Unclaimed, Part 3

bernicons            Martin and Anemone stumbled into the entry hall; his arms were wet with his niece’s tears. “Shush, Anemone. Please,” he breathed. Martin felt his heart pound within his chest. He dared not look at his wound. He dared not look behind when there was a crash at the door. The guardsmen lowered the manor door’s brace and locked it in place.

“Father!” Martin looked up and saw Mistress Amelia’s skirt dart around the corner of the second floor hall.

“Mistress!” he shouted, but she was gone.

Anemone beat at her uncle’s arms. “Let me go!” she shouted through sobs, “Let me find Papa!”

A tall, black arrow crashed through the rosette window above the manor door and landed directly in front of Martin. Shouts and the clash of steel roared outside. Martin brought Anemone close to his chest and he ran up, following the Mistress.

Reaching the top of the stairs, Martin spied an ajar door down the corridor and rushed for it. “Father! Please be reasonable!” heard Martin, “Think of your people!” it was Mistress Amelia’s voice. “We have to give her to her-!”

Martin reached the open door to witness his Lordship strike out, causing the Mistress to fall weeping to the floor. “Mistress!”

His Lordship scowled and turned from Amelia returning to a bedside. Martin gingerly walked up and helped Mistress Amelia to her feet. “Mistress,” he said in a hushed voice, “What is going on here? Shouldn’t we go? Where are we?”

Mistress Amelia held her crimson cheek with one hand, holding back the stinging tears. “We’re in Lady Siran’s chambers.”

Martin glanced up at the four poster bed and saw the Lord holding the hand of his beautiful elven wife. The white tresses of her hair were brushed out to lay gently over her chest and her eyes were shut in slumber. Flanked on either side of her bed were flameless candles producing steady narrow streams of smoke.

“Isn’t Lady Siran very sick?” whispered Anemone, eyes still damp, “Like Papa? Can we move her?”

Mistress Amelia nodded. “Her Ladyship has been in a deep sleep for a very long while, Anemone.”

“I won’t let them take you,” murmured the Lord, “Never. Never. Master brought you back to me…”

Anemone gasped. “They’re coming!”

The door flew open to reveal… nothing, but Anemone stared out in horror.

Martin held Anemone tight as he quickly brought himself and Mistress Amelia to the wall. It was then that Martin felt the cool touch of steel hover closely to his neck.

“Don’t…” and with the first utterance of words, the first of the elven soldiers appeared before them, it was he who held the blade, “…move.” Six other elven soldiers appeared out of thin air. The armor that each elf wore was marked with the emblem of fire on their chests.

Taking point was an elven woman with an unraveling white braid. “Marcus!” she shouted. “Step aside.”

His Lordship kissed Lady Siran’s limp hand. “Princess…” Lord Marcus kicked the chair he had sat upon back into the Princess’ legs. She stumbled giving Lord Marcus a moment to draw this sword. “Siran would be so happy to see her dear sister. She is still resting though, Rehan, you are quite inconsiderate to barge in like this.”

Princess Rehan drew her sword and pointed it at Lord Marcus. “You keep her chained as she is. I demand you release her.”

Lord Marcus’ blade tapped the point of Princess Rehan’s. “She lives, Rehan. Do not make me kill my wife’s sister.”

“No…” breathed Mistress Amelia.

With a snap of Princess Rehan’s wrist, Marcus’ blade was thwarted down and she took her stance. “Not being dead isn’t the same as living, Marcus!” Princess Rehan charged forward, more toward Lady Siran than Lord Marcus. Her soldiers stood at the ready behind her.

Lord Marcus stood his ground, sword in hand. “The Master of Death has spared her, Rehan. You  are the one who condemns her to death!” Marcus caught Princess Rehan’s blade and kept her where she stood..

“You begged your Master to keep Siran from dying and condemned her to a life of wakeless sleep!” She said through gritted teeth. “Let her go, Marcus! Let her into the arms of her Lady Vitalia where she can find life again!”

Lord Marcus spit into Princess Rehan’s face and shoved her back. “Death is the only God with any real power here! But if you’d like I can help guide you into your Goddess’ arms!” He lunged.

And then he froze in place, his sword falling from his hand. A dark arrow had lodged itself in the middle of his chest. Mistress Amelia cried out. Princess Rehan glanced back, first at Amelia then glaring at her soldier with the bow.

Mistress Amelia stepped forward but the soldier blocked her. “No,” said Rehan, “Let her tend to his wound. He may be saved yet.” Mistress Amelia rushed to her father’s side.

Princess Rehan did not look, her eyes rested on her sister. Martin could not see her face, he only saw Rehan’s hand tuck Lady Siran’s long hair behind her ear tenderly. The warrior princess brought up her sword and Martin hid Anemone’s eyes from the sight.

Princess Rehan withdrew her blade from her sister’s body, wiped it and stepped away. She looked to Mistress Amelia. “I’m sorry, Amelia,”

Mistress Amelia did not look up, but Martin could tell the redness of her eyes from the sobbing as she spoke. “I knew he was mad… I knew I should have done something…”

“A husband should be brave enough to let the ones he loves go…” whispered Rehan.

Blood stained Mistress Amelia’s velvet cloak. “What now, Aunt Rehan?”

“I have no interest in taking your lands, Amelia,” sighed Rehan, “Rule as you wish.”

Her head snapped up glaring defiantly. “Rule what!?” demanded Mistress Amelia. “How many of my people have you killed?!”

Stone faced, Princess Rehan replied, “I did not harm anyone who was not in my way. I’ll have my men clean what blood has been spilt and we will leave and return past the wall-”

“WHAT OF MY PAPA!?” Anemone had wiggled her away out of her uncle’s grasp and charged at Princess’s Rehan shins.

