Heather’s Residency is a magnificent mansion on the side of a mountain. Pine forests can be seen spreading off in all directions. A great valley lies to the west.
The inside of the mansion is dark and drafty and old and mysterious. You love it immediately. The floors are all white marble, and the foyer has pillars of marble and a huge painting of Heather that hangs over the front door. In the painting, Heather is swinging on a giant swing wearing a Victorian era gown and hat.
Her room is on the second floor, a large open space cluttered with clothes strewn about. There is a colossal mirror at one end of the room. A large canopy bed dominates the room’s center. The bed is suspended in mid-air on fluffy white clouds, lit from within by a cozy white light.
Two glass double doors with gold handles lead to a balcony, visible beyond thin white curtains that beckon in the night breeze like forbidden lovers. The moon is out, spilling silver all over.
The bedroom ceiling reels with stars, a handful of outer space suspended about ten feet over your head. After staring for only a few moments, it gives you such a feeling of insignificance that you get vertigo and have to look at the floor to get your bearings.
Off the bedroom, to the right of the balcony, is another doorway leading to a large bathroom with a steam shower and ivory sinks with silver faucets.
“I could use a shower,” says Heather, who’s still naked.
“Me, too,” you say. “We should take one together, to save time.”
“No,” says Heather. “I’d like to shower alone, thank you. I come up with my best ideas in the shower.”
So Heather takes her shower first while you go out past the beckoning curtains to the balcony where you watch the moon cast itself down over the valley and the mountain and try not to think too much about everything. When Heather is done, you take your turn.
Heather leaves the bathroom hot and steamy, toweling her hair and saying to you, “Your turn. Don’t take too long.” You dial off your own clothes and step into the shower, rinsing the day off you. You scrub yourself clean with sweet-smelling soap and wash your hair and genitals thoroughly.
When you’re finished, Heather is waiting for you on the cloud bed, naked and ready.
You climb in with her and she snuggles right up to you.
You embrace her, feel her damp cornflower hair on your forearm.
“Did you have any brilliant ideas in the shower?”
“What do you mean?”
“You said you come up with your best ideas in the shower.”
“Well, I thought that you should kiss me,” says Heather, putting her arms over her head and arching her back.
The two of you do just that, mouths locked together and tongues exploring each other’s teeth. You feel Heather’s small, pointed breasts, pinch her nipples softly. This is going swimmingly, and you’re growing quite aroused, but then Heather stops.
“Oh my God I almost forgot!” she yells.
She jumps up and is gone, out of the room without another word. You sigh.
“You have to meet Rosealia!” Heather calls back, her voice echoing in the cave-like spaces of her Residency. You can hear another faint noise coming from somewhere in the chilly gloom — a infant’s muffled cries.
You follow Heather to a nursery down the hall from her bedroom, and inside is a small coffin that looks like it was made for a doll.
Inside the coffin is a crying baby girl in a red dress with a large pink bow in her brown hair.
She calms down when she sees you and Heather, gurgling and blinking up at the two of you. She reaches her chubby arms up at Heather.
“My baby girl,” coos Heather, reaching down and plucking the infant out.
Heather embraces Rosalia and Rosalia embraces Heather. You watch Heather rock the baby in her arms.
“You want to hold her?” says Heather, smiling ear-to-ear.
“Not just yet.” Given this baby’s history, you’re kind of freaked out by the display here.
Heather kisses Rosalia’s sweaty forehead.
“Sing for us,” she says.
“Sing,” says Heather. “We have to sing Rosealia to sleep. She loves being sung to sleep. You can consider it Trial by Song.”
You’re no longer sure if you want Alliance with this Siren, but it’s late, so why not?
“What should I sing?”
Heather kisses Rosalia on the forehead again.
“Sing a song for the dead,” she says.
“You have an instrument?”
Heather holds out her left hand and conjures one, a beautiful Martin acoustic guitar, and you take it from her. You downloaded how to play guitar at your Orientation.
You begin picking the strings. You think of a song for the dead. It’s a song of devotion, as well as sadness.
You feel it grow out of your mind and down to your fingers. You’ve only played randomly for a few moments when your fingers find the right chords — a song you can remember that reminds you of school days. The chords are a simple acoustic trade-off of minor and major. A quiet, acoustic song from the mid-2000’s. Simple and moving, originally sung by sweater-wearing suburban boys with glasses.
Love of mine, someday you will die
but I’ll be close behind
I’ll follow you into the dark
no blinding white or tunnels to gates of white
just our hands clasped so tight
waiting for the hint of the spark
“Oh, this is such a sad song, Rosalia,” says Heather, nuzzling Rosalia’s bow.
if heaven and hell decide that they both are satisfied
illuminate the ‘no’s’ on their vacancy signs
if there’s no one beside you when your soul embarks
then I’ll follow you into the dark
Rosalia watches you play with half-lidded eyes. The pacifier bobs on her face to the rhythm of your strumming. The performance goes by quickly.
Heather harmonizes with you for the final verse and chorus. Your voice and her voice crystalize together like frost on a windowsill.
