The elevator lurched its way to the fourth floor. I stepped into the corridor, not sure I had enough energy to trudge all the way to my apartment. I couldn’t wait to collapse into my favorite chair and watch the news while sipping an ice-cold brew.
I reached the door to 430 and waved my key card at the electronic lock. The lock whispered a soft click, and a small green light indicated I could enter. Just like magic, I thought.
Opening the door, my eyes met a blinding sea of white—white walls, white carpet, white furniture, white drapes, white pony, and an albino woman in a white satin gown.
Squinting at the intense whiteness, I stammered, “Omigod, I’m so sorry. I-I must have the wrong apartment.”
The woman smiled and sat. She draped a languid arm across the couch back, crossing her legs. A slit in the gown opened, revealing an generous amount of pale skin. She didn’t speak.
I stumbled out backwards, closing the door softly.
The door to apartment 430.
I double-checked the key card. 430. I shook my head, fearing amnesia, or a stroke. I examined the address on my license. 430 City View Apartments. I opened the map on my phone. It showed me at the City View address.
I didn’t own a pony, white or otherwise. And my apartment wasn’t white. And I lived alone.
I took a deep breath, waved the key card, and re-entered.
The same white room gleamed at me. The same white pony blinked at me. The same albino woman smiled at me.
“Excuse me,” I said. “Who are you? And what happened to my apartment?”
“Hello, Joseph.” The woman in white fingered a single strand of jet-black pearls that contrasted sharply with her white, shoulder-length hair. Her pink eyes appraised me with blatant curiosity.
“Hello yourself. You know my name, now who are you, and what are you doing here? And what did you do with my things?”
“He’s an inquisitive one isn’t he?” The squeaky voice came from the direction of the pony.
My eyebrows reached for the ceiling. “You have a talking pony?”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” The pony seemed to say. “Ponies don’t talk. That would be crazy!”
A leprechaun leaped from behind the pony, grinning broadly. A leprechaun in white. “Besides,” he said in the same squeaky voice, “he’s a miniature horse, not a pony.”
“Stop teasing the man, Sean. He’s had enough of a shock.” The lady in white turned to me. “We’ll answer all your questions shortly, Joseph. My name is Fiona, and I’m your cousin, and this…” she waved at the room, “is magic.”
“I don’t have any cousins.”
“I’m a distant cousin.”
“I don’t believe you, but let’s skip that for now. What have you done to my apartment?”
“Like I said, it’s magic. The monochrome look is so less distracting, don’t you agree? We need you to focus on what we have to say, and this helps.”
“I need a drink,” I said, and headed for the kitchen.
The pony intercepted me, blocking my path.
I didn’t want to fight a pony. Or miniature horse, whatever. I tried going around. He blocked me again.
“Remember,” Fiona said. “Focus. That means no alcohol. Don’t worry about Alfred. He’s harmless, but quite persistent.”
“The pony,” she said.
“You mean horse.”
“Whatever. Now please sit down and listen.”
I sat on a white wingback and stared at Fiona. She wasn’t hard to look at. I hoped she was a very distant a cousin.
“Joseph, we need your help, and we have an offer for you.”
I shrugged. “I’m listening.” If I was to be held captive by a miniature horse and a short person, I might as well enjoy the entertainment. Maybe the little guy juggled. Maybe he juggled standing on the horse.
“We’d like to send you to school.”
“I’ve been to school. It didn’t agree with me.”
“You’ve not been this kind of school. Tell me, Joseph, do you have any special talents? Things you can do that other people can’t?”
“Maybe.” I didn’t like to discuss it. Either people didn’t believe me, or I got in trouble, or both. Something about Fiona, however, made me think she already knew.
“Sometimes,” I said, “I’ll have a thought, and suddenly the person next to me is saying it out loud. Almost like I know what someone is going to say before they say it. Or I put the thought in their head.”
“Have you noticed this happening more frequently?”
I nodded. “Yes, I have.” And it had begun to worry me. I had considered getting professional help, but I was afraid to tell anyone about it. “Enough with your questions—how about answering mine?”
Fiona took a deep breath. “You’re not imagining things, Joseph. You do have special talents—making connections with other people’s minds. We’ve known about you for a long time.”
“How did you know this about me?”
I looked at the small equine. “The horse told you?”
“Many beings have special talents. Alfred’s is an ability to detect them in others. He can see it in your aura, sort of a halo around your body that others can’t see. To him, those with special talents display a blue aura with green sparks.”
“The horse suit is pretty conspicuous.”
“He only looks for auras when it’s appropriate for him to be among people. Things like parades, fairs, and festivals. He looks for children with the aura, and we watch them as they mature.”
“I’m thirty. What am I, a late bloomer?”
“Frankly, yes. Ordinarily we wouldn’t recruit someone your age, but we’re desperate. We need someone with your particular talent.”
“If I have all this talent, and it’s getting stronger, why do I need your school?”
“Right now your power is haphazard. You don’t know when it will happen or with whom it will happen. We’ll teach you to control it, to apply it at will.”
“Who’s the ‘we’ you mentioned, and why do you need that particular talent?”
“Our family has an ancient heritage,” she said. “Our ancestors vowed to protect the world from evil. The evil stems from people like us who possess special talents, but who choose to use those talents to hurt others.”
“You still didn’t answer the ‘why’ part.”
“We need someone to get close to the evil ones’ leader.”
“Who’s the evil leader? Vladimir Putin? Kim Jong Il? Dan Akroyd?”
“No. None of those. It’s not important. We need you to get close to him and read his mind, maybe even to affect how he thinks.”
“You mean like mind control?”
“Not exactly, more like mind nudging. No one can make anyone do something they don’t want to, even with your special talents.”
I took a deep breath, shook my head, and sighed. “Forget it, Fiona. First of all, I don’t believe you. Second, I’m not going to your remedial school of hocus-pocus. Third, I’m not getting into a fight with an evil being over some ancient family feud. I like my life just as it is.” I got up to leave. “By the time I return, I want my stuff back the way it was, and…” I gave Alfred a hard stare. “I don’t want you leaving me any presents.”
With that, I opened the door and left. I stood in the hallway for a moment, listening. I didn’t know what kind of sounds a tiny horse, a little person, and a woman would make after my exit, but I listened anyway. I heard a loud pop.
I waved my key card, and re-opened the door. An acrid odor assaulted my nostrils. My apartment was now a gloomy ocean of black. The only things not black were Sean, Alfred, and Fiona, who were all still in white.
“I told you,” Sean said in his squeaky voice. “He hates it. Black is so depressing. Besides, it shows all the horsehair.”
“Stuff it, Sean.” Alfred’s lips moved in synch with a baritone voice. The horse looked at me. “And I am completely housebroken.”
“You see, Joseph?” Fiona said. “It is real. We are real. Our cause is real.”
She had me. They all did. The leaping leprechaun, the housebroken horse, the white-haired witch. But I wasn’t going easy.
“All right. I’ll play the game. I’ll attend your school—but I have three conditions.”
“I’m listening,” she said.
“First, I want my apartment back the way it was.”
Fiona snapped her fingers, and with a flash and a pop everything instantly changed back to my bachelor digs.
“Okay. Second, I want a beer.” Sean snapped his fingers, and a full pilsner glass appeared in my hand with just the right amount of head.
“Third, Fiona, I’d like to take you to dinner—” I stared at Sean and Alfred. “—alone.”
Somehow I knew what she would say before she said it.