Kara stared at her computer screen, focusing hard because she kept drifting off into a daydream.
If she let herself do that, then she would never get this document edited. However, she found it so boring that she felt like she could fall asleep.
Heavy footsteps rushed up to her cube, and she suddenly felt dizzy.
“What is wrong with you?” a stern voice said.
She jerked to sit straighter before she turned away from her screen to look.
“What?” She gasped. There was no one there.
She stood and walked to the opening of her cube to look up and down the aisleway. There wasn’t a person in sight.
A dizziness swept over her again, and she found herself in a room lit with oil lamps. She could smell a wood fire. A slight turn of her head revealed a huge stone fireplace with a roaring fire.
The room felt warm because of it. She was aware of two other people and shifted to get a better look at them.
Then she took a big, gasping breath.
She found herself still standing at the opening of her cube, alone. Someone coughed. The only smell even close to a fire was the burned popcorn someone had overcooked in the microwave.
She stood there for a long time, staring at the wall across from her. This wasn’t the first time she’d had a dizzy spell.
I need a vacation, she thought.
She sat back down at her desk and noted the time was 4:30 p.m.
“I’m not going to get this done,” she whispered under her breath because there was no privacy in a room full of cubicles.
She had fifteen more pages to edit. There was no way she could finish, especially since the document was so poorly written.
“This guy didn’t put any effort into it because he knew I had to do the editing. Asshole pushed off his work on me.”
She resigned herself to the fact she wouldn’t make her deadline. With the pressure off, she almost felt euphoric.
She tried to use that feeling to get at least a few more pages edited, but the next paragraph wasn’t even in English.
“What the fuck?”
She copied and pasted the text into a language translator. The guy was either testing or harassing her, or he had accidentally copied the text into the document. There were sexual references.
After staring at it in shock, she realized he had probably meant for this to go to his girlfriend.
She gave up and reached for her coffee mug, but it was empty. It was too late in the day to get some. Besides, she bet the office girls had already washed and put away the pots.
She was about to switch over to a new tab in her browser to do some online shopping when she heard the footsteps. These were footsteps she knew, and she switched back to the document.
“Kara, are you done with Rod’s documentation?”
“No.” She didn’t even give her boss, Jim, the courtesy of looking at him. Instead, she stared at the document.
“Kara, we need that done.”
It was a quarter to five on a Friday afternoon. She doubted anyone was going to look at it until Monday.
“If he knew how to write better, maybe I’d have it done.”
“That’s your job.”
“But when he starts writing in a different language, that gets harder.”
“A different language?”
She pointed at the paragraph. “Can you read that?”
“Well, use a translator.”
“When I have to use the translator, it takes up more time. A whole lot more time.”
“Well, just do that and check the typos. Call it a day.”
“And this is okay?” She pointed at a section and read it verbatim. “Its got go thing a widge into the hole. Do you know what he means?”
“It must be technical.”
“I’m an engineer. I’m technical. That is gibberish.”
“And do you really want to see what this translates into?”
“No. Just do what you can.” He left as if he had an emergency.
“Yeah, your emergency is to make it back to your office so you can leave for the day.”
Kara no longer made any pretense of working. No one else was going to come up and talk to her unless it was to ask if she was going out to the bars.
Her response for the last couple of weeks had been no, and she had the feeling they would eventually stop asking her. She hoped they would since she was tiring of the routine.
Every Friday night, a group of people from work met at the bars. Later, her girlfriends would join her. They would drink, get drunk, flirt, then sleep the rest of the weekend away with a headache.
None of the flirting had resulted in any dates. Kara felt tired of it all. She would rather go home and not have a headache.
“Yeah, all I do there is goof off on the internet. But wait, I do get my laundry done and the house cleaned.”
She almost laughed, feeling like a game show host. “But there’s more… But wait…you also win…nothing.”
She closed all the applications on her computer in preparation for shutting it down. Whispers rose around her, which told her everyone else was doing the same.
As she expected, she heard the usual questions everyone asked.
“You going to the bar tonight?”
“We’re heading to the corner bar. You coming?”
Kara could pick out who asked the questions and who answered. Traffic outside her cube picked up for a moment, then faded. Today, no one was going to ask if she was heading out to the bar.
No one was even going to wish her a good weekend.
She shut down her computer. By the time she grabbed her coat and umbrella to head out, no one was around. The few people she would have said goodnight to were already gone.
She joined two people she didn’t work with at the elevators. The clock above it showed it was a few minutes past five. No one said a word.
The elevator was almost full when it arrived. Kara managed to squeeze in. She decided she should start taking the stairs. Six flights down wasn’t really that much. She could always use the exercise.
When the elevator reached the ground floor, everyone turned left. Kara headed straight out. She had a couple of blocks to walk to catch the subway.
