Francis the Baby – First 4 Chapters

Well, I haven’t been in for a while. Ramping up to PSII.
However, I’ve just finished an online Creative Writing course that I’ve been working on since last summer, and here is the product.

Without Further Ado – Francis the Baby.

-Prologue-
Francis lay in his crib churling and burbling, kicking off the thin blanket with small spastic movements. The morning sun was on him and if he turned his head that way, it hurt his eyes. The blue sky had turned white all around the tree. He could not see the leaves, the sky was too white. It made his eyes hurt. He looked the other way and felt the warm sun on his back, through his jumper.
BBBllllblblblblblblb. To the cat lying near his feet.
Biiblibliblib.
The cat’s tail waved lazily into a tight curve, then spun on an axis as if it were an eye, surveying the bars around it. Francis focused on the cat for a moment, taking in the motion of the tip of its tail silently, an ecstatic look on his face, his mouth open in a mindless smile made of toothless gums and lips. He did not move, but his eyes danced back and forth over the cat, waiting for it to change color. It did not.
grrraaaagh. He kicked out and flung his arm across himself.
The cat contemplated him, suspicious, and leaped up onto the railing of the crib. He looked down at the baby again, prepared to drop down to the floor… and vanished. No thump, no flash, no pop. Francis didn’t see it happen, his eyes on his feet, growling or moaning. He would have registered it, opened his eyes wide for a moment, speechless, and promptly forgotten it. But his eyes were on his feet. Francis reached for his toes. The cat just disappeared. It is no longer in the story.
Francis began to rock over, kicking his leg back and forth across his body, flailing his head, waving his arm. All at once. The sun made his eyes hurt and he lost the sequence. He blinked and for a moment the light was gone. He’d rolled over twice and now Francis knew that all these actions made facing down… or at least that he ended up somewhere else from the sheer shuddering of it. Not as sophisticated as all that. And he included
graaaaaaaahahahagghghhh
But graaaggghghhh, flail, kick, wave, repeat had an effect. This pattern recognition would serve him well later in life. His ather noticed details, Francis stored them all away. He closed his eyes. The sun went out. He kicked and growled and flung his arm and kicked.
This time though, rolling did not satisfy him.
He felt the overwhelming change in equilibrium as he tipped up on his side. His arm flapped wildly, happily. He almost lost the sequence and fell back over onto his shoulders, then he stopped the arm flap at the crucial point and flung forward with the momentum.
Right into the cold plastic bars.
His face squished against them. Mostly his nose. And his arm poked through the gap, useless to right himself now. It jerked up, made sweeping circles in the air that he could see with one eye. He looked down at the carpet beside his crib, below him, just as a dog appeared. It was asleep. For a moment he forgot his discomfort and focused on the dog. He’d never seen it before. Francis owned the dog, but he didn’t know that yet.
huugk huuugh
Nothing. Still stuck. The dog did not move. But he opened his eyes and looked up.
Huuugkh
Nothing. Pins and needles began to run through the arm under his body. Francis tried to look down, to grab his feet, but he could not move. The dog stretched. He rolled on his side and parked his jaw on the floor. He watched.
hugh Huuugk haah
Francis kicked his leg up and hit his knee against a bar. That hurt. He shook himself but could not move. His arm flailed, his knee was still.
HHHUUUggk
He tried to move his pinned under arm again but he couldn’t, and he didn’t dare kick.
The dog looked up at him sadly.
HHHHAAAAAGk RRRRAAAAggghhkk.
It came out so loud that he scared himself.
HHHHHRRRRRAAAAHHHHHGG GRRRAAAAHHHHHHHHHH
His body clenched and his knee crashed into the bar again.
HHWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAaahh.
hhhhWWWAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaahh.
He felt the familiar vibrations as his mother came down the hall, and feeling better he thought about growling at her, but his arm and knee still hurt and now his squished nose began to bother him too.
-HHHhhhhhRRRRRRAAAAAAAAggggghhhh
-Oh Francis sweetie. Shhhhsssssshhhhhh.
She picked him up holding him by the back of his head and cradling him against her elbow. The dog looked up. Now Francis growled at her.
-gggrahhhgg HRaaaghh ggrragg
He quieted. The dog stood up and arched its back like it knew what to do, enjoying the sensation for the first time. Then it walked out of the nursery to the living room, where it lay down beside Francis’ father’s chair. He patted it absently and continued to read the paper. The dog looked a bit like the cat had, same coloring on the ears and back. These details are familiar and help smooth the assimilation. Francis’ father remembered the fine details, even if he didn’t yet. The dog passed, and dad skipped his eyes over it, almost seamlessly. Francis’ mother saw nothing. She carried him to the sink, bouncing softly, picked out a cup and poured herself a coffee.
Francis lay against her, sucking on his hand. He looked down at the dog, at its coloring. He remembered the cat that would lay on top of his feet, and bat him with its tail. The dog stretched out on the floor. Looked up at him with it’s spilling eyes and fell back asleep.

-1-
Francis sat in the sandbox under the kitchen window. His hands buried, feeling the warmth of the dry sand on top, running them back and forth. The fine grains grinding against his soft fingertips. Underneath it felt cool and wet, where the rain barrel overflowed in the storm the other day. The surface was dry and hot, crusted over in some places with plates of sand so brittle they collapsed to dust under their own weight.
His mother’s music came pouring down from the open window. Roger Whittaker whistling a Mexican tune and playing along on his guitar. He bobbed to the familiar tune. At two years old, Roger Whittaker, and Lorne Green’s Ghost Riders in the Sky represented all the music Francis knew. He rocked gently, unaware that he kept time with the song. He would bob for hours.
He dug the sand into piles; walking the plastic men across them and onto the cement landing at the bottom of the back steps. Then he knocked them down. The sound of his father’s pigeons cooing in the loft. and the grinding of his father scraping down the benches inside with a rusty drywall knife, he recognized the sounds. He knew only that his father went into the building everyday, and made noises, and opened up the traps. The birds flew out.
Playing, he forgot them.
Moments later the approach of thirty pairs of quiet wings came, troubling the air. The birds broke high over the house and were gone away behind the trees. He forgot them again.
From the darkness between the whitewashed dowel bars, came the heavy tinkling sound of dried corn and peas and wheat filling up empty tuna cans. Suddenly the flock of birds came over and flapped chaotically, faster and faster, quiet wingtips whistling to a roar; landing one after another and crowding and pushing one another through the bottleneck of the trap entry into the loft. The smell of birdshit came. Pecking heads, fighting for grain replaced the click of clawed, scaley feet jostling through the trap. In the unknown space of the loft, the birds flapping rhythm broke with the slap of wings against one another, the clawing for a spot at the feed tin. Francis knew none of this, it was all sound; and the rich wet smell of guano and dust.
Through the space between the loft and the garage, Francis could make out the shape of the front fender of his older brother Ross’s Volkswagen bug. He’d ridden in this car. He thought of the black lapbelts, the dusty dry smell of the interior; the heat of the vinyl seats against his back and legs. He’d clicked the belts together and turned the door handle like Ross, to roll down the window; driven around town, down to the Co-Op for an icecream bar or a bag of Cheezies.
Francis dug down into the sand and noticed a perfect circle carved into the crusted sand near the surface. He sat and stared at it for a moment. He saw the same shape as the front bumper of the car, pressed into the dust and baked hard, and a perfect tiny headlight over it. He slid his fingertips down beneath it, into the cool wet sand below until the soft flesh under his fingernails hurt with the pressing shards of sand. Then he cupped his hands and lifted them up, letting the grains spill out between his fingers from underneath. Slowly the shape of a car emerged, the tiny perfect shape of a Volkswagen Beetle, as precisely cast in the sand as his toy cars were. He looked at it with wonder. He looked around in the sand for other vehicles, but there were none. He carefully cupped the car in one hand, then rolled it over into his other, amazed at the clean lines of its fenders and wheels and windows.
-Mom.
-Mommy, Ross, come see it. Come see my car.
-What is it honey?
His mother peered out the window far above his head.
-Ross’s car mom. Come see his car. Ross come see my car.
-Ross… Ross.
-What?
-Francis wants you outside.
Francis heard his brother coming up the stairs. He waited motionlessly, poised like a cat. Excited to show Ross his find. He rolled the car over onto its wheels in his hand, and it collapsed with the impact; two wheels crumbled to dust . He looked at it puzzled and touched the broken side, trying to lift it up. The car broke in half. The halves tumbled apart and crumbled to dust in his hands, only the front bumper, and headlight remained, in the midst of a handful of sand.
-What is it buddy.
Ross came out the back door of the house to see what Francis had.
-Your car Ross.
Francis held up his hand.
Ross looked in the boys palm, saw a handful of sand.
-What is it Francis? What did you find?
-Your car in the sand.
-You found my car? Was it buried in the sand Frankie?
Francis smiled and offered up the handful of sand to his brother.
-Oh. Thanks Francis.
Ross took the handful of sand and Francis smiled at him. He squeezed his fist, letting a fine stream pour out of his hand onto a big pile. Then he scooped a bunch more up till he had a big hill of deep wet sand.
-Look, you can drive your cars over the hill.
He drove out a road in the sand for Francis.
-Your car. Francis pointed at the pile.
Yeah, you can drive my car over the hill. And you can drive it in a deep hole too.
Ross dug out a trench for the cars, quickly, scooping sand in a long line. Then he drove a die-cast tow truck through the trench.
Brrrrrgrgrgrgrgrgrghhhhh.
Francis laughed.
Your car was in the sand Ross.
Did you find it?
Yep.
Thanks Francis. Have fun buddy.
Francis took the truck and drove it in the bottom of the trench.
-Ghghghghghghrrrrr.
He liked the trench. He began to dig more of them, driving his cars and trucks through them and over the hills he’d dug out. He looked up at the big tree over his father’s loft. He could not see the leaves, the sky was too white. The blue sky had turned white all around the tree.

