Freddie Bartholomew Pangborne surmised that his unexpected disorientation wasn’t simple amnesia when he found himself standing in what seemed a scene from a fusion sci-fi/reality TV drama series, beside a statuesque alien woman festooned in what could only be described as either party clothes or a wedding dress—alien woman as in a Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan of “Farscape” type alien woman: blue, but with hair, albeit dark purple. Her eyes sparkled gold, a glowing smile effused her full, rufescent lips. He glanced down and saw that he too was likewise formally attired, though in a suit oddly reminiscent of the regalia of Klingon Commander Worf, son of Mogh, from “Star Trek” fame. He also noted that they stood arm in arm, her azure left hand gently folded atop his right, which he observed was also peculiarly cyanotic. Yet another shock. She looked up at him, her radiant smile widening. He blinked back a couple of times, then proffered a tentative grin in return. He raised his head and saw that they were not alone, but surrounded by a moderate number of beings who, though each distinctive in their own way —and of variegated shade and color—also resembled the woman. A few joined in the smile, though among these there were a few who seemed somewhat more constrained in offering dimples. Could it be doubt or disapproval?
“How are we doing, my beloved?” she asked, giving his hand a squeeze. Freddie noticed her accent—a pleasant one, albeit maybe a little on the broguish side, he thought. Be that as it may, she did not look the least Irish or Scottish. Certainly not in the traditional way. He also noted that she spoke, in fact, a very peculiar brand of English. Actually not at all English it suddenly dawned upon him, although he had no trouble understanding her.
He swallowed, then after a pause, turned slightly toward her and managed to breathe a soft reply. “Uh, well, I don’t rightly know. But . . . off hand, I think perhaps I may have stripped a gear.” The same language that she had spoken flowed effortlessly from his lips, much to his amazement.
She frowned slightly. “Stripped a gear?”
“Metaphorically speaking.” He looked about with evident discomfort, then back at the woman before him. “Ahem, may . . . may I have a word with you? In private?”
She gave him a mild look of inquiry. “What’s up?”
“Maybe nothing . . . though I wouldn’t quite count on it. Please?”
She released her hand from his. “Certainly, my love,” she said, now a trace of concern on her face. She turned then to the wedding guests, presenting them with a beaming smile. “Excuse us a moment, folks, won’t you? We’ll be right back. Just need to tweak a couple of buttons and a zipper.”
This produced a mild titter among a few. A stately-looking elderly woman stepped forward. “Is everything alright, dear?”
“Yes, yes, Mom,” she reassured her. “Just a minor glitch we need to take care of before the ceremony. Won’t take a minute. Keep our guests occupied until we get back, okay?”
She frowned slightly with displeasure, but nodded, turning then to the guests with a beaming smile of her own. Bride and groom retired from the buzz of mildly bemused crowd to a room down the hall, which Freddie found to apparently be the conservatory, although the plants embellishing the room were none that he could readily identify.
“What is it, darling?” she asked, closing the door behind them.
Pangborne took a deep breath. “Could you please tell me whether I’m dreaming, hallucinating, dead, or a stranger in a strange land?”
She smirked at first, thinking he might be teasing, but then saw his face was in earnest. “What do you mean? Is something wrong?”
“If I’m just having the most extraordinary dream of my life, then absolutely nothing at all. Otherwise, maybe something wrong big time.”
She shook her head. “I don’t understand what you mean.”
“What I mean is, I don’t know who you are, I don’t know where I am, and I don’t know what we are doing. Am I suffering a seizure?”
She arched her brows in surprise, then frowned, considered, then laughed. “Séafra, you’re such an awful tease! What ever are you talking about?”
“What I just said. I have no clue what I’m doing here. You and the, uh, people out there are a complete mystery to me. I feel like I am on some sort of psychedelic trip where nothing is real.”
“You’re serious, then?”
“Absolutely. I don’t even know how I’m speaking this language.”
“What do you mean?”
“Listen.” He then quoted in English a limerick from Ogden Nash, the one that goes:
There was a young belle of old Natchez
Whose garments were always in patchez.
