partially.
That was because she was sick though. Best to bundle up with another layer. Wendy kept walking and flung open the slatted doors to her closet...and stared.
What was that ripple in the air? There in the middle of her closet, almost like a mirage or a heavy gas leak. The air shimmered, taking on a wispy, smoke-like quality. Wendy sniffed, smelling nothing. Her neck hunched and her eyes narrowed, trying to find more definition or else dispel it through will power. Nothing.
Then, as if trying to pet a rattlesnake she gingerly reached forward towards the shimmering air. No change in temperature one way or the other; neither a hot flash or an inexplicable chill. What happened was worse. As the tips of her fingers made contact with the shimmering wisps of air a blinding flash like lightning tore out where her fingers made contact.
A sharp, quick scream erupted from Wendy and she drew her hand back as if she’d been electrocuted. Panting and with her heart rate approaching hummingbird levels she inspected her fingertips. Nothing. No singing or blistering or discoloration whatsoever.
The mysterious light had blinked out too; as quickly as if she’d just closed the refrigerator. “What in the…?” Wendy didn’t finish the sentence for fear of invoking a higher or lower power.
For the second time she stuck her hand in her closet. For the second time, brilliant white light poured forth, as if the air itself had a second heatless sun. Wendy looked just long enough to see that her left hand was well and truly engulfed, but not in pain, and turned her head away. No shadow fell on the floor, even though something as bright as her
She managed to gather her fright into a coherent word, “FUCK!”, before taking her hand out. Looking back into her closet, the light was gone but shimmering bits of air remained in its place. Wendy looked at her hand one more time, going so far as to compare left to right side by side. No warts or bits of rotting flesh; nothing lost or present that hadn’t already been there.
Curiously, she snaked her arm around the nearly invisible column and grabbed hold of a shirt. No amount of mysterious luminescence leaked from the fabric of reality. The same was true when she slid her elbow into the same space. Nothing. The moment she jabbed her arm straight through however...
LIGHT! ALIEN ABDUCTION LEVELS OF LIGHT!
“What was in that meatloaf?” Wendy whispered. Now was not the time for whispering, however. “MOM?! DAD?!”
Heavy footsteps signaled her father’s approach. Gray headed and balding, Dad opened the door to Wendy’s room wide. “Yes, honey?”
Wendy froze. She was up to her elbow now, and a tiny dawn’s worth of light was streaming past her out of her open closet. “Um...do you see anything...unusual?” She asked, rather unnerved by her father’s complete lack of surprise on the matter.
Calmly and thoughtful, her father scratched his chin. “Did you buy something? New outfit or something? Borrowed something from that Lindsay girl, maybe?” Lindsay was a classmate and a relative socialite that had come home for dinner one evening. The one thing she’d impressed on Wendy’s parents was how fashionable she was. She supposedly partied every weekend but still maintained a B+ average.
That was besides the point...
Not believing what she was hearing out of her father’s mouth, the law student did a full on double take, and walked forward out of the closet. The light vanished, closed up on itself the second she stepped out. “How about now? Did you see that?” Wendy asked.
.“Um...yeah...very nice?” Dad clearly had no idea what she was talking about.
“Cool,” Wendy lied. “Cool, cool, cool. Just checking.”
“Do you need anything else?”
“No. Thank you. I think I might just be studying too hard.”
“Oh,” her father looked concerned. “You don’t wanna do that.”
Wendy flexed her fingers and bit her lip. “Oh I’ll be okay. I just need some more coffee or something. I’ll be fine, I’m sure.”
That seemed to satisfy Dad. “Fair enough.” Dad walked away without further comment. Wendy trailed behind him to shut the door.
“Everything okay?” she heard Mom call.
“Yeah,” Dad’s voice, already fading, said. “Just being a twenty-something.”
Wendy leaned against her door, trying to stop herself from hyperventilating. “What? The? Fuck?” Forget studying, she wasn’t going to be able to sleep tonight; not until she figured out what was going on in her closet.
That’s why fifteen minutes later she was tossing the pillow from her bed into her closet to no avail. She’d gone and made a rope out of her bedsheets and everything. The idea had been sound: Send something expendable through the portal, that’s what she was starting to think of it as, that could then be reeled back like a fishing lure. All she managed to do was knock a couple of her shirts and dresses off their hangers.
“Oh for…!” Wendy dropped the sheet bundle and threw head back. This whole thing really was very silly. “It’s stress,” she mumbled. “It’s stress. It’s gotta be stress.” In a way, the idea that she might be hallucinating or cracking up was a bit more comfortable than stumbling across some bizarre preternatural phenomenon..
Feeling awfully silly, she pulled back the sheets, only to have the pillow slip out. Add knot tying to the list of skills Wendy needed to work on. “What’s wrong with me?” she asked the ceiling. Her eyes focused on the bit of plaster where her father had paved over a hairline crack.