-2-
The Doppler-cicada sound of the farm trucks on the highway North of his home, came to Frankie, broken now and then by a bigger grain-hauler or a feed truck roaring past then dwindling away toward the mountains. He lifted his paintbrush and lay the line of a black heat sink fin across the side of fighter’s engine. The air-cooled design performed well in this climate and these details made the plane look like a razor blade; no ordinary airforce-issue bucket, but a custom job. On first glance the enemy would see it. If they were still alive thirty seconds later, they’d be running for home. Frankie modified this aircraft to perform, after he saw firsthand the advantage he gained in combat when he added a few extra horses by putting in a French carbureator. Canadian parts were back ordered, and the specifications were the same, so he’d gone down the machine shop to make a bracket that allowed him to bolt the foreign carb into place. An hour spent that night got him back in the sky for the morning patrol. When a bunch of unexpected FW-190s tore into them from the East the new carb saved his skin. Six of the nine pilots he served with weren’t as fortunate. Frankie, never superstitious, saw the drastic edge he’d gained from a small increase in speed and climb rate. He began working with his ground crew to expand it further. He and Tim opened the hood of a ’79 Toyota Corolla and found that after hammering off the head of a single bolt, they were able to steal the fan. Swallow shit and dust were caked on the blades but after they soaked it in the water trough for 20 minutes and scrubbed it clean, it came out a bad looking primer black. Six blades, came off the hub, not two and they were turned to nearly a twenty degree pitch. This prop would push more than twice the air the stock one did. Francis and Tim mounted it that afternoon and it worked flawlessly. They nailed together apple crates from a stack behind the garage, and wrapped it with an old chunk of canvas tarp from the sawmill to make the main fuselage. Similarly, Frankie built the machine guns from real engine parts long since fed to the outbuildings around the property. The airfield took a little more time. There were no lights closer than the barracks, and while he rarely flew early in the morning, the squadron were often out on patrol past dark. Search-lights on the control tower would make a good beacon for late patrols and help them spot enemy planes that followed them home. No supplies. The Germans cut the lines as fast as they could secure them. Often the bloody Krauts would trail them all the way back to the field. Frankie and Tim built a field gun near the tower, but they were still in the dark there once the sun went down.
Francis hadn’t been in the air for a couple of days, while he painted his plane. Sky blue with sharp, fine lines along the fuselage. The designs were last. The P51. A bright undercoat, almost passive blue, with a bright red splash of color amidst a monstrous row of hellcat teeth. He didn’t know why, but he wanted nothing to do with flying a Hurricane or a Spitfire. So he still needed tins of red and white paint. Later he would brush the flaming fuselage of doomed enemy planes onto the walls of the grey outbuildings in the overgrown pasture and mow down the grass so he could see them,. For now he needed to get his own plane airborne. In two hours he’d be done. The engine block was a steel garbage can with two valve covers off the old Toyota as exhaust manifolds, and scraps from a line of rotting tractors that had been abandoned in the pasture years before Frankie ever came along, bolted on here and there. The paint dried in the heat.
He walked out of the bright sunlight into the windowless garage and let the door swing closed behind him. The lack of daylight left him nearly blind; some spilled under the ceiling at the tops of the walls. He couldn’t see anything on the floor. Feeling with his toes, Frankie made his way through the space between the wall and his mothers car, past the lockers. Reaching down under the old work bench at the back of the shop he found a box containing an assortment of paint tins and brushes. He picked it up and worked his way back up to the front bumper. Reaching for the door handle he upset the rack of long handled garden tools that were there. The hard steel tooth of a rake found the gap between his finger and nail and dug in. Frankie felt the box of paint supplies tip in his hand and he swung his arm out hard to catch them. When he found his balance again, he set them down on the workbench and felt his way along the wall, across handles of hoes, shovels and rakes, and nothing remotely resembling a door handle, all nailed securely to a wall that did not exist.
His eyes began to adjust to the light and he turned, looking around the garage, the familiar car , and the door, now on the East side of the building? Frankie stood looking at it for a long time. He walked around his Mother’s front bumper to the door and stopped. He felt the receded panels and looked at them carefully in the dimness. A tingling ran up the back of his neck and he felt dizzy, trying to assimilate this information with what he knew to be true and found he could not. The door did not belong here.
Frankie opened the door, setting down the box of paint he held in the crook of one arm, his plane forgotten entirely. He stepped uncertainly out into the bright light of the morning. He stood. Stared at the yard from the South-West corner, and he had that swimmy, tingling feeling. Everything was in the wrong place. The place where he’d gone into the garage to get the paint was 80 feet away now, in a spot where the hedges now came to a neat corner that he’d never seen before.
Breaking away from the garage, Frankie ran to the house. His feet pounded up the old wooden steps and he opened the door.
Mom?
She didn’t answer. There was not a sound, only silence.
Mom?
Frankie felt stiff with adrenaline pushing through him. He walked down the hallway. The house was quiet, except for the growing buzz of news-talk of the T.V. in the living room there wasn’t a sound. The tingling was receding from his spine down into his gut and he felt exhausted. He realized that he felt scared, like the fight reflex was wearing off. And thirsty.
He heard a deep voice, robbed of its power, snapping out of the tiny speaker and nothing else over the pounding of blood in his ears. But the sound of the TV seemed to be catching up to him, getting louder as he walked.
Mom?
Nothing.
Frankie walked down the short hallway into the living room, and saw her sitting on the couch. His mother sat stone still on the couch. He stopped, and breathed.
Mom?
She began to turn, the moment hung in time and later Frankie thought it felt like minutes. His heart pounded in his ears. Her face was slack, the voice of the news man metronomic under all, Frankie suddently felt like he awoke to the words.
…see a solid rocket booster has broken away from Shuttle Challenger. That’s what you are seeing in the middle of your screen, I cannot see the shuttle itself. I don’t know if it’s able to continue on one rocket booster…
The space shuttle blew up. His mother turned back to the set.
He stood waiting for more.
Finally he turned away quietly and walked out the back door.
The door incident was almost lost, as he walked, head down, over to his plane.
As he’d stood waiting for a response from his mother, he had turned his head and glanced up at the T.V. He watched as the shuttle flew neatly up and began to lay over on its path, then pop like a Roman Candle, not even a real banger, no flames, no flash, it just separated, and spread and vanished. Frankie had never seen anything like it before. He shivered, trembling almost unnoticably, standing alone seeing the television in the center of the living room wall. A breeze started up with a sigh in the trees; he looked up, and it hit him. He was a part of all this.
He felt like he’d been here before, things had changed though, he was aware of it. He was a part of it. Why did he have anything to do with the space shuttle exploding? Frankie was confused, he couldn’t put it all together, but in his mind, this change, and this event, they were together. A feeling of helpless ignorance washed over him, he was instantly frustrated, a fight or flight reflex, or something more somehow.
Frankie walked over to the hedge where it came to the corner of the back yard. He looked over top at his father’s pigeon loft, listening to the cooing and scratching inside. Then he got down on his knees to look at the ground under the line of shrubs. There was nothing but cool, wet earth, packed old grass growing sporadically, among the roots of solid, established lilac bushes. This had been here for years. No one had put these here for his sake. It was almost familiar. His mind perched on the edge of accepting what he saw, the dark earth with little paths driven into it. The wheels of his cars did that. Years ago.
But they weren’t here this morning.
He walked into the house, back to his mother.
Mom, something really strange has happened.
Frankie related the events of the morning to his mother, and explained their connection with the disaster on the news. She waited patiently.
Frankie, your dad planted that hedge ten years ago. You’ve played in it since you were just a little guy.
But Mom, it’s all backwards, the garage is moved, the door is wrong. The corner of the hedge is on the wrong side.
She spoke as she walked to the kitchen window. Frank, things don’t move around the yard by themselves, and you had nothing to do with the Space Shuttle sweetie.
She looked outside.
Peered at the hedge and the buildings that marked the boundaries of the lawn.
I don’t understand Frank. There’s nothing different than there was yesterday.
He walked across the kitchen. Mom, it was right there. He pointed at the empty corner of hedge. I walked inside and when I came out, it was over there. He swept his arm across the span of the property. It moved mom. Nothing else did, but the garage did.
We built that garage there when we bought the house, it’s exactly where it’s always been.
But not there. Someone moved it, someone changed things. He was losing steam in the face of his mothers disbelief, and concern.
Come on sweetie, its all right, come lay down. I’ll make you some lunch. Things like this can be confusing, just take your mind off it.
He lay down, while she rubbed his back.
What’s happening?
I don’t know Frankie, but sometimes things get jumbled up. She sat looking at her son while he closed his eyes. How about we just leave it for now?
He didn’t answer, he just thought silently, and after a while, he fell asleep.