When comments arose
On the state of her clothes,
She replied, “When Ah itchez, Ah scratchez.”
“What in God’s name was that?”
Freddie attempted to translate it into her own language. He frowned.
“Mm, doesn’t rhyme at all this way, I’m afraid,” he said sadly.
She stared at him wide-eyed for a long moment. “Well, this may put a kibosh on our wedding plans today,” she said at last.
“We’re getting married?”
“That was the plan. You do see me before you in duds that aren’t exactly intended for any other practical purpose, do you not?”
Freddie nodded. She reached out and took his hands in hers. They were trembling.
“Tell me the truth. Are you getting cold feet at the eleventh hour? Is that what all this is?”
He noticed then that her hands were soft and warm, and just a shade electrifying. Freddie looked down at them, then back up at her face. Even though she was just about the most unlikely creature he’d thought he’d ever see, except perhaps in a sci-fi movie, he nonetheless felt strangely attracted to her.
“Ordinarily,” he said at last, “I would never even dream backing out of my own wedding . . . But something has evidently occurred to me that may give us both pause.”
“In what way?”
“I won’t swear to it, but it’s quite possible that I’ve suddenly gone insane or am having some kind of exotic hallucination. Or maybe somebody spiked my drink? God is my witness, I do not know who you are. I don’t know how I’m speaking this language. I’ve never spoken or heard it before. Am I at a masquerade ball? A cosplay party?”
“What are you talking about? No, of course not. We are about to be married. Truly, you don’t know me? Are you feeling ill?”
“I truly, truly do not know you. I’m feeling very confused and not just a little frightened. And also . . . why is your skin sky blue?”
“What?” She glanced down at her hands. “It’s always been sky blue.”
“Really?” He paused to take that in. “Well, ahem, I confess that it looks absolutely stunning on you, and I assure you I don’t really care what the color of one’s skin is, but this is another first for me.”
“That’s right. The only time I’ve seen anyone with this color were those chaps performing in Las Vegas. But of course that was just makeup.”
“Yes. The Blue Man Group at the Luxor.”
She thought a moment, blinked furiously, mumbled something incoherent, then took a deep breath and let it out. “Okay. This is going to cause quite a row out there, but I think maybe we better postpone this shindig of ours until we can figure exactly what’s going on with you.”
Freddie saw her stricken face and swallowed. “I am so terribly sorry.”
“Not even close to what I’m feeling right now.”
He hesitated, mind racing over the bizarre circumstances and possible options for minimizing the catastrophe. Then he said, “Listen, maybe . . . maybe we should just go ahead with it and sort things out later. I don’t want you to be hurt or embarrassed because of me.”
She smiled grimly. “Either way it still potentially spells a disaster of some kind. But better we hold off now so we can study your . . . uh, condition, and then decide what to do about it. You stay put here, and I’ll tell my family and the other guests . . . ” She paused. “What? What the hell am I going to tell them? That the love of my life and my future husband has just this minute flipped his lid and suspects all of us are a bunch of extraterrestrials on the cusp of planetary invasion?”
“Wait, I never said that! Well . . . not exactly. Not aloud.”
Her eyes widened. “You mean that’s actually what you think?”
He swallowed, then nodded. “It did cross my mind, yes. You see, where I come from nobody is this color except in sci-fi movies or is not getting enough oxygen.”
“Where you come from. . . ? My God! This can’t be happening. Well, what do you suggest I tell everybody, then?”
“Wouldn’t indisposed do?”
She considered, then gave it a node. “Safer, I suppose, yes. Food poisoning? No, you haven’t had anything to eat yet. Um, maybe an allergic reaction to . . . What are you allergic to?”
“I-I don’t know yet. I just got here. Hairy pets? An insect bite? Pollen?”
“Has to be something more exotic. I’ve never seen you sick. And you love animals and flowers.”
“You do. Okay, never mind. I’ll think of something.”
“Trouble is, there are a couple of doctors in the crowd, so I’ve got to be creative about your malady. Do not move from this room for any reason. In fact, just in case somebody unannounced pops in, you better lie down on that divan over there and look deathly ill.”
