It's lunchtime, so she's in the kitchen, making a sandwich out of tuna fish and pre-chopped celery and onion. The kids are safe away at school, her husband off at work, and the house is hers for a few brief, calming hours.
It's cold outside, but her kitchen is warm and bright, and in its comfortable familiarity she can almost banish away the chill of melancholy, the knowledge deep inside her that there should be, there must be, something more to life.
She adds the mayonnaise, some garlic, some pepper, mixes briefly, and plops a spoonful onto the bread.
And then he's there, perched at the edge of one of her battered dinette chairs, the stub of his tufted tail fitting into the old torn place in the upholstered seat almost as though that alone was the cause, the purpose of the rip.
"Hello," he says, his dark curls bouncing with his enthusiasm, playing peekaboo with the tips of his curving horns. "We need you again. It's urgent. Oh! Is that tuna you're making?"
She slides the sandwich onto a plate, slightly dazed, yet somehow not at all, then pours him a glass of milk, and another for herself.
"Who are you?" she asks, but he just shrugs, his mouth full of tuna.
She drinks her milk in one scared (excited?) series of gulps, and slams the glass down on the counter.
"Who are you?" she asks again, though she is seized, quite suddenly, by a madly vivid impulse to turn, to walk to the bedroom, to reach behind the heavy antique dresser and grasp, and draw . . . what? A blade? Don't be silly, she's no good with even paring knives, which is why, of course, she buys the pre-chopped tuna salad mix. Have to buy more of the stuff. That was the last, and her husband so loves his tuna. . . .
"Let's not go through this again." He sighs, and wipes stray bread crumbs from his beard, rising to his cloven feet. "It gets so dull, and deep inside you know you know. Just get your things and we'll be off. There's a dragon this time, and a mage so dark that shadows linger round his eyes. We need your help."
And she stumbles, slowly gaining speed and grace, to her bedroom door, finds the things her sideways self knows she'll use, then strides back to her kitchen guest.
"The kids?" she asks, her last mad grasp at normalcy.
He snorts, and drops his dishes in the sink. "Will be fine," he says. "They're on this-world time, not ours. You'll be back before they even know you're gone. Before you even know you're gone. Or sort of." Another shrug. "You know I hate the science stuff. Now, let's away!"
A cause. A dream. Her "something more." She smiles, just a bit at first, then wider, and holds her sword hilt tight, and then. . . .
It's lunchtime, so she's in the kitchen, making a sandwich out of tuna fish and . . . no, there's no chopped celery and onion left at all. Strange. She slides her sandwich onto a plate and frowns at dishes in the sink, a milk filmed glass on her counter's edge.
Those kids, she thinks, and wipes away a single tear, caused maybe by the onion's ghost.