"This one`s addressed to you, Claire." Alison held up a small box, neatly packaged and taped securely shut. "Any idea what it is?"

Claire took it, visibly puzzled. There were twenty-six cases in the shipment that she signed off on earlier in the afternoon, and she and Alison spent the day unpacking all of them. She had twenty-six packing slips on the checkout counter, and everything in this week`s order was already accounted for. So what could this be?

"No shipping label," Claire said. She searched Alison`s face for a giveaway that she was up to something. "So...where exactly did you find it?"

"Right near the shipping door, just inside the hall. Under a bunch of bubble wrap and paper. Almost threw it out by accident."

If Alison was playing, she was hiding it well. Claire raised an eyebrow.

"Swear to god, Claire." Alison laughed. "Come on, springy snakes aren`t really my style." Claire shrugged.

"Early birthday present, then? Really late Christmas gift?"

"You`re giving me way too much credit, dude." Alison sneered. "Plus, on a day like today, I`m not feeling particularly generous." The shop was busy right up until closing, and most of the shipment had to wait until the customers were gone. There were only two of them working thanks to the GM calling in on some family emergency. "So open it already! I`m curious." Claire made a face at her. "Or let me, you paranoid nut." Claire tossed the box back to her.

"Be my guest."

Alison examined it again before prying at the brown packing tape sealing the top. It was the old paper and paste tape, the kind that had mostly been replaced by the clear plastic tape she was used to seeing.

"Looks like a typeset label, doesn`t it?" Alison asked.

"Dunno what you mean."

"Made with an old typewriter," Alison said. "It`s like an old paste-on label. Paper sealing tape, too." Claire didn`t seem too intrigued.

"So? Open it already, Encyclopedia Brown. You were so anxious to find out what`s inside."

"Encyclopedia who?" Alison ripped at the tape, chuckling.

"I keep forgetting that your generation doesn`t read." Alison looked up from the half-open package to see Claire`s grin.

"Yeah, because six years is such a generational chasm. Dork." Alison pried her fingers under the sides of the box and pulled, splitting the remnants of the tape open and throwing a strip of it at Claire. "You just want to make believe you`re not included in the milleni--" Alison stopped dead, pulling back the box flaps. "No fucking way."

"What?" Claire took interest now, watching Alison pull a heavy silver chain from the box, dense and delicately braided. Alison paused for a second, looking at Claire before pulling the remainder of the chain free.

"Ready for this?"

"Pull it out already!" Claire gestured at Alison to hurry it up. She wasn`t so disinterested anymore.

When Alison did, both women stared at a glistening red pendant jewel, hanging heavy from the substantial chain. Awed at first, Claire`s skepticism flared again in a matter of seconds.

"Artificial. Bakelite or something," Claire said, shrugging. "It has to be. Look at the size of it."

"I don`t know--it`s kind of heavy." Alison cupped her hand under the jewel, holding it and dropping it again. "Whatever it is, who the hell sent this thing to you?"

Claire shook her head, taking the box from the table and pulling out a wad of delicate tissue paper. No card, no note. No return address on the box. She noticed Alison was right about the composition, though. It seemed old-fashioned.

"Hold it, Claire. It feels real...not that I`m an expert on the subject."

The first thing Claire noticed as Alison dropped the jewel into her palm was the weight of the thing. It was dense. As she took hold of the chain, she ran her fingertips over rigid red facets. The feel of the jewel and the fine intricacy of the chain and clasp was making it difficult to brush off.

"Huh," Claire finally said, stumped. "If it doesn`t have a shipping label or a postmark or anything, no one sent it. Someone had to have snuck it into the recieving. Right?" Alison shrugged.

"Pretty weird, dude." Alison watched Claire hold it up to the light, examining it. "Any admirers in mind?" Claire rolled her eyes.

"Just what I need--a guy who wins over women with shiny anonymous gifts."

"You can always just give it to me..." Alison grinned.

