When Mary Anne's befuddled senses finally came to from the shock, she took an uncertain look around at her unfamiliar surroundings. "Where, exactly, are we?" she asked. The light had an uncertain, murky quality to it. But all she could say for certain was that she was standing on a very large, very flat, brown surface that seemed to stretch on for miles. The sky, from what she could tell in the gloom, was of a dark and decidedly non-blue color.
Her fairy godmother brushed off the question. "We are on a quest for knowledge, dear heart," she said. "Our surroundings are unimportant."
Mary Anne gave her a skeptical glance. "Knowledge, huh? And this will help me write my novel - how?"
The fairy puffed out her chest and stepped off as if she were beginning a trek to the North Pole. "Experience breeds inspiration. No one should think of writing a novel until one has something to say. 'Write what you know.' That's what they always say, isn't it?"
"I guess so," Mary Anne said, scratching the back of her neck. "But Stephen King makes good money doing the complete opposite. - At least I hope he does. Hate to think he's writing from experience."
Her fairy godmother, already several paces distant, paid her musings no mind. Mary Anne had to jog to catch up with her. "How am I supposed to be writing the Great American Novel based on my own experiences, when, as far as I can tell, we're not even on Planet Earth?"
"Oh, we're on Earth," her godmother said without turning to look at Mary Anne. Then, pausing she cocked her head. "Well, perhaps it isn't exactly YOUR Earth - but it's close enough to it."
"Now what is THAT supposed to mean?" Mary Anne spouted off. "Are we in some primordial cave? This isn't billions of years before I was born, is it?"
The fairy laughed. "Oh no, no. Of course not. You must trust me, there's nothing much to write about THEN. Why do you think the Book of Genesis gets all of that over in a chapter? No, this is much closer to your actual starting date of existence. It's just that..."
A booming sound interrupted her, sending vibrations through the surface they stood on and knocking Mary Anne off her feet.
"What was THAT?" Mary Anne screamed, only to hear another boom, and feel the ground beneath her heave once more. And then, to her great terror, a shape appeared on the horizon. At first it only appeared the size of a large mountain - make that a large, MOVING mountain - but as it continued to draw closer, it began taking up more and more of her field of vision, so that she didn't begin to realize a part of it was LANDING on top of her until it was almost too late. Her godmother gave her a good shove just in time to knock her out of the way and avoid the gigantic flying saucer that set itself down not three yards from where she had just been standing.
Mary Anne lay there, quivering, looking up at the terrifying object. It was white and it was large. And it smelled delicious... Like chicken... She hardly had time to admire the odor before the booming started up again. She curled up into a ball, covering her ears, trying to protect herself from whatever apocalyptic fate awaited her from the aliens who were bound to soon descend from their craft.
She lay in wait. And wait. And wait - finally growing so bored that she cracked an eye open to peek at her fairy godmother. The woman was standing there, face tilted up towards the sky, as if she were taking in the Fourth of July fireworks. In that instant, Mary Anne thought her quite possibly the most obtuse woman she had ever met. "Are you enjoying this?" she demanded, when the now almost incessant booming permitted.
The fairy turned to her in surprise. "Aren't you. I would have thought an English major, of all people, would enjoy seeing this sight in person."
Mary Anne shrieked as a second mountain and a second saucer appeared over the horizon, rattling her fragile world in the distance. "What does being an English major have to do with it?" she shrieked again. "Any moment and the aliens are going to come out and start shooting us!"
"The aliens? I don't see how any of them could have escaped the traps on Ceti Alpha Seven... oh dear," the fairy clapped a hand over her mouth. "I forgot how these things work with mortals. I haven't had to deal with these regulations in so long, that it just completely slipped my mind... Goodness, you must be quite terrified." And rummaging around in her sleeve, she found the wand she wanted and aimed it at Mary Anne. "Insecto transparento!" she exclaimed, zapping her unsuspecting goddaughter.
All at once, Mary Anne's perception of her environment changed. The booming softened until it became recognizable as human voices. Several of them, in fact - and all with pronounced Cockney accents.
"The color hurts my eyes," a woman was sighing somewhere off in the distance, and now that Mary Anne was able to perceive her presence, she could see that the brown surface she stood on was nothing more than a wooden table in a very dingy, old-fashioned kitchen - a small, dirt-encrusted window providing the room's only illumination. The woman, who still appeared a giantess to Mary Anne, really fit in quite well with her surroundings. She wore a mobcap and apron, and sat with a brood of children around her, a needlework frame laying discarded across her lap as she dabbed at her watering eyes. "Ah, they're better now again," the woman reassured her children as she resumed her sewing - but Mary Anne wasn't buying it.
