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Fantasy Romance

Neil wouldn’t know a crocus if it came up behind him and bit him in the ass. But when Melinda  said  “Spring is in the air. The crocuses are in bloom.” he thought it would be churlish to mention his lack of botanical knowledge. He just smiled.

Melinda and he worked the third shift at the diner. She waited tables, he washed dishes. She was excellent. She calmed irate patrons with just a word and a smile. She managed multiple tables full of demanding customers with poise and grace. Neil was developing a crush on her, but was resisting. He wasn’t good at dating and romance. 

Neil had been a little intimidated by her at first. She wore her hair back in a tight bun giving her a severe look. He assumed she would be difficult to get along with. But she turned out to be the most pleasant person he’d ever met. As he got to know her he began to realize that her look wasn’t severe, it was determined, fierce.

Neil preferred winter to summer, but he would be happy to put this winter in the rear-view mirror. It had snowed a week before Christmas and at least once a week after that. The snow was knee deep in places that hadn’t been shoveled. Plus, there was a record 53 days of wind-chills below zero. 

#

After work, Neil liked to head to the municipal park, lean back in his seat, drink a quart of beer and watch the sunrise over an open field. Seeing the sun rise was the only perk to working third shift. It gave him time to reflect on his sad, boring life.

“After the sorts of winters we have had to endure recently, the spring does seem miraculous.”

The voice shocked Neil out of his reverie. He sat bolt upright. Melinda was standing next to the car but he didn’t immediately recognize her.  Her hands were up and her mouth was open, like she had been startled too.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. I wanted to be clever. That George Orwell quote seemed appropriate, given the winter we just got through.”

He had never seen her in a dress, with her hair down.  Her auburn hair was styled so that it fell behind her back on her right side and to the front on her left side. It reached almost to her waist. Her eyes and half smile lent the impression of some secret amusement. In some older novels , women would be described as handsome. Neil understood what that meant for the first time.

She was wearing a yellow short sleeved dress with thousands of small white flower patterns. A line of decorative buttons ran from between her breasts down to about her belly button. The dress hung loosely on her slim frame.

“Do you come here often?” she asked with a smile.

Neil chuckled. “Is that a pick up line?”

She laughed. “Maybe. Who knows? It’s just that you looked so sad, sitting there, drinking your beer and staring off into space. Are you OK?”

“Oh, sure. I’m fine. Just lost in my thoughts, that’s all,” he lied. He held up the beer bottle. “Want some?”

“No, thanks. It’s such a beautiful day! You shouldn’t be dulling your senses with that crap.  Come walk with me!”

When he got out of the car, Melinda grabbed his hand and said “follow me”. She headed into the open field, nearly skipping, dragging Neil along until he could match her pace. They crossed the field and went down a hill to reach the creek at the center of the park. The creek was wide, about 20 yards, but normally shallow, no more than a foot deep. It froze in the winter time and was a popular place for ice-skating. Today the water levels were up, probably from snowmelt.

The hill they had just come down had a gentle slope with few trees. On the other side was a steep hill, covered in trees, with just a few paths leading to the top. Only the barest hints could be seen of the green canopy that would be there in a month..

Forty yards downstream they came to the waterfall, Neil’s favorite spot in the park. They sat together on the rocks, watching and listening to the water rushing by. They’d been walking for 20 minutes, hand in hand but hadn’t said a word.  The feeling of her hand in his gave Neil goosebumps and he was loath to interrupt the moment, but he was feeling awkward at the silence.

“I’m glad you stopped to say hello,” he said. “You were right, this is a lot better than sitting alone,  getting buzzed.”

Melinda’s smile lit up her face. It warmed Neil to see her so happy.

“I’m glad you came with me! You look much better now than you did sitting in your car.” She stood up and pulled him to his feet. “Don’t let me fall!”

She leaned on his hand and bent over to remove her shoes. She eased herself down the rocks and into the water at the edge of the falls.

“Oh! This is so cold!” she laughed. “Come on in and try it.”

Neil hesitated for just a split-second.

“Too late!” Neil saw flames appear behind Melinda’s eyes. She yanked his arm, causing him to fall completely into the water. She climbed on his back, said “Don’t be afraid” then pushed his head under the water.

#

Neil pushed back against her and came up out of the water, gasping for air.

“What the fuck are you doing?”

“I’m sorry, Neil. I couldn’t tell you what I was going to do, it had to be a surprise for it to work.”

Her voice sounded different. Slightly deeper and breathy, husky. He turned to look then took a quick step back and nearly tumbled into the water. The woman standing there was not Melinda. She had become rubenesque, voluptuous. Her hair was blonde and curly. It fell to her shoulders like the water over the falls.