There weren’t too many other people walking this way. Most drove because the company had a parking garage, and it was free.
Kara didn’t drive because it took longer than if she took the subway. Much longer.
She breathed in deeply to find the air cool and damp, which was typical for September. It wasn’t refreshing.
She crossed the street at a jog, then slowed to check out the windows of a small toy store. They changed up the display every Friday, and it was always fascinating.
They had outdone themselves this time by building an extravagant castle with interlocking blocks. Toy dragons perched on top of the roof.
Kara felt herself get dizzy. She leaned against the building so she didn’t keel over. The faint smell of peppermint wafted by her nose, but she knew it couldn’t be from the candy store.
It was still two blocks away.
Soft feathers touched her fingers, and cold air slapped her face. The air she breathed in was brisk and clean, its coldness burning her lungs. She felt like she was flying.
“Mommy. Mommy. Can I have that?”
Kara looked up to find she was still standing in front of the toy store. A woman with two children opened the door, and a bell chimed.
Kara stared back at the display.
“Dragons. Why do dragons smell like peppermint?”
She took a deep breath, comparing this breath with her last. The air wasn’t brisk and clean but dull and damp.
She stared at the dragons for a long time. The dragons on display had scales, not feathers.
“I’m going crazy.”
She missed her train and had to wait for the next one. Commuters crowded the station. She stared straight ahead while she waited, aware that most everyone else was staring at a phone.
Not for the first time, she felt invisible.
She rode the train almost to the end of the line, and not many people got off with her when she exited. She still had to walk a couple of blocks to her house, but the streetlights lit her way.
In the city, it was hard to tell whether it was night or day since it was so lit up at night. However, as she walked home through her suburb, it was clearly night.
The sun had set before she had even left work. Due to the history of the neighborhood, she trusted that she was safe but still carried an umbrella as a weapon.
So far, she hadn’t had any problems. However, she didn’t leave anything to chance. She took karate and self-defense lessons, which she practiced as an exercise but had yet to use in real life.
Hopefully, she never had to.
Her house looked dark and lonely. The dusk-to-dawn light over her front door should have been on. She wondered if the bulb had burned out. In the two years of living there, she had never changed it.
She unlocked her door and flipped on a light. Since it was two stories, her house looked bigger than it was, but the first floor was a combined living room and dining room.
The other room was the kitchen. She always felt it was a strange house because there were no closets on the first floor. The closest thing to a closet was a small pantry area in the kitchen.
She flipped on the kitchen light.
Usually, she left by the back door but came home through the front unless she drove. A coat rack stood by the back door. She hung up the umbrella and her coat.
There was leftover potato soup in the fridge, so she knew dinner was as easy as heating a bowl.
She walked upstairs to change where the only bathroom was, along with three bedrooms, but they were pretty small. The largest was her room.
She changed into jeans and a warm sweatshirt, leaving her feet bare.
While her soup warmed in the microwave, she texted her best friend that she was staying in tonight.
She was somewhat surprised she hadn’t received a text already. Her friend usually sent one to her to inform her about which bar to meet at.
“I need a life.”
On the table in front of her, the catalog from the local community college listed life enrichment courses.
“Take a class. Go out and mingle. Yeah, I did that with the karate and self-defense classes. Did I meet anyone? Nope.
Half the classes were couples, and the other half were bullied teenagers looking to defend themselves.”
She flipped through the catalog but didn’t see anything of interest.
“I’ve looked through this a dozen times. Nothing is changing unless I find new interests or lower my standards.”
She ate her soup, wondering if a pottery class was worth taking.
“I’m an engineer. I can build things.”
“Who am I kidding? I’m a professional documentation specialist. My boss can’t even remember I’m a mechanical engineer. What good were four years of college and an internship?
“I need a life and a new job.” She put her bowl in the sink before settling on her couch with her laptop to check out job listings.
Kara woke with a deep breath. She felt sexually sated. Hot and sweaty. She shifted her eyes and felt startled to find a man sitting up in bed with her.
Long, thick brown hair hung down his back, ending in a braid. Judging by his muscles and broad shoulders, he was a big man.
“I can’t stay all night,” he said, staring toward the fire.
She reached out to touch him. His voice was the one she had heard in her cubicle. The stone fireplace in view was also familiar, except the fire was now just embers. She found his skin warm.
“Did I satisfy you?” He shifted slightly, but she couldn’t see his face.
She felt herself speak, but it wasn’t her voice.
“Oh, yeah. You always do.” The voice sounded breathy and deep.
“I can feel when I do,” he said.
She flared her nostrils at his scent, smelling musk and leather. There was a pressure in her chest like someone was standing on her. She coughed.
