IN SPITE OF THE ABSURDITY, Fred never thought he was dreaming.
He had gone to bed, the night before, after watching television until perhaps a little too late, and had fallen directly asleep.
Then he had found himself here, in this office, sitting comfortably in a visitor's chair, facing the man behind the desk.
It was a large, oak, desk, and the wall behind was bookshelves, filled with titles in various languages—and, on one end, a shelf of scrolls and another of stone tablets.
The man behind the desk looked up from his laptop, and smiled. He was white and clean-shaven, in a business suit, and appeared to be in his sixties.
Fred knew perfectly well who the man was. He nodded.
"I expected, well, something grander."
"This isn't, of course, my..."
"Yes, I know," Fred said. "It isn't your actual appearance. You're presenting yourself in a form I can accept."
"True enough. Perhaps I underestimated you."
"I doubt it. It's just that that sort of thing is common knowledge now."
"Still, if you can handle knowing that much, maybe you could handle a bit more."
"I'm not sure what you mean."
"You can't, of course see me as I really am, anymore than you could see your wife as she really was—or even see something as simple as this desk as it really is. But I could show you something a lot closer to the real me, if you'd like to try."
"Can we go back to this, if I can't handle it?"
"Of course. I want you to be comfortable."
"I'll give it a shot."
There was a brief flash of light, and the man before him had completely transformed.
She was a light shade of brown, with slightly oval eyes, and a smile that managed to be maternal and deeply seductive at the same time.
The business suit was gone.
She chuckled, and her dimples appeared.
"I'm not playing games with you. This is a lot closer to the real me."
Fred laughed nervously. He could feel himself blushing.
"Well, I must... I have to admit, it's... you're nothing like anything I expected."
"You must remember," she said, "that I know your inmost thoughts. They don't bother me at all, so there's no need to be embarrassed."
Fred nodded, embarrassed.