"Right, only if you take the stalker that goes with it." Claire wrapped the necklace back in tissue paper and stuffed it back in the box, folding up the flaps to close it.

"Come on, Claire. You`re the only person I know who could take a gift like that in the worst way possible."

"But seriously, Alison--where did it come from?"

"A stalker with exclusive access to the stock entrance, I guess." Alison smirked and headed to a register, locking it out and taking the deposit bag next to it.

"I`m not joking."

"Neither am I, dude. I guess I get the cynicism, a little--but for you to jump right to stalker?" Alison held up the deposit bag. "Your night to drop, or mine?"

"You held the thing, Alison. It feels expensive. Is that not a creepy-guy thing to do? Leave some expensive package for me to find without telling me who it`s from?" Claire took a deep breath. "We both open tomorrow. Maybe we should both do the deposit. I`ll give you a ride to and from." Alison made a face at her. "Fine. I`m being paranoid. Do a friend a favor and give me the benefit of the doubt." Claire pointed to the box. "I`m legitimately skeeved by that thing, okay?"

Alison`s face softened, turning guilty.

"No, you`re right, you`re right. I`ll take the drop to the bank with you. It`s pretty late." Alison took Claire`s fear to heart and extended it to the next logical step. "But listen...if you`re really that freaked about this, are you going to be okay in that McMansion of yours all by yourself?"

Claire thought about it. She`d gotten used to sleeping alone at the sizable house she inherited. Outside her younger sister coming home from college over breaks and summers, she had 3500 square feet to herself, and it never really bothered her. The house was in a quiet, mostly affluent community, there was an alarm system installed...and still, something about this necklace showing up made her uneasy. After all, whoever left it had no problem sneaking it into the stockroom under their noses.

Despite how she felt, Claire knew she was likely over-reacting. But if Alison was offering...

"I think you just wanna sit in the jacuzzi," Claire joked. Alison smiled.

"Naw. If you`re legitimately freaked, you could even stay at my place. Though it would be nice to soak for a little while, knowing we've got to be back here in a few hours. Up to you. Pepper spray, me and a cell phone ought to be able to protect you."

"Sounds good to me," Claire said. "And really, thanks Ali. I know I`m probably being ridiculous, but--"

"Really, it`s cool. I can`t cover all those shifts if anything were to happen to you." She laughed as Claire playfully whapped her on the back of the head. Alison headed for the lights and flipped most of them off, leaving a row of fluorescent dimly illuminating the back of the store.

"Ready?" Claire grabbed the deposit bag as Alison checked the shutter gate in the front.

"Sure thing." As Alison walked back past the counter, she stopped, staring at the small box. "You`re gonna leave this here?"

"Well..." Claire frowned. "Grab it, I guess. Maybe we can look it up somehow and find out what kind of wanna-be sugar daddy dropped it off." Alison took the box, sneering.

"Just so you know, I`m never going to let your whole 'worst-case scenario' reaction go if this thing leads you to the coolest, most charming guy you've ever met." Claire stared at her. "Hey, I`m just saying."

"Assuming a guy left it for me at all," Claire said.

"Which, you do." Alison replied. "A creepy guy."

"Well, outside of some prince charming, do you have any other theories?" The two headed for the back exit in the stock room. Claire dug her keys out of her purse as Alison went out the door into one of the Mall`s rear corridors.

"Maybe Taylor dug it out of somewhere and left it for you. Looks kinda like costume jewelry, right? She knows you like that retro shit." Alison produced a small black tube from her purse, holding it up as if she were ready to spray it. "But I`ll keep on the offensive, just in case."

Claire locked the bolt, shaking her head at Alison. "Your sincere concern is appreciated."

"Uh-huh, uh-huh..." Alison grinned. "So, uh--what temperature do you keep the hot tub at?"


When the two got to Claire`s, Alison went straight for the back of the house, heading toward the three-seasons porch containing the hot tub.