Kara sat up. She was on her couch. However, she swore she could still smell the musk of the man. “That’s just potato soup,” she said, glancing around the room.
Her laptop and phone were on her coffee table, and the living room lamp was on. She picked up her phone to check the time.
She noted with some sadness that her best friend hadn’t responded to her text, and she knew it wasn’t because she hadn’t received and seen it. With a sigh, she swung her legs from the couch.
However, she didn’t get up. Instead, she stared into space.
“I should just sign up for a class. Anything. I’ve got to get out more.”
She felt dizzy.
Her eyes clearly saw the man dressing by the fire since it burned brightly. Someone had thrown in more wood. Everything about him was like a hunky model.
“I’m hallucinating. No one can be that gorgeous.”
“What did you say?”
He turned toward her, gazing at her with his large brown eyes. He had a couple of days of beard growth, and stray hairs draped down his shoulders.
There had to be another light on because she could see him so clearly.
The breathy voice spoke. “I didn’t say anything.”
“Your breathing is off again.”
Kara watched him slip on what looked like a white silk tunic shirt. His pants appeared to be like soft leather, flexing easily with his movement.
The color of the leather almost matched the tone of his skin, making her realize he hadn’t been naked in the bed. She could also see tall leather boots. He pulled on a leather tunic.
His movement stirred the air around her, and she again smelled peppermint in addition to all the other smells. Her nose picked out many besides the leather and his scent, but she couldn’t identify them.
She coughed again and found herself back on her couch.
“Wow. I can handle hallucinations like that.”
She waited for a long time, hoping to see and feel more, but nothing else happened.
“I wonder if severe boredom causes hallucinations.”
She rose and went to bed, but she tossed and turned. When she woke, she couldn’t tell if her dreams were more hallucinations or her mind desperately looking for some excitement.
She sent another text to her friend, asking if she’d had a good night out. Then she settled on her couch to apply for the one job she found.
There wasn’t much out there. Few companies were looking to add employees right before the holidays. She knew people considered this the worst time of year to look.
“The dead zone of jobs.”
After that, she wrote up a grocery list using her phone, then bundled up and left out the back to her car.
The store was close enough to walk to, but her list contained too much to carry, so she drove. She found the store crowded as if everyone had decided that was the time to go. She felt lucky to find a cart.
A mister was spraying down the fresh produce, where she picked up some broccoli. However, when she put the bundle into her cart, she swayed and found herself walking on what seemed to be a long balcony.
She wasn’t alone.
“I know you were with him last night. I saw his dragon leave after midnight.”
Her eyes weren’t seeing the man beside her.
“He has…his uses, Stinfal.”
Kara felt pressure on her chest again and needed to lean against the balcony.
“I’d prefer you were only with me. Will I be honored with your presence tonight?”
Kara found herself staring at her broccoli. Others were trying to get around her, and she walked on, pushing her cart out of the way.
Usually, she browsed, taking her time. But, today, she merely got the items on her list and headed home, driving cautiously.
“I’m going to keel over in public.” She wondered if she should schedule an appointment with her doctor.
That night, she cooked a full dinner with pork chops. This was one of her favorites, but it didn’t taste so good tonight. She ended up putting her half-eaten plate into the fridge for leftovers.
She still hadn’t heard from any of her girlfriends.
“Don’t be silly. They probably have hangovers, and I’m the last thing on their minds.”
She sat on her couch after dinner to waste time watching stupid videos until she recognized the dizziness.
Kara found herself in bed with a man. He sat up, and she could see he was different. His hair was short and sported some gray. He was leaner but still looked in good physical health.
His physique wasn’t as large as the other man’s.
“Was that better than last night?” His voice was the one she had heard on the balcony.
Kara wasn’t feeling sexually sated or hot and sweaty. Her body was feeling more like the guy had enjoyed a quickie.
“Yeah,” the breathy voice said.
Kara didn’t think the voice sounded convincing, but the man smiled like a man who was confident in his sexual prowess.
The fireplace was in a different location, telling her she wasn’t in the same room as last night.
The smells were different. There weren’t any scents of peppermint or leather. She could smell the fire, but her nose told her a different type of wood burned.
The air smelled stale and musty, which she thought might be because of the tapestries she saw on the wall.
Tapestries? She felt like the decorator had used them, with their brilliant colors, to wallpaper the room.
The intricacies of the designs pulled at her for closer examination, as if they felt underappreciated and needed someone’s gaze to give them a reason to exist.
But then she noticed the books. Could the mustiness be from them? There seemed to be books everywhere. She squinted. Was that a desk with a quill pen?
She found it hard to breathe. Then the man jutted his face toward hers until she could feel his breath.
“Did you bring your medicine?” His voice startled her because it was so loud.
Kara sat up.