-3-
Frank sat up on the framing, drinking water; breathing in the heat. The exterior walls were up, the interiors plumbed and tied in, and once he had the top plates nailed into place, he could start standing roof trusses. Wednesday. By Miller time, Saturday night, he and Wayne could have the roof on, and the doors and windows in place, and for the first time, he could lock up his house.
He took another pull of water as Wayne came up the front stairs with the last couple of plates. Have you ever had anything really strange happen to you? You know, unexplainable?
Not off the top of my head, unless you call becoming a carpenter instead of a doctor unexplainable.
Frank laughed at that. No no, I mean something you can’t get your mind around, or maybe you have theories about, but you can’t prove anything.
Sure, I guess everyone has something like that to tell.
So?
Well, when I was a kid I woke up once, and I couldn’t move, it was like a dream, I couldn’t scream, couldn’t do anything but breath and look around. Scared the living shit out of me.
Wayne looked at the ground thoughfully. Frank waited, intrigued.
What happened?
Well, slowly I started to notice I could twitch my fingers, then I could talk, but only in a whisper. I had to make an effort, you know? I still couldn’t stand up, I tried to call out, but it was just like a dream, I could only whisper. I felt like I was packed in cement.
I had nightmares like that too. Trying to run, but you’re frozen in place.
No, it’s different. I lay there praying. I could feel tears running down my face, you know? And finally I started to move. Real slow-like. Finally I crawled out of bed over to my parents room, I crawled into their bed crying. They said it was only a dream.
Maybe it was.
I never woke up.
Maybe it wasn’t.
Wayne smiled. Why do you ask anyway?
I lost my hammer this morning, looked around the saw bench, and all the work area, checked on my tail gate, couldn’t find it. Finally I was right pissed off, and I searched the whole bloody job site, end to end. Couldn’t find it anywhere. I decided to go buy a new hammer after all the time I was wasting. I went to the saw bench to get my keys, and there it was, right on top, nothing anywhere near blocking my view of it.
So your just bloody blind.
Maybe, but I looked there a half dozen times before I went anywhere else, and I couldn’t see it.
So maybe a little elf took it.
Do you think? Frank paused, ‘Cause honestly, I’ve been starting to wonder.
Naw buddy, it’s not an elf. Your just flat crazy.

-4-
Saturday evening they met at the Duke and ordered their beers. The roof and windows were indeed complete, and they had installed the last door at five in the afternoon. Frank called Craig their painter to see if he wanted to come out and go over the dry walling and painting plans so he could get started. The pub was quiet and the dark hardwood finish shone in the low gas light.
Frank took a table at the deepest end of the room, just around the corner from the main bar, past the two well abused pool tables. While they waited for the waitress, Craig looked over the blueprint.
This looks not-to complicated. I should be able to start on Tuesday morning if I can get the materials there for Monday night.
Good stuff. I was hoping you’d be able to get on it.
No problem Frank, I hope everything goes smoothly, this last house has been a nightmare. Everything about it seems to be moving at half speed.
I know what you mean, its just one of those houses. I’ve had streaks, where every house has taken no more than the estimated time to completion date, eight, nine, ten in a row, then eleven takes four and a half months instead of three. And you can’t pin it down on any of the trades. It just seems to catch up every single one of them. An extra day here, an extra three there.
Wayne laughed. I’ve known customers who can have the same effect. Like this guy I’m building for right now, he can be a real assh…
Watch yourself. Frank laughed.
Well if the guy wouldn’t stop losing his hammer, we could pick up whole days. He found himself quite funny midway through his second beer.
Okay okay. How bout you Craig, you ever have a mystical blindness for a hammer that’s right there in front of your face?
Sure Frankie. I’ve heard some people say it’s a little elf.
Wayne couldn’t take this, he burst into another fit of laughter, That’s exactly what Frank believes. It’s almost religion.
Well, I think it’s something much more sinister. Craig lowered his voice to a conspiracy tone.
I think the little bastards are playing us like sheep. He smiled.
They moved your hammer for a reason. Maybe to waste ten minutes of your day, so you wouldn’t have time to stop and pick up the winning lottery ticket on the way home, and thereby avoiding your path to become the next president of the United States. You see, they own you. He raised his eyebrows to emphasize the point.
Now Frank took a serious, slightly sheepish expression. So how do we get our freedom back from these, very dangerous elves?
You have to wait for a break in the fence, do something to get out of their plans, and then keep ahead of them. Keep doing things they haven’t prepared for.
Obviously. Wayne chimed in as the waitress brought them a round.
That’s funny. I actually had an experience like that when I was a kid.
He related the garage story.
I think that was a chance to break out. They changed things to suit their plans and didn’t account for me. If I had gone renegade right there. I’d probably have them overthrown by now.
I’m just gonna sit here and talk to my beer. It aint any crazier than what you’re talkin’ and you boys are way the hell over my head anyway. Wayne swiveled around and considered the ladies in the bar.
That’s all right there Lug, you just go on with your beer. Frank laughed and turned to Craig. How about you? You ever had a visit from the elves?
Nothing I can think of, really. I mean sure, I’ve lost things that I didn’t lose, but everything always adds up.
I guess it does for me too. I figure, kids minds are sometimes tricky things. Mom and dad thought I was crazy. It just struck me like it was backwards. Maybe I had dyslexia in my navigational computer.

 

 

From here on, there is no editing of the first draft.  As you can see, it plays out very differently.

 

-5-

Tracy Burg walked down to her car just after two.  She set her briefcase behind the driver’s seat and slipped in behind the wheel.  She’d taken an early day to go to a doctors appointment and do some business while she was downtown.  The traffic wasn’t bad, and she hoped to be on her way home well before rush hour.  The news came on and the weather man evangelized plastically.

-…a beautiful day, clear sky’s, and a high around twenty two degrees.

News of a traffic accident in the South East made a shiver run up the back of her spine;  Randy would be on his way out of town right about now.  She shrugged it off, silently offering up a prayer that he was all right.  She came off an exit ramp and slowed to fifty as she entered downtown traffic on First Avenue, pulling in to a Tim Hortons to grab a bagel before her appointment.  She walked through the parking lot and put her keys in her purse, taking out her wallet.  Inside, she got her coffee and a bagel and sat down to read the paper.

-5-

Randy Burg was right on time.  He jumped in his pickup, supper already packed, tools in the back, on his way back to the job site after a long weekend that he’d stretched by a half day to finish renovating his basement bathroom.  He drove onto the on ramp out his neighborhood, past a row of working class two stories with peeling grey siding and identical brick walls dividing each yard.  A rarity  on the prairie that went back to depression era recycling.  The bricks had come from the old hotel row that used to make up the north end of a tiny main street, built when this  was a bedroom town, before his little neighborhood had been swallowed up by the spreading city.  Some of the bricks in Randy’s wall said Smith Co. 1873.  They’d been fired shortly after Canada became a nation, built into the wall of a three story hotel three or four years later.  When that hotel came down after a fire ruined the interior in 1933, the contractor, William Burg, demolished it and stacked all the brick on a vacant row of lots one block over.  The contract was with the city, as the landlord had declared bankruptcy, and this contractor got paid more for tearing the building down than he would have been to build it privately.  So when the work ran out, he gave his crew of eight young men, all of them fathers, all of them local, a chisel and hammer each, and they spent eight hours a day working for half wages chipping mortar off the bricks.  There was no other work, and while the pay wasn’t great, there wasn’t a much easier job going.  When they’d cleaned up the brick, they tossed it on a heap in the middle.  At noon they carried the pile across the lot, and stacked it neatly, three feet high, twenty feet deep.  After lunch they’d shuck another two-thousand bricks, stack them neatly and go home.  When they cleaned up the last of the pile of bricks, they’d managed to keep in work for five extra weeks.  They’d stacked a hundred and fifty thousand bricks from a building that had contained less than two hundred thousand.  Burg went to the town-office, and paid cash for the row of lots behind the ruin of the hotel.  He went down to the hardware store and ordered two thousand pounds of sand and two thousand pounds of mortar, his men showed up and carted it all off to the row.  That afternoon they started building walls, on full wages again, bricking in backyards for homes that didn’t exist.  Randy’s grandfather had build 18 houses along the row between 1934 and 1950.  He’d lived in one of them for the rest of his life, and Randy and Tracy inherited it when the old man died in 1982.  All this history underlay the moment, as Randy came up the ramp, accelerating and checking back over his shoulder as he did.  A car was coming up behind him fast as he began to merge.  He edged over.