"Hey, you want a bathing suit?" Claire called from the living room, clicking on her television.

"Or I could just close the shades, right?" Alison flipped up the heavy cover and felt the steaming hot water. Perfect.

"If you want," Claire said. "But grab a towel from the linen closet before you jump in so you`re not dripping all over the place when you've had enough."

"You`re not gonna soak with me?" Alison whined.

"Have fun without me," Claire said. "I don`t want the steam hitting my hair." As Alison found a towel and took advantage of her stay in this lonely, luxurious house, Claire`s eyes kept falling on the small box on her coffee table. Safe and sound at home, behind locked doors and with her friend and co-worker to keep her company, curiosity was starting to burn through her initial worry and cynicism.

She popped open the box again, pulling the necklace out the tissue paper. Fake or not, it really was something--a piece that would overpowering to most outfits. It could be called garish--but it wasn`t so much the size of it as it was the design. If it was a cheap replica, someone really went out of their way with the details. Claire rolled the chain between her fingers, working her way back to the clasp. She unfastened it, holding both ends close and examining them. There didn`t seem to be any jeweler`s stamp even though the wound chainlets had the dull giveaway luster of oxidized silver. Claire stood from the couch, walking over to a mirror and holding the necklace up. The deep red jewel--or glass, or whatever it was--refracted brilliant iridescence even under the room`s dim light. She pulled the two ends together behind her neck, ready to clasp the necklace, and--

"Claire!" Alison`s voice stopped her short.

"What?" Claire held the necklace before her again.

"How the hell are you not in here every-single-day? I would be." Alison made a sound of relaxed pleasure from the porch, loving every second of her soak. Claire rolled her eyes, smiling at herself in the mirror and reaching behind her own neck again. She stared at jewel dangling against her chest in the mirror as her fingers fumbled to join the two ends of the clasp.

With a 'click,' Claire swore she saw the lights in the room flicker for a split second. She turned around to see the TV droning away and the table lamps spilling soft light against the living room walls.



"Just making sure you didn`t drop a toaster in there with you or something," Claire said. Alison`s laughter bounced through the doorway.

"The hell are you talking about?"

"The surge? All the lights dimmed a second." Claire stepped onto the cool tiled floor in the three-seasons room. "You didn`t notice?" Alison shook her head.

"Hey, though--sexy pendant you have there." Alison and Claire both looked at the red gem dangling over her blouse. "But you need, like, a slinky low-cut dress. It doesn`t go too well with your work clothes."

Work clothes. Claire realized she had ironing to do if she didn`t want to have to rush it in the morning.

"Speaking of...I need an outfit pressed for tomorrow. You need anything in your bag ironed?"

"Nah," Alison waved her off. "Sweater and leather pants."

Claire casually wandered up the stairs until she heard a familiar mechanical hiss coming from the end of the hall. She stopped dead. It sounded like the iron.

"Cassie?" She knew her sister wasn`t home, but she had no other explanation. Claire slowly made her way to the top of the staircase and peered toward the darkened guest bedroom. "Cassandra?" For a few moments, there was nothing but the faint droning of the television--and then she heard the hissing again.

The alarm was armed when she came home. If there had been someone waiting for her, they would have set it off. Steeling herself with this rationale, Claire took a deep breath and marched to the threshold. It smelled undeniably like fresh laundry and steam.

When she flipped the switch, she found a pair of black pants laying across the ironing board and a steaming hot iron beside them. All she could for the moment was stare. Had she already done this, somehow forgetting? She knew she was tired, but to not remember walking upstairs and--

She was stopped mid-thought as she watched the top of the pants curl up, lifting the hem of the waist right off the ironing board.

