A reader has graciously written about me for her university (The Universite de Lausanne in Switzerland) english dept blog, called MUSE. Thanks so much for the kind words and for helping me get the word out, especially to international readers!
My NaNoWriMo plans have changed. Earlier in the year I commented that once TIME LOST was finished I would devote NaNo November to A KNIGHT IN THE GARDEN. Well, obviously this has not worked out exactly as I’d hoped. I’m about 30k words into TIME LOST and nowhere near finished. So, I’m moving back KNIGHT and devoting November’s NaNoWriMo to TIME LOST, hopefully getting it up to around 80k.
I will be doing things a bit differently this year, not posting my daily output but instead posting whole chapters to my blog as well as adding them to the Smashwords file as I go so readers can check out the rough draft for fun, just as I’ve done with previous volumes of the series.
If you want to follow my progress on NaNo or add me as a writing buddy if you’re attempting your own 50k month, go here: nanowrimo.org/participants/clarketacular!
Here’s hoping for a smooth month of writing in November!
October 17, 2014 at 9:25 am (Uncategorized)
Here it is just in time for NaNoWriMo! TIME LOST cover reveal!
“Space crumbled. Time lost. Everything ended…it just ended.”
Beyond the end of time and space, the passengers of school bus 313 find themselves on a bizarre patchwork world, built from their wildest dreams and most terrifying nightmares, and populated by servants of their nemesis, designed to keep them under constant guard.
Fractures in time surround them, giving glimpses of a future where they mount a desperate plan to escape, and shadows of the past, secrets they hoped never to have to face again.
To defeat the Lost and restore their world, they must face impossible odds to come together and meet their future, learning more along the way about their powers and themselves than they ever thought possible!
New 5* review for MISSING TIME from Amazon customer “Sandrine Spycher”:
“MISSING TIME is the story of eight teenagers involved in a school bus crash, and waking up with special powers, such as flying, reading minds, or resurrecting the dead. Each remembers a different thing, but none knows what actually happened during the bus crash. Being hunted down, they must put their memories together to find who wants them dead, and answer the question of what happened during the missing time.
J. David Clarke’s science fiction debut novel is filled with action, suspense, and plot twists from beginning to end. The unusual use of narrative structure allows the author to work on the characters’ distorted memories and visions through short scenes and vivid flashbacks. Although some chapters might seem elliptic or lacking in plot background, the dynamic writing makes the novel a fast and easy read.
The characters all have very diverse personalities, which are cleverly revealed through their dialogs and interactions. Moreover, Mr Clarke builds their relationship through memories, thus giving the reader different viewpoints on each protagonist.
This novel is fueled with lots of intertextuality, such as X-Men or Heroes, sometimes explicitly evoked by the characters. And although his style is a bit flat and repetitive, Mr Clarke has the reader wondering, along with the protagonists, what is going on; a question which is beautifully emphasized by the thrilling, and somewhat abrupt, ending of the novel.
MISSING TIME is an absolutely breath-taking page-turner which will make you cling to it and ask for more. I’d recommend this novel to all sci-fi aficionados, and possibly also to anyone interested in questions of memory and forgetting.”
Thanks for reading and most especially for taking the time to post your review. I appreciate the kind words, very glad you enjoyed the ride. I think you got a lot of what I was going for in that first book. Another reader said the book “throws you in at the deep end” and I think that captures the same feeling you did. The book is designed to toss a reader into the middle of crazy events with no idea what has happened before and then give you a piece at a time so you can put the puzzle together yourself, without any help. It’s a crazy experiment, and believe me it only gets more crazy as you move on to book two. I hope you will stay with me, I’m almost half way through the final volume and I believe, for those who stick with it, it is a solid payoff for the whole series. Thanks again!
My Summer eBook Sale is still going strong! Remember you can give ebooks as gifts to anyone with an email addy. My starter volumes are all only 99c! So you can send them all pretty cheap! And if you use Smashwords, you don’t even have to know what kind of reader the person has, they can download in any format any time! Take advantage while it lasts!
Buttons with links to my Amazon and Smashwords pages are on the side of the blog!
PREVIOUS: Chapter One
(Note: TIME LOST is the third volume in a story called “313”. The first volume, MISSING TIME, and second volume TIME SPENT, are available for purchase through any eReader, digitally through Smashwords.com, or in paperback through CreateSpace.com or Amazon.com. I highly recommend you read them before attempting to read the following. Links can be found in my SUPER HANDY LINKS PAGE!)
“My first memory, my very first, is of the dance. I was little, a toddler, standing with my hands pressed up against the TV screen and staring up at this…I’m not sure what it was…some ballroom dancing competition, one of those celebrity shows maybe. I looked up at them, my mouth hanging open, and I knew…I just knew…I was seeing something special. Two bodies, two people, flying across the screen. They were like worlds in space…orbiting each other, whirling apart and colliding together. They were so intimate and personal, but they were everything at the same time. The whole universe was in those two tiny forms gliding across the stage.”
“That’s pretty deep for a toddler,” a voice said.
Tyler looked up.
One of the boys in his acting class stood over him. He was very good looking, with caramel skin and deep brown, almost black, eyes. Tyler admired the way the fluorescent overhead made the muscles in his broad shoulders stand out.
“Marcus,” the boy said, putting a hand out.
Tyler didn’t need to be told that name. He knew this boy, he thought, knew him very well, though part of his brain reminded him they had never met.
Marcus raised an eyebrow and waggled his outstretched fingers. “Are you staying here? Class is over.”
“Oh.” Tyler looked around himself and saw that he was sitting on the floor. Class had taken place on the main stage today, and the other students had already left. Tyler was alone, sitting on the lip of the stage, his back to the orchestra. He reached up and took Marcus’ hand. Marcus easily hoisted him up and for a moment the two stood almost cheek to cheek. Tyler could feel Marcus’ breath on his neck. Belatedly, he pulled away. “Thanks.”
“My pleasure,” said Marcus.
Tyler grinned. It was the kind of thing he might have said. He never passed up an opportunity to flirt.
“So, you’re a dancer…”
Tyler nodded. “Oh yeah.”
“I guessed from the little speech you just gave,” Marcus said, “you know, to yourself.”
Tyler laughed. “Yeah, I guess I did. I dunno, I guess my mind wandered.”
“Just a little,” Marcus said with a grin.
Tyler turned to go, but Marcus spoke up again.
“Hey, do you know how to salsa dance?”
As a matter of fact, Tyler knew most ballroom dances, and Latin dance was his favorite. He had learned in a series of classes taken at a very young age. He had been begging to learn to dance for as long as he could remember, and finally his parents had caved, enrolling him in one youth class after another. Ballroom, tap, jazz, country and western…Tyler’s appetite for dance was voracious. Along the way somewhere, someone had suggesting acting courses as well. Then, as he matured and grew taller, the talk of modeling began. He first heard the word “star” at age fourteen, and it had been attached to his name in one form or another ever since.
Tyler turned back, flashing his perfect teeth. “Do I know how to salsa?”
“I have to learn it for this show and-“
Boldness was Tyler’s nature. He stepped forward and put his hand on Marcus’ hip, turning him around and moving up close behind him.
“Oh…okay,” Marcus breathed.
“I learned New York style salsa,” Tyler said, placing his right hand on Tyler’s hip. “Put your left hand in mine.” He held out his hand and Marcus complied. “Get your right arm up.” He lifted Marcus’ right arm to point skyward. “There you go. Now you’re going to turn right and flourish with your right hand, and that will set up a twirl.”
Marcus did so, and Tyler twirled him around to bring them face-to-face.
“Nice,” Tyler said, looking him in the eye. “Very…”
Something was wrong. Tyler blinked and stumbled backward, but Marcus held him up.
“Are you okay?”
“Not sure,” said Tyler. “Something…I need to…where’s Max?”
Marcus gave him a blank look, shaking his head. “Who’s Max?”
“My dog,” Tyler said. “He’s a service animal.”
“My seeing eye dog,” Tyler said, letting go and looking around the theatre, confused. “Max? Max, are you here?”
“Seeing eye?” Marcus lifted his hands, baffled. “What are you talking about?”
“MAX!” Tyler shouted.
“There’s no dog here,” Marcus said.
“He’s not just a dog,” Tyler said sadly. “He was my friend and I…I should have paid better attention but I was too busy. I was too busy…I didn’t even know he had gone.”
Marcus had no idea what to say to all that. He began to think he might need to get Tyler to the nurse.
Tyler’s vision swam. Spots appeared before his eyes, and the spots grew until he held his hands up before his eyes. “I can’t see.”
“Oh my god,” Marcus took hold of his arm. “Let’s get you to the nurse.”
“Wait,” Tyler said, “just wait. I can see, but I shouldn’t. I’m blind, how can I see?”
“No, just stop!” Tyler pushed him away. “I just need to stop for a minute. I have to stop. I have to stop dancing, please.”
“We need some help in here!” Marcus shouted. “Someone, help!”
Tyler sank to the floor, covering his eyes.
“Please let me stop.”
Electrodes prodded against his ribs, and the delivered shock jolted Tyler to his feet. Not that he had fallen far, of course, suspended as he was from the rafters by chains clasped to his wrists. His feet found purchase on the wooden boards that he could only assume made up the stage in this hellish auditorium. Tyler had to assume, because he could not see, would never see again. A ragged brown cloth circled his head, crossing the top of his nose and tied in the back. Crusted streaks of fluid ran down his face, remnants of the destruction Gwendolyn had wrought.
Tyler’s eyes were gone.
He groaned in pain as the chains were hauled up further. His feet scrabbled against the stage until they lowered him enough for him to stand again.
“Dansssse,” growled one of the ape creatures which had applied the end of a cattle prod to Tyler’s ribs. “Bard dance now!”
“Please, I just need to rest for a minute.”
Behind the music that played from somewhere in front of him, he assumed the orchestra, he could hear murmurs of disapproval. Though Tyler couldn’t see them, he assumed the auditorium was filled with spectators, watching this gruesome spectacle, a man forced to dance for their amusement.
What kind of sick bastards get their kicks watching a man tortured?
He forced his feet to begin tapping again, and the threadbare shoes to which his taps were attached again worked their magic, creating the rhythmic tapping along with the music. The chains hauled him along left and right, moving him in some predetermined pattern Tyler thought was computer controlled, but could just as well be more creatures in the rafters hauling him by hand.
Gradually, the murmurs died out, replaced by applause. Sweat rolled down Tyler’s face. The lights were so hot. In fact, though he did not, could not know it, they were positioned mere feet away from him, shining hot white light directly into his face.
Tyler continued tapping out the rest of the song, but exhaustion got the better of him and he knew his rhythm was sloppy. Finally the song ended and he was allowed to stop tapping, but only so that he could-
“Bow!” shouted the ape, shocking him in the belly.
Unable to do otherwise, Tyler doubled over and the chains lowered him just enough to create the effect of a clumsy bow. The sound of applause, cheering and whistles exploded in the auditorium.
“HOW ABOUT THAT? IS HE SOMETHING OR WHAT?” An announcer’s voice came over a loudspeaker somewhere above and behind Tyler. No ordinary people had been in his presence, only the apes, so he had no idea whose voice it was or where this person could be. “LET’S HEAR IT FOR OUR WORLDS OF DANCE SENSATION, THE BLIND BARD!”
The chains lifted and lowered Tyler again, and then a third time, as the applause grew to crescendo.
“Please!” Tyler called to the audience he couldn’t see. “Isn’t there anyone who will help me? Someone out there? Please, anyone!”
“READY FOR MORE?” the announcer asked and the audience roared their approval.
Oh god, no.
“WORLDS OF DANCE CONTINUES WITH MORE NON-STOP ENTERTAINMENT FROM OUR NUMBER ONE STAR!”
The music started up again. Tyler was expected to perform the same dance to the exact same song.
“I can’t,” he breathed. “I can’t do it.”
His sides erupted with pain as multiple creatures jabbed him with their prods.
Tyler’s feet began tapping almost against his will, anything to make the pain stop. But he was tired…so tired.
“Please, I have to stop…just let me stop…”
His chains hauled him left and right, just as they had before. Apes with cattle prods surrounded him, ready to use them if he faltered for a moment. Behind them, the empty orchestra extended only a few meters from the stage. Past that, a black wall stood mounted with speakers, from which the cheers and applause emerged.
“Help me…please help me.”
No help was forthcoming, for no audience watched at all.
THE BLIND BARD
“We’re only dancing for our lives.”
