Dark torrents that the windshield washers could not keep up with fell. Usually, this kind of storm didn’t happen in the fall, but it was typical that Aunt Betty would leave this world in the midst of this kind of havoc. Her husband always said that she was God’s way to get people to pray and to go to church. Now, to get to Milwaukee for her funeral, I had to drive up on a stormy Wednesday night. At the end of this drive there was a warm, dry motel room waiting for me. All I wanted was some hot tea with Amaretto and a fluffy pillow.
The rental car I picked up at Midway Airport was humming nicely but the traffic was a bumper to bumper crawl. It took me five minutes to get over lane by lane so that I could take an the exit before I hit Kenosha. I was pissed at myself that I hadn’t done this when I was at Gurnee Mills where there were hotels that were just as good as the one I was go to.
On the frontage road, I picked a spot to sit until the storm was done. North of the gas station, out of the way of the glare of the lights. I felt safe on this patch because I had driven it many times before in my goings or comings from Lake Geneva. I turned off the motor, left my I-pad playing .
I woke up in the middle of the Eagles chorus of ‘Life’s Been Good To Me’. The night was dark, but the rain was finished. I needed to answer the call of nature. I opened the door. Beneath my parking spot was a puddle of water, smooth and black as the night. Since I had on a pair of old Reeboks, I decided to walk back to the gas station and taking my chances on the hygiene of their bathroom.
Swinging both legs out the door, I pushed off using the back of the car seat. Instead of standing straight up, I felt my feet sink deep into the puddle. Before I could grab the car door to stop myself, my ankles were engulfed by the cold water. Flailing my arms, searching for anything to grip, I felt the wetness wrap around my knees. My mind said there must be a manhole cover missing, probably pushed up and out of the way by the force of water from a storm drain below me. How else could the wet chill be climbing up my thighs? I pushed out my elbows hoping that I could wedge myself in the mouth of where ever I was falling, but to no avail. Black water lapped at my chin like a kiss from a Great Dane. The darkness completely enveloped me, yet my feet found no purchase, no place for me to stop my decent.
Now, the water seemed to turn into a slushy substance. The more I struggled, the further down I went. My whole body was covered by a dark moist blanket that shifted as I moved through it. Perhaps there was a patch of quicksand covered by water and I parked over it! But when did Wisconsin get patches of quicksand?
As I contemplated this quirk of fate, I felt my feet barely touched something solid. I stopped my wiggling which made me descend more quickly. A shock wave ran up my legs as I hit the bottom of what ever this was. My vision exploded into a spray of white light.
Blinking, I saw I was standing in the middle of a freshly mowed hay field at daybreak. I could hear roosters crowing in the distance. Ahead of me there was a stockade fence and some buildings behind it.
I must have gotten out of the hole somehow, slipped and pancaked my head on the payment. Now, my car was gone, stolen by some teenage opportunist who didn’t want to wait for the school bus when there was an open door and keys in the ignition.
Patting moisture out of my hair, I started walking up the hill, towards the fence. In two steps, I noticed there was a heavy skirt around my ankles. Stopping in my tracks, I saw that my feet were covered by hard leather slippers with pointy toes. Someone had taken the time to rob me of my ratty old Reeboks and replaced them with these homemade jokes? Why?
My midsection was covered by a suede corset, which pushed my bosom up yet was cut to leave the top of it nearly exposed. Looking down, I saw that my sleeves had two layers to them. I must have really been unconscious for my clothes to have been changed without me noticing it. Why would anyone trade a generic running suit and a pair of well worn shoes for a badly executed period costume?
So, with all these questions swirling around in my head, I walked towards the fence. It was farther than it looked. As I was getting close, a woman with a basket came trudging towards me. In these heavy skirts, trudge was all one could do.
“Good Morrow, mistress.”
“Yeah, hi, er, good morrow to you.” I said. “Do you know where the police station is? I need to report my car was stolen.”
“Indeed.” she said, eyes wide, “A stolen cart is a grand bother. I cannot imagine who would have done such a thing, but I am sure that the sheriff will be happy to assist you in any way that he can. Come, I will take you to his threshold.”