By the time you finish the song, Rosalia is fast asleep in Heather’s arms.
“Sniff, sniff, sniff, sniff,” whispers Heather, smiling down and giving Rosalia an Eskimo kiss. She lifts her hand and takes one last selfie of herself and the sleeping baby.
The two of you put Rosalia back to bed.
“Are you sure you don’t want to hold her just once?” Heather says when you’re beside her coffin. She offers Rosalia, whose head lolls to the side.
When am I gonna be here again?
“Sure,” you say.
You take the baby from Heather, holding her butt and her head. Rosalia stays asleep, her head resting on your shoulder. It’s a very peaceful feeling and you try not to think too much about it, just enjoying the moment for what it is. You haven’t held a baby in years, can’t remember the last time you held a baby. Rosalia smells like powder and a strange cedar-like smell. She breathes through her small nose.
You let a few moments go by, and then you hold the baby out to Heather.
“Cute,” you say.
“You can put her to bed,” says Heather, watching and admiring the whole thing.
You do so, lowering Rosalia into the coffin again and pulling the blankets up over her. She’s so tiny, your parental instincts are fully activated.
“Can we leave the lid off?” you ask Heather.
Heather shakes her head.
“She might wake up, then,” she says.
She lowers the lid back on. You watch Rosalia’s sleeping face disappear in the darkness just before it closes.
Heather embraces you and kisses you on the lips.
“Alliance is granted until we sleep.”
“So it’s granted for like another five to ten minutes.”
“Yes,” says Heather. “And if you choose to come back to me another time, you’ll be right where you left off. I’ll give you a token in the morning.”
“Fair enough,” you say. You take a look back at Rosalia’s coffin in the center of the nursery.
I won’t be back, you think. It wasn’t a wasted day by any means, but this is too much crazy and too much unsettling shit for me.
“I hope I’ve made your third day of vacation a pleasurable one,” says Heather, sidling up to you as you walk down the hallway back to her bedroom.
“It’s been… pretty good,” you say.
In truth, the Rosalia situation has creeped you out in a big way. The fact that Heather keeps a live infant in suspended animation unless she feels like playing with her, like a living doll, is more than disturbing. Especially because this doll had once been an actual person in heavyspace. And she’d become famous for being preserved. As a one year old. And all this in addition to Heather’s slapdash, unpredictable personality.
“You think too much,” says Heather, as if she’s read your mind.
“You think too much,” you say.
“I know!” exclaims Heather.
Back in Heather’s bedroom, the two of you dive into her floating cloud of a bed and cuddle hard.
“Before we drift off, shall we discuss payment?” Heather says.
“Of course,” you say. “Are we looking at the standard 10 grand for the day, 2000 for the Audience and 6000 for the Alliance, with perhaps some tip money thrown in?”
“That would be very nice.”
You pull out your Tag and pay her.
“I will add you to my friends list,” says Heather, checking her own Tag for payment confirmation. “Would you like a Lullaby now?”
“I would love a Lullaby.”
“What would you like to hear?”
“I think you should pick,” you say.
Heather smiles broadly.
“I have an amazing song for you,“ she says. “I’d love to sing it. It’s a song about dreams and a song about life.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
Heather starts the Lullaby. No warning, no good night, just singing. As usual with Lullabies, there is no music to accompany Heather. Just her gleaming spider string of a voice.
Oh, my life is changing every day
In every possible way
And oh my dreams, it’s never quite as it seems
never quite as it seems
You recognize the song, though it takes a minute without the backing music. It’s a chilly, ethereal melody. One that makes you think of cold starlight. Without a band behind it, the melody and words are even more wistful and longing.
I know I felt like this before
But now I’m feeling it even more
Because it came from you
You slip into the Lullaby like you’re falling off a cliff in slow motion, closing your eyes and swooping downward.
Then I open up and see
The person falling here is me
A different way to be
Your eyes open again. You’re standing with Heather on a vast, flat tundra of ice and snow. Over you is a black sky with white stars.
I want more, impossible to ignore
Impossible to ignore
They’ll come true, impossible not to do
Impossible not to do
The Lullaby drives along on a sweet flurry of words. You’ve never paid attention to the lyrics before, and they’re giving you a serious case of the feels.
And now I tell you openly
You have my heart so don’t hurt me
for what I couldn’t find
Heather dances in the shallow snow on her bare feet. You stand motionless, watching.
A totally amazing mind
So understanding and sublime
you’re everything to me
Heather vocalizes a climbing bridge, doing slow turns on her toes. The stars above her twinkles with the snow. She kicks little tufts up with her toes. Above the two of you, the northern lights appear, great green ribbons of light in the sky stretching across the firmament. They shift and dance with Heather’s voice.
Laaaa, laaaaa, la-dah-dah-dah
Heather grabs you by the hands and begins spinning around, still vocalizing. You lose your place, see only her in front of you as the world turns into a blur of blue and white and black.
She lets go and you fall away into a deep slumber.