He had no idea how long he’d danced, repeating the same steps over and over to the same song, before they finally allowed him rest. The chains remained, but Tyler was allowed to sag to the stage floor and sleep, unable even to move himself into a semi-comfortable position, just collapsed in a sweat-soaked heap.
In the night, with the stage lights off, it grew cold. Tyler’s breath fogged the air in front of his face. Sometime during the night, as Tyler slipped in and out of a fitful doze, someone came to warm him, a man, embracing him in toned, muscular arms. Tyler recognized the man’s scent. He was sure he only dreamed this, lying in Marcus’ arms, surrounded by his scent, but eventually he became fully awake and aware of the hard stage floor, the cold chains at his wrists, and still Marcus’ touch remained.
“Who’s there?” Tyler asked.
“Shhhh…” Marcus wrapped him tighter. “You’re okay. You were freezing.”
“Who do you hear when I speak?”
Tyler pondered this question before answering. “Marcus Villalobos. You sound like Marcus. He was my…he was my boyfriend. But I killed you.” Tyler reached up to feel Marcus’ face with his hand, but the chains were too heavy. “I killed you.”
A hand took Tyler’s and lifted it to feel a face, smooth shaven, with a strong chin and high cheekbones: Marcus’ face.
“It is you,” said Tyler. “But how?”
“You were in trouble,” Marcus said. “So I came.”
Tyler was so grateful that he didn’t argue, didn’t question, just lay there in Marcus’ arms and breathed in and out. For a long time they sat like that, until finally Tyler became worried Marcus would be caught and kept in chains like him.
“You have to leave me,” Tyler said. “They’ll catch you.”
“No one will catch me.”
“They don’t leave me alone for long. They’ll come back and they’ll find you.”
“Shhh…” Marcus brushed his fingers through Tyler’s hair, straightening it and pulling it back from his face. “I’m only real to you, Tyler. No one else can see me or hear me. They won’t know I’m here.”
Tyler wasn’t sure what to make of this. “Only real to me? Am I imagining this?”
“In a way,” Marcus said. “But I am here.”
“Here,” Tyler said. “I don’t even know where here is. I don’t know how I got here. I only know they won’t let me go.”
Marcus propped him up and held him close. “But are you even sure you want to go?”
His body jolted against the side of the bus as it swerved. Tyler put a hand out to steady himself. Though he couldn’t see, he knew the inside of the school bus well enough to remember where the driver’s seat was in front of him. He placed his right hand there and his left against the side of the bus.
There was a flash then. For just a moment, Tyler saw something, a flash of light around an outline.
“Oh!” he exclaimed, reaching up a hand to touch the cloth wrapped around his head. “My eyes!”
Then he saw a point of light, a point that opened before him to reveal the front of the bus, the driver, and the night outside. The driver had craned his neck around, looking back at the passengers.
“What are you doing?” Tyler said. “Look forward!” But he couldn’t resist looking around himself. He pulled the cloth away from his head and found he could see the interior of the bus and its passengers dimly, as if seen through a thick smoke.
They appeared to be sitting in the same places they had before. Strangest, though, was the bizarre shape next to him, not exactly a man or a woman, but a red outline in the mist.
The bus gained speed, and Tyler gaze snapped forward, unable to stop.
“I can’t look,” Marcus said. He buried his face in Tyler’s shoulder.
Tyler laughed. He had spent the last couple of weeks giving Marcus lessons in Salsa as well as a couple of other ballroom style dances, in order to prepare for musical auditions. This particular show had several musical numbers as well as scenes that took place with background dancing. Their theatre director was all but certain to use dance students for most of those background scenes. Tyler was pretty positive he’d end up in the chorus for his skill in dance alone. Marcus on the other hand was a nervous wreck.
Tyler edged his way through the throng of students crowding the bulletin board. The cast list had clearly been posted, or there wouldn’t be such a mass of bodies flocking to the board. Some were walking away immediately, others clapping and hugging each other.
“Come on,” Tyler said. “You know you want to look.”
“You look for me,” Marcus said, turning his head away. “I can’t stand this.”
“Okay, okay,” Tyler said, chuckling. He scanned the chorus area. Finally, his grin widened. “Marcus, you’re gonna want to see this. I promise.”
Marcus turned his head back to the board, hand over his mouth.
Tyler reached up a hand and placed one finger next to the name MARCUS VILLALOBOS.
Hand or no hand, Marcus couldn’t contain his excitement. He jumped up and down and one hand dug into Tyler’s arm.
“Oww!” Tyler laughed, wincing.
“Sorry, sorry.” Marcus kept scanning the cast list. “Where’s your name?”
Tyler’s grin dropped. “Umm…huh.” He didn’t find his name. He double and triple-checked, but his name was nowhere in the chorus. “I guess I didn’t get in,” he said, disappointment creeping into his voice.
Marcus’ grip on his arm became a vise. “OHMIGOD!” He raised a hand as Tyler had, only his finger didn’t stop at the chorus. It slid up and up the cast list, resting at the very top.
Tyler’s eyes blinked. TYLER CHAMBERS, the name read.
“You’re the star!” Marcus began jumping again. “You’re the STAR!”
Other students started clapping Tyler on the shoulder and giving congratulations. Tyler’s lips split in a bright smile as they milled around him, patting him on the back and shaking his hand. Of course it was true. It had to be true, it was who he was.
I’m a star.
That night, Tyler dreamed he was drowning. Cold water welled up around him, but he couldn’t swim up or away. When he tried, he found himself blocked by a metal boundary. A rapidly vanishing pocket of air allowed him to lift his head up and see where he was: the inside of a school bus. But when he swam back down, pulling himself along by the rows of leather seats, he found no way out. Just row after row of seats with no door. When he swam back up, he found the pocket of air above had disappeared. There was no way to breathe, no way to escape.
Something took hold of his leg, pulling him down. Tyler turned to look, and found the rotted carcass of a dog hanging from his leg. Its jaws were fastened around his ankle, its dead face frozen in a rictus of anger.
“Max!” Tyler cried as he bolted upright in bed. Sweat drenched his face.
There came a tapping at his window. Confusion flooded Tyler’s mind. For a moment, he didn’t understand where or when he was. As the dream faded, he tried to remember the vision of the dog or why it mattered. Why had he shouted the name Max? He had owned a few dogs when he was younger, but none of them had been named Max, had they?
He turned to the window and saw Marcus’ face framed between the crack in the drapes.
Tyler unlocked the window and slid it open. “What are you doing here?” he whispered.
“Couldn’t sleep,” Marcus whispered with a grin. “Too amped up from today. Come out with me.”
It took a few minutes for Tyler to grab his clothes and slip them on. He raised his hand to his mouth and breathed into it, smelling it. It smelled okay, but he didn’t trust himself, so he gave his mouth a quick squirt of breath freshener just in case.
His heart was beating a little faster as he joined Marcus outside. Stop being an idiot, he thought to himself, but he couldn’t help stealing glances at Marcus’ toned arms and legs in the moonlight. Tyler found his mind turning back to their dance lessons, and the feel of Marcus’ skin under his touch.
For his part, Marcus seemed unable to look away from Tyler at all, and he couldn’t wipe the grin off his face as they walked together.
Tyler’s family owned a large property, nearly ten acres, most of which was behind the house. Tyler had often commented that it was like having his own football field, except it was dotted with trees. A stable stood near the back fence, but it was unused. His father had not bought or kept horses for many years. Tyler had only dim memories of riding them as a child, but they had mostly faded away, like old photographs left in the sun.
Tyler and Marcus found their way to the white gazebo standing near the other corner of the lot. A bench ran around all but two sides of the gazebo structure. They sat on the wooden bench together, Tyler with one arm over the back and one leg propped up beside him, facing Marcus.
“How does your family afford all this?” Marcus asked.
“My dad,” said Tyler. “He’s an attorney, has a lot of rich clients.”
“This isn’t rich?” Marcus asked, laughing.
Tyler shrugged. “Not compared to them, I guess. He has politicians, movie producers…”
“Whoa. That’s why you said he knows agents.”
“Friends of friends,” Tyler said, nodding.
“So why haven’t you gotten into movies yet?” Marcus asked, smiling. “You could have been a star by now.”
Tyler laughed. “Thanks for your confidence.” Marcus’ eyes met his and their gazes locked for a bit before Marcus looked away. “My parents wanted me to finish high school first. Mom was pretty emphatic about it. But probably when I’m a senior I’ll meet some of them and get things started.”
“And then you’ll run off to Hollywood or something,” Marcus said.
Tyler leaned his head back and let out one laugh, then looked back. “Yep, I’m just gonna run off and forget everyone.”
“Shut up,” Marcus said, punching him lightly on the arm. He couldn’t resist smiling, though. After a moment, Marcus turned to him and added, “I’m glad you stayed in school.”
Tyler’s eyes again met his. “Me too.”
He leaned forward and took Marcus’ face in his hands, kissing him. Marcus responded eagerly, his breath quickening and his hands reaching around to pull Tyler into him. Tyler leaned him back against the side of the gazebo and continued kissing him, running his hands over Marcus’ arms and chest. Marcus’ heart was beating harder than his own, and Tyler felt a slight tremble at his touch.
When they came up for breath, Marcus said, breathlessly, “I thought…but I wasn’t sure, sure you were.”
Tyler laughed. “I don’t like labels.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means,” Tyler said, kissing him again, “that I can be with,” and again, “whoever I want…”
A gust of cold air washed over Tyler, blowing from the rafters of the darkened theatre where he was kept imprisoned. The flesh of his wrists was chafed raw and bleeding, but Tyler fought to suppress the pain as he struggled to his feet. His chains were heavy, and he was weak and tired, but he managed to lift them. “Of course I want to get out of-” He stopped. “What just happened?”
Marcus stood. “What do you think happened?”
“There was…it’s like I was here for a moment, and then…” Tyler shook his head. “I’m not sure.”
“Yes,” Tyler said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
“Maybe it does, you just don’t know how yet.”
“Since when do you talk like a fortune cookie?” Tyler asked.
Marcus laughed. “Since I died, I guess.”
“Just get me out of here!”
“I’m sorry, Tyler,” Marcus said. “I can’t get you out of here. Only you can do that. And I’m still not entirely sure that’s what you want.”
Tyler balled his fists and shook them, yanking his chains and rattling them. “Why are you saying that? Of course I want out! They’ve been keeping me prisoner here!”
“Where is here, though?” Marcus asked. “How did you come to be here?”
Tyler struggled to remember. The last thing he could picture was-
“Gwendolyn.” He recalled her face, eyes glowing red, her mouth a vicious grin. “I tried to stop her, use my power on her, but she…” Tyler’s hand went to his face, felt the cloth that covered the holes where his eyes had once been. “She took my eyes.”
Marcus put an arm around him.
“And then… then I just woke up here.”
Marcus rubbed his back. The sensation was marvelous. “And what is here, Ty?”
“A theatre, I think.” Tyler raised his hands. “I can’t see, but I hear them. Announcer, cheering crowds. They call me ‘The Blind Bard’. Star of the Worlds of Dance.”
“Wow,” Marcus said. “Cheers, adulation, adoring crowds. Tyler Chambers, a star at last.”
Tyler lowered his head. He didn’t like where this was going. Marcus was starting to sound less like his Marcus and more like the other one, the alternate reality version whose light powers had threatened to blind Tyler at the army base.
Marcus leaned close, whispering in his ear. “Just what you always wanted.”
The school bus sailed through the void between worlds, swerving and jolting as Carl picked his way, but Tyler didn’t see or feel it. His vision continued to open up before him, and as it did he saw past the window. The first time this had happened he had been astonished, but this time it almost felt familiar. He concentrated on absorbing the information shown him.
Vast cosmic shapes unwound and rolled apart, separating into gigantic clouds of galaxies and then, further, to individual spinning galaxies of every shape and size.
Tyler stared as the multiverse sped past him. The vision zoomed past. The bus drove on, and Tyler’s gaze plunged into the barred spiral of the Milky Way galaxy itself.
Tyler body twirled, performing a windmill move that brought his legs into the air, helicoptering as he rolled in a circle. He then segued into a back spin before flipping backward onto his feet and bowing to the crowd, which broke into spontaneous applause.
The night air felt cool on his face and he bowed once more, soaking it in. This wasn’t even a dance floor, technically, just a smooth wooden stage area where some carnival gamesman or barker was supposed to be entertaining passers by at this street fair. Tyler had no idea where the fellow had gone or when this crowd had started to gather around him. All he knew was that it was impossible for him to pass a potential dance floor without getting in a few moves.