"Uh--" was the only thing that came out of her mouth at first. She watched her black pocketless pants begin to take shape right on the ironing board, their hips and legs puffing up as if the fabric was inflating. "What in the name of--" The words were more a slurred mumble than anything. Claire took a couple steps backward, putting her hand back on the light switch. She turned behind her, looking through the banister and down the stairwell. The television rambled on indifferently as Claire retraced the last three minutes in her head.

Before she looked back into the room, she hit the light switch off and shook her head. Whatever it was she thought she saw, she convinced herself that when she flipped the lights back on, it wouldn`t be there.

Another deep breath, and her fingers toggled the switch again. Any confidence she had that she`d hallucinated the unexplainable sights of the last few moments disappeared when she saw her black pants sitting on the ironing board. Actually sitting on it, filled out to the curves of her own body and swinging their dangling legs back and forth. Claire just stared at the ghostly filled-out fabric, shaking her head.

"Not possible. This is not possible. This--yahhh!" Claire jumped back as a red satin blouse peeked from behind an open closet door. One of the sleeves held itself aloft and waved at her. Silenced by the sight of the billowing glossy blouse, filled up with emptiness like the pants, she took two slow steps back out of the room before turning and bolting back down the hallway. As she ran down the stairs, nearly tripping over her own feet, she had no intention of getting a final look at the ghostly items through the supports of the railing.

Alison`s eyes popped open when she heard Claire`s panicked steps getting closer. She looked pale as milk, looking at Alison with an unblinking stare.

"Claire. Is everything okay?" She didn`t respond. Her lower lip trembled, searching for words. "Claire? Talk to me!"

"I..." Despite what she saw, Claire knew there was no way to without sounding completely ridiculous. "I`m--fine...just freaked out. I need you to look at something upstairs." Alison looked down at the pendant dangling over Claire`s blouse. It almost seemed to glow with the reflection of the lights on the enclosed porch.

"You need me to look at something upstairs?" Alison grabbed the towel from the side of the hot tub, wrapping it around her as she stood up. "Jesus, Claire, you look like someone just robbed you at gunpoint. What`s going on?"

Claire looked behind her, watching the base of the stairs. She half-expected her phantom clothes to dance around the corner. "Claire!" Alison`s voice pulled Claire`s wide eyes back to her.

"Alison, I couldn`t explain if I tried. Just--come on. Don`t worry about the water, just...please, follow me." As Alison stepped over the side of the hot tub, Claire`s clammy hand grabbed hers, pulling.

"Whoa--calm down, dude! Slippery tile! What the hell is with you?" Claire didn`t answer. She kept pulling Alison behind her, all the way up the stairs. She stopped just before the doorway, refusing to look in the room.

"Look in there and tell me what you see. Please." There were tremors of fear in Claire`s tone. Much as Alison wanted to demand more information, she decided to take things one step at a time.

That first step was calming Claire down, even if it meant indulging what Alison assumed was paranoia. She looked in the room and saw a blouse and pants draped over an ironing board. A hissing iron sat upright next to the items. Claire turned away from the doorway, waiting for Alison to belt an exclamation. It never came.

"Claire?" Alison peeked out of the door, looking at her. "You want to at least give me a clue here?" Instead of answering, Claire simply looked in the room, peeking over Alison`s shoulder at the now-lifeless items.

"I--" Fear was slowly giving way to frustration. Was she seeing things? Hallucinating? Going insane?

"Claire, chill." Still dripping dry in her towel, Alison put a hand on Claire`s shoulder. "Tell me what you saw." Claire shifted from worry to exasperation and back again, her eyes dodging past Alison to look at the clothes on the ironing board. "Claire. Talk. You`re starting to freak me out." Claire gave the clothes on the ironing board one last, almost contemptuous look before meeting Alison`s eyes.

"I--" Claire shook her head. Whatever. Time to let loose. "I didn`t iron that outfit, Alison."

More confused than ever, Alison made a face and turned back to look at the creaseless outfit.

"Looks ironed to me, Claire." She lifted one of the soft satin sleeves off the board and dropped it again. "And what do you mean you didn`t? Who else would have?"