-Gimme a break man.

He pulled in a bit more, finally the other driver started to back off.

-Thank you.

Suddenly the other car hit its brakes hard, swerving over into the far lane out of his way.

-What the hell?

Randy said as he spun his head forward.  Only for an instant he saw the car dead in his path stopped in the middle of the on ramp.  In a flash he saw the other driver, on a cell phone; his speedometer, at 85 km/hr; his wife before she left for work this morning, eating breakfast and talking over the kitchen table.  Then he was into his seat belt, and eight-hundred pounds of tools punched through the cab of his truck.  There was no recognizable sensation in his last moments of consciousness, he felt like he was hanging free of anything, he inhabited that kitchen table and that odometer and that man on the cellphone all at once.  Randy Burg died within seconds, wrapped tightly in the press of metal and seatfoam and laminated glass, less than a minutes walk from where his grandfather had built his first house most of a century before.

 

-6-

Tracy walked out to her car and her uneasiness grew, a prickling nearly tangible sensation on the back of her neck and shoulders.  She reached into her purse for her keys but couldn’t find them.  She dug through everything in the purse, then peered through the blue glass of the windshield and saw them hanging from the ignition.

-Shit.

She was momentarily convinced, then she wasn’t.  I put those goddamn things in my purse when I took out my wallet. She fumbled around looking for nothing, knowing it was pointless.  Her frustration built.  Suddenly, surprising herself, she swung her purse hard at the door of the car in a tantrum.  She meant to hit the side panel, but the buckle swung up and there was a low pop as the glass of the back drivers window spider webbed into ten thousand tiny blocks.

-Frig.

She clenched her teeth.  She stepped away, walked to the center of the parking lot, walked back, reached in the broken window, unlocked her door, got in and drove away.  As she drove, her mind wandered.  She didn’t go any particular direction, or toward any destination.  Suddenly, she noticed the cars were slowing down, maybe a speed trap ahead, she looked down at the speedometer, it read 50km/h.  She couldn’t be doing fifty.  The cars were crawling, at a near stop.  Then she noticed something truly bizarre.  The man in the car next to her appeared to be sitting still, but as she watched him, she realized he was moving.  Very slowly his hand inched down to the gear shift, it took him all of five seconds to shift gears.  His head slowly turned toward her, but didn’t make it.  He was at a dead standstill.  She looked around, nothing moved.  She put the car in park and tried the ignition.  The car was dead, no response; not a sound.  Finally, fear welling up in her, she set the emergency brake and took out her keys.  She put on her four ways, and stepped out of her car.  There was silence, in the middle of the city.

 

-7-

Frank pulled out of the lumber yard with his shingles and exterior finishing package on the back of his truck.  Wayne would be at the job site in a half an hour, which gave him time to run to Tim’s for a coffee on the way.  He sized up the days work in his mind.  As he turned onto third avenue, the radio crackled away,  “A man was killed this morning , when the vehicle he was driving collided with a parked vehicle on the Sedwala on-ramp interchange with highway 356.  The man in the other car has severe internal injuries and is not expected to survive.”

Frank crossed himself and continued on.  Ahead of him, in the oncoming lane, he saw a car with a lady in it scream to a sudden halt.  The four ways blinked on, and he thought to himself she must have pulled the E brake, set the parking brake, and hit the flashers all in one fell swoop, its no wonder people have high speed crashes in thi….”

She was gone.  The woman just vanished.  Well not exactly,  It was like she seemed to move faster until she became a blur, then she vanished.  He pulled over and came to a stop.  He stepped out of his truck and walked back up the street to the car.  He looked all around it, and underneath it, there was no sign of her.  Suddenly it occurred to him.  This was the moment.  Something had slipped and he had witnessed it.  On impulse, he ran across the street, narrowly missing an oncoming car, down the alley, over a chain link fence.  He took a moment to pick up an old tire hub and run it across the small storage area he was in and set it on top of an ancient washing machine.  He was playing random in his mind, acting on impulse, trying not to be natural.  He ran to the back of the building that walled one side of the storage yard, opened the door and ran inside.  His eyes accustomed to the light slowly.

“What are you doing in here!” a man suddenly yelled from the other side of a large workshop. “This ain’t the drop in, get the Hell outta here!”

In the dim light, Frank could make out a very big man walking toward him.  The man picked up a tire iron and seemed to be moving very quickly.

“Hey I’m sorry, I guess I took a wrong turn.”  Frank realized his foolishness.  The man was almost in swinging distance.

“I’ll say you did.” He didn’t slow down any.

Frank turned and ran back through the doorway, looking for any way to secure it, on his way through, but there was nothing.  He bolted across the yard, the man in pursuit, and tried to climb the chain link, but he knew he wouldn’t make it.  As he swung his leg up onto the top bar, he glanced back, the man was still only half way across the yard, maybe he would make it after all.  Then, glancing back again, he realized the man was no longer in pursuit, he was wal…no, he was still running, he was just….slowing down.  His face still bore a homicidal expression.  One foot on the ground one foot hanging in the air, his body leaning out, at an impossible angle, like a statue.  Then, he stopped.  Slowly Frank climbed back down the fence, and walked over to the man.  He walked around him.  The man stood, almost hung in the air.  Frank looked down at his boots, and saw that he did indeed hang,  his back boot was now, a quarter inch off the ground.  Frank pushed the man and he tilted, then stopped.  Frank stood, thinking.  He put the man’s finger in his nose, and pulled both his feet out from under him, then, on second thought, he pulled the man’s finger back out of his nose, he didn’t want to do any serious damage when this guy came to.  If he came to.  Frank jumped the fence and walked back to the street.  He had done it.  Done what?  He wondered.  He stood in the middle of the street, and suddenly realized, not only was there nothing moving around him but the air was silent.  Stood stock still, and could not hear anything except the beating of his own heart.

-8-

Tracy walked all the way to the doctors office, terrified.  At first she’d thought to go there simply because she had an appointment, and she didn’t know what else to do.  Now as she stood in front of the office, beside a frozen lady who was on her way out the door, she decided she wasn’t going to make it to her appointment today.  She turned and walked back up the street past a family having their picture being taken in front of the park entrance.  She was afraid.  Suddenly the camera in the mans hands flashed, and she jumped and screamed out loud.  Nothing else changed.  She walked over to the man and looked at him, and saw nothing moving.  Then, as she peered, she saw his eyelid move, slowly down.  It took about a second, paused, then, slowly came back up.  This, when she processed it, scared her even more.  She ran past him, back toward her car, panic welling up in her guts.  When she reached eighth avenue, she was exhausted, and she slowed to a walk.

She’d run off some of her blind panic, but it was not far below the surface, as she tried to put together where she was and, how she could get out of here.  Nothing was moving, there was silence, what had happened?  The flash had gone off, the man had blinked, but he still didn’t move.  That seemed sinister at the time, but now she realized….. he was moving.  Very slowly.  She stopped walking, and sat down suddenly, right in the middle of the sidewalk. She watched the vehicles driving on the street carefully.  After a full minute, she was sure.  They had moved, but only inches.  Somehow, she was fast, sped up.  She was Flash Gordon, and it suddenly occurred to her that Flash Gordon would have been a very lonely superhero.  Suddenly, she saw something move, quickly.  Someone was walking down the other side of the street, but whoever it was, was hard to see, and was gone,  into the open door of the shopping mall.

Tracy looked around, considering…and finally decisive, darted across the street, into the doors of the mall.  It was bright and dry and somehow, unnaturally, devoid of echo in this thick silence.  As she walked she could hear her own footfalls, but nothing else.  She looked carefully for the person she’d glimpsed before, but could see nothing, she got to the central atrium, and was faced with three branches to choose from.  She stopped and scanned the whole scene before her, trying to locate someone, anyone.  The frozen people had become non people to her mind, their motionlessness made them unnatural… just mannequins filling the room.  Up the third corridor, she glimpsed movement.  Instinctively she ducked down, and made her way towards it, using a brand new raffle SUV parked a few hundred feet away as cover.  She crept up to the truck as quickly as she could, and peered up behind the tinted glass.  What she saw made her cold.  A family was in mid stride in the mall, the husband trailing a toddler behind him, while a strangely dressed figure rifled through their pockets, removing his wallet, and working through the cards, and papers.  Then the figure put the wallet back, grabbed the lady’s purse and did the same.  Tracy could not make out much.  The creature was wearing what looked like a shimmering robe.  It sort of diffused the colors around it, and she felt she could almost see through it.  The figure was masked, in a similar material, and as she stood watching, she began to get the feeling it was not human. Whatever it was, it was very fast and deft in it’s movements, and its arms and legs, although shaped like a human beings, seemed stretched and jointed slightly higher up, giving it longer forearms and lower legs.