Three girls surrounded him. They had been standing at the front of the crowd, eyes wide, watching him with amazement. One of them, a girl with long, curly blonde locks and thick, heavily lined eyelashes, pressed a piece of paper into Tyler’s hand before he knew what was happening.
“Oh,” Tyler looked down at her hastily scrawled number. Call me! the note said, with a tiny heart at the base of the exclamation point. “Thanks.”
“Are you a break dancer?” She asked, then realizing how the question sounded, she tacked on, “I mean, professionally and stuff?”
“No. Not yet anyway,” Tyler said with a wink. “To be honest, b-boying isn’t really my style. It’s not my favorite.” He looked down at his watch. Marcus should have been there by now, he thought. They had planned to meet a half an hour ago.
It had been two years since their night in the gazebo, and Tyler and Marcus had continued to see each other. At first they were inseparable, talking for hours every day and spending every free moment together, but lately Tyler wasn’t sure what exactly was happening. For one thing, while Tyler continued to be more and more popular among the theatre and dance students, and garnered more and more starring roles and acclaim, Marcus had gotten a few parts here and there and had largely segued into doing crew for the performances, in part just to be near Tyler. Tyler had tried to coach him, but it was obvious that Marcus was not going to be in dance or theatre long term. He talked of helping his parents out at their restaurant, and maybe moving toward that as a career, while for Tyler there was no future he would consider in which he did not move to Hollywood to pursue stardom.
“What’s your favorite,” the girl, whose name, according to her scribbling, was Tara.
“Tap!” Tyler said happily. He gently reached out and cleared some space, then began tapping out a few steps. “I never get tired of tap.”
The girls stepped back and Tyler continued, tapping out a rhythm and beginning to mix in some other things, which was his favorite thing to do. The whirls and leaps kindled something in him, reminding him of that first glimpse he had had into the world of dance, as a child, looking up into that television screen.
The crowd burst into applause again, and all of a sudden, Tyler saw something: Marcus’ face, in the middle of the crowd, looking up at him. There he is! What is he doing?
Tyler stopped and raised a hand to wave at Marcus, and the crowd surged forward, cheering and even presenting papers and pens to get Tyler’s autograph. Marcus raised a hand to wave back, but with Tyler no longer looking he lowered it in awkward embarrassment.
Tyler smiled and tried to politely decline, but they were so kind and their appreciation so genuine that he was swept up in the moment. He took a pen and began signing papers and books, and fair programs and whatever else the people offered. He looked up to see Marcus further back, nudged by the crowd and left on the outskirts of their feverish pursuit of Tyler’s signature.
“Okay, I’ll do one more,” Tyler said, clearing space again. The crowd backed off. “I’ll need a volunteer dance partner for this one, though.” He raised his hand.
Marcus took this as a cue and started to step forward, but Tara rushed in and took Tyler’s hand before he made a step. Tyler didn’t seem to mind. He flashed his brightest smile at her, and moved her into position for the beginning of a traditional salsa dance.
As the dance began, Marcus turned and walked away.
Tyler had to move slowly to guide his rookie partner, but the audience wouldn’t be aware of that much. They’d only see, as he did as a toddler, the whirls and collisions, the stars moving together and swinging apart. The entire universe in the form of two-
A flash went off inside Tyler’s eyes.
“Ah!” he cried, faltering in his steps. Tara stumbled against him.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“I’m not…ah!” More flashes. He clapped his hands to his eyes, but somehow he could still see them, right through his eyelids. Tyler opened his eyes and stared down at his hands. The skin was fading away, bone and muscle too. His eyes dialed open, and his vision zoomed into the materials that made up his flesh.
Tyler looked up. “Marcus!” he called. “Marcus, where are you?”
Marcus was gone, but Tyler’s eyes revealed the structures that whirled and danced inside everyone in the crowd. There were worlds inside him. There were worlds inside them.
There are worlds inside all of us. How could I have forgotten that?
Tyler leapt from the stage-
-and snapped back as his chains reached the limits of their reach. Tyler’s arms jolted backward and his feet went out from under him. He swung backward like a pendulum on its return arc, coming to a rest, finally, hanging straight down, his feet scraping the stage.
“What was that?” he asked. “What the hell was that?”
“The past,” said a voice from the back of the theatre. Tyler heard the sound of doors banging shut and a grating scrape of metal on metal.
“That should hold them, at least temporarily.” The voice moved closer, until the unknown man who was its source stood inches from Tyler.
“Who are you?” Tyler asked.
“It’s me, Tyler,” the man said, grasping the chains around Tyler’s left arm. “It’s Carl. Carl Macklin.”
Try as he might, Tyler’s mind couldn’t connect what he heard with anything resembling a memory. “Who? Carl…?”
The man stopped fumbling with his chains and placed his hands on Tyler’s shoulders. “Carl. Macklin. From the bus.”
“Carl…ohhh…Bus Driver Carl…”
“Yes,” Carl said with a note of irritation, “Bus Driver Carl.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Really?” Carl scoffed. “I’m here to get you out. I thought that would be obvious.”
Tyler wasn’t sure how to respond. Of all the possibilities of escape or rescue, he certainly had never imagined Carl would feature in the scenario. The last time he had seen Carl, he had been on the ground staring at Gwendolyn wide-eyed. This also had the added fun of being one of the last things Tyler had seen before his eyes were boiled out his head by the very same being. Things had gone downhill from there, in a hurry.
“Thanks, I think,” Tyler said.
“Don’t thank me yet,” Carl said, switching his attention to the cuff on Tyler’s right arm. “These cuffs aren’t locked, or bolted. Not even a seam in the metal. How did they get them on you?”
“I’m not sure,” Tyler said. “I remember lying on the ground. I remember…Becca. She sided with Gwendolyn. She betrayed us. I don’t remember anything after that until waking up here in chains.”
Carl shook the chain. “Well this is hopeless unless I can figure out a way to open them. That or break your hands.”
Tyler was silent.
“Look, don’t blame Becca,” Carl said. “She only did what I told her.”
“What? Why would you tell her to do that?”
Carl chest jumped but only a short, dry laugh emerged. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Noting the look on Tyler’s face, he added, “I’ll explain once we get you out of here.”
“He can’t get those chains off of you,” Marcus’ voice said. “No one can.”
“Marcus?” Tyler raised his head.
“Haven’t seen him,” Carl replied, misunderstanding. “Is he here somewhere?”
Something banged on the theatre doors, but the bar Carl had slid into place held. Angry howls rose outside.
“Damn,” Carl said. “I was hoping they wouldn’t come back so soon.”
“Why can’t anyone get me out?” Tyler asked.
“I told you, the chains are solid, no locks,” Carl answered.
“I’m not talking to you.”
Marcus put a hand to his face. “If I could get you out, I would. But these chains are yours. You made them, only you can break them.”
“Who are you talking to?” Carl asked.
“Marcus,” Tyler told him. “What do you mean, I made them? I didn’t make anything.”
“You might as well have.”
“You’re talking to Marcus?” Carl looked around. “Is Marcus here with us now?”
“I didn’t make these chains.” Tyler rattled the chains, hard enough to open the wounds on his wrists and send blood spattering to the stage. “I don’t want to be here!”
“I don’t see him in any of the timelines,” Carl said.
“I didn’t want this…”
“Tyler!” Carl grasped his arm. “IS MARCUS HERE WITH US NOW?”
“I told you, I’m only real to you,” Marcus said.
Tyler shook his head. “No…he’s not here…he’s dead.”
Carl cocked his head, then looked around once more.
At that moment, something heavy was brought to bear against the stage doors. The entire wall shook, and the door and bar visibly jumped, exposing short lengths of the bolts attaching them.
“They’re going to get in here. There are too many of them,” Carl said. “Dammit! I haven’t seen enough yet.”
“Enough of what?” Tyler asked.
“The future,” Carl said. “Your future.”
“The past, the future,” Tyler tried to laugh but couldn’t. “What are you even talking about?”
“You saw it,” Carl answered. “You were there. Fragments of time are drifting around us. Occasionally you pass through them, and see your own past or future.”
“I…what? I saw something, but…”
“You were dancing in a street fair. A girl with curly hair was dancing with you.”
Tyler’s mouth dropped. “How could you possibly know about that?”
“I saw the bubble pass over you,” Carl said. “There are others, with the future inside them. Inside it, we’re on the school bus again. That’s the one I need to see. I need to see exactly why we’re there and what we’re doing?”
“We…you and me?”
“No,” Carl said, “All of us.”
“So we do get out of here, then.”
Carl was silent for a moment. “Maybe. I can see the time bubbles but I don’t see the actual timelines that lead us from here to there.”
BLAMMMMM! Again the door shook on its hinges.
“I remember it now. My powers came back. For just a second, I could see inside everyone in the crowd.”
“I saw it too,” Carl said. “But right now we have big problems. In all the timelines I can see, they come through those doors, and there are too many of them for me to kill.”
“I could do it, if I had my powers,” Tyler said. “If I could see.”
Marcus’ voice came from behind him. He was standing so close Tyler could feel breath on the back of his neck. “What is power anyway? You already know what’s inside us, and what we’re inside. Do you really have to see it?”
“I can’t change what I can’t see,” Tyler said.
“Change yourself,” Marcus said. “When you choose to do that, nothing will keep you here.”
Carl stepped back. “Get ready, here comes another o—“
Tyler’s sight returned as he found himself again on the school bus.
Millions of stars filled Tyler’s vision, but as he sped past them there were soon only thousands, then hundreds. They swirled through space, moving closer and closer together.
Tyler could only stare as the circle of his vision grew smaller and smaller, making it almost seem as if he were growing larger, and revealing to him still smaller phenomena.
Stars died and were born anew. Asteroids hurtled through the void. Comets streaked past.
As the bus continued its voyage through the darkness, Tyler’s vision sailed out of the night and skipped onto the curve of the Earth.
Now that Tyler had experienced the time jumps, it was like his mind had expanded. This time, he was aware of the shift. He found himself sitting at a table covered with fine cloth. His parents, Kyle and Molly Chambers, sat to either side of him, dressed very nicely, his father in a grey suit and his mother in an elegant black gown. Looking down at himself, he found he too was wearing his nicest suit and tie. Surrounding him were the sounds of light conversation and the clinking of forks against plates. They had come to the nicest steak restaurant in town, at his father’s insistence and expense, to meet the man sitting across from him.
“This is delicious,” the man said, savoring a bite of his steak. Tyler found he couldn’t remember the man’s name. He was pretty sure his last name started with C. First name…Ian? Isaac?
The stage accident which had left Tyler blind wasn’t far in his future now. Not far at all.
“Tyler?” His father nudged him.
“Oh, uh, yeah.” Tyler cut a piece and chewed it. “Really good.”
“When you get out to L.A.,” the man said, “I’ll take you to a place out there that’s out of this world.”
“Great,” Tyler said, feigning enthusiasm. He remembered this meeting. The man, whose name Tyler was fairly certain was Ian, was an agent, and a friend of a friend of his father’s. Tyler was here to sign with him. It was his dream, one he had worked toward for years, and at long last this was the beginning of it. But something had nagged at him the entire night, something he had pushed away and dismissed: the look on Marcus’ face as he had blown him off leaving the theatre that night.
He looked gutted, absolutely crushed. Because of me. I picked this over him.
Tyler was struck with sudden inspiration. “Maybe Marcus could come out with me?”
His father froze with a piece of steak hanging on his fork, mouth open to receive it.
“Oh, honey, we talked about this,” Tyler’s mother said.
“I know.” Tyler said as his father placed his fork back on the table and glared at him. “I just thought, why not? We’ll both be graduating. There’s no reason it can’t work.”
“Who’s Marcus?” Ian asked. “Friend of yours?”
Tyler’s father cut him off before he could answer. “Yes, a school friend. They’re practically inseparable.”
Tyler felt his face flush. If only that were true, but lately he had been separating himself from Marcus only too well.
Ian chuckled. “You’ll be busy meeting producers and casting directors and going for auditions, even taking acting lessons. Yes, more acting lessons, always more. Acting, dance, voice lessons.”
“You’ll be too busy, honey,” Molly chimed in, then took a sip of her wine.
“Plus, you’ll probably meet lots of girls,” Ian said with a wink. “You won’t have time for friends.”