“ANEMONE, NO!” he shouted.

“…What is this?” Princess Rehan asked Mistress Amelia.

Mistress Amelia sniffed and reached out to Anemone with her bloodied hands. “Anemone, child, come here.”

Anemone pounded at the armor on the Princess’ legs. “Did you kill him?! There was fire! Why did you kill him!?”

Princess Rehan nodded at her soldier and Martin was allowed to step forward. “Come here, Anemone. Hush now.”

“But, I saw it-”

“Hush!!”Martin pulled a trembling Anemone behind him, before daring to look up at the Princess Rehan and nodding a thank you.

“Wait,” said the Princess, “Hold still, man.” She reached out the Martin’s chest.

“Martin, step back!” hissed Mistress Amelia. “Don’t hurt him!” she pleaded.

Princess Rehan pulled back at the hole in Martin’s shirt, the hole where the elven arrow had landed. She pressed her lips together in a frown as she looked at his face. “You suffer a fate worse than my sister, sir Martin. Death is not without spite…”

Martin trembled, holding himself up as best he good. He finally gathered the courage to look down and he felt his heart leap up into his throat. There was a small hole in his skin, but blood did not seep from it, only  a small wisp of smoke. “I-I don’t understand.”

The look on Princess Rehan’s face told him that she truly did pity him. “You are Unclaimed.”

3 Week Break

Hello everyone!

I’m here to announce that Short Story Salad will be down for the next three weeks. TJ and I are moving across the country and all the packing and unpacking will take up a large amount of time.

I’m excited to come back in June with new stories to tell!

Take care everyone!

bernicons

The Barren Mountain – Part III

tjicon“Y-you…” muttered the knight. “You cut out your hearts. And ate—” he retched. The ghostly arms released Sir Jamon and began return into the sisters’ backs. The knight landed on his feet, but immediately fell to his knees.

“Yes,” said Gwyneth, toying with the dagger in her hands, “we ate our own hearts.”

“What kind of sorcery…” said the knight. “I don’t understand.”

“Of course you don’t,” hissed Maribeth, then looking at her sisters, “they never do.”

“They don’t want to,” said Annabeth, “they have no interest in understanding us. They only wish to confine us, control us, possess us.”

“We want to protect you!” Sir Jamon’s fist were balled up tight, his teeth clenched, “I only wanted to protect her.”

Gwyneth stepped forward and crouched down before the knight, looking into his eyes, “And how did that work out?”

Anger boiled up in Sir Jamon, but as he stared into Gwyneth’s eyes, it died down. Her the darkness in her eyes had gone, leaving ones that were all too human.

“Th-there was a… attack. Her family didn’t… but I saved her. I stopped them. And I saved her.” The knight turned his head, refusing to let these monsters see the tears well up in his eyes. “But she was… grief stricken, the deepest melancholy I had ever witnessed. I tried as well I could, but I could not lift her spirits. And…”

Gwyneth grabbed Sir Jamon’s face and turned it back to hers, “And what, knight?”

“I failed!” He pulled his face away from Gwyneth’s grasp, “I failed her.”

Gwyneth stood to her feet. “She took her own life?”

Sir Jamon punched the ground. “I let her die!”

“What more could you have done?” said Annabeth

“I could have kept her safe. I wouldn’t have let anyone hurt her. I was supposed to protect her.”

Maribeth sighed. “So now you wish to bring her back? You think that will save her? That will make everything better?”

Sir Jamon looked up. “She would be alive.” His eyes were wet and wild, darting from sister to sister.

“And you two would live happily ever after?” said Annabeth

“I… We would…” Sir Jamon’s breath grew heavy. He wrapped his arms around himself. “What does it matter. You have no hearts. The legend is a lie. I can’t bring her back.

“I am sorry for the suffering that this woman endured, and also for the suffering you endure in her absence,” said Gwyneth softly. “But even if you did have the power to bring her back, to take her life into your hands, what gives you the right?”

“I’m trying to save her,” said Sir Jamon. “I’m doing this for her.”

“No, Sir tin man, you are doing this for you.”

He dropped his head and covered his face.

“Is he crying?” asked Annabeth.

“I’m not crying!”

“Of course not,” said Maribeth, “that would make him weak.”

“You think me weak,” snarled Sir Jamon, climbing to his feet. “I can still kill you. I can at least succeed in that.”

“Ah, anger and violence,” sneered Annabeth, “that’s original.”

Gwyneth ran a finger along the blade of the dagger still in her hands, “If you attack us again, silly knight, you will surely die.”

Once again, the anger fell away. “I can’t bring her back. I can’t slay you three. What else is there for me to do? What kind of man am I if I cannot save the woman I love?” He pointed a finger at the sisters, “If I am not strong enough to defeat my enemies?

Annabeth pouted, “Us, your enemies? I’m hurt.”

“I’m a weak man,” said Sir Jamon, ignoring Annabeth, “a useless man. I will be ridiculed as a worthless failure of a man. That is what I am.”

“And what is it that tells you that?” said Gwyneth.

“What… what do you mean?”

“Whatever it is that tells you that your sole duty is to protect the weak, is it the same voice that tells you women are too weak to protect themselves?,” said Maribeth. “Is the voice that tells you that you must be strong the same voice that tells you crying is a sign of weakness?”

Annabeth kicks the knight’s shield towards the pieces of his broken sword. “Is what tells you that you are nothing more than a sword or a shield the same thing that tells you our minds are worth less than yours, that our bodies are only good to bring you children or pleasure, that our hearts are prizes that can be won or taken.”