Claire frowned. What was she supposed to say? That it walked out of the closet and ironed itself? That the iron was on and ready to go before she even set foot in the room? That ghosts or poltergeists were helping her with her pressing? She looked at the outfit again, silently blaming the inanimate objects for making her look so stupid. If she wasn`t, in fact, crazy--it might be nice of them to prove it by doing some cute, stupid wave to her obviously sane friend.

Alison walked around the board to unplug the iron. After she did, both women stared at the board, their eyes drawn by the motion of one red sleeve. It had risen off the side of the board all by itself, the cuff-half of the sleeve puffing to a cylindrical shape and filling out to the shape of an invisible forearm.

"Cuh--Claire, tell me you`re fucking w--"

"You`re seeing it too, right?" Claire beamed for a second in gratitude of her confirmed sanity before retuning to the reality at hand: this blouse was moving on its own. "Alison, I am not fucking with you."

Alison approached cautiously, waving her hands over the sleeve. It was still in motion as she tried the sides and confirmed the absence of near-invisible wires on every possible plane.

"Claire," Alison stood over the ghostly sleeve, looking down inside it. "Tell me how this is happening?" Claire shook her head.

"Why do you think I ran to get you?" By now, Alison looked up to see that the pendant on Claire`s neck wasn`t just reflecting the single table lamp in the room. It was glowing.

"Claire, the--" Alison pointed at her chest, and Claire looked down to see the red jewel, much brighter than she remembered. Illuminated. Claire`s jaw dropped.

It might be nice of them do some cute, stupid wave...

I need a pressed outfit for work tomorrow...

No way.

"That`s enough," Claire said, this time directing the words right at the animated blouse. It slumped like a stunned animal, draping over the side of the ironing board and swinging slightly with the momentum of its drop before stopping completely.

"You gotta be shitting me," Alison said. She picked up the empty sleeve and let it drop again. It did just as physics would dictate. Alison pointed at the blouse. "Claire, did you..."

"You don`t think the necklace--"

Alison narrowed her eyes.

"I don`t think anything but that I`m getting royally fucked with by the most elaborate vengeance one could concoct for eighteen months' worth of practical joking at the shop."

"Huh!?" Claire couldn`t help her stunned guffaw. "You`re shitting ME, Alison. How exactly would I have set THAT up?" Alison shook her head.

"No idea, Claire. None. But--" Alison thought about it. Claire couldn`t fake the kind of shock she was just displaying, could she? Being the practical joker, Alison knew that she herself might able to, but Claire? "Okay, so when you ran downstairs, Claire--when you came and got me--what exactly was it that you saw?"

"I saw that outfit, Alison. And it wasn`t just waving a sleeve. The blouse was hovering around on its own, and the pants were sitting on on the ironing board. Like, sitting. Filled out like my legs were in them."

Alison knew she couldn`t explain the sleeve, but that was still too unbelievable to accept. She crossed her arms, looking down at the satin blouse. The necklace could have an LED. The acting--she couldn`t entirely put it past Claire. As for the sleeve...well, Claire was just smarter than she was. Alison knew that.

There was plenty of motivation for this, especially after Alison and Heather filled Claire`s car with packing peanuts a few weeks ago. The setup and the gag were kind of lame and a bit anti-climactic for the elaboration involved, but that was Claire all the way. And didn`t she catch a quick smile from Claire when the sleeve started waving?

Alison, you sucker.

She`d bought in enough already. Time to call it.

"Prove it, Claire."

And like that, Claire`s face dropped. Alison tried not to seem overly smug about ruining her fun, especially since Claire actually had her going for a while with the whole `this-necklace-freaks-me-out' noise at the shop.

Still in the doorway, Claire held her palm at her blouse, cradling the jewel. The glow was faint again. She couldn`t believe Alison still thought this was a prank, but she couldn`t blame her, either. Claire still wasn`t sure she wanted to believe what she saw.