His father clapped him on the shoulder. “Tyler likes the ladies. Isn’t that right, son.”
“Yeah, I like girls,” Tyler said.
His father nodded, a satisfied smile on his face, and went back to eating his steak. Tyler took a long sip of water from his glass, then set it down and placed both hands on the table in front of him.
“But I LOVE Marcus.”
Kyle Chambers coughed and sputtered. “Now, Ty…”
“Marcus isn’t my friend, sir,” Tyler said to Ian, “he’s my boyfriend.”
“Tyler,” his mother pleaded.
“No, Mom, no.” Tyler cleared his throat. “My parents mean well, but they’ve known I like boys and girls for a long time. We’ve had lots of conversations about it. They know I’ve been dating Marcus, and they’re okay with that. They just thought it would be better if it didn’t come up tonight.” He exchanged a look with his father. “Or ever, to be honest.”
His father sighed and turned his eyes to Ian to gauge his reaction.
For his part, Ian didn’t seem all that surprised. He took the news in stride. “I see.” He cut another piece of stead and chewed it, considering. “Well, I appreciate your honestly, Tyler. You won’t be my first gay client, I assure you.”
“Tyler isn’t gay,” Kyle said. “We don’t like labels.”
Tyler thought back to all the times he had said that exact phrase. Had he been speaking with his father’s voice every time?
“Fair enough,” said Ian. “Let me be frank. The world is changing. We’ve come a long way since Anne Heche came out. Being open about a same sex relationship doesn’t mean your career is over, you could certainly still get parts, and professional dance companies are certainly a possibility. But I’ve seen you perform, Tyler. And I know your father’s connections. No matter what anyone says, who you know is a major factor. You’re not headed for just any career. You have a big future. You’re going to be a star.”
Tyler was silent, his eyes locked with Ian’s.
“Now, I’m not telling you not to be with the person you love,” Ian said. “But, no matter how far the world has come, I’m not telling you it won’t matter.”
“It’ll matter,” his father said bluntly. “It’ll matter a lot.”
“Dancing, performing…that’s been my dream for a long time,” Tyler said. “But you’re talking about…about being a prisoner.”
“There’s no reason anything has to be forever,” Ian said. “Come out, get your career going, and there’ll be plenty of time to bring Marcus out later. Hell, by that time you may have met someone else and it won’t matter at all. You’re young.” He reached into his briefcase and brought out some papers, laying them on the table.
“What do you say? Ready to be a star?”
Tyler closed his eyes. Everything the man was saying made sense. But this time around Tyler had seen his future. He knew what was coming: the stage accident, the bus crash. He was looking at a future where Marcus was gone, and would never return to his life. The first time around, he had signed those papers.
I was blind, even before the accident. So blind. Oh, Marcus…
Tyler knew what he had to do.
“My first memory is of the dance,” he said.
“Um, what now?” Ian said.
Tyler opened his eyes. With a flash, the worlds inside and out revealed themselves to his power.
“I was just a toddler, looking up at a television screen. Two people dancing together. But I saw the universe. I saw the whole world in those two dancing together.”
Ian frowned, not understanding.
“I love Marcus. That’s the world to me. The two of us, together. I learned from my dad not to like labels,” Tyler said, “so it’s true, I’m not gay. But I choose Marcus over anything else. So you’re wrong about your label too, Ian.”
The agent waited, eyebrow raised.
“I’ll never be a star.”
Tyler stood up.
“Son, what are you doing?” His father looked baffled.
“Carl, are you there?” Tyler said, looking around. “How do I get back?”
His mother stood, placing a hand on him. “What is it, honey? What’s wrong?”
Tyler saw it then, several feet away. It was like a discontinuity, a break between the worlds in front and behind it. It was shifting, undulating like a bubble in a breeze, and the worlds behind it looked strange, as if seen through the rippling surface of a lake.
“Everything, Mom.” Tyler moved toward the boundary. “Everything’s gone wrong. But I’m going to fix it, I promise. You, dad, Marcus…Max. I’m going to—“
Tyler’s wrists jerked against his chains. He was back in the theatre.
“They’re coming through!” Carl picked up his weapon from where he had dropped it and raised aiming toward the door. The bangs were coming faster now, and the hinges were clearly about to tear completely free.
“Take my hand,” Tyler said.
“I know what we have to do. Put your left hand in mine. Now.”
Carl gaped at him. “Are you serious? They’re going to kill us!”
“DO IT,” Tyler commanded.
Carl took a deep breath and set down the weapon. He placed his left hand in Tyler’s right. “Now what?”
“Now put your right arm around me.”
Carl did as instructed, but he kept craning his neck, trying to keep his eyes on the door.
“Follow my lead,” Tyler said.
“I can see every possible timeline,” Carl said. “We’re going to die. We have to find a way—“
“Shhh…” The corner of Tyler’s mouth turned upward. “Seeing isn’t everything. Trust me.”
“But you can’t possibly dance with these chains on.”
“You’d be surprised,” Tyler said. “Besides, we’re only going to do a simple box step. The most basic dance two people can do. Just focus.”
“Relax,” Tyler said. “We’re only dancing for our lives.”
Carl looked down at his feet. He hadn’t danced since his high school prom, and his date had complained bitterly every time he stepped on a toe.
“Relax,” Tyler breathed. “Follow my lead. Back, left, forward, right. Back, left, forward, right.”
Carl followed the steps.
“There are worlds inside all of us,” Tyler said. “But we’re worlds too, part of something much larger.”
The door exploded off its hinges and the apes poured into the darkened theatre, screaming and raising weapons in their direction.
“Spinning, whirling in space.” Tyler’s feet moved faster, and Carl’s mirrored his. “Flinging apart, plunging together. Colliding. Becoming one.”
The apes surrounded them.
The apes fired. A storm of bullets erupted into the air.
A bomb detonated in Tyler’s mind. He lifted his head.
The bullets stopped.
Tyler could sense them, frozen in mid-air, all around him. He could feel the worlds inside them, and he held them in place. Once, he had needed to see his target. Even blinking would release the worlds to spin again. Things had changed.
The apes lowered their weapons and barked confused sounds at each other.
“Sorry, boys,” Tyler said. “Show’s canceled.”
The chains holding him melted away. A wave passed outward and the bullets vanished, their atoms scattered to the air. As it crested over the apes, circles of stone appeared where their bodies met the wave and spread out over them, transforming them into solid statues in a ring around the stage. The apes cried out in pain, then fell silent as the stone sealed their throats forever.
Carl looked around, bewildered. “The timelines. You did something, changed them. How?”
Tyler smiled. “I didn’t change them. I changed myself. But I’m not done yet.”
He raised his arms and there were strange sounds from the rafters.
“I’ll never be a prisoner again.”
Parts of the structure began to vanish. One after another the beams, bolts, nails and screws blew away, their atomic structures spinning apart. The lighting fell first, crashing down toward them, but it was as if Tyler had erected a field around them. Anything passing through the field disintegrated instantly. Metal, wood, and other building materials fell, hammering the stage around them but never touching them.
Tyler hopped off the stage. Carl followed closely.
Raising his hand, Tyler sent the worlds in the wall flying apart and the entire thing came down. He expected daylight, but as the back wall of the theatre fell it revealed a tiny chamber in which one lone ape sat on a tiny, wheeled chair. He wore a headset with a small microphone.
The ape cowered in fear.
“PLEASE!” The ape’s voice boomed over the remaining loudspeakers as he spoke. “DO NOT HURT ME!”
“So,” Tyler said. “You’re the announcer.”
“YOU CAN’T DO THIS! YOU’RE NOT MEANT TO DO THIS! YOU’RE THE BLIND BARD! YOU’RE THE STAR!”
Tyler approached him. “There is no audience. Only you. Did you enjoy watching me be tortured?”
“YOU’RE THE STAR! THE STAR!”
“Not anymore.” Tyler gestured, and the worlds inside the Announcer began to vibrate, faster and faster. A white point appeared in his chest and spread out, instantly combusting and consuming him until all that was left was a pile of ash.
A hole appeared in the second wall.
“Let’s go,” Tyler said, stepping through it.
Behind them, the rest of the theatre came crashing down.
There was something in the distance.
Tyler saw down roads and through towns, over fields and across the river and bridge. He saw a school bus approach, bus 313, and soon he saw inside the bus itself. He saw past the driver to himself sitting in the first row. This was the plan, Tyler knew. He had looked through space and time and now could even see himself, the past version of himself who had just crossed the barrier into the void.
Tyler poured all the information into his past self. Everything he had seen of the universe, starting with the roads and towns and fields, leaving the curve of the Earth and plunging into space. Comets and asteroids and stars, vast fields of stars and galaxies. Beyond the galaxies, he showed his past self the mind-boggling hugeness of the shapes that made up the cosmic web, and ultimately, beyond and greater than even those, the true form of the multiverse itself. He knew that the final image his past self saw would be so strange and vast that it beggared the mind, destroyed imagination, and defied understanding, but he had no choice but to send it. His past self would behold it, and his mind would recoil, but there was no other way.
Because at the end of all things, the beginning and end of this new universe they meant to create, there was a face, and that face was Tyler’s own.
His mission complete, job done, Tyler let go and felt the world fade around him as his form dissolved away.
Tyler found himself and Carl on the border of his strange prison. Though he could not see, he sensed that outside it was a barren wasteland. He looked back as the discontinuity, what Carl had called a bubble, drifted away.
“What does it mean?” Tyler asked. “The future on the bus?”
“I’m not sure yet.” Carl shrugged. “I think each of us has a piece of the plan, some part of the mission. I won’t know how it all makes sense until I see them all.”
“How do we find them all?”
Carl pointed a finger. “I can see new timelines now. We need to go this way.”
Tyler stood for a moment, pondering. “Two times before, I’ve trusted you. And two times before I found out trusting you is a bad move.”
“I know,” Carl said.
“Let me make this very clear,” Tyler said. He lifted a hand and Carl froze in place. Stone appeared at his chest and spread outward to cover his body, then his flesh and clothing slowly reappeared.
Released from the hold, Carl fell to his knees and gasped.
Tyler stood over him. “If there’s a third time, you will regret it.”
Carl nodded, clutching his chest.
“Good,” Tyler said. “Lead the way.”
NEXT: THE UNBRIDLED FURY
“The truth about you.”
© 2014 by J. David Clarke
All Rights Reserved
SUMMER EBOOK SALE! (Please like and share!)
I’m launching a big Summer Sale so if your eReader or Tablet has a void where some fun Summer reading should be, now is the time to fill it! THE WIZARD IN MY WINDOW will be only 99 cents for the duration of the sale. It’s a good time to get caught up on “313” as I’m working on the final volume, so MISSING TIME is 99 cents and TIME SPENT is just $2.99! (eBook versions only)
The new prices are already in effect on Smashwords, and should be available on Kindle tomorrow! (Barnes and Noble, Sony, Kobo, and Apple will get the new prices in a few days to a week, BUT as you should already know, you can buy at Smashwords and download in ANY eReader format, so you can get it now to import to a Nook, Sony, Kobo, or Apple device without waiting for them!)
(Links are also in the buttons on the side!)
Thanks for your support! Enjoy!
(Note: TIME LOST is the third volume in a story called “313”. The first volume, MISSING TIME, and second volume TIME SPENT, are available for purchase through any eReader, digitally through Smashwords.com, or in paperback through CreateSpace.com or Amazon.com. I highly recommend you read them before attempting to read the following. Links can be found in my SUPER HANDY LINKS PAGE!)
“Here we go,” said the portly man in the brown suit, sitting across from him at the kitchen table. He produced a series of brochures from his file folder, which he laid out across the table. “Term Life, Whole Life, Accidental Death.”
He slid the brochures across the table. Carl only stared, his hands exploring the cool, green-flecked smoothness of the Formica tabletop.
“Carl?” a woman’s voice said.
Carl looked up at her. “Hm?”
“You look like you drifted off somewhere,” she said.
Carl knew her, recognized her, from a long time ago and a different…
“Ellen,” he said. “My wife, Ellen…”
She smiled, her lips upturned quizzically. “You really were gone, weren’t you?” She placed a cool hand on his. It felt wonderful, her touch. “He’s been going over the policies.”
“Policies?” Carl said, looking at the portly man with the brochures. “Oh.”
The portly man took a pen from his shirt pocket and clicked it, sliding some papers over to him. “Here you go, just need your signature.”