“We defied that voice. We took our minds, our bodies, and our hearts for ourselves, and used them to free ourselves from our cages.” Gwyneth tapped on the knights breastplate with the tip of the dagger, “Is all of that metal really armor, or is just a fancy cage?”

Sir Jamon stood there in silence, staring at the ground for a while, before looking up to the sisters. He reached to his shoulders and to his side, unbuckling and loosening straps until his breastplate fell to the ground.

Gwyneth extended the dagger towards Sir Jamon with the handle facing out. The knight took the dagger and sliced open his own chest. Reaching into himself and taking hold of his heart, he could feel it’s beat slowing in his hand. He took it out and brought it to his lips.

Unclaimed, Part 2

kellyiconAnemone shook in Mistress Amelia’s arms, but it was not because of the cold. From behind the cart they hid behind, she could hear all despite the desperation with which she hid her face in Mistress Amelia’s soft velvet cloak. She felt the tremors of a hundred enemy soldiers advancing down the hills. She heard the haughty snicker of the elves’ well-bred war horses, heads held high and their bright bronze coats gleaming gold in the early sunlight. She heard the twinge of the bows of the advanced guard as they drew back their strings and let loose another volley of arrows. She heard the screaming of people she had known all her life as they ran from fire and from an enemy they could not see.

“They’re going to kill us all,” she sobbed.

Mistress Amelia’s voice was sharp, cutting through the freezing air like a dagger.

“They?”

“The elves,” Anemone whispered. Another volley of arrows rained down upon them; her Mistress Amelia held her as close to her body as possible as arrows hit the ground around them with the force of a thousand hailstones.

“The elves are here? Perhaps some new, infernal spell to hide their approach,” she said, answering her own question. Anemone could barely hear her over the roar of the fire and the mayhem around them. “But the soldiers, they went to the wall…oh. Oh, no.”

Mistress Amelia loosened her hold around her and held at arms’ length, searching her face.

“You are certain, Anemone? Others’ lives depend on it.”

Anemone answered in a thin, quavering voice.

“Then we must live to tell of what happened here,” Mistress Amelia said. She peered over their cart. She turned her head, and almost immediately regretted it. The chapel was now completely engulfed in fire; Anemone could barely make out the shadow of the chapel behind the weaving flames. At the very edge of the village, elven archers, their white hair and white skin contrasting against their black cloaks, were inching their way forward, bows at the ready. They would not remain hidden for much longer.

Mistress Amelia suddenly jerked her back down.

“What in the world?” she asked, and for a moment, Anemone thought that her mistress Amelia could see the same horror she could, but then she heard the pounding of boots against hard, frozen ground and the heaving of someone breathing heavily. She opened her mouth to scream, certain they had been found out, but then her uncle was beside her.

“Uncle!” she cried as he took her into his arms.

“How..?” Mistress Amelia gasped.

Her uncle shook his head. “Now is not the time. Just know that the Master has decided it is not my time to die. We must go now, while the skies are clear. Keep low, and do not look back.”

Her uncle gripped her hand tight and began to lead them away.

“Only look straight ahead, Anemone, until we reach the manor house,” her uncle said.

Anemone need not be told. She locked her gaze on the ground directly in front of her. Her uncle led them in fitful fashion. They darted between houses and grain stores, resting briefly, then darting off again. It reminded her of the flight of a butterfly. She would have laughed if she couldn’t hear the footsteps of the soldiers in the distance getting louder and louder with every minute.

Anemone decided it was safe to raise her head when they reached the manor. The great arched, wooden door was ajar, and Anemone thought that they must not be the only ones looking for shelter in the huge house. Mistress Amelia hiked up her skirt and dashed inside, disappearing into the darkness of the open door. Her uncle ushered her inside, but not before she looked back at her village. Elven soldiers scurried around the burning village like ants, kicking in doors and taking torches to the buildings not yet ablaze. She dug her heels in and stared at the sight before her in horror.

“Uncle, what of father?” she asked.

“Inside, Anemone,” her uncle said.

“But I saw father die in fire,” she said, almost begging, but her uncle’s face was as ashen and unyielding as stone.

“Inside, now, Anemone!”

“No! No, father!”

She tried to run, but her uncle grabbed her arm and pulled her back. He swept her up in his arms like a sack. She kicked and screamed as he carried her inside, shadow blotting out the light of day as the great door was shut behind them.

The Barren Mountain, Part 2

bernicons           Sir Jamon brought his shield up, close to his chest as he reached for the dagger at his side. “Back, miserable gorgon! Back!” he shouted at Gwyneth.

“Does he think we are dogs?” asked Annabeth. The knight instinctually whipped to face the speaker.

“More like bitches, I should think,” answered Maribeth. Sir Jamon raised his shield to this one.

“Now this is silly!” declared Gwyneth, almost laughing. Sir Jamon turned back to the broad brood. “He’s spinning!”

“Oh! Like a top!” He turned to her impish face lighting up with delight as Annabeth clapped her hands.

“He still hasn’t answered your question, sister!” As the knight turned to Maribeth, he stumbled over and crushed one of the many skulls left scattered about the ground.

All three of the sisters laughed. The knight’s anger rushed to his face. “Silence! Silence, you monsters!” The sisters were not amused. “You wish to know why I am here?! I shall tell you!” Sir Jamon pointed to the fog covered ground. The fog drifted, revealing the skeletons tossed about like ragdolls. “You did this! You took these girls! You brought death upon them and their men who wished only to free them! I will not allow their souls to go without justice in the afterlife!”

Upon hearing this, the laughter began again.

“What?” breathed the knight, “What are you laughing at!?”

A cool touch came upon Sir Jamon’s brow as Annabeth pulled back the hair in his face. The knight swiped at her with his dagger, but she merely stepped away. “Silly knight, we took no one.”