The creature finished with the family’s belongings and stepped back a moment, as if to view his work, then he reached out with his hand, and pushed flat palmed against the mother’s head, and held it there.  A moment later, the same for the father.  He looked at the toddler a moment and spun on his heel straight towards her, striding back down the mall.  Tracy ducked down again behind the steel of the tailgate.  She waited for the creature to pass her, hearing the whoosh of his robe as he approached the truck.

Suddenly he loomed right over her.  She’d been seen.  The creature peered at her a moment, all but his dark eyes invisible through the material of his wrapped mask.  He reached out toward her, open palm to her face, and for a moment she was mesmerized, like he was inside her head, then she resisted and pushed him away.  The creature fell back, confused, and Tracy scrambled to her feet and bolted away.  The thing pursued her and caught the back of her shirt yanking her off balance.  She wheeled on her heels, falling off balance, and she saw the open palm again.  This time he was in her head.  She began to lose her panic, and will to fight, when suddenly she heard a shout, and dazed, as the creature let go, she fell to the ground.  She could hear scuffling beside her and her mind cleared fairly quickly, but she couldn’t seem to find her feet.  A man was struggling with the creature, trying to pin it down.  She could see that it was bigger than he was maybe a foot or more taller, and wiry, and though he was strong,  he was in trouble.  She got to her feet and jumped on the creature’s arm pinning it to the floor and freeing up the man’s right hand.  He punched the creature in the head once, twice, it went limp.  She sat up still feeling uncertain, while the man rolled off and got to his knees, breathing hard.

“What the hell is this thing?” He asked.  She shook her head.

“Frank Renault.” He said holding out his hand.

She shook it and answered “Tracy Berg. Thank you for helping me.  I didn’t know what was going to happen.  Where did you come from.?”

“I was just coming up the street when I saw you run across and into the mall, I haven’t seen anyone in the last hour, and I thought maybe I should catch up with you.”

“What’s happening here, it’s like everything is slowed right down.”
“Stopped you mean.”

“No, before I came in here, I was watching the cars outside, they’re moving, but only a couple of inches a minute, and I saw a man with a camera, he was in the midst of taking a picture, his camera flashed, almost like normal, but he didn’t move.  I think the flash is fast enough to see.”

“That’s interesting.” He said. “I’ve had some of my own ideas on what’s happening here, but I hadn’t discovered any movement yet.  What about this guy?  What did he want with you?”

“I don’t think he wanted anything to begin with.  He was busy going through that family’s things when I found him.” She relayed the event’s leading up to the fight. “I think he just found me hiding here on his way out.  Maybe we should search him.”

“Good idea.” said Frank.  They opened the robe, which was buttoned in ordinary fashion, and indeed, quite amazing camouflage.  The material was light, and took the color of any thing behind it, blending into the floor, then changing to a skin tone where Franks hands held it.  Inside, they found a long boned, white, almost human body.  There was no visible genitalia and no possessions, or pockets.  They removed the mask to find an equally long white face with large eyes and fine bone structure.  Tracy went across the mall, into a clothing store, and returned with a pair of tall man’s loose fitting pajamas.  They dressed the creature, and stole his amazing robe and mask. Leaving him lay on the tile floor.  Then, feeling unsure what would happen when the creature awoke, if he awoke, or if any others would come, they stood, and moving quickly, made their way back to the street.

-9-

Outside, they made their way down the street toward the park, but as they walked through it, they realized the enveloping silence had an eerie effect on the vast expanse of the land and lake, so they continued, all the way back to Tim Hortons, near where they had started, and sat down inside.  Frank hopped over the counter, and poured them both a coffee and grabbed a couple of donuts, but when they actually tried to eat them, they found the food and drink tasted flat and stale, like some of the flavor was leached out of them.

“So, you said you had theories on how this all works, how it all happened?” Tracy   asked.

“Well, yeah, I don’t know how accurate I am about it, but I do have an idea or two.  When I came through to here.  I saw a lady’s car stop in the middle of the street, and she just vanished, that was the event, the way through.  I’ve always thought there was someone pulling some strings around us, and they keep track of us, intervene in our lives.  Sometimes they cover it up, sometimes they forget, or choose not to.  I think I witnessed an event that they forgot to cover up from me.  So I tried to act unpredictably, to break out of their illusion, and it worked.  It took a little bit of time, but I think they ran out of planned experiences to keep me busy with, and I sort of fell out of time.”

“You think they control time?”

“Yes, and this world is like a set on a stage that they have built, except, more complete, because when they want to alter it, they can move so much faster than us, maybe they could even stop time if they wanted to.  The point is, they’ve lost track of us.  So they can no longer predict our movements.  We are outside of their stage, and their control.  How did you get here?”

“I was driving to a doctor’s appointment, and everything just ground to a halt.”

“You didn’t do anything to cause it.”

“I don’t think so, it just happened.”

“What happened in the last few minutes before you came through.”

“Well, I was here.  I got a coffee and a bagel for lunch, I went out to my car, and I’d locked the keys in.  Only I’m sure I got them out.  I got frustrated and hit the car with my purse, only it smashed a window accidentally, so I unlocked my door and drove off to my doctors appointment, and a couple of blocks away, it just stopped.  The traffic came to a halt, and I realized everything was frozen.”

“Was it a little blue car?”

“Yeah.”

“It was you I saw then. Screech to a halt, and vanish.”

“No no I slowed down, and stopped, I walked away.”

Frank paused a moment thinking.  “It was you I saw.  For you, time slowed down, but for me, it only took a blink.  When you got out, in real time your car was still going thirty miles an hour.  You turned it off, set the brake, turned on the four ways, and hopped out.  I saw you vanish, and the car skid twenty feet to a halt, four ways on, doors closed up.”

“This is too bizarre.”

“How long have you been here?” Frank asked.

“Four maybe five hours. I don’t know though, time seems funny here.”

“When I met you, I’d just gotten out of my truck three or four minutes before.  I was making my way up the street and there you were, on your way into the mall.  Then, you might have already been here three or four hours.  I’d just arrived.  But in real time, Ifcame in a minute or two after you.  If we came out now, it would only be a few minutes after.”

“I think your right, that all makes sense, but ‘If we came out.’ How do we come out?”

“I’m not sure yet.  Maybe we need to talk to our little grey friend.”

“There’s something else.  When that thing was on me, he wasn’t trying to hurt me,  I don’t think.  He tried to put his hand on my head, and he was inside my head.  He was reading my thoughts and I think he was in control.  I saw him do that to a couple down the mall.  He was going through their things and then he touched their heads.  Not the little boys though.”

“Maybe that’s how they make it all work.  How they change things.  After they change the world, they change people’s minds and memories.”

“So do they alter the course of history then?”

“I think so.  But I think they try to alter it at the root, by delaying some people, by helping others on.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. Why do we live our lives, do our jobs and plan our plans?”

“But they interfere, it’s not a job.”

“How do we kno…”

A tall silver figure, then another walked by on the sidewalk outside the building.

“Sit still.” Tracy whispered.  They sat, watching as the creatures made their way out into the street.  They approached a car.  One creature got in the passenger door, the other in the back, and they began to rummage, unaware of Frank and Tracy.  When they weren’t looking, Tracy said “come on, let’s move.”  The two of them slid out of their chairs and down onto the tiled floor.  They slunk to a booth table, where they could keep an eye on the two outside and the other windows without being seen.

“So they aren’t technological as far as I can see.  It appears to be their nature to interfere.  I don’t know why they do, but I guess they’re working together, toward a goal.  I don’t know how they communicate, but they don’t appear to be searching for us, maybe they haven’t missed us yet.”  Frank said.

“Maybe they don’t have a clue where to look.”

“That’s probably close to the truth.  Once we broke out of their predictable behavior, they may not know what to expect.”  He picked up the shimmering robe from the seat beside him and put it on the table.  “This is all we have to start with.  It’s good camouflage but aside from that, I don’t think it’ll be much help.”  He turned it over in his hands, spreading it on the table.  The material was seamless, and thick, but light.  It was a full length robe with buttons up the front, a hood and a long wrap hanging like two long jowels.  When it was on the creature, they wrapped the hood tight to his head, leaving only a narrow space for eyes.