Carl took the pen and signed the page. The man turned two pages and pointed to another line, where he signed again, and then to a third, where he signed again. Carl hardly looked at his hand as his fingers scrawled his name. He was glancing up at the window, where the light rapidly disappeared.
“The sun’s gone dark,” Carl said.
Ellen stood and walked over to the kitchen window. “Hm. Must be a storm, those clouds moved in fast.”
“You two have made an excellent decision,” the portly man said, standing. “You never know what’s going to happen in the future.”
“The future?” Carl said, looking up at him. “But this isn’t the future.” He looked around at the kitchen, the table, the floor…Ellen… “This is the past.”
The portly man cleared his throat. “Well, it’s good to be prepared.” He held out a hand. Carl stood and took it, shaking gently. The portly man noted his absent look and withdrew his hand. “I’ll show myself out. Pleasure meeting you, ma’am.”
Ellen nodded. “Thank you.” She walked over to Carl and put a hand on his shoulder. “Are you all right?”
“This isn’t right,” Carl said. He followed the portly man through the tiny living room to the front door. As he opened the door for the man, Carl looked outside as the first fat drops of water began to spatter against the screen. “It didn’t rain that night. This night. There was no storm.”
“Ah, you take care now, Mr. Macklin,” the portly man said, clearly unnerved by Carl’s strange comments. He edged his way past Carl and pushed open the screen door, stepping out into the rain.
Carl stepped out after him, lifting his face to the storm and allowing the drops to strike his cheeks and forehead.
“Carl, what are you doing?” Ellen called.
“Some things are bleeding through,” Carl said. “Elements…leaking through the cracks in time. I can see them now.”
The portly man turned back. “Maybe you should get back inside, Mr. Macklin. You don’t seem well.”
Carl stepped forward and took him by the elbow, startling the man. “When I was a boy, my brother died in Vietnam.”
“I used to watch the news to see if they said anything about him, but they never did. They talked about the enemy a lot though, the Viet Cong.”
“But I was just a kid, you know? I didn’t know what that meant. I imagined my brother fighting monsters, ape soldiers with guns in the trees. When he died, I thought the monsters had gotten him. That they might come for me.”
The man nodded.
Carl looked out into the trees and looked back at him. “And now they have.”
“What?” the man said.
“They’re out there,” Carl said. “They’re all around me.”
“Who’s out there?” the man said, trying in vain to pull his arm away.
Carl released his arm and lifted his hands up, one hand near his shoulder and the other out in front of him, as if holding an invisible rifle.
“The Kong,” he said.
Ellen came to him and put her arms around him. “Come on, Carl, let’s get you back inside.” The portly man took the opportunity to dart away, running to his car and jumping inside. The car pulled away into the rain as Ellen pulled at Carl’s arm.
“You’re going to leave me, Ellen,” Carl said. “Not today, but eventually, you’re going to leave me.”
“What are you talking about, Carl?” she said. “Where are you right now?”
“I’m in Hell,” he said. The rain came harder now, soaking through his clothes. “I’m in Hell, and I’m all alone.”
Lightning filled the sky, leaping from cloud to cloud and illuminating the dense trees. Ellen was gone, and Carl stood waist deep in dark water, his rain slicker sticking to his skin in the tropical heat.
His hands held something very like an M1 Carbine before him. Strange, jagged edges surrounded the metal casing, and a rough place pressed against his shoulder as he scanned the trees in the dark.
He looked to his left, where his and Ellen’s house had been, and found only a tiny, dilapidated shack. A tiny candle burned in one window.
The call of the apes sounded through the trees. c-c-ca-ah-ah-ahhhhhh!
Carl looked up and around and saw nothing. He backed carefully toward the shack until he felt his lower half emerging from the water, backing up the steps to the door. He lowered his left hand and found the doorknob. With a turn, the door creaked open, turning inward. Carl crept inside, closing the door behind him.
“Who are you?”
Carl spun, rifle raised, but it was only a child. The shack was small, only one room, and sparsely furnished. There was a tiny bed in one corner, a small table against the front wall, and one rickety chair.
“I’m sorry,” Carl said. “They’re out there. The Kong. We need to be quiet.” He licked the thumb and forefinger of his right hand and reached out to pinch the candle’s wick, putting it out. A tiny trail of smoke rose where once the flame had burned. There was a single bottle of clear liquid standing on the table next to the candle. Carl pulled the cork and sniffed its contents. Some type of grain alcohol he suspected. Might be useful for medicinal purposes. He returned bottle and cork to their places.
Carl moved to the corner on the other side of the table and sat on the floor, hoping he was out of sight of the window. The boy came and sat on the other side of him. He was small, perhaps ten years of age, wearing a ragged white shirt and filthy jeans. His feet were bare and his exposed skin was dirty, like he’d been playing in the mud. His straw blond hair was plastered to his head with moisture.
“Where are your parents?” Carl whispered.
The boy shrugged.
“Is this your home?” Carl asked.
The boy shrugged.
Carl leaned his head against the wall and waited, the rifle held tightly in his lap. The calls were closer now. He heard branches creaking in the rain just outside the shack.
“Are you the fortune teller?” asked the boy.
Carl looked down at him, eyes narrowed. “Where did you hear that?”
“They’re looking for the fortune teller, they said.” The boy’s eyes looked up with a mixture of admiration and fear. “Are you him?”
Carl was silent. He had heard that name, he was sure, but it was a long time ago. Another life.
“Can you see my future?” asked the boy.
Carl’s breath rose and fell, his pulse quickening. He felt like he was remembering something. Something he had forgotten from long ago. He could see something, if he tried, something more than these strange cracks that had taken him to his kitchen with Ellen and the insurance salesman. He could see paths in the air, timelines leading off ahead of him in all directions. These were the outcomes of every possible action he could take, and he could see dozens of them, hundreds if he tried. Carl closed his eyes. He didn’t want to see these things. They reminded him of something. They reminded him of the old life, where he had failed and the world had fallen apart.
“What do you see?”
Carl opened his eyes. He could see dozens of scenarios, and in all of them the same thing happened. The boy cried out for help, and the Kong came. He looked down at the boy.
“Why?” he asked in a faint voice. “Why would you do that?”
“They say you’re here because you killed people. Children.” The boy’s voice cracked as he added, “Is it true?”
Carl’s breath quickened. In all of the possible futures, the boy cried out soon, and the Kong surrounded the shack. He couldn’t fight them all off.
“Is it true?” the boy asked again.
“I don’t-” Images flooded Carl’s mind. Becca, her face a ruined mess on the pavement of the bridge. Zachary, his head split open. Tyler, so peaceful he could have been sleeping. Brandon, racing into the sky with no means of return. He had killed them all, or tried to, anyway. “Yes,” he said. “Yes, it’s true.”
The boy sucked air into his lungs, preparing to scream, and that’s when Carl’s hands closed on his throat. He held the boy against the wall, squeezing as the sounds of the ape calls passed by the shack, then receded into the distance.
Carl went on squeezing for some time before releasing the boy. His body sagged to the floor, eyes open in fear. Carl stood, lifting his rifle from the floor. He opened the door to the shack and stepped out into the rain, leaving the boy’s body behind.
He made his way through the jungle, creeping in silence from tree to tree, watching and listening for the calls of the Kong for what seemed like hours.
Lightning filled the sky, leaping from cloud to cloud and illuminating the dense trees. The call of the apes sounded through the trees. c-c-ca-ah-ah-ahhhhhh! Carl found himself approaching another tiny shack. One candle burned in the window.
Carl turned the doorknob and edged inside, closing the door behind him.
“Who are you?”
Carl turned, finding a boy identical to the one he had met before. He gawked for a moment before laying his rifle on the table. He sat in the rickety chair and gazed into the flame.
“Are you the fortune teller?”
Carl nodded. “I am.”
“They say you killed children. Is it true?”
Carl’s pulse quickened. “I’m in Hell, and I’m all alone…” He leaned forward and with one breath, blew out the candle.
“…and I deserve it.”
THE FORTUNE TELLER
“You see everything but yourself.”
Carl sagged against the tree, head and shoulders slumped, rain patting against the hood of his rain slicker and dripping off the edges. His rifle was slung across his back, the strap pressing down on his right shoulder, already tired from the endless hacking of the plants in the bush. The machete sank lower in his grip, almost to the tips of his fingers. He could drop it, he knew. He could drop it into the dank collected water at his ankles, sink to the base of the tree and wait for the inevitable moment when the ape soldiers discovered him.
His mind reached out, and he saw that future in front of him, clear as day. He saw himself seated at the base of the tree, looking down at the ripples the heavy raindrops made in the water around him. Furred legs dropped from the trees to splash down in front of him. He looked up into the faces of the Kong, three of them, fur lined with streaks of red paint. More swung from the treetops above, looking down on him. They gazed at him from under their helmets and chattered at one another, barking strange, ape laughter at their fallen foe. Then, the lead solder raised his rifle, and all went dark.
Carl could see nothing beyond that.
“So that’s it, then,” said a voice.
Carl started, raising his right arm. The machete slipped free of his fingertips and splashed into the water at his feet. Carl fumbled at the strap of his rifle, but even as he did he realized that this was not the enemy. This was something very different.
A man stood before him. He was young, compared to Carl, around twenty, wearing military fatigues. Without a helmet to cover his head, his close-cropped red hair stood out strangely against all the dark green surrounding them.
“Terry?” Carl said. “Terry, is that you?”
“Who do you see when you look at me?” asked the man.
“My brother,” Carl said. “My brother Terry. Terence.”
“Then I guess that’s me,” Terence said.
Terence smiled. “I knew you needed help, so I came. Does it matter how far?”
Carl wasn’t sure how to answer that.
“So,” Terence said, sidling up next to him and looking him in the eye. “Is this it?”
“Is what it?”
“This,” Terence said, waving a hand at him, up and down. “Is this the place where you finally give up?”
Carl looked down at his boots, submerged in the dark water.
“Is this the place where you die, little brother?”
His hands gripped a black steering wheel. Something grew in the space in front of him. Carl had time to look forward at the dash and windshield and note that he was sitting in the driver’s seat of his old school bus before he saw it. It was like a shimmering hole in the air, and it spread out before him without warning, enveloping the front of the bus.
“Not again,” Carl said, looking around at the passenger section and completely neglecting to hit the brakes. The front of the bus crossed the threshold, and he was the first one across. He caught a glimpse of his students, sitting in the same places they had before.
Tyler, seated directly behind him, pointed ahead. “What are you doing? Look forward!”
Carl’s eyes snapped forward, facing the strange place ahead, which was not a place at all: the void between dimensions. Had Tyler been wearing a brown cloth over his eyes? Had he been alone on the seat, or had some strange image rode the bus next to him?
He saw an infinity of space stretched out in front of him. The bus sailed through strange places, places Carl knew. He realized with a chill that he knew them like the back of his hand, had driven them for hours in a time now lost.
Roads through time and space stretched out in front of them.
Carl’s eyes opened. He lay on his back on a cold, hard surface. Above him, a cylindrical white surface turned, light shining in his eyes.
“What just happened?” he said. “What’s happening?”
“Try to lie still, Mr. Macklin,” a voice said. “We’re almost finished.”
“Terry?” called Carl.
“Stay still, Mr. -“
“Let me out!” Carl banged on the white surface above him. “Let me out of here!”
“Shut it down. Okay, we’re pulling you out sir, calm down.”
The lights went dark. A white glow still came from somewhere near Carl’s feet but he could see next to nothing inside the white tube.
“Carl, I’m right here,” a voice said. “Everything’s okay.”
“Let me out,” Carl repeated.
There was a thrum as the hard surface on which he lay began to vibrate and slide in the direction of Carl’s feet. He understood where he was now: inside one of those hospital machines that take a full scan. MRI? CAT?
As soon as his head cleared the opening, Carl struggled to a sitting position and swung his feet over the side. He was wearing a hospital gown and no pants, he realized. His feet withdrew from the cold sensation of the linoleum floor.
Ellen was standing there beside the machine. It was her voice he had heard. She took his hands in his. “Are you all right?”
“I was on the bus,” he said. “I was on the school bus, but it wasn’t the school bus then.”
She put one hand to his face, stroking his temple soothingly. “No, dear, you’re at the hospital. You’ve been having these…they’re doing some tests, that’s all.”
“I was in the jungle,” he said, more firmly this time. His eyes wandered the room as he spoke. “I was in the jungle, surrounded by Kong soldiers. Terry was there. Then I was in the bus, but it wasn’t the bus back then. It was something that hasn’t happened yet.”