“And we killed no one who didn’t first try to kill us!” added Gwyneth.

“Lies!” proclaimed the knight.

“And I say truth!” shouted Maribeth. “These girls came to us.”

“They sought the power to protect themselves and when they tried to seize this power, it killed them,” explained Gwyneth.

“Power to protect? From what?” demanded the knight, “From you?”

“No, from you,” said Annabeth, “Or at least people like you.”

“Lies! Poison!” he declared.

Gwyneth crossed her arms. “Believe what you wish, but we’ve only ever told the truth.”

“And it’s only ever gotten our dresses torn,” pouted Maribeth.

“Then how did they die?!” the knight’s dagger and shield still at the ready, “You said they sought power and it killed them. How?!”

Annabeth looked directly at Sir Jamon; her expression was cold but not without pity. “They had to eat out their own hearts.”

The knight felt the bile of his stomach creep up his throat. “And what of their saviors?! Why kill them?”

“I told you, because they tried to kill us first,” said Maribeth.

“And they didn’t seek to save them,” said Gwyneth, “They wanted to drag them back to their places.”

“It doesn’t give you the right to force the women to do such vile things!” said the knight.

“The choice was no more vile than choosing to live in a cage,” stated Maribeth.

His stomach had settled, allowing the anger to blossom. “They were defenseless against your evil enchantments!”

“Defenseless?” laughed Gwyneth, “What do you think they were? Damsels?”

“Princesses? Wives? Sisters? Mothers? Betrothed?” chimed Annabeth, listing them all on her fingers.

“It doesn’t matter because they were all damsels in the end. Isn’t that right, silly knight?” Maribeth leaned in. “Exactly how many damsels have you ever saved? Hmm?”

Sir Jamon lunged out, dagger stabbing only into Maribeth’s wafty gown. “My dress!” she cried. Maribeth clawed out to his face but the knight’s shield deflected her attack.

However, he had no time to react when Annabeth plucked the dagger from his hand. “Oh! Interesting!” squealed Annabeth, “He’s fighting back!” Sir Jamon tackled Annabeth with his shield. She was pinned to the ground. “Sisters! Help me!”

Sir Jamon was yanked off the gorgon by a thousand ghostly black hands. His shield fell from his arm and he was made to spread out in the air, all of his limbs were pulled uncomfortably in a different direction. The knight could barely keep up with his lungs, nearly choking on the air he breathed. His eyes were screwed shut, unwilling to see his body torn apart in front of him.

But nothing happened.

“Open. Your. Eyes.” He did not and felt the cold touch of his dagger on the bridge of his nose. “Open them or I’ll peel the eyelids off your face, silly knight.”

Scowling, Sir Jamon obeyed. Gwyneth was only a breath away from his face. It was only then that he realized that she did not have any whites in her eyes, only black.

“Answer my sister’s question,” said Gwyneth, stepping away. The thousand arms had emerged from her and Maribeth’s backs. Annabeth now also had a small army of ghostly black limbs growing from her back, and with them she held the knight’s shield and dagger. Her own, real arms rested on her hips.

“What?”

“How many damsels have you saved?”

Sir Jamon clenched his teeth together. “What does it matter?”

“Not many then, I take it,” said Maribeth.

The knight struggled, the hands tightened their grip.

“Careful,” said Annabeth, “You might hurt yourself.”

Gwyneth held the dagger in her actual hand. “Answer the question.”

The knight breathed through flared nostrils. “One. Only one. But-”

Maribeth’s eyes narrowed. “And yet you failed?”

“No! I saved her!” shouted Sir Jamon. He turned his head. “She just-”

“Died?” finished Annabeth.

Sir Jamon was silent.

Gwyneth sighed. “So you say you came all the way here to avenge the lives of all these ‘lost souls.’ You climb all the way to the summit only to find it barren…” her eyes glowed with the ghostly black aura of her limbs, “But you lied.”

Try as Sir Jamon might have, he could not look away from the gorgon’s glowing eyes.

“You didn’t climb all the way here to kill us for them… you came to kill us for her.”

He didn’t want to answer. He didn’t want to tell the truth. But the knight couldn’t look away. He could not stop himself from nodding.

“Oh, goodness!” exclaimed Annabeth, “He’s here to bring her back from the dead!”

“He wants the Hearts of the Three Sisters, hm?” said Maribeth.

“And with the power of our hearts, dear sisters,” Gwyneth wrapped her arms about their shoulders, “He can trade our lives for the life of his beloved.”

“I know this story!” smiled Annabeth.

“Yes, as do I,” Gwyneth turned to the knight, “But I bet there’s a story our silly knight doesn’t know.”

“They never do,” replied Maribeth.

Annabeth leaned up against the knight’s tin chest. “You think we’re monsters, don’t you? That we were born monsters and thus get what we deserve?”

No spell was needed; Sir Jamon nodded. Annabeth pulled away.

“That we asked for it?” said Maribeth.

“That we wanted it?” added Annabeth.

“That we are the ones to blame?” Gwyneth almost smirked. The knight only stared. “The answer is no, silly, tin knight,” the ghostly aura faded from her eyes. “But we are the architects of our own escape.”

“And we only offered to others what we were forced to figure out,” said Annabeth.

“And we found the power when needed within each other,” added Maribeth.

Each of the sisters reached up with their own hands and pulled away the flowing fabric from their chests. Sir Jamon’s jaw fell open and there was little he could do to keep his stomach down. Under each sister’s gown, on each of their chests, was a raw, gaping red hole, where their hearts once beat.

A Break In Time – Part II

tjicon“The Earth has a virus?,” I repeated. “Like the Gaiaphage? Am I in the FAYZ? Are we gonna get cool powers?”