“They all appear to wear these, do you think they serve any particular purposes other than camouflage?” Tracy asked.

“Well, I’ve been thinking about your man with a camera.  Depending on the film speed, and the real difference in speed between this time and ours, you just might be in his picture.  I’m sure there are some camera’s that could do it.  Even being in one place too long could conceivably make one of these creatures visible.”

“Like a ghost?  Could that be?  Trying to communicate, but unable?  Do people come through here as they are dying?”

“My god.  That’s a thought isn’t it, trying to talk, trying to leave a message.”

“And the creatures?  Why don’t we see them?”

“With one of these on, I think they would be nearly invisible, or just a blur in the film.  Like a water spot,  with all the right colors, but no definition whatsoever.  Without solid evidence, I think these things could be well hidden from all but a few people’s wild imaginations.  Even if someone tried to capture one, with the speed they move at, I don’t think anyone could come close.”

“This might come in handy, in hiding ourselves from them.  If we were dressed like them, at least we wouldn’t stick out quite so clearly.”

“It would be nice to have another, but it might be a risk to try and get a hold of one.  Then again, I don’t see that we have many options, what are we going to do next?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea.  How to get back, how to protect ourselves when we do.  Once we’re there, they can do what they want with us, so I guess we shouldn’t make them angry…if they get angry.”

“Well we could try and catch one, find out if we can communicate with it.  Try to get some information, and if nothing else, try to get another robe.  The one I fought off in the mall wasn’t very strong, but we have to be careful none the less.”

“Alright, let’s try and find one alone.”  Tracy said as Frank slipped on the robe.  “I guess I get to be bait again, just don’t leave me too long.”

They looked out the front window to see the two creatures still rummaging through the car.  Frank slipped out of the booth, and around behind the front counter with Tracy behind him and they made their way to the staff exit.  Frank went out the door, looked around, and motioned for Tracy to follow.

-10-

They caught a creature alone on a pretty residential street, a few blocks away.  They followed it at a great distance, moving from cover to cover, and momentarily thought they’d lost it until Tracy pointed out movement through the opaqued glass of the front entry of a small bungalow style house.  They ran flat out to the front yard and slipped around the side of the house to avoid being seen through the large front window, then crept in the side door.  Frank hid just inside the small coatroom, and Tracy walked into the adjacent kitchen, and sat down on the floor, as still as she could.  They could hear the creature rummaging around in the front of the house, then immediately, footsteps.  It came around the corner into the kitchen, and stopped, peering at Tracy.  The creature studied her and approached her with caution.  She held her breath, and stared at a cabinet door knob in front of her.  The creature walked around her and knelt down beside her, it’s back now to Frank.  Tracy’s eyes began to burn, and she fought the urge to blink.  The creature looked directly into her eyes, calculating.  She blinked and the creature recoiled, jumping back directly into Franks arms.  Frank bear hugged the creature’s arms to it’s sides, but the creature struggled wildly, throwing it’s head around, trying to break free.

“Help me, grab his head, help me bring him down.”  Tracy tried to grab the creature, but it kicked out at her awkwardly, jumping and flailing it’s feet.  Frank began to lose his balance, and the creature managed to shake loose one arm.  Frank was toppling while Tracy tried to grasp the creature.  With one last desperate attempt, Frank yanked the creature around under him, and let himself fall.  The creature smacked into the floor beneath him, and momentarily stopped struggling.  Frank sat up and grabbed its arms pinning it face down.  Tracy came around, and sat on it’s thrashing feet.

“You’re done, you’re done.  Take it easy.” Frank gasped.  He maintained his grip, but tried to make the creature comfortable, lifting some of his weight off it’s back.  “I’m not gonna hurt you.”  The creature stopped struggling.  Frank could hear it breathing roughly.  “Good.  Now, can you understand me?”

The creature made no movement.

“Do you speak, do you understand my words?  Give me some sign if you can.”  The creature lay still, it’s breathing returning to normal.  “Any suggestions?”  He looked at Tracy.

“I don’t know, sitting on it’s back, it’s hard to try to sign with it.”

“I know.  I don’t know if he’d try to escape if we let him have any reach though.”

The creature moved it’s hand.  Frank held his grip steady, but looked back at it.  “You have something to say?”  He asked.  It waved it’s pinned hand back and forth gently.  Frank removed his weight from that arm, keeping his hand around the wrist.  The creature lifted it’s hand and pointed at Frank’s head, then opened it’s palm flat, and lay it gently on the floor.  It pointed at Frank’s head again, and again, lay it’s hand, palm down on the floor.

“He wants to be in your head.” Tracy said.  “like the one in the mall did with me.”

“Well that’s not likely.”  Frank said.

“So what do we do.”  Tracy said.

“I don’t know, but we can’t risk letting this thing into one of our heads.”

“I don’t see much chance of us getting anywhere, if we can’t speak to it.”

“I know, I just don’t think it’s safe.”

“Okay, stand him up, put your arm around his neck, let him touch me.  If he hurts me, you throttle him, right?”

“Are you sure you want to take that risk?”

“I don’t see any choice.  Also, I don’t think we need to be afraid of these things, we live at their mercy every day, they haven’t done me any great harm before.”

“All right.”  Frank let go the creature’s hand tentatively.  It didn’t move.  He put his arm around it’s neck firmly, and lifted it to it’s feet.  “Be good.”  He said, then put some pressure across it’s throat to let it know the score.

Tracy walked in front of the creature, a full arms length away, and took it’s hand.  Lifting it to her head.  “Please take it easy on me.”  She said.  She pressed the palm against her head and the creature spoke.

-11-

“Do not fear me.  I will not harm Tracy Berg.  I am not your enemy, and I will not resist you.  You are here for a purpose.  I am the servant of the highest power, and I have a message for you.”  The creature let go Tracy’s head, and she stepped back dazed.

“It’s all right Frank.  He only read our language, he was inside my mind,  I couldn’t have stopped him, but he only took our language.”

Frank did not release his hold as the creature continued. “The one you struggled with is not injured.  He tried to communicate with you.  We have been waiting for you.  You are here to help us.”

“How could you have expected us.  We came here under the radar,” said Frank, “if you expected us, wouldn’t you have been waiting for us.”

“We were waiting for you.”

“I mean waiting to meet us when we came through.”

“We have some abilities you do not, we have some purposes you cannot understand, but we are only servants, and we were waiting for you.”

“Fair enough.”  Said Frank.

“Please release me, I will not harm you.”

“I don’t know about that, how ‘bout you explain a little more, and if you can satisfy me, I’ll let you go.”

“For now, that will suffice, I do not like to be a prisoner.”

“I’m truly sorry about this, but for now, it will have to suffice.”

Frank looked at Tracy, her eyes disagreed with the situation.  He relaxed his grip slightly, then, uncertain, he released the creature and stepped back warily.  “Alright, let’s sit down like civilized people, and have a talk.”

“Thank you for your gesture of kindness.” Said the creature as he sat down.  “My name is Caraphal.”

“Where are we?”

“You are in the world, just in a different plane.  This is a function of time.  Your people rarely catch a glimpse of it.  We move faster here.”

“We guessed that much, but how does this exist?  Has it always been this way?”

“This place has been, as long as yours has been.  The creator began it all.  Our place is what your people call a spiritual realm, but it is not what you believe it to be.  We have our own laws of reality, our own purposes, but we are simply another level.  We work with you, in a different time.”

“How much faster is this place then? How does it work?”

“That is not easy to explain.  It is not always the same.  It is like a wave in the water.  Sometimes you are at the top, then you are further away, and move very quickly, sometimes at the bottom, then closer, and more like the world apart.  Yet it is also not like a wave.  Do you understand?”

“Well enough, I don’t know how much I need to understand.  Who are you?”

“I am simply a changer.  When the plan goes astray, I make repairs, simple ones, unless I receive a greater intention from my creator.  If a man moves more quickly than we expected, I delay him.  If another is showing signs of frustration with his direction, that he may pursue an undesired purpose, I give him encouragement.”

“Delay, and encouragement,” said Tracy, “How do you approach these things, how do you know these people’s reactions?”

“I have been with them since their creation.  I know them very well.  If a man is enthusiastic, and proceeds more quickly than we had prepared for, we must apply a delay.  It may be that the other is frustrated, he begins to flag in his resolve.  I may bring them together, so the first sees that the second needs his help.  When he gives it, it satisfies both cases.  The first is delayed in his purpose, the second is encouraged with the other’s care.  They are in harmony, and they both serve their purpose, even though they may not know what it is.  This is a simple explanation, but it addresses the question.”

“So you introduce or remove parts of our environments in order to steer us in your direction.  I don’t like the sound of all that.  I live my life my way.  You don’t make me do what I do.”

