She pulls the umbrella closed, then makes a flinging motion with it as though she is casting line. The ground is now lit with sporadic starlight, the stars of the ground brighter than the stars above. A black snake of a river cuts through the fields before you. You listen to the water brushing against rocks, flowing away from you. In the distance, a moon is beginning to set on the far horizon.
You turn to face the house that is not your home. There is the silhouette of a forest far behind the building and though it is dark this way, you can still see the gleam of the river.
Your sweatshirt smells sour. But your headache has disappeared.
Behind you, the strange coughing begins again. Her hunched shape begins to straighten. Her knobbed feet become clawed. She is now more bird than human and taller than before.
You begin to back towards the forest.
“You needn’t be afraid.” Her voice is a bit stranger now. “Changing stops the cough. I needed to be smaller to fit inside the house, you see. But I much prefer being a bird. More natural.”
“What are you? Where am I?”
“Not human,” she tells you. “Not near your home. You were brought here. I’ve been told you possess a certain power, the ability to create. I could use your help.”
You agree to assist her, not really understanding.
“First, I need to confirm you are capable of the task. Give it a try,” she says, pointing her wing toward the umbrella.
You walk to the riverbank and dip the silver point of the umbrella in the water. A boat appears. The umbrella has now taken the shape of a paddle.