"It makes them weak by candlelight," the woman continued. "And I wouldn't show weak eyes to your father when he comes home, for the world. It must be near his time."
A naggling little thought appeared in Mary Anne's head at this. The woman's words sounded so very familiar. But where could she have possibly hear them before?
A second voice, this one belonging to a prepubescent boy, answered his mother's question. "Past it, rather. But I think he has walked a little slower than he used, these few last evenings, mother."
No doubt about it. This wasn't a case of deja vu. Mary Anne KNEW these words. But she couldn't place them until the mother spoke again, "I have known him walk with Tiny Tim upon his shoulder very fast indeed."
"Tiny Tim?" Mary Anne hissed. "TINY TIM?"
"Yes," her fairy godmother hushed her. "Tiny Tim."
But they had already missed a bit of further conversation between Tiny Tim's brother and mother. His father was already appearing at the door.
"That's Bob Cratchit!" Mary Anne nearly shouted. "Ebenezer Scrooge's assistant in A Christmas Carol."
"Well of course he is," her fairy godmother agreed, quite as if it was the most normal thing in the world for Bob Cratchit to come waltzing into their neighborhood - or more correctly, for them to go waltzing into his. "We're standing on his dining room table."
"Bob Cratchit is a fictional character. He shouldn't really exist!"
"Well, I told you this wasn't EXACTLY your world," her godmother said. "That's one reason you couldn't see and hear properly until I corrected your hearing and vision."
Mary Anne shook her head slowly, back and forth, and watched the tall assistant gather his children up one by one and sadly embrace all of them. "What are we doing here, she said. Is the Ghost of Christmas Past going to become my new writing instructor?"
"Fish fosh," her companion said. "You know as well as I the Cratchits don't appear in the scenes with the Ghost of Christmas Past. We're here for the experience. You need to understand the pathos of this scene in order to become a great writer. This family has just lost a favorite child - and it's a death Scrooge could have prevented had he only taken the time to care."
Mary Anne glanced up, in search of other giant visitors. "Where is Scrooge anyway? Shouldn't he be here with the Spirit of Things Yet to Come?" She shivered at the thought. That particular ghost had always resembled the Grim Reaper a bit too much for her taste. She didn't relish the thought of sharing a space with him - particularly if he was approximately one hundred times her size, as he would be based on the scale of the rest of the room.
"Oh no," her fairy godmother laughed, waving about her wand dangerously. "Only two unseen visitors permitted per chapter. It's in the rules, you know. Scrooge and the Spirit will have to wait their turn until we're done."
"Quite," Mary Anne said, imitating her proper British accent.
"Do you understand the drama of this scene? Do you think it possible for you to take the raw elements here and mold them, craft them, into a scene of your own designed to stir up the raw emotions of your readers?" The fairy was peering up her nose and her captive subject.
"I suppose," Mary Anne said. "But I could do that already. All my reviewers said they cried buckets when K'Adorna and Galorn's ship went down."
The fairy narrowed her eyes. "Somehow I do not believe you are taking this assignment seriously. I believe we must move on to phase two."
"Phase two?" Mary Anne didn't like the sound of that.
"If you insist on mocking the Cratchits, I see no other choice."
Mary Anne hadn't been aware that she was mocking the Cratchits, and said as much. But her fairy godmother was hearing none of it. "Comparing cheap, two-dimensional creations such as your 'K'Adorna' and 'Galorn' to an immortal character of literature, such as Tiny Tim Cratchit... It's unconscionable. It really is. I see you still have much to learn. Now come, it's time to leave this scene to Scrooge..." Once again she grasped her wand and Mary Anne moved closer towards her, instinctively.
"What I don't understand," she said, "Is why everyone was so large. Why did you make us appear so small? I don't remember that happening to Scrooge when he eavesdropped on this scene."
The fairy sniffed, as if that were the stupidest question she had heard in this lifetime or several previous ones. "It was the Kafkaesque Dickensonian spell," she said. "Standard operating procedure for when you want to become a fly on the wall in a Dickens book - though of course here we were really more like flies on a table."
Another wave of her wand and the room disappeared in a shower of sparks. The next thing Mary Anne knew, she was standing in the middle of a grassy field and a large horse with armored rider was bearing down almost on top of her.
"Mommy!" she cried and dropped to the ground in terror.