They were standing in the middle of a small pond, surrounded by flowering plants and bushes. Thousands of flowers just like her dress, but every color imaginable and so many wonderful, fresh scents. Spring come to life as a garden.

“Where… Where are we? Who are you? What have you done to Melinda?” His voice quavered.

The woman gently waved her hand to calm him. 

“I haven’t done anything to Melinda, she was never here. I saw her in your mind and assumed her likeness so as not to scare you. And, conveniently,  I’m sometimes called Melindia, so it all came together nicely.”

Neil was trembling and having trouble catching his breath. Thoughts were stampeding through his brain and he couldn’t seem to focus on any particular one.

Melinda… Melindia said “We need to get moving.”

“Get moving? Why?” Neil asked.

“That’s a complicated question. Why don’t you start with something simpler?”

“Fine,” he said. “Then who are you? And what do you mean you’re sometimes called Melindia? And what do you mean you assumed Melinda’s likeness?”

“Neil, I am the  goddess of Spring. In some areas of ancient Greece I was known as Melindia. I am also Eostre and Persephone and a host of other names, a new name with each new group of humans, but still me, still the same goddess. And I can assume any form.”

“Sure, lady. You’re the goddess of Spring. Can I be Santa Claus? What are you trying to pull anyway?” 

She sighed. “This is why I had to dunk you like that. I knew you wouldn’t believe me. But think about it. Just minutes ago we were standing by the waterfall and now there’s no waterfall to be seen or heard. And look at this garden and forest. Have you ever been here before? Have you ever seen anything as beautiful as this? What other explanation do you have?”

“Maybe somebody slipped me some acid and this is all some demented trip. That makes more sense than being kidnapped by a goddess. What would a goddess want with me anyway?”

“Well, if it is a trip, why don't you relax and enjoy it. No sense in fighting, right? I need your help, Neil and my time is running short.” She reached out her hand. “Take my hand and I’ll guide you through my realm. OK?”

Neil shrugged and took her hand. For a split second he felt like he’d been turned inside-out and then turned back, outside-in. They were standing in the center of a grove of trees. A table with a white tablecloth was in front of them, with a selection of fruits and cheeses laid out.

“Sit down, Neil. Let’s have a bite to eat before we start the tour! Here, try this mead, it’s so much better than that skunky beer you were drinking.”

Neil had tried mead once at a tourist trap restaurant. That was alcoholic honey. This was a revelation. He felt warmth flow through his entire body. It gave him a happy feeling and made him a little dizzy.

“Don’t drink too much of that without food, it’ll go straight to your head! Eat some cheese! Eat some grapes!” 

Melindia stood beside him and held the food above his head, forcing him to lean back so she could put the morsels directly into his mouth. Neil was enjoying himself, forgetting for a moment the strange circumstances. She poured him another glass of mead, then sat down next to him.

“Neil, I need your help. My realm is in danger and you can help me save it.”

“Me? Why me? What can I do?”

“Let me show you the problem, then we can discuss the solution. Finish your mead. Good. Now take my hand.”

There was that feeling again. Inside-out. Outside-in. They stood at the edge of the garden. On either side, the flowers were in bloom, but straight ahead, dead bushes, plants and trees, everything covered in frost. Neil shivered at the sight.

“This is my garden, Neil. It should stretch as far as the eye can see in every direction, but winter has snuck in and started taking over.”

“Wait. Wait. Timeout!” Neil said, making a T with his hands. “How is this even possible? There are no gods, that’s all fairy tales and myths. Why should I believe any of this?”

“Neil,once there was no time and there was no universe. There was only the divine realm, limitless, timeless. But the Demiurge wanted something to call his own, so he created time and this universe. The Demiurge was a flawed god. He couldn’t create without also destroying. When this universe was instantiated in the big bang, the divine realm was lost, sucked into the new universe.

“For billions of years, the gods were dispersed, lacking form in this new formless universe. But the gravitational forces that formed the stars caused the gods to coalesce as well. As the planets and moons formed, the gods came along with them. Every star, planet, black hole, and moon has its own gods now. And as sentient races developed, the gods were worshipped.

“On Earth, the more humans learned about the world, the less they needed gods. Eventually we were no longer worshipped. But every law of physics and chemistry known to science was at one time the direct responsibility of a god. The less we were needed, the  less time we spent here. It has been a thousand years since I was last in this garden. Just recently I sensed something was wrong. And when I returned, this is what I found.”