“Gaiaphage?” the doctor said with a cocked brow. I wondered why he was looking at me strangely but it took me a moment to realize what I said probably made no sense.

“Sorry,” I apologized, “it’s from a book series I’ve been kinda obsessed with recently. I guess the lack of sleep and the all the… you know, other stuff, is making what’s real and what’s not kind of blurry.”

“Well, yes, that would be a side effect,” he said whilst scratching his beard. “You see, the universe is accustomed to running a certain way. Things happen and they cause other things to happen and so on, in a fairly straight forward sequence, as far as we can ascertain anyway—”

“Then some nut goes back in time and becomes his own grandfather and everything goes kaput.”

The doctor’s eyes bulged momentarily as he ponders the process of becoming one’s one grandfather, then his face twisted in disgust. “That is one… possibility, I suppose. Nevertheless, changing the past, in layman’s terms, is throwing the universe out of whack. Making it sick, as it were.”

I stay silent for a while to double check my words before I say them. Turns out, lethargy and paranoia make it slightly difficult to grasp theoretical physics. “So,” I say slowly, “if things are as bad as you say they are, why is it that only some people notice while others are completely oblivious?”

“Ah, yes,” says the doctor excitedly, “I was just getting to that. Well, you see, I’ve encountered several people experiencing similar dilemmas around the world and by studying them I have devised  a few possible—”

“Get on with it,” I said unexpectedly. Turns out lack of sleep also compromises one’s filter. “Sorry,” I said again. It was becoming a habit.

The doctor, flustered looking, nodded his head, “Yes, well, my primary theory is that you and others like yourself are descendents of time travelers.”

“I… wha… huh?”

“Well,” said the doctor, a bit of his enthusiasm showing again, “as I would have explained if I had not told to get on with it, I believe that frequent passage through the time stream could cause one to develop a slight… resistance to the normal effects of time.”

He stops talking a looks at me. Had he really chosen now to be the time to not explain things thoroughly? “I don’t understand,” I said, pointing out what I felt should have been obvious.

“Well, time travel affects one on the molecular level. The alteration is insignificant, barely noticeable, but the more you travel the more powerful the affect. Theoretically, these changes could allow someone to exist outside of the normal flow of time.”

It was like something right out of a crappy science-fiction movie. It made more sense to me than it probably should have. “So you’re saying that too much time travel can cause someone to become… unstuck in time? Slaughterhouse-Five style?”

“Not exactly, though that is a possible development. There are so many possible developments. It could reduce the aging process, or allow one to achieve trans-temporal consciousness. Or in the case of people like yourself, it could make you immune to shifts in the time stream.”

“Immune?”

“Yes. When the past is changed, time adapts. It affects the future as well as those in the future and none should be the wiser. But if one isn’t exactly tethered to time, they might notice the temporal anomalies.”

I found myself nodding along, somehow. “So you’re saying I have some kind of time travel disease?”

“Condition is the more apt word choice. An ancestor of yours was likely a heavy time traveler, and his, or her, as it were, genetic make-up was permanently altered and passed down from generation to generation.”

“And whatever this ‘condition’ is, the universe is starting to develop the same thing?”

“Precisely. Well, no, theoretically, yes. The blight of time travel may break the time stream completely, throwing the universe into a state of perpetual temporal displacement.”

This had not been what I was expecting to hear when I called the number on some low-budget TV commercial. I had wanted to lay on a couch and talk about my Mommy Issues and be told I was crazy and receive drugs that would make everything okay. Instead, turns out I’m completely sane. And the universe is being torn apart.

“Well, Doc,” I found myself saying, perhaps channeling some long buried childhood dream, “how do we save the world?”

The Barren Mountain – Part I

tjiconAll was silent save for the soft clanking of the knight’s armor. The forest grew colder and more desolate the further Sir Jamon trekked up the mountain. The ground was nothing but hard, bare soil and stone while the trees had gone from lush, green towers that brushed the sky to twisted, slender hands grasping for the heavens only so that they may tear them down. And though the trees were now bare, a fog had risen about him, making the morning sky even less visible than it had been through the full canopy of leaves.

Any other might have been troubled or disturbed by the sudden shift from vibrant life to bleak wasteland. Even more so by the absence of dry leaves blanketing the ground in the wake of their barren bones. The few that braved the those signs, would count the tenebrous miasma as the defining omen and turn back while they still had the chance.

Not Sir Jamon, though. He knew where he was. And he knew why he was there.

He began to hear whispers all around him as if they came from the trees. Then slight spurts of laughter, some shrill and piercing, others gruff and haughty, and yet others sensuous and mischievous.

Then a voice spoke, “Look sisters, It’s another tin man come to visit.”

A second voice said, “Do you think this is a nice visit?”

“Of course not, Annabeth,” said a third, “he’s no different from the others who climbed our mountain in their metal skin to attack us.”

“Are you sure, Maribeth? He looks quite small and harmless.”

“He does, doesn’t he? I think he’s nice. Maybe he’s only come to play.”

Sir Jamon grasped the handle of his sword.

“Look. He reaches for his metal claw. The last tin man who had one of those ripped my gown.”

The knight drew his blade and placed his other hand on its handle before raising it ready before him. “Show yourselves, creatures.”

A  gruff laugh, “Oh, he called us creatures. What should we think of that, sisters?”

“Perhaps he means creatures in a carnal sense,” another said playfully.

“Or he means creatures in a monstrous sense. And these tin men like to slay those they deem to be monsters.”

“A monster is defined by its deeds,” said Sir Jamon sternly. “They are creatures of cruelty and horror who do no more than sow fear and death and take pleasure in the misery of others.”