She didn`t iron those clothes, but she did consciously intend it. And the start and stop of the sleeve? It couldn`t have just been a coincidence. Claire looked at Alison, who was staring her down, calm in her doubt.

If this weirdness was real, Alison`s doubt was about to shatter--just like Claire`s own had. But it was kind of a relief to think that own thoughts were the source; better than an angry spirit, right?

Claire took a deep breath. Whatever was happening, she`d have to dive in if she wanted to figure it out, so...

"You heard her," Claire shrugged. "Prove it. But this time...stand together, as an outfit." Claire felt stupid talking to inanimate objects--even more so when Alison started chuckling.

But when the red blouse shuddered slightly before appearing to fill itself with thin air, it didn`t take long for Alison`s laughter to subside.

Silence swallowed up the room, broken only by shuffling fabric and the faintest clues of the television downstairs. Alison watched, astonished, as the satiny shoulders and sleeves took shape, bending at invisible elbows and sitting the blouse up. The initial fill of the fabric became more anatomically recognizable as satiny teardrop forms puffed out the chest.

It was Alison`s turn to step back now as she witnessed the impossible. Now taking on a complete feminine shape, the blouse hovered off the ironing board and into the air. The black pants beneath them filled the same way, slowly inflating at first. Like the blouses' curves, the pants took on the form of shapely legs and a rounded posterior as the unseen force responsible for the inflation reached the capacity of the fabric.

Finally, the red blouse hovered downward again, coming to rest above the empty, rounded waist of the black pants. The satiny tails neatly tucked themselves in, and now both women stared at what effectively looked like an invisible woman in Claire`s clothes, sitting on the middle of the ironing board.

"Claire..." Alison stared, practically backed against the wall. When she was able to take her eyes off the ghostly form, she turned to Claire and saw the necklace glowing again. Claire noticed it too, and held the jewel out in front of her.

"It`s this, Alison. It has to be." She looked back at her own phantom clothes. "Stand up." Without hesitation, the outfit did as she commanded. The mechanics of the motion were almost human, too--the sleeves seemed to point down at the board as the outfit hopped up and planted the hem of the pant-legs on the floor. Or just above the floor, as Claire soon noticed.

"They`re...listening to you?" Alison took a few steps around the outfit, peering down the empty neckline and noticing--as Claire did--that the fabric of the legs wasn`t exactly touching the ground.

"Stand on one leg," Claire commanded. The outfit obliged, bending an empty leg at the knee and holding an unseen calf parallel to the floor. "Seems that way..."

"Claire, how is this happening?" Behind the outfit now, Alison bent over and looked down the upheld pant-leg. "I mean, seriously--how are we seeing what we`re seeing?" Claire shook her head.

"No explanations here." Claire took a couple steps toward the outfit, getting a closer look. She glanced down at the necklace and found the jewel`s glow dimmed considerably. She thought about the iron, unplugged and cooling now. She hadn`t exactly given any verbal commands for that particular action, so--

Turn and face me, she thought, directing the intention at the outfit. Alison jumped back again when the outfit seemed to move without a command, but Claire stood her ground, her eyes going wide with realization.

"I thought it, Alison." Claire smiled, looking at Alison like a young child first laying eyes on an automaton toy whose inner trappings were a mystery. "All I did was think the direction, and it happened."

"Are you serious?" Alison asked. "Do something else." Claire looked at the towel Alison had wrapped around her, but thought better of simply stripping her.

Instead, she remembered what Alison brought with her to take to work tomorrow. Claire silently issued another command, this one a bit more complicated. Because of the ironing incident, she obviously didn`t need to be in the same room, but how unspecific could her commands get while still having an effect?

"Well...did you do anything?" Alison asked.