“That I can definitely do. As a matter of fact, I do feel a tad deathly ill just now.”
“Good. I’m on my way.” She started to turn.
“Something else occurred to me just now.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean as a possible explanation.”
“And that would be?”
“Well, uh, your intended was somehow possessed.”
“Yes. By me.”
“Purely unintentional, I assure you!”
She gave him a terrible look. “Don’t you dare do anything weird—weirder—until I get back, do you hear?”
“Possessed, indeed,” she snorted. “Do not move from this room until I get back.”
“You have my word, uh . . .” He paused. “By the way . . . what’s your name?”
“Seriously? You don’t even know my name?”
“Oh, my . . . . It’s Aurnia.”
“Aurnia. Mm. Nice name. As for me, I’m Freddie.”
“Freddie?” She arched an eyebrow. “Since when?”
“Since always. Why?”
“Why? . . . Well, just a few minutes ago it was Séafra.” She headed for the door. “Stay put. . . whoever-you-are.”
“Séafra? Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure!”
“Hmm. Well, if what you say is true, then I’m becoming more and more convinced that your Séafra has—why or how, I have no idea—definitely been taken over by me . . . Freddie Pangborne. Uh, Pangborne is my family name.”
She sputtered, rolled her eyes, then swirled from the room, slamming the door behind her.
Pangborne settled back on the sofa, letting his breath out slowly. He studied his skin.
“Definitely ‘Avatar’ blue,” he mused. “Maybe it was those mushrooms I picked up at the open market yesterday for my ratatouille that were off. No telling what they’ll pick these days. Ergo, I must be hallucinating all this.”
Several minutes passed, the door opened, and Aurnia was back, her breast heaving slightly, aureate eyes afire, sweat upon her brow. Pangborne sat up. She glowered at him.
“Ahem. How’d it go?” he asked.
“We’re getting married,” she growled.
“We are. I spoke to Mother before addressing our guests. Wise thing that I did.”
“Oh? How so?”
“Well, Mother said that you’d better be dead before we suspend this marriage. She isn’t about to suffer the colossal mortification, nor to blow twenty thousand Kalganids she’s spent on our wedding simply because you’re indisposed. In effect, she will not only disinherit me and send me packing without a dime, but will also have you arrested, sued, and thrown in the slammer for breach of promise. And woe betide you when you are set free.”
Pangborne raised his eyebrows. “Kalganids?”
“Twenty thousand. So, get on your feet, straighten up, and let us get hitched.”
Forsyth stood up. “You don’t mind?”
“Mind? Of course I mind! I thought I was marrying the man of my dreams. It wasn’t exactly my intention to wed a whacko instead, just in case you’re wondering. But Mother, though usually a tolerable sweetheart, at least in her own mind, doesn’t mess around when she gets riled. Or worse, bilked. She’ll follow through to the letter whatever she threatens. Count on both your legs being broken if we don’t go through with this. That’s just for starters. So, for both our own good we marry now and plot what to do afterward.”
Freddie gulped, then shook his head, thinking that if it were the damned mushrooms—it had to be those!—their effect would wear off eventually and life would get back to normal.
“Okay, I’m game with that. And who knows? Maybe your authentic Séafra will get this body of his back and all will be well with you, I’ll get back my own body and return home to Earth, safe and sound. And you and I, well, we’ll both probably laugh about all of this some day in the distant future. Well, at least I will, if you are a figment of my delusion.”
“The planet I live on, yes.”
She stared at him, eyes pleading. “Séafra, I beg you . . . say you’re just pulling my leg, and this is no more than a monumental sophomoric, last-minute groom-before-tying-the-knot prank of yours.”
Freddie looked horrified. “Absolutely not! On your wedding day? Never! Why, it would be unforgivable!”
Aurnia heaved a sad sigh. “It would be, yes. But . . . but at this point I believe I might even forgive you . . . eventually.” She paused, searched his face one last time, saw no shred of hope, shrugged, and threw up her hands. “All right then, let’s do this.”
Freddie Pangborne nodded and offered her his arm, and they sashayed together through the open door.