When the men were gone, Helen came back. The patches of inky-dark matter that had sunk into the bed un-stained themselves and moved towards the center as if being attracted by a new gravity. Strange dust that spread on the sheets and the floor joined the ever-growing mass. The shape on the bed congealed and writhed; it took form after form, quickly discarding each one.
Then Helen was herself again. Her heart beat. Her chest rose. Her eyes opened.
Time to go.
First she went to the wardrobe and put on her finest dress. Next, she lit a candle. Then she walked through the house, trailing the flame along the curtain, the daguerreotypes, the wallpaper. Not everything caught, but enough did that a line of dark smoke followed her as Helen stepped out the front door onto the cobblestones of the street. She shut the door behind her and set off at a brisk pace.
After a few blocks, a neighborhood boy spotted her. Too young to give much mind to social graces, he approached and tugged on Helen's skirts. She smiled at the child, and held out her hand. Expecting sweets perhaps, the child reached out his own hand. Instead, Helen dropped a small sachet in his palm.
The little boy looked at it curiously. Then the child's pupils grew large and his hairline dampened from sweat. He seemed to be staring at nothing at all for a few long moments
Helen knew it wasn't truly a glimpse, what the child had seen, merely a shadow of a shadow. And still the little boy's eyes filled with tears not quite from fright, nor not quite from sadness. He gazed at Helen with numb awe before running away.
Helen continued on -- perhaps one day he would understand.
Down little further, a side street caught her eye. It seemed... right. She made the turn into the alley--
And then there was no longer an alley. It was a beautiful grove of ilexes stretching towards a blue sky, with rolling hills behind them. A light breeze brushed by her, smelling of mignonette and crushed grapes.
The place had a peculiar quality -- time seemed to slow, or race like a rabbit. In the distance, something moved on the hillside. Helen watched the thing for a moment, just a brown shape on the hill. So far away.`
A faint path branched off away from the center of the trees, just a line of depressed grass leading to the right. Helen took it. She followed it deeper into the forest until it led through a long arch that someone had created with a group of young willows braided together until there was no telling one individual tree from the next.
She closed her eyes when she walked through, and when she opened them she say bricks and cobblestones once again.
The breeze followed Helen down the walk. A cat on a stoop lifted its head to sniff the air as she walked passed. The cat was lucky today -- sometimes more than a breeze came back with her.
She was just around the corner from her bank, or perhaps it was her late-husband's bank. Particulars like these often blurred in her mind, to little matter.
The bell over the door jingled when she entered."What can I do for you today, ma'am?" the man behind the counter asked.
The part of her that answered to Mrs. Beaumont snapped into place. With a smile, Helen slid the withdrawal slip to the clerk.
When she left, her bag was heavy, and she was was humming a song the earth had not heard for a millennia. She ignored the column of smoke in the distance. She had somewhere to be, she supposed. though she did not know where. Still, her feet moved and her heart was light. For all the world she looked like a young woman in love, and it cheered the heart of passer-bys to see her. She walked for miles, past scenes of fortune and poverty alike, waiting for the right shadow, the right rhythm, and the moment it came, she lifted her foot--
--and when she put it down, there was the grove again, thick with the golden sunlight of the late afternoon. Cicadas buzzed louder and louder in every direction. When Helen heard the light huff of an animal's breath behind her, she smiled. He'd arrived. She turned to meet him.
The face was that of a man, a goat, a cluster of leaves, nothing at all. Lower, there was the impression of a bare chest, then thick brown fur, then hooves upon the altar.
Helen saw Pan.
One day that little boy would understand.Who could see such beauty and not be moved?