“Sounds like monsters and men have some things in common,” says a woman stepping arrogantly out from the fog. She is broad with auburn curls and dressed in a dark gown that hangs low around her shoulders.

“He’s the monster, sisters,” says a shrill voice from behind Sir Jamon. The knight turned with a slash of his sword, nowhere near another of the sisters, this one shorter with a harsh demeanor. “See how he strikes out at me. He’s come to kill us like the rest.”

“Oh, Maribeth, I’m sure he’s just startled,” said the sultry voice. “I’m sure we can convince him we’re not the monsters he thinks us to be. Isn’t that right tin man.” Despite his armor, Sir Jamon feels a soft touch stroke the back of his neck. He turns again, lashing out with his blade. Just out of his reach, another sister stands laughing, the one called Annabeth. She has the same hair and gown as the others, but is the tallest of them all with an alluring smile and with a impish way about her.

Sir Jamon took off his helmet and tossed it to the ground. “You demons think you can tempt me. That I will not slay you because you take on the shape of women.”

The broad one steps forward. “No, Sir tin man. We think you will not slay us because we will not let you.”

The knight makes to swing his sword at the sister before him when he feels a hold on his arm. Another hand slides around his neck and up into his hair. “Besides, Gwyneth,” whispered Annabeth, “he doesn’t really want to kill us, do you tin man?”

“What are you getting at,” said the Maribeth, “he’s slashed at us with his metal claw. He would kill us as soon as we gave us the chance.” She held up a length of her gown and angrily pointed at a tear in it.

The commanding one, Gwyneth she had been called, turned her head to the side. “I think what Annabeth means is that this tin man doesn’t want to kill us. He only thinks that he must.”

“Of course he thinks he must kill us,” cried Maribeth. “His kind is sworn to kill beings like us.”

“That’s not the only reason. No, he wants something,” said Annabeth, playing in the knights hair. “I can always tell when a man wants something.”

“Away from me vile devil,” shouted Sir Jamon, pushing away from the woman. Annabeth only laughed.

Gwyneth took the knight by his shoulders and spun him to face her. She then took the blade of his sword into her hand and broke it in two. “Tell us why you truly came to our mountain, and perhaps you will not meet the same fate as your sword.”

Unclaimed, Part 1

bernicons            Small clouds appeared and vanished in front of his face. His hands were barely covered by the moth-eaten gloves he wore, so he continuously rubbed them and kept them close to his torso. He knelt before the flameless candle in the small, shadowed room. “Master of Masters, I’ve come to confess,” he whispered into his fingers.

No one else was in the small chapel this afternoon. The limited rows were empty and would remain so until after evening prayers. So he continued to speak to the candle that produced a steady stream of smoke from nowhere at all. “My brother said I must repent for my blasphemous words, and I came for his health still wavers.” He paused. “I told him I do not believe in death.”

The crashing of feathers on the air echoed in the chapel as the pigeons escaped through a hidden hole in the neatly maintained ceiling. He almost smirked. “I mean no offense, Master. I do not mean to doubt your power over whether I live or die. I know that all too well. There isn’t a fiber of my being that does not believe that you hold all the cards. But…” He blew into his fingers for the briefest amount of warmth. “I work in with the cattle every morning before the sun raises to get them out to pasture. I see the soldiers marching on the moor to the Wall. I see their breath hanging in the morning air just like the breath of the newborn calf. I come home and wash my brother and his daughter, my niece before his Lordship’s servants ring the supper bell. They eat, I eat and we say our prayers. And when I put my brother and dear niece to bed I see their chests tremble. They draw in breath and expel it from their bodies but that is not what makes them tremble. It is the steady, thunderous beat of their hearts. It’s so powerful it shakes them but so gentle does not wake them. And, Master, do not misunderstand, I know that Death can and will one day quiet that storm…”

“…But forgive me,” he breathed, “But I can’t believe that something like that just stops forever.”

The smoke was silent. He nodded and left.

A few footsteps out, as he approached this wooden cart filled with tall milk canisters, he was tackled by the tiniest of bodies. “Uncle Martin!” she squeals.

“Anemone!” He scooped her up and threw her to sky, catching her on her descent from the heavens. “What are you doing here? You cannot be finished with your chores!” Martin adjusted Anemone’s shawl, bring it closer to her person.

“Mistress Amelia said I could!” She pointed behind her.

Mistress Amelia stepped forward, forcing Martin to one knee. “I’m sorry Mistress I did not see you there.”

“You had much more important ladies to take care of,” she smiled tenderly at him.

Martin stood. “What can I do for you, Mistress?”

“Nothing, Martin, I was just bringing Anemone back to your cabin. She said she was worried about her father’s health. How is Linus, Martin?”

“Linus insisted he was well enough to mend the fishermen’s nets like his Lordship wanted, Mistress.” Martin tucked Anemone’s curly locks behind her ear. “I’m afraid Anemone is perhaps too worried for her own good.”

“But I had a bad dream last night,” said Anemone.

“Hush, baby,” shushed Martin.

“Anemone loves her father, I cannot blame her for her worry over his health,” Mistress Amelia took Anemone from her uncle and placed her on the ground. “We can go see your father and then return to your weaving, alright?” Anemone nodded but her face remained uncertain. “What’s wrong?”

“In my dream… Papa died.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. But your father isn’t so far sick that he would succumb to a fever, you know.”

Anemone shook her head. “I didn’t dream that the sickness took him, Mistress.”

Martin’s eyes narrowed. “Then what did?”

Anemone shivered and looked to her uncle. “Fire.”

There was a zip in the air. A thud on the chapel roof. The roar of the fire engulfing that roof.