Seriously? His threshold? Perhaps she was rehearsing for a play by talking this way. If not, I didn’t want to upset her before I could find help. Crazy folks can be dangerous.
We walked through the heavy wooden gates together, where I stopped dead in my tracks. Inside was not the apartment complex I had expected. The decorative waddle and timber were covering cottages exactly like you would see in a history book on Merry Ole England. It was a place totally devoid of cars or pavement. It didn’t have street lamps or telephone poles or apartment buildings. It had cobble stones and dirt paths littered with flocks of chickens, herds of sheep, the odd goat and foraging pigs. Men and women walked about carrying baskets. I was in the middle of a village with an open air market.
Men nodded and tipped the brims of their hats to me. I stumbled along behind my benefactress amazed and bewildered. Soon, she was opening a door carved into the trunk of a live tree.
“Fare thee well, Master Sheriff,” she called out, “I bring you a stranger who needs your help. Someone has taken her cart.”
I was standing behind her, gawking at the scene before me. The entire cast had come together to rehearse. I guess there can never be too much cos-play. Perhaps that was why they changed my clothes for me and hid my car, thinking I was one of them, just a bit inebriated.
“Aw, Sweet Goody Anne, good morrow to thee.” He said in a booming voice. His beard was black, his eyes were as yellow as a wolf’s. He stood tall. He almost dusted the ceiling with his feathered cap.
“Where is the damsel in distress? I see nothing but your comely self, good wench.”
She covered her mouth as she giggled and curtsied at the same time. Behind her I stood half turned in the doorway, not knowing whether to run or not. His glance settled on me, giving a shiver of dread.
“Not from around here, be thee? What is your name lass?”
I froze. I didn’t know what to say to him in this vernacular. I searched my mind until I could squeak out “I’m Jessica.”
“Jezebel?” he bellowed, “You are called Jezebel? Fie and for shame! Why would your mother mark you with the name of a harlot? Was she a strumpet or an unchurched fool?”
“No, No, Not Jezebel, Jessica. My name is Jessica, like the female version of Jesse.”
The sheriff looked at Goody Anne quizzically. It was as if he had never heard the names Jessica or Jesse before. Goody Anne could only shrug.
“Thou art harlot named therefore thou shalt be harlot acting.” He said, “I cans’t assist a harlot.”
From behind him came a small familiar voice.
“Good Master Sheriff, she is new but she belongs here. I have on good authority that she is not a harlot. She has come to serve and be with me.”
He turned quickly to see behind him a tiny figure of a woman, dressed in rich robes trimmed with cloth of gold, ribbons of silver and seeded with pearls. She must be a duchess or a dame. Her hair was covered by a french hood fit for Anne Boleyn or Princess Elizabeth.
“Begging your pardon, Mi Lady. I did not know she was your kith and kin,” he said in a very humbled tone.
“Worry not, my good Sheriff, I will take charge of her this instant. She is no more concern for you.”
“Aye, Mi Lady. As you wish.”
Looking close at this dazzling doll, I finally recognized her face! It was a younger version of my late Aunt Betty!
“But how can this be, you’re supposed to be dead. I’m trying to get to your funeral. As soon as you point me to my car, I’ll be back on the road.”
She laughed at me and put her arm around my waist. Squeezing me affectionately, she began to walk us out of the sheriff’s office. Her speech changed to modern as soon as we were outside. She began to whisper.
“You don’t need your car anymore. The wake and funeral are over. To tell the truth, It wasn’t much of a funeral. Half the family didn’t even show up. Something about a pile up on the expressway. IF you ask me, their lazy asses would use any excuse not to come to see me! I’m so glad I left most of my money to the ASPCA. Much more satisfying that way. Now, let’s go and enjoy ourselves. You know, when they asked me, I told them that YOU were the only one I wanted to see. I hope you don’t mind not being with the rest of those reprobates. I said, bring me Jessica, my favorite niece who went with me for a whole weekend to the Bristol Renaissance Fair. Remember Jess? When you were ten, we dressed up and became part of the 16th Century? What a fun time we had! It is one of my fondest memories. So when they asked, I told them. And now, we’ll have all of eternity to enjoy it over and over again.”