Chuckling to herself, she walked forward, completely dismissing the shimmering rip in the air, bent over to pick up her pillow and...
LIGHT! BLINDING LIGHT!
Another small, startled scream leapt out of Wendy’s throat, but it was too late. Forward momentum and a force not unlike gravity pulled Wendy deep into her closet, tumbling into parts unknown.
Parts unknown, as it so happened, looked a lot like Wendy’s bedroom at first. In certain fantasy and sci-fi stories, a character going through a portal might travel through darkness to a mystical snowy landscape, or else plummet into a fiery inferno or go through a magical door to an island of boiling rains or a labyrinth of strange creatures.
To Wendy however, it was more like falling out of her own closet. She felt disoriented, and discombobulated like she’d just gotten spun around in circles until she lost her balance. The fantastical white light hadn’t helped any.
Blinking away the spots, she laughed in shock at the familiar texture and hazy color of her own carpet. Maybe it was a gas leak. She dug her fingers into it and pushed herself up to a standing position. She sniffed and the faint scent of perfume and something else, something slightly foul, registered in her nostrils, though she couldn’t quite place it. By the second inhalation the smell was either gone, her nose had gotten used to it, or she’d completely stroked out.
Stumbling around her room, the possibility of ocular damage, if not brain damage was becoming increasingly plausible to Wendy’s mind. Too much of her vision was still blurry as if she’d been staring at the sun. Everything was coming out in just the roughest of silhouettes. Colors were off, too.
The walls were a pastel pink. A few blinks and eye rubs later, ballerina fairies along the ceiling’s border came into focus. Her room hadn’t been pink in a long time; and she never remembered anything so patently childish in decoration; yet something in Wendy’s subconscious still accepted it and labeled the space as her room. The door was in the right place. A glance backwards over her shoulder confirmed that the closet was too, complete with that same wavering column of not quite air. Her vision was still too hazy to properly inspect any of the clothes contained therein.
Still looking at the closet the twenty-two year old woman tried to lean back on her desk, looking for balance. She came up short however, and wound up splayed out on a chest that was just as wide and sturdy as her desk but much much lower to the ground.
“Huh?” That was how Wendy realized that there were sparkling star stickers on her ceiling. Distinguishing the sparkling all the fine, glittery details on her ceiling, including the plaster seam where dad had patched up that hairline crack years ago confirmed that Wendy’s vision had cleared up and she was where she thought she was….sort of.
The someday-lawyer sat up, rolled off to her knees and her vision had cleared enough for her to make out the rainbow lettered stencils on the chest she’d been laying on.
What was a toybox doing in her room? Palms flat on the top, Wendy stood up and turned around to finally see what else was different now that her eyes were working properly. Her breath caught in her throat. She very much hoped her eyes were still deceiving her.
Forget the toybox, what was a crib doing in her room? A big one too! Far bigger than anything needed to contain an actual child! An adult crib? How was that a thing? If her eyes were as sharp as they felt, surely that meant she was hallucinating. The baby bed against the wall was both ornately carved and there were foam letters on the wall behind and above.
Not only was this supposed to be a giant crib, it had been designated as her giant crib...
Her eyes darted to the right of the crib, practically drawn to what she initially thought were stacks of puffy white towels on shelves. Strange. She didn’t have anything like that, normally. Her dresser was supposed to be there.
The gears finished turning in Wendy’s head as she exhaled. Those weren’t towels that her eye had been drawn to. They weren’t even cloth; just cloth-like. The white bottle of baby powder on top of the table and the pail next to it explained the scents that registered when she first came out.
If the giant crib was in place of her bed. Then that must be a changing table. The giant diapers were on the top shelf, right where her underwear would normally be. But if that meant the crib was supposed to be her crib, then ipso facto that implied that the table as well as the diapers...
Wendy dived back into the closet, holding her breath until she tumbled back out again. She steadied her breathing, mentally labeling what she saw (and didn’t see). Beige walls; normal adult bed; study desk; chair; absolutely no changing table or diapers.
Wendy mopped the sweat from her forehead with her sleeve.
“What was that place?!” She looked at the wavering mass of air in her closet. Added to the unnatural thickness in the space, a bit of sparkling light shone out, no brighter than a nightlight. Bursting through from the other side had left a kind rip.
“Honey?” Mom called from down the hall. “Wendy, is everything okay?”
“Fine, Mom!” Wendy called back. “It’s fine.”
Fine? Maybe not. But a hell of a lot more interesting than studying for a History of Law Midterm.
vended · Jul 12, 2022It was absolutely perfect. I'm so glad you turned my commission idea into such a great read. Thanks again, Personalias. :]