Two men in lab coats entered.
“Mr. Macklin, do you know who I am?” The older man asked.
“Doctor Evans,” Carl said, reading his nametag.
“That’s right,” he said. “Can you tell me what happened in there?”
Carl considered. They’d never believe the truth: that he was flashing back and forth in time, had perhaps been doing so for some time, and had only now become able to see it.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly, gripping Ellen’s hand. “I must have fallen asleep, had some kind of a nightmare.”
“A nightmare,” the doctor said. “So do you know where you are now?”
“I’m in the hospital. I’m here with my wife, Ellen.”
The doctors poked and prodded him for a bit before asking if he was up to trying another scan. Carl knew this must be part of his past but he had no memory of this day. He didn’t know why he was in the hospital or what reason the doctors had to subject him to scans. Nevertheless, he thought it wise to go along with them and not to reveal anything they might consider a sign of mental illness, such as his knowledge that he had been bounced back in time from a hellish prison created for him by an evil all-powerful being. That in mind, he decided to cooperate and lay back down on the bench.
The doctors and Ellen returned to the control station and after a few moments the bench slid back inside the machine. Carl was required to lie still and be silent while the machine rotated around him. He used the opportunity to consider what was happening to him.
First, was he really in the past? He had no memory of these occurrences, and he couldn’t shake the feeling that though Ellen was here, this was not something that had ever happened to them. He had conjectured previously that the cracks in time were causing temporal fractures, like chunks of different times floating around each other. But that was before Gwendolyn arrived, promising to tear down spacetime and rebuild it in her image. If she had done that, why would the cracks in time persist? Shouldn’t their pasts have been obliterated along with everything else?
The scan completed without further difficulty. After he had been withdrawn from the machine and his clothes returned to him, Carl and Ellen were ushered back to a consulting room to wait for the doctors to return. A short while later, Doctor Evans entered.
“Well, the good news is everything looks completely normal. No injury, no unusual activity.”
Carl stayed silent and simply nodded.
“Oh thank goodness,” Ellen said.
“Well we still want to be really careful, blackouts are nothing to mess around with.” The doctor put a hand on Carl’s shoulder.
“I don’t think I had a blackout,” Carl said, shaking his head. He’d never suffered blackouts in his life. “My mind probably wandered…”
“Carl you nearly hit someone,” Ellen said, tears forming in her eyes. “It’s been happening a lot, these…spells. One minute you’re there and the next…”
In another time? Carl thought. He shook his head. “I’m sure it’s nothing serious…”
“We’ll know more what next steps to take when we get your blood work back,” the doctor said. “Until then I want you to take it easy. No drinking or drugs of any kind, no operating a motor vehicle for right now. Okay?”
“I understand,” Carl said, eager to acquiesce to any instruction that would get him out of this place and home. “Thank you, Doctor.”
Doctor Evans shook his hand. “You be careful now, Mr. Macklin, I mean it.”
“You can count on…” Carl’s voice trailed away. Something was happening. He could feel it in his head, he was seeing something behind the man, a shape winding away behind him.
It’s his past, Carl realized. I’m seeing his past.
Roads sprang to life in front of him. In some of them, he accidentally said something about what he was seeing and the doctors had him hospitalized. Carl clamped his mouth shut. He took Ellen’s hand and ushered her from the room.
“Carl, what is it? Is it happening again?”
In very few possible futures did he manage to get her out of the hospital and into the car without her calling for the doctor. The ones where he did manage it depended on his silence. Carl shook his head and kept her moving.
Everyone he looked at now had wormlike past shapes winding away. Their histories were filling his mind. This is impossible, he thought, I didn’t have my power in this time. This shouldn’t be happening.
As he reached the automatic doors to the hospital parking lot and they slid open, his eyes widened. Something altogether new was revealing itself before him, and for a moment he didn’t know what it was or how to understand what he was seeing. Carl stopped cold.
Strange bubbles meandered the parking lot ahead of him, huge, undulating shapes that rolled across his path, colliding and rolling off one another. He shifted to his right as one passed by, and Ellen reacted.
“What is it, Carl? It’s happening again, isn’t it?”
Carl shook his head, mouth open. He peered into the bubble as it wandered past, and inside he saw his father and mother, wearing black and sitting side by side, with him in the middle, only a child. His mother was weeping, his father staring stolidly ahead.
“Terry’s funeral,” Carl said.
“I knew it.” Ellen turned to look for a doctor or someone who could help.
Carl looked forward at another of the bubbles. Inside it, he was a prisoner again, sitting in his lab coat on the floor with Kevin Lloyd kneeling in front of him.
Carl pulled Ellen’s arm and edged them both around it, moving more quickly for the car.
“I can see them, the fractures in time!” He shouted back to her. “I can see them now!”
As he faced forward again, another bubble appeared, too quick to evade.
Inside it –
–Carl fell face forward into dark water. He lifted himself up and leaned back on his legs, letting the sights and sounds of the deep jungle fill his senses.
Directly in front of him was the tiny cabin, lone candle burning in the window.
“Here again,” said Carl.
“And where else would you be, little brother?”
Carl climbed to his feet. He spotted his twisted M1 lying in the marsh grass and picked it up by the strap, slinging it over his shoulder. He turned to face the speaker, and found his brother Terence looking just as he had before, strange and pale, wearing the fatigues of a war that was over long ago. Carl knew that underneath the voluminous deep green rain slicker he was wearing fatigues much like his brother, though he had never worn such clothes and had no idea from whence they had come. Created along with the rest of this place, he imagined.
Created by Gwendolyn and her Army of the Lost.
Had she created this shade of Terence as well? Created it and left it here to torment him? Carl wasn’t sure.
“I was with Ellen,” Carl said, shaking wet mud from his hands. The rain had apparently stopped but it had done nothing to cool the place, and nothing was ever dry. Hot mud clung to him, and the slicker stuck to his body like foil, baking his torso. “I was in the past. I was…but before that…”
Carl tried to remember. “I was on the bus again, with all the others. But it wasn’t the past, it wasn’t the first time we were all together, it was…”
“What was it?” Terry asked.
“It was the future,” Carl breathed. “That’s what it was. I was in the future, and we were all together again.”
Terence was silent.
Carl cocked his head to the side. “Are you part of this, Terry? Are you part of her plan?”
“There’s only one plan, little brother,” Terence said, “and we’re all part of it.”
Despite himself, a dry laugh escaped Carl’s throat. “Now you sound like…”
Terence raised an eyebrow. “Who?”
“No one. Someone I knew.”
“One of the people you killed?”
Carl unslung the rifle and trained it on Terence. “How do you… Terry, how do you know that?”
“Easy, little brother,” Terry lifted his arms and held his hands wide, looking left and right. “Look where you are. You said it yourself.”
Carl reached out with his power, examining all possible futures. This “ghost”, or whatever it was, posed no threat to him. But in all the futures he saw, they were coming for him. They were always coming for him
“I don’t know what it is, really,” said Carl, “but I called it Hell. I can’t get out. I can’t get out no matter what I do. I’ve tried everything.”
“You sure about that?” Terence put his hands down. “Are you real sure?”
Calls echoed distantly through the trees. The Kong. Carl looked up at the trees and into the timestream.
Terence looked up to the treetops. “You must have done something pretty bad to end up in a place like this. Bad bad.”
Carl’s gaze returned to his brother and he lowered the weapon.
“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
Wet mud clung to his boots and made a loud splortch as Carl pulled his feet free and trudged to the cabin.
This time the presence of the boy was no surprise at all. Carl wasn’t sure how many times he had killed this boy, but it was enough that he knew the entire sequence of events by heart. He entered the cabin, the boy asked him about his past, the boy prepared to scream, and Carl strangled him.
“Who are you?” the boy asked.
Carl sat in one of the rickety chairs next to the table and blew out the candle. The boy came and sat in the chair across from him.
“Well, little brother,” said Terence’s voice from the corner opposite. “Do you know the answer to the question?”
Carl looked up. He could just barely make out the outline of Terence’s legs, standing in the corner. A bit of light glinted off his eyes, but the rest of him was cloaked in shadow.
“You’ve never been here before,” Carl said. “Why are you here?”
The boy’s head swiveled, eyes darting between Carl and the dark corner of the shack. “Who are you talking to?” he asked nervously.
“I told you. You needed help, and I came.” Terence stepped forward and sat on the edge of the tiny bed. His body made no impression in the mattress and he burdened the rusty bedsprings not a bit.
“No one can help me,” Carl said.
“Is that right?”
The boy leaned forward. “Are you the fortune teller?”
Carl looked back at the boy’s face, smudged with dirt and wearing a look of fearful wonder. “I am.”
“They say you killed people. Children. Is it true?”
Ca-ca-ca-ah-ah-ahhhh! The ape calls moved closer.
“Is that true, little brother?” Terence asked. “Did you do that?”
“I had to do it,” Carl said. “The whole world was in danger. I didn’t have a choice.”
The boy’s eyes widened.
Terence tilted his head to the right, drawing each word out carefully. “And did it work? Did you save the world?”
Carl could not face him, either of them. “No,” he said, eyes downcast.
The calls of the Kong sounded again, this time just outside. Carl looked up. It sounded as though they were swinging through branches just above the cabin itself.
The boy opened his mouth and filled his lungs with air.
Carl overturned the table, lunging forward. His hands closed around the boy’s throat and he pulled him to the floor. He leaned over the boy’s small form, crushing his windpipe with all his strength.
“Don’t do this, little brother.”
“You don’t understand,” Carl rasped, tears coming to his eyes. “I have no choice. In every future, he calls for help and they come…he calls for help and they come, and they come and they kill me. Every single one.”
The boy’s eyes rolled back in his head. His arms and legs thrashed weakly, but his efforts were insufficient to move Carl.
“I have no choice,” Carl said again, closing his eyes so he didn’t have to see the boy’s bulging eyes. “I have no choice. No choice.”
The sounds of the Kong faded into the distance. Carl was motionless for some time, but finally he let go and sagged backward to the floor.
“Whole world at stake,” Terence whispered.
Carl said nothing, just sat on the floorboards and breathed.
Terence knelt next to him and shook his head, lines of sorrow etched onto his face. “You do need help, little brother. More than you know.”
Something passed through the far wall, like the leading edge of a giant bubble. Carl recognized it immediately as one of the fractures in time, but didn’t react. The bubble washed over Terence and he vanished from sight. Inside the bubble, Carl could see in the inside of the school bus. More, he could see through the bus’s windshield to the myriad roads stretching away through the void into infinity ahead of it. The bubble crested over his face-
-and instantly Carl’s mind expanded, his senses reaching down each road to the worlds beyond. He knew where each one led, could see the strange futures that waited for all of them should they continue down each path.
Carl gripped the steering wheel so hard his fingers turned pale.
His mind had seen these worlds before, these possible futures should he take each road, but now it filled with other knowledge, knowledge of the pasts of every world and all the different timelines that branched from every one. The last time this had happened it hurt terribly, but now it was effortless and almost pleasant. Carl’s brain no longer had the human limits that had held him back before. His mind’s potential was limitless.
He swerved to the left as a road almost took them into a land of apelike men with wooden towers. He swerved right to avoid a world where alien sky-ships invaded Earth.
And now Carl was aware of something else happening. At each turn, at each branch in the road, a passenger in the bus vanished. Carl had no idea how he knew this, except that his expanded mind was aware of many things he had no business knowing, but know it he did. They were disappearing, one by one, into the void, to another destiny. This had been his plan. Carl knew this, without understanding why or where they were going.
With each turn, his mind revealed to him a new destiny, a new part of his plan.
Carl drove into the night, growing more and more confident that he would soon find the road home.
His plan was working.
A shimmering barrier passed through the front of the bus. Wait, Carl thought, I don’t understand what’s happening in this time yet! Why are we back on the bus? What is the plan? How do I-
-find the others?
Carl’s head snapped up, as if from a light doze. Fluorescent lights shone down on him from above. He was in the hospital again, but this time he was seated in a chair, in a hallway outside one of the rooms. The antiseptic odor of cleaning fluid drifted up to him from the polished tile floor.
His fatigues and rain slicker had vanished, to be replaced by ordinary civilian garb: a pair of jeans and a buttoned-up short sleeve shirt. On his right wrist was a watch. Its feel was familiar to him; like most people his age, Carl had never gotten over the habit of wearing a wristwatch when the younger generation moved on to checking the time on their cell phones. Carl pushed his old wire-rimmed glasses up on his nose and looked about for some more precise sign of where he was or why he was here.
