An Expeditious Retreat

Rose ought to have a better introduction than this. I was in my mid-teens, mulling over gritty reboot fairy tale retellings that I could do, and she was one of them. I could have sworn that I’d seen Rose as Chelsea Hobb’s Gerda in The Snow Queen (Hallmark, 2002) but apart from the ringlets she’s given when she’s trapped in springtime, there’s not much resemblance. Which is odd, because her actual face and body keep changing whenever I meet her.

The drawing above is of the youngest-looking version of her I’d encountered, who seemed to wear a specific world all the time.

And during our most recent encounter, I was going to suggest that she leave it.


Tuning in to my surreal fetch sometimes comes with senses, attitudes, or memories that my corporeal and sidereal fetch don’t have. Sometimes it manifests in feeling as though a guiser I’d never seen before is a very old friend. Other times, it manifests in my freezing up in the middle of doing something that I surreal-y know how to do without thinking, because I’m sidereal-y thinking about how I do it (because that part of me had never done it before.)

This time, it was an information dump.

I’d taken it as a given that the center of the red brick labyrinth is a walled garden where Rose would sit with her tea set. And I can never find the door. If she randomly wants me to join her for tea, I am randomly summoned there for tea and randomly banished. We never do anything else.

This time, I managed to walk in uninvited, and give a stern warning about someone else who might walk in uninvited; and this was my own fault, but this was how I could minimize the damage, if she would cooperate by evacuating then she’d be one less possible—

What? My corporeal-sidereal mind pulled away from myself a bit. What did we do this time? What did you do?!? This isn’t happening.

That’s an exaggeration. I didn’t answer, because I didn’t ask. I only felt moderately confused by myself.

“Nobody can find this place,” Rose said, meaning that she wasn’t leaving. I’d pointed out that the labyrinth remained open to the sky, but…she had a point. One entrance, one exit, one winding path, and I’d still manage to take a wrong turn. Rose knew this place better: the place did whatever she wanted to whoever else was unfortunate enough to wander into it. Of course she was safe, here.

Then Captain Foxglove strode in and said, “I’ll escort her.”

I might have gesticulated between us and the walls, bleating, to try to communicate that if I could find the center garden of my own volition for once, and Foxglove could do the same and they hadn’t even met, then the security wasn’t very good anymore.

On the other hand, Foxglove and Rose kept looking at each other with expressions that at least told me that they knew one another very well.

So Rose listened to Foxglove after he’d made the exact same report to her, and suggested the exact same course of action as I had—and without any argument at all Rose wrapped up her own tea set in the tablecloth and looked to the bottom of the stone bird-bath for pearls.

“There are seashells in almost any harbor we stop at,” Foxglove told her, though he’d looked terse, he’d kept his tone encouraging. Rose decided not to waste time on the pearls. She had a flower crown that she’d reached up to put on Foxglove’s head. It got there; they’d both looked so solemn about it.

I could make sense of it. Before, I thought that I’d found Rose by a slightly different form accompanying Captain Marigold, and when I’d looked in that one’s eyes she appeared empty of any mind. I wonder now if this exact moment was always going to happen, so that the shell that followed Marigold around would be ensouled by a real Rose. Maybe the shell was a sort of ghost from the future.

I’d stopped this Rose, right before she left, to look in her eyes. I couldn’t. It was like starting mirror work, and all I could see was a mirror. This Rose wasn’t empty that I could see, but all I could see when I looked at her eyes were…eyes.

Despite being sort-of around for a decade, even despite all the tea parties…this was, really, the first and only conversation-like exchange that Rose and I had ever had. I’d described her before as “too obstinately enigmatic to blog about” and maybe that is the thing: she’ll always have a labyrinth of some kind around her, maybe she is safe and content by nature, inherently inaccessible, and I had made some grave mistake in sending her out into the world. Even if she were going to bring life to Marigold’s pet ghost from the future.

Nah, Foxglove’s made the grave mistake, if that were the case, because he’d said the same thing but she listened to him.

Besides, one of Foxglove’s crew had eyes pop out of sockets at the end of accordion springs when I looked into them. Had they been coil springs, I would have guessed that mechanism were built into such a guiser-body to facilitate expressiveness in the eyes. That they were accordion springs swayed my suspicions more towards that every otherworld I quest in is potentially trolling me.

So they both left. Somehow. I didn’t catch them going over the wall, but the center garden of the red brick labyrinth has no door.