"Hold on," Claire said. "We`ll know in a second." Claire looked out into the hallway, focusing on the staircase. After a couple of seconds, a figure started up the stairs. Claire brought her hands to her face and looked back at Alison. "Shit! I can`t believe how easy this is!" Alison looked over Claire`s shoulder to see a familiar outfit at the top of the stairs, turning and starting down the hall toward the room.

"How? How the fuck are you making all this happen?" Alison approached the doorway, watching her black leather pants and fuchsia sweater saunter toward them. The outfit stopped a few feet away and struck a pose. Claire couldn`t help but let out a nervous giggle in response to the touch at the end, which wasn`t entirely under her control.

"It`s the necklace, Alison. Beyond that--your guess is as good as mine." Both of them stared at Alison`s outfit, holding its pose perfectly. "It`s weird, Alison. I give directions, but nothing precise. Kind of creepy--even if the things are doing what I tell them." Alison took a step closer to the frozen empty outfit.

"Is it hard to hold them there?" Alison asked, examining the shape of the invisible force suspending her sweater in the air.

"No. It really doesn`t seem to take any effort at all--as far as I can tell."

"So, like--are they safe?" Alison was inches away now, going up on tiptoes to look down into the hollow weave of the collar. "I mean, are they going to do something to me if I mess with them?"

Claire just shrugged.

"I`m telling you, outside of taking directions from me, I don`t know any more than you do. Seriously."

"Okay, so--let`s investigate this, then." Alison looked down at her towel. "I should put some clothes on, I guess." She glanced back at the red satin blouse and black pants, then at her own leather pants and sweater again. "It`s really weird seeing them just hang there in empty space. Just--uncanny. We should go downstairs where there`s more room."

"The curtains and stuff should all be closed first," Claire said. "I mean, I don`t think it`s super likely anyone would be looking in here at this hour, but I can`t imagine trying to explain headless figures walking around in--"

Claire stopped, pointing to the window. The shade was already down, but now both women watched as the curtain tiebacks magically unknotted and loosed themselves. The heavy drapes closed up a second later.

"Dude, I`m getting jealous of your new magic powers." Alison said it with a smile on her face, but at the same time Claire could tell she meant it. "You`re gonna let me try that thing on, right?" Claire took a deep breath.

"Let`s go downstairs, you put some clothes on, and we`ll take it from there." Claire raised an eyebrow. "Promise not to go mad with power?"

"Asks my boss with no intended irony..." Alison stepped around her own ghostly outfit and started down the hall. Claire made a very carefully composed command, and Alison felt her towel hike up, exposing her cute, round butt for just a second. "Hey!" Alison turned around and smirked. "Really? After what you just asked me?"

"One smart ass deserves another," Claire said, following behind her.

"You`re gonna let me try that thing," Alison said before heading down the stairs.

Claire stood on the top step for a second, trying to absorb that this was all really happening. She still half-expected to wake up in her bed--no necklace, no thought-commanded items, no unexplainable powers. And if it was real--then the two hovering fabric humanoids and self-closing curtains were only the beginning.

Just how much power did this necklace have? What was it capable of? And because both she and Alison knew about something so powerful, wouldn`t they have to lay ground rules? She sighed.

Easy, Claire. One step at a time. She looked up at the two outfits at the other end of the hall again. Well, ladies--shall we head downstairs?

Alison`s leather pants and sweater did an about face, strutting back down the hall as Claire looked on. Claire stood to the side of the stairs, letting the outfit brush by her. The feeling raised her heart rate--excited her in a way--even though knowing it was following her directions.

Her eyes followed the shapely leather pants halfway down the stairs until she saw her own red blouse and black pants approaching. The pace was more evenly metered, a little more subdued, like her own would be. By contrast, Alison`s outfit carried itself more playfully, with more exaggeration and a more pronounced swing of its hips.

Claire shook off the thought as her own outfit passed by her. She followed it down the stairs, wondering what could possibly be next.

What exactly was this necklace for?

More importantly--would she and Alison be able to handle it?