Martin threw his arms around Anemone, caught Mistress Amelia’s wrist and pulled them both behind the wooden cart. Anemone clung to her uncle’s shirt.

“What’s going on?” gasped Mistress Amelia.

“The enemy?” Martin suggested.

Mistress Amelia’s eyes were wide. “How could they get through the defenses on the wall?!”

“What of Papa?” pleaded Anemone.

Martin put his hand up. “Quiet…. Do you hear anything?” There was nothing but the sound of the ignited chapel. Mistress Amelia shook her head. Martin nodded and pulled Anemone away, handing her to the Mistress. “Hold her. And run if you need to.”

“But-” Martin put his finger to his lips. She nodded, biting her lip.

Martin shuffled to the corner of his cart. His heart thundering in his chest, suddenly the cold wasn’t so bitter. He peered out. He looked over the gray hills. There was nothing- no sign of another for miles. He stepped out. “That can’t be-”

Martin’s head hit the ground first, then his back, then his legs. His eyes were wide and his body trembled at his beat. A tall, dark, feathered spire stand erected from his chest to his left. He could hear the scream of tiny Anemone and the muffled cry of the Mistress holding the child back. His mouth tasted of metal and the thunder began to slow. “Master,” he breathed, “Please….”

The trembling fell away gentler and gentler as he laid watching the smoke bellow from the flames of the chapel.

 

Martin’s body jolted up violently. Thunder returned to his chest.

A Break in Time, Part 1

kellyiconFrom the first time a human being used a stone knife, science has been changing the way we live. Tools separated us from animals. Steam and electricity ushered us into industrialization. The internet and robotics spurred an age of progress unlike anything seen before. Some of these discoveries and inventions changed the way we thought of ourselves; others changed what it meant to be human.

Time travel was not one of those inventions.

Oh, sure, everyone thought it would – at first. When the Institute of Science and Progress first demonstrated the successful trip into the past (and the less noted but just as important first successful return from the past), the world erupted into a frenzy of excitement and curiosity. Where we were once simple passengers on the ship of time, we were suddenly thrown into the captain’s chair. We could go into the future and see where humanity was headed. We could go into the past and see how our ancestors lived. Ancient mysteries would be solved. Disasters prevented before they ever happened! A whole new frontier had opened up for humanity to explore.

Yeah, not so much.

I mean, we learned a bunch. Historians and biologists had a field day going back into the past and seeing what was up. A whole stew of new fields opened up: chronosociology, chronozoology, ect, ect. Time travel wasn’t all fun and games, though. People’s enthusiasm for time travel evaporated the first time a research team came back with cholera. A place without indoor plumbing just doesn’t make for a great vacation destination, you know? Same was true of the future. How do you make sure you don’t land in a radioactive fallout, or the ground zero of some new plague? Then the existential doubts really started to kick in. What did our presence in the past mean for the present? Should we try to change the future, and what would be worse? To learn we did have the power to change the future, or that we were powerless and everything was inevitable? Should we kill Hitler? You know how it goes.

Eventually everyone decided it would be for the best if we just boxed the thing up and forget it ever existed. The government put the time capsule (I always thought it looked more like an egg, all creamy white and oblong-shaped) in a warehouse somewhere in the middle of a desert, under constant, 24-hour guard. The only people who use it now are the historians and the biologists, and there’s something like a three-year wait time to get through all the paperwork and regulations. So in the end we learned a lot about dodos and ancient cultures, but most people just went on with their lives. Life was hard enough for most people without adding another dimension to the mix, thank you very much.

At least, that’s what we thought happened. Maybe it was just what we hoped would happen. Turns out you can’t really pretend you never invented something no matter how much you want to.

It was just little things at first. Someone’s cat or dog would disappear and no one would remember it. Buildings I walked by for years would move from one street to another, or the owners would be different people. Sometimes they would disappear entirely. No one would remember anything was ever different. I was walking around downtown with a friend when I first noticed something wrong.

“Hey, Dave, when did the coffee shop change hands?”

“What?” He looked up, following my gaze. The coffee shop, which had been called ‘Albany’s’ since time immemorial, now displayed a sign with the words ‘Hamilton’s Coffee Shop’ blazed across it in mid-twentieth century space age letters. Everyone and their cousin had gone nuts for the whole ‘atomic age’ thing when time travel was first invented.

“When did it change?”

He looked at me like I had grown a second head.

“It’s always said that, Hal. What are you getting on about?”

“What?” I thought he was playing some kind prank. Albany’s was about a hundred and fifty years old. It had survived two recessions, one energy shortage, and no less than three global strikes by the world’s coffee pickers. It was something of a point of pride for the city to have this little, twenty-first century brick and mortar building in the middle of a city made almost entirely of steel and glass skyscrapers. The point was that the damn little shop had been their in my parents’ time, and their parents’ time, and probably their parents’ time, but no amount of bewildered arguing could convince Dave that the coffee shop had ever been called anything other than Hamilton’s. I ended up calling the whole day off, storming down the street trying to figure out why my friend was so committed to such a stupid joke.

Those were just little things, though. I could write it off as a psychotic break. Too much caffeine and late nights studying. It wouldn’t be the first time the Robotics: Artificial Intelligence major had driven someone insane, but then it started to get worse. Facts in the textbooks and encyclopedia started to change. The names of presidents, popes, astronauts – all of them began to change. Even simple facts, like dates and the names of countries, things you’re taught in elementary school, were no longer true. Words began to mean different things. Hell, by the time you read this, things might have changed so much that this whole thing might as well be a different language. All I knew at the time is that I’d be talking to friends, and suddenly it was like I was speaking Greek.

