Rain taps against the windows, wind tosses the trees back and forth, and clouds hide the early-morning sun, but the inside of the kitchen is warm and bright. While Stanford unpacks his notes and drawings, Fiddleford shows off one gadget after another.
“This here’s my newest invention,” he says, giving the voice-activated coffee machine a pat. “You just tell it what you like best, and it’ll add as much cream and sugar as you want… or none at all.”
Stanford smiles. “No cream or sugar at all, please.”
“That’s one of them things I still don’t remember, but it don’t really surprise me.” Fiddleford taps a button on the toaster, and it instantly sprouts four steel legs. “Our toast’ll mosey on over to us when it’s ready. This is why Lazy Susan won’t talk to me – she thinks I’m trying to put her out of business. Not a pretty story, that.” He joins Stanford at the table. “But you’d probably rather tell me about your adventures at sea.”
Stanford doesn’t stop talking until a mechanical voice from the counter tells them that their coffee is ready, and Fiddleford carries their cups over to the table. “Still trying to add a serving function that don’t spill my drinks everywhere,” he explains. “You were saying?”
Stanford points to a picture of a cave, and then to a sketch of what looks like a swirl of eyes and tentacles. “I’d never seen anything like that before,” he says reverently. Then, “Fidds? Are you all right? You don’t look well at all.”
“I seen…” In a sudden flash of memory, the sick-making gaze of a creature from another world has frozen Fiddleford in place. “I seen plenty of things like...” His thoughts are breaking apart. He manages to gasp, “too many eyes” and "the skin is moving" but then something blocks his voice, twists his gnarled hands into fists, tears holes into his mind that threaten again to swallow every memory and thought.
He needs to let them.
He can’t allow himself to remember, not if he wants to survive.
Distantly, he can hear and see Stanford apologizing and reaching into his pocket. “I can call someone…”
All Fiddleford can do is shake his head.
“All right.” Large, warm hands, with calloused palms and six clever fingers on each, reach across the table to close over his. “Everything’s okay, Fiddleford. Do you know who I am? Where you are?”
“Stanford, I have to…” Fiddleford wheezes. “I have to forget. The things in the portal… the things I saw…”
“…can’t hurt you anymore,” Stanford says firmly. “Take a deep breath.”
Fiddleford gulps down air like it’s about to disappear. It’s been a long time (not long enough) since he thought about what he was breathing, and what he could smell, on the other side of the portal…
“Good… and let it out slowly.”
He exhales, and feels his hands relax.
“That’s better.” Stanford strengthens his grip. “Keep doing that… very good. Can you speak?”
“We don’t have to talk any more about anomalies, if you don’t want to.”
Fiddleford’s voice still shakes a bit as he says, “Now, I wouldn’t ask you to give up something like that.”
He receives a small smile at those words. “You’re not the only one whose mind turns against him sometimes,” Stanford tells him. “I want you to listen to me, now…”
Fiddleford does as he asks, filling his mind with the sounds of wind and rain, his own breath and the sound of the voice that he’s missed so much. He’ll hold onto these memories for as long as he can.