Megan’s head throbbed. Daylight streamed through the window, its harsh light mocking the absurdity of her situation. She was splayed out on the floor, tangled in a pile of blanket and half-formed memories, trying to convince herself that the entirety of her experience was some drug-induced dream. It was the only thing that made sense; obviously, pills didn’t whisk people off to magical worlds full of telepathic women.
If it had been a dream, though, then what the hell was in the bottle laying inches away from her outstretched fingers? She remembered drinking the wine. It had been a red, so there was no explaining the viscous golden liquid that now filled the glass. Megan rubbed her eyes, trying to shake off the confusion. Maybe a shower would help clear the fog that swirled around her thoughts. She double-checked the locks and blinds, wanting to keep out any prying eyes.
She left the bottle, the blankets, and clothes in a heap on the floor and stepped into a steady stream of not-quite-scalding water. She’d always preferred her showers to be just on the edge of too hot; something about the way it filled the poorly-ventilated room with steam and left her skin a rosy pink had become a part of how she knew she was properly clean. This morning especially, she felt a need to push it a little higher, scrub a little harder, and hope for the thick confusion to wash away with the grime and sweat of the last twenty-four hours.
As she stood there beneath the steady and skin-pruning stream, her thoughts only seemed to become more entwined with the absurdity of it all. She ran through it all, retracing each step over and over, her mind turning and trying to put it together like a puzzle that had too many pieces. Replaying each scene only made the whole affair seem more surreal, more divorced from any sense of reality; kids didn’t leave drugs on restaurant tables for strangers, and hooded women didn’t hand out bottles of god-knows-what to sleeping junkies. Yet here she was, scouring away a night’s delusion and unsure of what to do.
As the water started to cool, Megan realized she’d been standing in the shower for far longer than was normal. She turned the valve and stepped out into the steam-filled room, wrapping herself in a towel as she braced for the cooler air that waited on the other side of the door. Though her apartment was relatively good at keeping out winter’s bitter chill, the dramatic difference still raised goosebumps across her skin. She hurried to the bedroom and slid open the closet door.
Megan let out an audible gasp. There, between her old mainstays of thinning sweatshirts, rarely-worn dresses, and other contents of her outdated wardrobe, hung a brilliant white cloak, hemmed in shimmering pearlescence. The sight of it came so unexpectedly that she dropped her towel; she was only aware of this by the way that it heaped at her feet. As she stood in awe of this new addition, she felt a comfortably warm air swirl around her, as if she’d already donned the cloak to protect her exposed skin from the bite that had been in the air just moments before.
Though she knew it would fit perfectly just from looking, Megan couldn’t resist an urge to wrap herself in the cloak. She pulled it from the closet and, in a single motion, threw it over her shoulders. The soft fabric seemed to cling to her damp skin — no, that wasn’t it. Something else had happened. The moment that she settled the flowing cape over her shoulders, it changed; the sweeping cape grabbed on to her, shifting as it fell into place. Where the pearled hems had been, now shimmering sleeves and leggings formed along her limbs; a loose fit tunic hung from her shoulders, and a knee-length white skirt embroidered in swirling rainbows draped from her hips. Even the hood, loose and wide, took on new life as shining pearled clips, clasping the strands of her dust-blonde hair.
Megan strode back into the steam-filled bathroom, wiping fog from the mirror with a damp washcloth. Dressed as she was, she barely recognized herself; it was a far cry from her usual jeans and t-shirt aesthetic, and her hair done up was something she hadn’t seen since a regrettable night wasted on a high school dance that she’d not felt comfortable at even at the time. She was shocked to see how well it all seemed to fit, the delicate way that every stitch seemed made just for her.
The most striking thing about her new outfit was its lightness; not just the glimmer of white and pearl, but the ethereal sensation of it. It felt as though she was draped in the thinnest silk, though with the warmth of a thick winter jacket. Her skirt shifted gently in an imperceptible breeze that seemed to fill the space around her, the irridescent colors woven through it dancing in a playful display. She felt as though she’d donned a cloud draped in the beauty of rainbows and kissed by the brilliance of the sun.
Megan admired the outfit for entirely too long; her pondering was broken only by the sudden sharp sound of a knock at the door. It was very unlike any of her friends to drop by unannounced, and she couldn’t remember having made any plans. She didn’t even know what time it was, the day having melted away in the midst of her showering, discovering the cloak, and becoming lost in its transformation. Still, to ignore the summons seemed somehow rude. Smoothing her skirt, she made her way to the front door and pressed an eye to the peephole.
Delfine. Without the draping of her green cloak, she was almost a stranger, but there was no mistaking the tight angles of that face, the piercing blue eyes, the flighty strands of jet-black hair. How could she possibly be here, so far from the strange dream in which they’d met, standing on Megan’s doorstep in the deepening orange of the late-day sun? Everything seemed to make less sense the more she thought about it.
Another knock; Delfine was still outside, waiting for the door to open. Megan hesitated, unsure of what she could even say; there was no logical explanation, no way that this could even be real. Taking in a sharp breath, she unlocked the door and opened it. From behind the strands of hair that tried to hide her face, Delfine broke into a wide grin and abruptly pushed past her to get inside.
“About time,” Delfine said with a chuckle. She scanned Megan’s outfit, an approving glint in her eye. “Glad to see you’ve found the cloak. I suspect you’ll get used to it, but it was wise to put it on now.” Something in the way she moved, with a light gracefulness, made it clear that despite the radically different look of her own attire, the clothing was a manifestation of the same green she’d been wearing before.
“What the hell are you doing here, Delfine?” Megan’s words seemed to fall out on their own, and she was surprised at her own rudeness; Delfine laughed.
“Nice to see you, too, Megan,” she replied. “I’m here to help you get your bearings. I know it’s all a lot, but just like Lilian said — you’re one of us. One of the five. And if we’re gonna make it, we’ll need you in top form. Sorry for barging in, though, but I need to be sure I wasn’t followed. Where’s your bathroom?”
“Its, um, right around the corner, there,” Megan said. She felt like she was stumbling over words, still, but somehow they spilled out in the right order.”
“Okay, great. Lock your door. I’ll need about fifteen minutes, then we can get started,” Delfine’s voice drifted through the hallway before she slipped away and closed the door behind her; Megan heard the lock click, and bolted the front door, her mind racing. Whatever path lay before her now, she could feel that something huge was building, and that her life would never again resemble the normal life she’d eked out until now.