“You were created with certain basic attributes.  One of these is your self determination, it serves the purpose.  You cannot make yourself weak willed and fearful, even if you choose to do so.  You may choose to avoid your purpose, to a small degree, it may succeed,  but even these actions can be predicted, and though I am limited in my abilities, you may be surprised what I can do.  Furthermore, my creator is limitless.”
“When you make a change in environment, how do you make it wash with us?”
“Often, we can introduce it subtly, without notice, and it is accepted without question.  When it is required, we can enter the minds of human beings and add or remove what is necessary to make a change successful.  If a major change in plan is necessary, we are all given our duties to perform, to bring it about with harmony.  All the people involved must be made to accept the change without question.  We do not do this unless it is absolutely necessary,  it is much more agreeable to simply guide people in their purpose than to force it.”

“Did you bring us here?”

“We guided you.”

Tracy looked at Caraphal, “Did I lock my keys in my car this morning?”

“No, we put them in there.”

“Why did you do this?”

“To bring you here, we had to have you break completely out of your expected behavior.  You did not even break the glass.  When you hit the car, we made sure of the result, because we knew it would lead to an unplanned course of events.  We knew Frank would be drawn along because he was suspicious of us already.  We had to draw you both out of the normal course of events to bring you into our level of being.”

“Bullshit.” Frank sat forward. “This was all planned, it wasn’t outside our predicted response.  It was exactly what you predicted, and you helped it along where need be.”

“You are right in that we brought you here, but it was not part of the plan.  There are some of us who have been waiting for this to come, we did this on our own.  Frank, you and Tracy are special.  Your purpose is unclear, and you have been protected and guided so that one day, you could play an unforeseen part.  But you are in danger now, we do not know how or who, but things are not as they should be.  There have only ever been few like you, and your day has come.”

“You’re rebels then? to your purpose?”

“My Creator is the master of all designs.  His is the purpose, to us he makes it clear.  To your people it may not be clear, but you will follow it.  If you resist it, and work against it, you will find discouragement, and failure in your own plans.  If you follow it, and desire it, you cannot fail, you will find harmony.  However, the two of you are special.  Your purpose is hidden from us.  Your purpose is hidden from the enemy.”

“Okay, what is the danger, the enemy?”

“Something has changed, it has been long coming, but something is working against the plan here.  We have seen its effect, slow and certain, upon the plan.  Now, we’ve sensed a danger to you, and your part is important.  We have received no direction, in what to do with you, but my people believe we must act, so we brought you here. You may be many things.  Simply a beautiful creature for the world of men to look upon with wonder.  Possibly a great leader, to gather men to your side for the creators glory, by standing for him, or by standing against him.  Perhaps you will never be known by men, perhaps you will work quietly to guide someone else directly, who is destined for greatness.  Your task will not be easy, we cannot lead you through it, for the creator will only make it clear to you what you must do.”

“Alright, but the enemy?”  asked Frank. “Who are you talking about, the Devil, are you angels then?”

“Men have long misunderstood us.  We serve the creator, and there is another, he is the creation, but he is powerful and his servants work to thwart us.  He undermines the work of the servants, like he does to man, by sowing distrust, and by leading us away from the beauty of our parts, from our harmony.  Already, there are many here who just play their part, unhappy and jealous with mankind.  They have been made vulnerable, much like mankind has.  He may try to find you, he may not know you exist.  Your purpose is hidden, to us and to him, but you should be careful of him and those who serve him, for they will fall to ruin, and they wish to bring all with them.”

“You said there have been others like us before.  What was their purpose?  Who were they?  Did they stand for your creator, or against him?”

“Most of them were never remembered in your history.  Some of them became great in the world of men.  They fulfilled their purpose and lived their time.  Even after, we cannot see all ends that they effected, and even after, the creator did not reveal all they were made for. The plan includes them as well, but we do not see their part, only the creator does.  They bring balance when things are no longer in balance.  We expected you to come because we have seen things falling out of balance recently, we knew that our parts could not restore the balance, that there must be more to occur than we could see.  Now you are here.”

“What is our part then?”

“We do not know that either.”

“What has been falling out of balance, surely you can tell us something.”

“All we can tell you is that you have a great part to play.  You are in all this, and you should be careful, and true to yourselves, and your purpose.”

“What help is that?” Asked Tracy.  “We don’t have a clue what we’re expected to do.”

“We do not wish to control you or use you.  We just want you to know that it has begun.  I believe that if you are aware of it, you will be more successful.”

“Well thank you for that, whatever it was.” Frank was becoming irritated.

“You asked about the others.  There have been some who had a larger part to play, some took a great deal of time to realize their role.  Some took it after they’d become jaded to the world, and their role was selfish and they worked against the rest of mankind.  Some were glorious, there was a young girl in France who sought her purpose, and the creator veiled her from us.  She had great clarity of mind and faith.  She dedicated herself to uplifting her people from their suffering and she stood for goodness.  She became a great leader of her country’s armies, and she shifted the powers of the world with her courage.  When she died, she was remembered by all.”

“She was burned.  Joan of Arc.  You mean Joan or Arc and they murdered her.” Frank leveled his eyes at Caraphal.

“Death is only a doorway.”

“She was BURNED!  That is where I cannot agree with the purpose. Was it your master’s will, or your enemy’s, that a girl was burned to fulfill the purpose?  Why recruit children to fight his battles?”

“Suffering is a part of life, as is joy, and love, and death.  When it is over, experiences are only a small drop in the large sea.  She had faith in her creator and his plan.”

“Whatever.” Frank turned and walked away. “I won’t be a martyr.”

Tracy and Caraphal stood alone.  Frank did not come back.

“I don’t know what I think of all this.” Tracy said. “Frank and I need to talk.  Thank you for helping us understand.”

“I simply told you what I know.  Your part is your part, you will learn it as it comes.”

“How do we get back?”

“We will take you there.  We will keep an eye on you now.  When you are ready to go, lay down and go to sleep.  We will bring you through then.  Now is your time to talk.  You can take as long as you want, it is an advantage others do not have.  Please use it.  And Tracy…..”

“Yes?”

“You must both be careful, things may not be as they seem.  You may find you have enemies, you may find yourselves in danger from unseen places.”

“Thank you…Goodbye Caraphal.”

“Goodbye Tracy.”

-12-

Frank and Tracy spoke until, impossibly, the sun was setting.  It seemed like days had passed, and if they’d had any way to count time, they probably had.  The two sat on top of a building watching the sun touch the horizon in the west.  From this height, the city looked like it would on any normal day, except the silence, of wind, of traffic.

“When we get back, are we going to go back to our own routines, and wait for things to become clear, or try to seek out our path.”

“I don’t know Frank.  I wish we had more to start from.  I’m married, and I don’t think quitting my job, and starting on a divine appointment with another man is going to wash with Randy.  I think we should keep in touch, if we notice anything strange, and if we don’t, we should get in contact at least once a week, maybe a couple of times, just to compare notes.”

“Sounds like a plan.  I’m off work for a couple more months, till my house is complete, so I’m fairly flexible.  You can get me on my cell phone anytime.”

“Okay, unless something happens, I’ll call you.  I don’t want Randy getting the-”

“TRACY! What the hell is that!…” Frank jumped to his feet and walked to the edge of the building. Tracy followed his line of sight down toward the city park and caught sight of movement just above the trees.  They both hunched down behind the short wall that dropped off to the street below.

“I can’t make it out.  It looks like it’s flying.  It looks like Caraphal and the servants, but it’s not.”

“It looks like a snake.”  He looked at Tracy.  “Maybe it is, maybe it’s one of the others.”  They watched the creature down in the park, in amongst a small group of people, moving about, careless of bumping, sometimes crawling right up over a person.  It worked for a few minutes, then jumped up and rose into the sky towards them.  It took a second for Tracy to realize, then she said “Frank, down!”  They both dropped and Frank pulled his robe out over her, trying to cover them both as best he could.  He watched, motionless, as the creature came up past the north wall, ascending noisily.  It did not appear to notice them, but had come dangerously close to their position.  Frank could see clearly now, membranous wings, a sleek body with long arms and legs and a tail, fully down to its heels.  It almost looked like a man, but it’s jaws protruded in a short muzzle.  The single most incredible thing about it, was that it was not robed.  It’s body was clear and viscous, but defined.  This creature was naturally camouflaged.  Frank could see it’s internal workings pulsing away, as it flew quickly to the east.  They lay there for a time, until he couldn’t make out the creature any more.  Then, they sat up, and warily walked back to where they had been sitting.

Frank described what he’d been able to see to Tracy.  “Well, I think we’re safe to guess that that’s one of the others.  Did it see us, do you think?”

“I don’t think so.  I hope not.  I wonder what they do, what their purpose is?”

“I don’t want to know.” Said Tracy.

