Mother and I are allowed to visit Grandmother because her magical conjurings increase when we’re around. I wonder if she knows her reality is a lie, that she’s a prisoner, sequestered away in an underground bunker. She may not, considering she lives in a replica of my childhood home. She’d been staying with us when military men barged in and took her. She liked it there, so here we are.
Today, my dress smells like rhododendron petals because I know the scent will cause Grandmother to conjure at least one giant bush in her room. Let’s see her captors deal with that! They’ll probably mulch it and toss it out with all her apple pies. Hundreds of them. Too many for these military men to continue bringing home.
But my plan backfires gloriously when Grandmother conjures something new, something impossible, and quite possibly exactly what the Suit Man has been waiting for.
“Harold, dear?” Grandmother says, looking past us, first with a blank look, then with focus.
Mother stares down at me, knowing that somehow this is my fault, but a voice from behind halts her silent admonition.
We turn as one to find a young man in an old-fashioned, tan military uniform. I recognize my grandfather from our old, sepia-toned photographs.
I imagine Grandmother’s captors scrambling behind the one way mirror.
“What’s happening?” He doesn’t seem to see Mother and I. Instead, he stumbles toward Grandmother sitting up in bed with open arms, IV tubes dangling like gossamer wings.
“Oh, Harold. I was thinking about our first date. Do you remember the mountains of Pennsylvania?”
“The rhododendrons were in full bloom.” Grandfather stops by her bed and studies her wrinkled, ancient face. “You’re so beautiful.”
The door behind us bursts open and three armed men in uniforms barge in.
That’s when I scream.
“No,” Grandmother says and the men disappear.
Mother clutches my shoulders and I’m shoved through the pocket of air where men had stood only a moment ago. Grandmother conjures, she doesn’t destroy. She can’t. Or couldn’t. I don’t know.
“Wait,” comes a croak from behind, and the open doorway before us becomes a solid, white wall. We’re trapped.
Mother turns, and I hear her plead. “Oma, please. She’s just a little girl.”
Normally I would protest the little girl comment, but I nod in agreement. I don’t want to disappear like the men.
“Are they…” My young grandfather starts.
“Yes. Our daughter and granddaughter.”
I realize this young version of my grandfather wouldn’t know us. He died before mother was born. I’d only ever seen pictures and heard stories.
He approaches and my fear dissipates with each cautious step. He bends to one knee before me, cups my cheeks in his hands and we stare for a time into each other’s familial eyes.
Mother touches his arm, drawing his attention and he stands, pauses, and then throws his arms around her.
I turn to see Grandmother standing beside her bed, holding her IV pole for balance, smiling, tears twinkling on her cheeks.
“My daughter,” Grandfather says to Mother.
She sniffles and whispers to me, “Thank you.”
“Grandmother,” I say amidst the joy. “Where are the three men?”
The front door opens and the Suit Man enters. He’s here every day, all the time. He calls himself my father.
Grandmother says, “Oh, it’s good to see you both together again.” Then Mother and Grandfather disappear. My heart springboards into my throat and my ears pound. The room melts to become four cement walls with a cot in the corner, a metal sink, and a toilet without a lid. Underground bunker.
Grandmother is still smiling at me, arm poised like she’s holding the IV pole that is no longer there.
“I need to rest,” she says and vanishes.
I’m certain I will disappear like the others. I squeeze my eyes so tight they sting. In the blackness, tiny stars dart across my empty, blank vision.
I’m concentrating on remaining tethered to reality when I hear Father’s voice. “Jessica?”
I open my eyes and I’m home again, only, there’s the steel toilet jutting out of the front door. Everything is off kilter just a little. Morphed, like when a face becomes another face in a movie.
Father kneels and stares intently at me. “Jessica, sweetie, try to return the men.”
I no longer smell the rhododendrons. “Where are they?” I ask.
“I don’t know. But if you can find them, you can find your–”
He falls short of saying, ‘Mother’.
I stare at Grandmother’s empty bed. It’s easier to deny and to blame than it is to face reality. I’m the one sending people away. I don’t know how or why, but I think the puzzle pieces are all within this room.
“I’ll try… dad.” I say, admitting that much. At least he’s still here, and I hope he stays.
From behind me, Grandmother says, “Come have a slice of apple pie, dear.”
I back away from Father and the scent of freshly baked apples and cinnamon fills my mind. I’m back, safe within my childhood home.
“Please,” he begs. “Jessie. I’m trying to help–”
“Three military men sent away. Three military men back today.” They appear all at once. Pop, pop, pop in bursts of golden stardust, like all of my conjures.
I pull up a chair next to Grandmother and wheel her dinner tray over my lap. Pop. A triangle of steaming pie appears on a ceramic plate before me. Pop. A taper candle appears between us and Grandmother’s wrinkled face smiles in the flickering, orange light.
“We’ll try again tomorrow, Jessie,” the Suit Man says. I hear a set of retreating footsteps, then a door closes.
“Have I ever told you about the day I met your grandfather?” Grandmother asks.
“Yes, but tell me again,” I say, and take a giant bite of imaginary apple pie.
Dustin Adams’ stories have appeared in Daily Science Fiction, and forthcoming in Dimension6. He’s a multiple finalist in L. Ron Hubbard’s Writers of the Future contest and has served as an editorial assistant right here at Every Day Fiction.