A voice came from the room behind him: Ellen’s voice. Carl craned his neck about to locate her and realized instantly where and when he was. He knew this day, had tried for years to forget it.
“We’ve been making some changes to the house,” Ellen was saying. “When you’re feeling well, you can come for a visit.”
She sat beside a hospital bed with the guard rails down. In her hands, she held the left hand of the patient who lay in the bed, an older man with white hair. He had been a bulldog of a man in his youth, with a square chin and short, thick nose. Now his skin had shrunken away and turned sallow, leaving him a pale, hollow-eyed bag of bones.
The old man saw Carl looking in through the blinds and lifted his right hand and held it up, neither waving nor beckoning, but reaching out as though he imagined he might somehow touch Carl through the glass.
Carl turned around and stared forward.
He heard the sound of the chair’s feet scraping the hospital floor, and soon Ellen appeared at the door, looking down on him. Ellen was older too now, older than she had been in the last time jump. There were traces of gray in her hair. The day of her leaving him was soon now, Carl knew. Very soon.
“Carl? He wants to see you.”
“No,” said Carl.
She came and sat down next to him, taking his hand in hers. He pulled it away, feeling strange at the notion of hands which had touched his father’s hands in sympathy so soon touching his own.
“Don’t do this, Carl.”
“I’m not doing anything,” he said. “After all the years of…after the way he’s treated me, you want me to go in at the last minute and let him make it seem like it was all okay. I won’t do it.”
“Do you remember what you told me about your brother?” she asked.
As if he could ever forget.
“You didn’t say good bye to him,” she said. “You don’t want that to happen again, not with your father.
“How do you know what I want?” he asked in a harsh voice.
“What does that mean?”
“It doesn’t matter what I do,” Carl said. “In the end, nothing matters at all. I end up alone.”
“What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean,” he said. “You probably already started planning it, didn’t you? Probably already made arrangements! Why are you even here?”
She sat for a moment, scrutinizing his face in silence, then she stood. “I don’t know what this is all…You been acting so…” She stopped and took a breath. “I’m going to get a coffee.” She walked a few steps away, then turned and marched back up to him. “Carl Macklin, if you’re angry over something that happened between you and your father, I understand that, but don’t take it out on me!”
She stormed off down the hall and disappeared out of sight before Carl could react. He stood, mouth agape, reaching out to an empty hall.
“You’re going to lose her too.”
Carl turned. His father had somehow climbed out of bed and was leaning against the doorframe, hospital gown sagging against his skeletal form.
“Dad, you shouldn’t be out of bed.” Carl took hold of him and supported him as he walked back to the bed. He sat his father down on the bed, then reached down to lift his legs on to the mattress. He reached down to pull the sheet over him, but his father waved it off.
“It’s hot here,” he whispered. “Always hot.”
Looking at his withered body, Carl had no idea how the man could be anything but freezing, but he nodded and left the sheet where it was.
“You’re going to lose her, son.”
“That’s none of your business,” Carl said.
His father’s right hand squeezed Carl’s forearm. He had no strength at all. Carl could easily have pulled away, but he found himself leaning down, allowing his father to pull him face to face.
“You’re going to lose her, just like your mother.”
Carl shook his head. “Mom left you, Dad, not me.”
“No…” His father struggled to find the breath to allow him to get out more words. “Not what I…not what I…you…so weak. Not like your brother.”
Carl felt his face go red. He yanked his arm away from his father’s shriveled fingers and stepped back. “I have to go.”
“Always knew…nothing but a screwup. Can’t get anything right.”
Carl turned away from him, his eyes stinging.
“Goodbye, Dad,” he choked the words out through a tightening throat. He walked to the door.
“Don’t lose her…like your mother…like I lost your mother.”
“Your brother…better than us. Always worried…you’d be just…like…”
Frank Macklin continued to stare at him with hollow, rheumy eyes, but he said no more.
The fracture in time must have come from behind him, because the next thing Carl knew he was standing in the sweltering jungle, leaning against a tree. The hospital, Ellen, his father…all were gone, relics of a past life.
“It’s your life,” Terence said. “All of it, past, present, future: all of it is yours. You make it whatever you want it to be.”
Terence was standing just ahead of him, in the middle of a copse of tall trees. The sun had come out, for a change, but it was red and angry, nothing like the sun Carl had always known. Its light was hot and penetrating, and standing in it for even a few moments sapped his strength and made him feel dazed and unsteady. Carl quickly moved to stand under the trees. Even the shade here was hot and sticky, but preferable to the direct light. He slapped at the mosquitoes and flies, which had gathered to feast on his salt-crusted skin and the warm blood within.
“You can’t be that naive,” Carl said. “You think I chose this?”
Terence directed a look of pity at him. “Oh, Carl…do you really think you didn’t?”
“I’m not the one who left his family to go off to war!” Carl shouted. “I’m not the one who died and left his little brother all alone!”
He made sure the rifle strap was secure over his shoulder and trudged away, heading through the jungle to what he knew was a repeated meme: another cabin, another boy, another murder, another escape. Replay, song on repeat.
Suddenly, Terence was ahead of him again, under another copse of trees, or maybe the same one, knowing this place.
“I don’t understand you, little brother. Didn’t you learn anything? You saw the message and everything.”
Carl stopped in his tracks. He turned to face Terence, brow furrowing. “Message?”
“Didn’t you meet someone with a message for you? Someone like me, who came to help you?”
“You mean Zachary,” Carl said with a cold edge to his voice. This was the second time the ghost of his brother had called that particular person to mind.
Terence shrugged. “Did you see the message or not?”
Carl swiped at the flies again, considering. “I saw something. It told me about Gwendolyn. She had used the fractures in time to invade our pasts and change them.”
“No, no.” Terence frowned. “Why would your message be about someone else or the things they’ve done? You didn’t pay attention at all.”
“I know what I saw.”
From somewhere, Terence produced a shiny bit of metal. He held it up, his hand just shy of the red sunlight. “Do you remember this?”
Carl recognized it immediately.
“It’s the plane,” he said. “The toy plane you…” His voice caught. “The plane you broke.”
“And glued back together. Now do you remember?”
Carl nodded. “It was part of what I saw. You’re saying that was the message?”
Terence was silent. He lowered his hand, and where the plane disappeared to Carl could not say.
“But I already knew all that. What’s the point?”
“Purpose is like deep water,” Terence said, “but a wise man will draw it out.”
Carl emitted a growl. “I’ve had enough riddles.” He walked away.
Soon, night fell, and Carl was again approaching the tiny cabin, a single candle burning in the window.
“Don’t do it, little brother.”
Carl stopped, his hand just short of the rusted door handle. He turned around to see Terence standing in the water, bathed in moonlight.
“Howcome you only stand out here when the moon is out?”
Terence looked up. “The moon’s okay. But that other thing is no sun, and I don’t want it looking down on me.”
Carl splashed into the water and slapped a hand forward, determined once and for all to find out if this was a ghost, a shade, or-
His hand struck Terence’s chest with a smack.
“You’re real…” Carl breathed.
“I’m real to you. And you need to listen to me.”
Carl turned, but Terence now stood between him and the door.
“If you had known I fixed your toy plane, would you have said goodbye to me?”
Carl unslung the rifle and pointed at him. “Move.”
Terence raised his hands. “I’m here to help you.”
“No one can help me. Now move.”
“The wise man draws out purpose. If you say no one can help you, then no one can, and I’m wasting my time. Everyone who’s ever known you has wasted their time since you were born. Is that what you want?”
Carl lowered the rifle. “What do you want from me? I told you, I have no choice.”
Terence held the toy plane up again. “Would you have said goodbye?”
“Yes, all right. What does it matter?”
“And would you be the same person now, if you had?”
“Maybe,” Carl said. “I don’t know.”
Calls sounded in the jungle.
“They’re coming!” Carl raised the rifle again. “Please, Terry. Just move.”
Terence stepped aside.
Carl walked to the door and put his hand on the knob.
“How did you get to this place?” Terence asked from behind him. “This place you can’t escape from?”
Carl rested his forehead against the door. “She made it.”
“The one you tried to save the world from. The one you failed to stop.”
“Why did she put you here?”
Carl breathed in and out, considering. “To punish me.”
“Wrong,” Terence said.
Carl turned to face him. The calls were getting nearer.
“You think you’re being punished for your sins,” Terence said. “You think you deserve to be here. But she doesn’t care what you’ve done. You said it yourself, she changed your past to her liking, to make it easier to defeat you.”
Carl’s eyes narrowed.
“She made this place, and everything in it, to keep you prisoner. She’s afraid of you. But she knows you, and she made this place to hold you.”
“Too well,” Carl said. “I can’t get out.”
Terence laughed. “You see so much, Carl. You see the future, the past. You see time all around you. You see everything but yourself.” He tossed the toy plane and Carl dropped the rifle to catch it.
“With each choice you make, you decide the person you’re going to be. The man who didn’t say goodbye, the man who hated his father, the man who lost his wife, the man who killed children to save the world. This place was designed to hold you, and as long as you’re that man, it will hold you.”
Carl turned the plane over in his fingers, its wings glinting in the moonlight.
“How do I…” he began-
-but Terence was no longer there. He was inside the bus again.
On he drove, and with each world his mind expanded further, grasping not only the twists of time and space but also the complexities of his plan, the history of the fate of every one of his passengers. They were vanishing and coming together, disappearing and joining together as pieces in the final gambit.
The secrets of the universe poured themselves into Carl’s brain, and with each new expansion his mind became more adroit at directing him through the rift. He applied just the right nudge to the brakes to avoid a world where an intelligent yellow light energy waited to infuse any biological being.
(Another passenger disappeared.)
His grip on the wheel kept them from straying too far into a world where thought was as easy to hear as speech.
Carl could see every road in front of them. He knew every possible future. He knew exactly where each one of them needed to be for the plan to work, and it was working. There was only one future he couldn’t see, one destiny his mind never knew.
“Hey man,” a voice said from beside him. Sound of a fist rapping on plastic. “Hey!”
Carl looked up. He was sitting in a molded plastic booth, holding a plastic replica of an actual M1 Carbine (similar though not exactly like the twisted metal weapon he had wielded in the jungle). A giant video screen loomed in front of him with the words GAME OVER blinking a garish lightshow in his face. A young man in his twenties was standing next to the video game. Carl released the mounted “rifle” in front of the screen and turned.
“What?” he said.
“Um, dude, your game ended like five minutes ago.”
“I remember this,” Carl said.
“Man, there’s other people waiting to play the game. Can you step out, please?”
Carl looked up at the man, whose nametag read ROGER.
“General Manager,” read Carl aloud.
“Yeah, I’m the manager, sir. Can you step out and talk to me over here for a minute?”
Carl’s eyes searched the man’s face, but he wasn’t really seeing him at all. He stepped up and out of the game, but stood still, thinking.
This is the day.
“You okay, sir?” Roger asked. “Are you having some kind of ‘Nam flashback or something?”
Somewhere, his wife was attempting to cash a check. She was discovering that all their money was gone, in the most unpleasant way possible.
“I wanted to buy light bulbs. I screamed at her. I called her a liar.”
Then she would return home to wait for him. She’d open the mail, and find out he’d been keeping an awful secret from her. He had done so many things wrong, made so many bad choices. There had been so many bad days before this one, so many…but this was the worst of them all.
This is the day I lose my wife for good.
“The woman at the bank, she said,” Carl said, grasping the younger man’s shoulders. “SHE’S AT THE BANK.”
“You’re kinda freakin’ me-“
Carl shoved Roger the General Manager out of his way and ran. He slammed open the door and ran into the parking lot. Carl ran like he hadn’t run in almost 30 years, chest puffing and shins screaming. He ran as if all the devils in hell were right on his tail.
The tires on his little Chevy screamed and squealed, leaving black marks on the lot as he peeled out of the parking lot. Cars honked as he ignored all traffic and roared out of the parking lot and onto the road, headed home.
Those who witnessed the whole thing could only stand and scratch their heads, wondering what to make of it all, before returning to the video games that had served to fulfill such a need in Carl’s heart once. No matter what the games threw at you, there was always a way to win, a road to victory, if only you made the right choice.
Carl knew better than to run headlong into a bank in the post-oh-eight world. After the crash and the subsequent collapse of the housing market, as banks began repossessing homes and more and more people were on the street, this bank like many others had put up bulletproof glass and hired additional security. It wouldn’t do to go charging in huffing and puffing.
