One afternoon, I sorted through the day's mail to discover an unusual mail-order catalogue had been sent to me. "The Princess Sassafras Collection", it proclaimed in an ornate font. Its thick, colorful paper pages were filled with fragrances, toiletries, and a wide variety of herbs and incenses.
One cologne claimed to have been used by Casanova, back in the late 1700s. I briefly considered it but a $85.98 per ounce, it was a little beyond my means.
I did decide to order a couple packs of incense; one promising to improve concentration, the other to cure creative blocks. There was also a soap that interested me. "Clean away years of self-delusion and find your true self," it said.
I was intrigued and decided to order a bar of that soup. Looking at the ordering information, I was surprised to find the company did not have a website, just an order form and postage paid envelope. A second surprise was the only payment option was "Bill Me Later."
The package arrived less than a week later. The items were all packaged in colorful wrappers, similar to the catalogue. The soap's wrapper's pastel art nouveau illustration showed the back of a bathing figure; luxurious and softly androgynous.
I immediately decided a shower would feel good. After undressing and stepping inside the shower, I opened the bar of soap. The fragrance was enticing; hints of citrus, with a mellow, vanilla-like body. The soap itself had a mild, invigorating tingle. As I lathered up, I noticed the shower becoming increasingly foggy; far more than usual. By the time I was finished, I was shrouded in a deep, comfortable fog.
I could only see the objects nearest to me, and even those seemed to fade. Soon I began to notice either these furnishing growing or me shrinking and growing thinner. Then the bathroom vanished, and I found myself less than two feet tall, slender, still naked; outside in the middle of a forest clearing.
I also noticed my skin tone had changed to a pale green, with areas of blue, teal, and aqua. I should have been alarmed, but I couldn't help but admire how these colors suited me.
Then I heard a voice call out, "Here he is!" and I was surrounded by other folks of my same height and coloring, but these beings had double wings, like those of a dragonfly, on their backs
A golden-haired woman, wearing the slightest hints of a gown, approached me. "Welcome," she said, "I am Princess Sassafras. Thank you for your order."
"This is the real me?" I asked, spreading my arms. "What am I?"
"Why, you're a faery," she said, smiling.
"A fairy?" I asked, wary of the implications.
"No," she replied, disapproval in her voice, "a faery." Then she took a scroll and began to read. "One with a clear vision of their personal ideal but lacking the courage to truly live life in that manner."
"Why don't I have wings?" I asked.
One of her party, a thin man with carrot-red hair, looked at me. "Try shrugging your shoulders a few times," he said. "Sometimes they do get stuck."
I did as he suggested, and was more than a little surprised when a set of wings popped out. I tried flying up a foot or so. It was both scary and delightful. "I'm naked and flying," I commented, "I've had dreams like this."
"Of course you have," Princess Sassafras said. "You seek freedom, but are constantly sabotaging yourself."
"The weight?" I asked, realizing how different my life might have been had I made these discoveries earlier in life.
"You were once rather narcissistic," she said, kindly. "But you came to fear that, not realizing that narcissism comes in two flavors; wild cherry and burnt hair. You just need to take the good lozenge."
"Once upon a time," I said sadly. "I've become too old for such nonsense."
There was laughter, annoyingly reminiscent of the Munchkins in Oz.
"Why are they laughing?" I asked.
"Typical human error," she replied. "The human life-span is misleading. Think of life as a book. You come to the end of a page, turn it, and there's a whole new page. That does not, however, affect the story in any way; it flows from page to page not even noticing the slight interruptions."
"So what I start now might be continued on the next page?"
"Of course it will," she said, cheerfully. "And giving yourself a head-start always makes sense. Fly around a bit and let it sink in."
After a few awkward seconds, flight became almost as natural as walking. I flew over the woods, across rivers, even past a village. I saw a woodsman who must have been twenty years my senior. Yet when he removed his shirt, I felt a tinge of envy at his firm, flat stomach. Yet there was also hope for I realized I still do have time.
Crossing a lake, I saw my reflection; how gorgeous a faery I made. But there was something more, something beyond mere narcissism. In the breezes I heard whispers. I heard the laments of those so locked in their ways "because it's always been that way," that they would never find their true self. I also heard the patronizing words of those satisfied with living half a life; disapproving of my eccentricities yet grudgingly jealous of me. There were the voices of those very few who had broken free of their self-inflicted chains.
I returned to the clearing. "I understand," I said, landing a few feet from Princess Sassafras. "Thank you."
"You may need to visit here every so often," she said, smiling. "At those times, simply lather up again. I would be careful, however, with letting friends use the soap, many people are comfortable with their delusions, as unhealthy as they may be."
I nodded my head, able to think of more than a few people I knew who refused to see their real selves.
Princess Sassafras looked over my sales receipt. "There's still the matter of your account," she said, nodding her head. "The two packs of incense and the soap. Seventy-four livre and sixteen sol." She gave me a long look. "However as, in your current state, one would hope you don't have any money on you, we will have to put this on your account."
"But?" I asked, confused.
"Your debt will be paid in the progress you make. You know who you want to be. Make it so."
I nodded my head, understanding what I needed to do.
The forest then vanished and I found myself my normal height and standing in my bathroom. At first, I felt depressed; realizing the difficulty in paying off this debt. I went into my home office, sat down and lit some of the creativity incense.
I began thinking of all the versions of myself I'd fantasized being. But how to get from A to B? An idea for a novel came to me; a veiled handbook on getting to than point. I started writing.