That’s when people really started to break. It wasn’t everyone, just a few here and there who knew something was wrong and couldn’t take it anymore. They’d get up in the middle of work or during dinner and start raving about how everything was wrong. That’s when I really started to get scared. It was one thing to think I was losing my grip on reality; it was another entirely to realize it was the world that was coming completely off its hinges. What would change next? What would disappear? How many people had vanished already and no one knew they were gone? Was I next? I stopped sleeping, too afraid I’d blink out of existence in my sleep. If I wasn’t crazy before, this nearly drove me over the edge. Whole weeks went by and I barely ever got out of bed.

It was a really weird thing that saved me. I was watching the news; people breaking down out of the blue for the same reason all across the world was headline news everywhere. Insanity, after all, wasn’t supposed to be contagious. That’s when I saw it. An ad came on after the evening news. It was for a psychologist in the area willing to help people who thought they might be next. Is everything around you changing? It asked, and are you the only one who notices? It went on to list the address for the local community college and a name: Dr. James McGregor.

It was a rainy night when I arrived at the college’s library. A part of me felt foolish. I had no idea if this guy was legit or not. He wasn’t even a doctor of psychology; all of his work was in psychics. Theoretical physics, at that. At this point, I had little to lose.

Inside, a bored librarian manned the circulation desk. Otherwise, it was deserted except for a man reading a newspaper at one of the tables scattered about the room.

“Doctor McGregor?” I asked. He was black and in his late forties with a gray stripe running through his short, dark hair. He looked up from his newspaper and raised an eyebrow at me.

“I saw your ad,” I explained.

His eyes widened and he threw aside his newspaper in a hurry, sending it fluttering to the ground. He stood up and extended his hand.

“So,” he said as we both sat down. “I take this means you know what’s happening?”

“Do you mean ‘am I aware the world’s gone nuts’? Yeah, I’ve noticed. But other than that I have no idea what’s going on.”

“The world isn’t going nuts,” he said, folding his hands in front of him. “It’s ill, and it’s suffering from a virus we’ve never seen before. Someone is going back in time and changing the future.”

 

Patriots, Part 3

kellyiconEdmund’s office was like one of thousands across the empire. White walls, white ceiling, gray-ish blue carpet. A simple wooden desk and chair sat in the middle, and a bundle of filing cabniets lined the back wall. The offices and clothing of Imperial officials were meant to reflect their role as public servants and their commitment to subordinating their wants to the needs of the people. Not all Imperial governors were as frugal in their personal lives as they should be, Barrett knew. He had met plenty of governors and councilors that had their white shirts made by the finest tailors in the capital, or lined their desks with ivory, or some other way to show their wealth. It always gave Barrett pride to know that Edmund was straight as an arrow, and always had been.

“Your cousin?” Macy whispered. “But he…”

“Looks so much older than me?” Barrett said. Macy was always starting sentences and then never finishing them. She nodded. He wondered if she knew he could see the brief uncertainty that flitted across her face when she talked, like every word was a gamble she didn’t have much faith in. He knew those schools they sent non-Imperial kids to were strict on discipline, he just wished he knew a way to let her know he’d never report her for just being curious.

“He was in the Barjoshi wars,” Barrett said. “He saw..things there. Turned his hair mostly white before he hit thirty.”

“Oh.”

And that was it. Macy turned away from him without say another word. Her face was inscrutable, her body straight as an arrow and the very air buzzed with signals telling him to stay away. She was more than distant. She somehow managed to make approaching her feel more impossible than touching an electric fence.

“I’m glad you’re here, John,” Edmund said, sitting down at his desk. Barrett snapped back to attention. He was on assignment, he reminded himself. No beguiling girl is an excuse to neglect work.

“Why’s that?” he asked.

“Because I have an honest-to-god mystery going on here,” Edmund said. He ran his hand through his hair and sighed. “This is a peaceful island. Law-abiding, loyal.” He paused and stared at his folded hands. Barrett said nothing and waited for him to continue.

“But it looks like we’ve had some kind rebel running around,” he said. He looked up. “I assure you, no one on this island has any knowledge of any kind of rebellious activity.”

“I believe you, Ed,” Barrett said. “We’re just trying to get to the bottom of this. What do you know of this pilot, Tannerman?”

“No one’s quite sure. We have one witness –”

“There’s a witness?” Macy said.

“Yes,” Edmund said, nodding. “A pilot from the fleet. Not a local. According to her, Tannerman – your dead pilot — was led back here to meet with your missing sergeant, Singh. Singh deliberately left this Tannerman to pirates because the rebels have some kind of agreement with the vermin, but Tannerman survived. Singh fled, tried to clean up loose ends, but our witness interfered. Singh got away, and took Tannerman as a hostage.”

“That’s quite a story, Ed,” Barrett said. “A rebel that far up the ranks? The repercussions that’ll have back in the capital –”

“Will be huge, if it gets out to the public. Which is why you have been permanently assigned to this investigation in lieu of bringing in more people and letting the story spread.”

“Permanently?” Barrett said. He almost swallowed his tongue. He was just an internal affairs guy. He dealt with rogue accountants and loyalty investigations, not ruthless rebel groups and hostage situations. The closer he got to this situation, the less he liked it. The whole thing stank, and if Singh was truly a traitor, heads were going to roll.

“You’re a good man, and a loyal citizen,” Edmund said, standing up. He walked around his desk until he was in front of Barrett. He placed his hand on Barrett’s shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “I’m not sure where this investigation will lead, but handle it right and there are big promotions in line.”

“Alright,” Barrett said, despite not feeling very right at all.

“Good!” Edmund said, rubbing his hands together. He was practically beaming. “Let’s get you two settled, then we’ll go talk to our witness.”