“That’s quite a story,” Neil said. “Throwing in the gnostic demiurge was a nice touch, provided by my subconscious mind, no doubt. But you still haven’t explained what you need from me. What do you want me to do?”

“Well, Neil. Since I’ve been away, the rituals that kept my realm functioning have not been performed. So I need you to reenact one of those rituals for me. Specifically, Neil, I need a virgin sacrifice.”

Neil laughed.

“Oh, that’s rich. You want me to find a virgin and sacrifice her for you? Is that it? You’re out of your mind, I don’t kill people.”

“Oh, I don’t need you to find a virgin Neil. After all, you’re a virgin, aren’t you?”

“Uhm, well, yeah, uhm, sure, but what does that have to do with… Hey! Wait a minute! You’re not sacrificing me!” 

He turned to run but his legs felt weighted down. He started feeling dizzy. She caught him as he fell. He heard her whisper “I’m sorry” before everything went black.

#

When Neil awoke, he was naked. He was laying on a slab of polished, white marble, in the same grove where earlier he’d been eating and drinking.

I can’t believe she drugged me!

His wrists and ankles were bound to posts at the top and bottom of the slab. He pulled and twisted, trying to get loose, but his bonds were secure. The ropes would tighten as he moved, then relax when he stopped. Even at their tightest, the ropes never cut into his skin.

The slab below him did not feel like stone. It seemed to contour to his body as he moved. It supported his weight comfortably.

Just my luck. I’m going to be sacrificed on an altar made of memory foam.

He heard leaves rustling, heralding the arrival of someone or something. He tensed up.

How did I get into this mess? If I die in a drug trip, do I die in real life? I don’t want to die! There must be some way out of this!

And then he saw Melindia enter the grove. She moved slowly, with a regal bearing, gliding along the path. Her hair was tied back, blue flowers artfully placed all over. She wore a diaphanous white robe that rippled as she moved. If Neil hadn’t been so frightened, he would have found it a beautiful tableau. As soon as she was close, he started begging for his life.

“Melindia, you don’t need to do this! Can’t we talk about it? Maybe we can find another solution?”

She said nothing, just placed her finger on his lips and he lost the urge to say any more. 

She removed her robe and let it fall to the ground. Despite his fear, Neil felt himself responding to her naked body. She smiled and leaned in close. She lightly kissed him. Her lips were warm and sweet, like nectar straight from a honeysuckle flower. All of Neil’s fears seemed to melt away. Then she kissed him deeply and passionately, slowly pulling herself up onto the altar.  He saw the flames behind her eyes again.

“By the way,” she said. “These blue flowers are crocuses.” 

He didn’t get a chance to respond as he was immediately consumed by overwhelming pleasure.  He looked up and saw colors swirling around her. Her deep, earthy scent flooded him. He could hear music. 

The pleasure would ebb and flow, never disappearing completely but never reaching a peak. He began to think it might last forever. It became his fervent wish that it would last forever.

The music got stronger, louder, building in intensity as if more and more instruments were being added to an orchestra. Colors, tastes and scents assaulted his senses.

And then, too soon, it was over. A delectable lethargy began to take over his body. 

Melindia leaned in close and said “Thank you for sacrificing your virginity to me.” 

Then she gave him one last, lingering honeyed kiss and he sank into oblivion. 

A deep restorative sleep. 

A sleep with no dreams. 

The sleep of the just after.

#

Neil awoke with a start. He was in his car, a half-finished bottle of beer between his legs.

What a dream, he thought. 

But a pleasant taste persisted on his lips and he was sure her aroma still surrounded him.

He took a sip of the beer, then spit it out. Compared to the mead, it tasted foul. 

Moose piss, he thought. 

He found a trash can and dumped the bottle. 

#

As he got out of his car at the diner, Melinda pulled up beside him. 

“Hey, Melinda. How are you tonight? Did you have a good day?”

“Hi, Neil. I’m fine. Nothing exciting about the day for me. How about you?”

“Same old, same old. But I learned something new today,” he said. “Did you know that the Greek goddess of Spring was sometimes known as Melindia? I didn’t realize I was working with a goddess!”

She laughed. “If I’m a goddess, how come no one treats me like one?”

“Ah,” he said. “I don’t know the answer to that.  How about I treat you to a cup of coffee in the morning? We can discuss what I can do to give you the respect you deserve.”

“Coffee?” she said. “You mean, like a date?”

Neil smiled. “Yes. Exactly like a date.”

She smiled that bright smile he’d seen earlier and said “I’d like that.”

Neil held the door open then followed her into the diner. There was a noticeable spring in his step.

March 26, 2021 15:15

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