This meant Carl had to sit at the wheel and calm himself.
After several moments, he climbed out and wiped sweat from his brow, then walked into the bank and looked about.
“Can I help you sir?” asked a young woman with light brown skin and a professional looking grey skirt and jacket over a simple blue blouse.
“I’m looking for…”
He spotted Ellen. She was standing in line at the teller windows on the far side of the lobby. As Carl saw her, another woman had just stepped away from the teller and Ellen was walking up to take her turn.
Carl had no time for propriety. “Ellen!” He sprinted across the lobby and grasped at Ellen’s elbow.
“Oh my god!” she started, staring at him. “Carl, you scared the life out of me! What are you doing here?”
A security guard stepped forward. “Is everything okay here?”
“Everything’s fine,” Carl said.
“This is my husband,” Ellen explained. “What is it?”
“I need to speak to you,” Carl said. “Outside.”
“Please,” Carl said.
Once they were seated together in her car, Ellen demanded an explanation for his behavior. Carl told her everything. He started with his brother’s death and how it had affected him, how he and his father had been estranged and had never made peace, even in his father’s emaciated final days battling cancer in the hospital. He told her about how he regretted the times he hadn’t appreciated her or had put up a wall and resisted talking to her. These were things she already knew, yet on he talked in the late afternoon. He told her about his many years laboring underpaid at the plant and how it made him feel, and how it had all ended. He told her about the plant closing, about the layoffs happening in shifts, how he had been selected in the very first round of layoffs. Still he had not gotten to anything that was his fault or for which she’d be angry, but at last it all spilled out. He confessed his secrets: the lies, the pretense of going to work, the days at the arcade, and his voice went soft, his face red with shame.
He did not tell her anything that had happened after this day: the bus crash, the powers, the fractures in time, the murders. Most of all, he did not tell her of the evil goddess from before the dawn of time whom he had failed to stop, and who had consigned him to a prison world from which there was no escape.
After he had finished, they sat for a long time, holding each other quietly in the hot little car, people passing into and out of the bank and looking at them strangely. Eventually, Ellen spoke.
“I’ve been keeping a secret too,” she said.
Carl didn’t understand. “What?” He gazed at her as if he had never seen her before.
This didn’t happen before. She never said this.
“I didn’t know you had lost your job,” she said, looking down, “but I knew something was wrong…something’s been wrong for a long time.” Tears trickled from the corners of her eyes and her voice trembled. “A long time.”
Carl took her face in his hands, wiping away her tears. “What is it?”
“I’m pregnant,” she said.
His mouth dropped. “You…but…” They had tried many times to get pregnant, through her twenties and thirties, with no success. Now, with Ellen in her mid-forties… “Is that possible?”
She laughed through her tears. “It’s possible, Carl. I haven’t been through menopause yet. I saw a doctor, and it’s possible.”
“Isn’t it dangerous?” Carl asked.
“He said there are risks, but there have been advances…it’s not a hundred percent, but…there’s chance we could….”
Past her face, through the window, Carl saw the front wave of a bubble approaching. Inside it, he could see the door to the cabin in the jungle.
He kissed Ellen then, long and deep, and put his arms around her, clinging to her like a life raft. When he finally released her, he took her hands.
“Listen to me,” he said. “No matter what happens, I promise you and the baby will be safe. I promise.“
“I love you, Ellen.” A waterfall of tears filled his mouth as he spoke. “I love you so much.”
The wave passed over them, and Carl put his hand to the rusty doorknob, turning it.
His eyes took a moment to adjust from the light from which he had stepped, albeit in a different time on another world, to the dim candlelight. Once his irises had contracted and his vision cleared, he made out the shape of the boy standing in the center of the room, dressed in rags, his face smudged with dirt. Carl closed the door behind him.
“Who are you?” the boy asked.
Carl took a knee in front of him. “I won’t hurt you, I promise.”
“Are you the fortune teller?”
In every future, the boy screamed for help. In every future, the Kong surrounded him.
“You can’t control him.” Terence stood in the corner, barely visible. “You can’t control them.”
Carl closed his eyes, shutting out the terrible futures lying in wait.
The boy would call for help. Terence was right; there was no way he could change that.
Maybe, though…just maybe…
I can change why.
“I need your help,” he said, eyes clamped shut.
“My help?” the boy asked, perplexed. “With what?”
“My friends…my students. I was supposed to watch out for them. I was responsible for them…and I let them down. Now they’re in trouble. They need my help to survive.”
The boy was quiet.
“Not only that…but the one who made this place…the one who did all this to me and them…if I don’t get them out and stop her, my wife and my…my baby…my whole world will be lost. May already be lost.”
“Please,” Carl said, tears squeezing through the corners of his closed lids. “Please, will you help me?”
The calls grew closer. The boy looked toward the window, silently pondering his words, then looked back.
“What can I do?”
Carl opened his eyes and was dazzled as new futures sprang to life before him.
“I have a plan,” he said.
A cry rang out from the tiny cabin beneath them. The Kong soldiers immediately stopped in mid-swing and dropped from the vines, surrounding the cabin. Six of them made up the patrol, led by a huge gorilla with twin rifles, one held in his hand and one slung over his back. He unslung the second rifle and held both forward, nodding to his troops.
One of the apes moved forward and kicked the door in, advancing inside. The others followed from all directions, clustering inside the cabin to find…
“Wherrre fortune tellerrr?” the lead ape growled.
Glass shattered as something was thrown in through the window. A bottle of clear liquid with a bit of burning fabric stuffed into its neck broke apart at their feet and the liquid ignited instantly. The blaze spread out across the floor, consuming their feet and setting fire to their furry legs. The apes howled in pain. Flames leapt up the walls in an instant, consuming the ancient cabin.
At that moment, the front wall was torn apart by automatic weapons fire.
The apes were too confused to fire back, too desperate to find a way out to stop from running into the path of the shells. Ablaze and maddened with pain, they were ripped apart by the gunfire without really ever knowing what had happened.
Given a chance, they might have had time to overturn the bed and find the place where Carl had pulled loose several floorboards so he and the boy could slip away under the cabin. If the boy had been on their side, he could have warned them, but he wasn’t on their side anymore. He was safely outside behind the line of fire.
Once the Kong were lured inside, their fate was sealed.
The fortune teller had escaped.
Carl sat in a small patch of grass, watching the blaze and smiling long into the night. The boy sat with him for a time. Carl knew that. He had seen the firelight play across the blond boy’s dirt-streaked cheeks.
“Thank you,” Carl said. “Thank you.”
The second thank you was lost in a mumble as he drifted off to sleep, for the first time in what seemed like years, his body sagging against a tree and his breath coming in long snores that frightened away even the hardiest of the mosquitoes. When he woke to the morning light of the red sun, the boy was gone.
Hundreds of new paths stretched out before him.
Carl stood, and trudged along one of the new paths, and became aware that his future found him at the edge of the jungle, leaving behind the strange trap Gwendolyn had made for him.
He stopped for a moment and looked back.
“Terry?” he called.
The jungle made no reply.
“Thank you,” he said to no one. “I’m going to find them. I know in the future I have a plan to stop Gwendolyn. I think the time fractures have something to do with it. Maybe whatever we do recreates the past, the one Gwendolyn destroyed when she…did whatever she did to the universe. This time, maybe we can make it better. I don’t know, but we can stop her. We can lock her out where she can never hurt anyone again.”
He felt suddenly foolish for announcing this to the empty trees.
“I can save everyone. I know I can.”
He turned to go-
-and was struck by another time bubble. He found himself at the driver’s seat of the bus, still maneuvering his way between worlds.
Finally he saw it: one road ahead led to the bridge!
The other side of the anomaly they had entered was closing fast, though. Carl gunned the gas, sending the bus hurtling for the bridge.
Carl saw the future in front of him clear as day. He had angled the bus just right. He would not emerge on the bridge, but rather facing the opposite way, landing away from the river. Carl slammed the brakes and gripped the steering wheel as he felt the tires make contact with the asphalt. He did not open the doors and throw himself free. Not this time, even though he was the only one left. That was the old Carl, he thought.
The bus lurched and swerved. He turned into the skid, trying to keep the bus from swerving out of control, but the bus bounced from the impact, and there was nothing he could do to prevent it turning over onto its side.
The bus landed on the driver’s side, and Carl was slammed to his left as the bus slid over the road, windows shattering.
Finally, it came to a stop. Carl lay there for a moment before unbuckling himself and allowing his body to sag against the side of the bus. Tiny fragments of glass had embedded themselves in his cheek. Carl propped himself up and picked them out, dropping them to the ground. He became aware of a presence.
SHE was there.
Carl stood, amazed he had broken nothing in the crash. He turned, and there she was.
Gwendolyn did nothing to hide her true aspect. She was a pulsing cloud of red energy in the form of a woman, her eyes piercing red stars glowing in the night.
Carl brushed bits of glass from his clothes and said nothing.
“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?”
He considered. What had he done? Part of him wasn’t sure.
“I did what I always wanted to do,” he found himself saying. “I saved the world. I saved these kids.” He gestured to the empty bus. “I saved everyone…and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Her eyes flared but she said nothing for several moments. At last she spoke.
A red hand plunged into his chest and ripped through his breastplate like it was tissue paper. She tore something free and held it in front of him, squeezing the meat through her fingers and spattering the side of the bus with his blood.
Carl’s knees hit hard as he fell. His face struck the concrete through one of the broken windows-
-and Carl stumbled forward into daylight on the edge of the jungle.
He reached a hand up, probing his chest. Nothing was wrong. His heart and rib cage were exactly where they should be.
Carl stood still for a moment, pondering what he had seen. Then he looked forward and watched the paths spread out before him, examining each outcome.
No matter what happens, I promise you and the baby will be safe. I promise.
He took a long breath, checked to make sure his rifle was slung securely across his back, and began the long road toward the school bus.
NEXT: THE BLIND BARD
“We’re only dancing for our lives.”
(c)opyright 2014 by J. David Clarke
All Rights Reserved
Wrote this as possible back cover text for A KNIGHT IN THE GARDEN, which will probably be my NaNoWriMo project in November. If you haven’t read THE WIZARD IN MY WINDOW yet, consider this a big ol SPOILER ALERT! ;)
One night only may ye pass unharmed…
The black armor still stands unchanged in the center of the Colliers’ garden, silent marker to the fate of Sir Robert, cursed by the Wizard’s magic.
Two years have passed since Timothy and Nicole Collier defeated the ancient and powerful Wizard, locking him forever inside the window in Timothy’s bedroom. In that time, Timothy’s power has grown even stronger, but his illness makes him a prisoner in his own body. If Nicole, now 18 and a senior in high school, is to rescue the cursed knight Sir Robert from his hellish entrapment, she must do so without Timothy’s help. One tale provides the key: on the night of the winter solstice, between dusk and dawn, a mortal may pass into the underworld and return without consequence.
Armed only with an amulet to siphon the fear from her heart, and led along her way by a magical talking cat, Nicole must enter the underground kingdom of the Coboli to find and follow a treacherous path through the forgotten lands of the Underkind. There she will meet new friends, encounter new creatures, and face horrors the likes of which she never imagined.
And watching them all, the Wizard in the window plots his ultimate revenge.
A KNIGHT IN THE GARDEN
Darker in tone than the first volume, KNIGHT takes Nicole on her own journey and reveals an entire world hidden away from the eyes of humankind. So what do you think? Are you ready for more magical adventure with the Colliers?
April 21, 2014 at 9:33 am (Commentary, The Wizard in My Window)
Tags: adventure, apple, barnes and noble, ebooks, fantasy, kobo, nook, publishing, reading, smashwords, sony, the wizard in my window, writing, YA
Now that THE WIZARD IN MY WINDOW has finished up the last of it’s Kindle exclusive giveaways, I have made it available for purchase and download at Smashwords! Smashwords is a site where you can buy ebooks and download them in any eReader format.
Even better, Smashwords is reviewing the book for their premium catalog, which means it will be distributed to all the other eReaders out there soon, making it available for Apple devices, Kobo, Barnes and Noble Nook, Sony, etc. It will also be available to members of Oyster and Scribd soon.
I’ll keep you informed so if you are a user of one of these devices, you’ll know when to get your copy! Thanks for your patience.
If you’d like to buy and download your copy through Smashwords, you can find it here!