“Well it isn’t all mayhem and carnage down there.”  Said Frank.

“Yet.”  Tracy added.

They sat up for another couple of hours, till the sun was almost behind the horizon, then, reluctantly, and without great need, they lay down to sleep.

-13-

Gerald Walther had been on the Sedwala Fire department for fifteen years.  He’d learned not to let death and carnage get hold of his mind.  He pretty well saw a body as a body, and while he had a healthy appreciation for safety and danger, he somehow hadn’t managed to overcome his heartfelt sympathy for suffering.  The man they’d scraped off the Sedwala interchange that afternoon had been suffering greatly.  From what the crash investigators had said, the man had been at a full stop in the middle of the lane, at the very end of the on ramp.  The driver of the pickup that hit him had been looking back for other traffic and missed the parked car.  The investigators guessed the vehicle had been coming close to highway speed, and there was no sign of braking.  Those, and the steel boxes of tools in the back of the pickups box were the details.  The pickup driver had died on impact, and there wasn’t much left to see.  The man in the car had survived the crash (although 2 toolboxes ended up in his back seat,) but had been slammed around so badly inside his vehicle, that he was paralyzed on his right side, and his steering wheel had broken four ribs, which punctured one lung, and tore up all of his internal organs while they bounced around inside his ribcage.  All these things but wondrously, above his upper back, no damage (other than severe whiplash.)  He was wide awake, and had enough lucidity to scream small, onelunged screams all the way into the ambulance (and probably the hospital.)  Now, Gerald was finished cleaning up all the glass, and blood, and the big oil patch left by the pickup, and he was free to do with his evening as he wished.  When he’d started this job, he’d gone out for beers after every major accident.  The boys would already be liquored by now, but he’d seen himself well on the road to alcoholism, drinking the night after an accident, or for the next week after an accident, and for the last five years, he’d kept his mind made up, not to drink after a night of cleaning up.

-13-

They woke up to the early morning sunshine and the cold of the night air was only just beginning to lift.  Frank said goodbye and headed down immediately, Tracy sat on the roof just breathing, hearing the noise of the city below, feeling the cool breeze.  Finally she made her way down to the street.  She felt as well rested as she ever had in her life.  No aches, no tiredness.  The world, moving again, was crisp.  She walked down to Tims, past where her car had been.  It was towed.  She walked inside and ordered a bagel and coffee, and while it was toasting, she called home on the pay phone, realizing as it rang that she had no excuse for staying out all night, she hadn’t even thought of it.  The answering machine picked up and she left a message.  “Hey Randy, don’t worry about me, I’ll be home by nine, we’ll talk then.  I love you. ‘Bye.”  She felt momentarily worried about trying to explain, then she thought ‘What can I do, I never did anything wrong.’  The girl called that her bagel was done, and she paid and sat down with it.  Now, she sat and pondered over the whole event.  How bizarre, she felt like she’d been on a weeks vacation.

After breakfast she looked up the impound in the phone book and went over to pick up her car.  She drove home and parked in the driveway, noticing Randy’s truck was gone.  He was probably steamed, and left really early for work, she thought, a little sadly.  Inside, she found her answering machine had seven messages.  She listened, and heard the voice, steady, asking her to call the police station in Sedwala ask for officer Mike Timmins, as soon as possible.  Five times, then her message this morning, then once more, from the police.  Man, they sure hassle you about an impounded car.  She went upstairs and had a shower, got dressed, and came back down.  She dialed the number, and asked for officer Timmins.

“Hi Mike, it’s Tracy Berg calling.  I just wanted to let you know, my car just broke down on me, I had to walk, and by the time I got back it had been towed.  I just picked it up from the impound, so everything’s a-”

“I wasn’t calling about your car Mrs. Berg.”

“Oh…” She felt uncomfortable with the pause, waiting for him to speak.

“I’m calling to inform you that your husband Randy was involved in a collision yesterday.  I would like you to come down to the hospital to meet me.”

“Is he all right?”

“Ma’am I am not at liberty to discuss this over the phone.”

“Please.”

“Ma’am I will meet you as soon as you would like.”

“All right, I’m heading there now.”

“I’ll see you soon.”

Tracy hung up the phone, and ran out to the car.  She drove to the hospital and sat in the atrium, not sure where to wait.  Only a moment later, a tall policeman walked in the door looking around.  He caught her eye and she waved.  He walked to her.  “Mrs. Berg.”

“Hello.”

“Mrs. Berg, I’m very sorry to tell you.  Your husband, Randy, passed away at the scene of the collision.”

Her mind flooded.  The room and noise and smell and all disappeared.  All she could see was his face.  “Are you sure?”  She asked.

“We need a positive identification, but we are certain.”

“Where is he?”

“He’s here, downstairs, do you want to go now?” he stepped towards her, uncertain of her reactions.

She stepped back, reflexively.  “Yes, can I see him?”

“He was badly injured.  I would not advise you to view the body.  There is a tattoo on his abdomen.  We could show you that, and give you some time with him.”

“All right.”

They took the elevator down to a brightly lit hall way, and walked only a few steps, then officer Timmins guided her into a waiting room.  “Please sit down,  this is the viewing room, I will get the doctor, and I’ll be back in a moment.”

He walked out of the room and she sat.  She was reeling.  She was not prepared for this.  What kind of a sick joke was this.  All that happened yesterday, then she gets back to find Randy’s died.  It didn’t make any sense.  She was sinking fast.

Officer Timmins walked back in the room with a short, tired looking man in scrubs.  “Tracy, this is doctor Sedel.” The man held out his hand.  She took it, and he shook her hand gently, dropping his gaze away from her eyes.

“Are you prepared for this Mrs. Berg?”  He asked quietly.

She paused for a moment, considering.  She felt like she had no choice, because no amount of preparation could ready her. “Yes.” She finally answered, uncertain still.

The old doctor guided her out of the room and down the hall two more doors, then brought her into a room with a bright light hanging from the ceiling, and a table under it.  Randy lay under the sheet, and she walked over to him, unable to see his familiar shape.  She guessed and lifted the sheet at the center, finding his right hip, and the tattoo, a yinyang just above it.  She looked for a full minute, thinking to herself, ‘I wonder what they’re thinking…this must be a miserable job.’  Then she lay her hand on his thigh, not daring to reach down or up any further than she could see, terrified of what she might find.  She rubbed his cold skin, squeezed it, kissed it for a long moment, the tears welling up out of her heart.  She was racked with sobs.  Then she covered the exposed hip, and hugged her arms to her chest.  She spoke. “It’s him.”  She could see they already knew.  ‘What a misery.’ She thought again.  She could still think, but it felt like her body was out of control.  Hitching breaths, and tears and snot poured out of her.  The doctor gave her a kleenex, and tucked a wallet sized package into her hand, for later.  ‘That was thoughtful.’ She thought to herself.  She walked out of the room, and moments later, officer Timmins caught up with her.  He escorted her upstairs and bought her a coffee while she got her body back under control.  They sat together in the cafeteria, and she asked him questions, about his job, trying to make him comfortable.  She tried to talk about Randy but after a little while, she realized he was not the person to talk about Randy with.  Finally, she felt like she could continue.

“I’m going to go home now.”  She said.

“Do you have family to come?”  He asked.

“Yes, I can call my sister, then I’ll call around and let people know.”

“Good.  It isn’t good to be alone now.  I’ll give you a ride home, and have another officer bring your car.”

“Thank you.” She said.  Timmins took her keys and left them at the information desk for the other officer to pick up and drove Tracy home.  She called her sister Margot and he waited until she arrived, helping Tracy make a pot of coffee, and pulling out some food, so she wouldn’t have to think about it later.  When he left, Tracy went upstairs and took another shower, and changed again.  Then she sat down with Margot at the kitchen table, and she stayed there for most of the next two days.

-14-

More than a month passed before Frank heard from Tracy.  He was installing kitchen countertops and doing the final adjustments to the cabinet doors while Wayne trimmed the man-doors and bifolds.  Tomorrow, the two of them would lay baseboard, then Craig would be back to do the finish coat of paint.  They had a few small unfinished touches, some shingles to tab, not more than two weeks work. It was September third, Frank hoped to move in on the fifteenth.  The phone rang, and Frank walked out into the garage, away from the noise of Waynes power tools.

“Hello, Frank here.”

“Frank, it’s Tracy Berg calling.”

“Hi Tracy.  I’d begun to wonder where you been.  What’s up?”

“I’m sorry it took so long to get a hold of you Frank, a lot has happened..”  she told him about the day she’d returned home, the wave of family support, and visiting after Waynes death.  They talked about his home, and the progress he’d made.  Finally, Tracy broached the subject of Caraphal.

“Have you seen anything unusual Frank?  I’ve been so busy, so wrapped up in all this, I haven’t had much time to think about it.”

“It’s strange, I thought it would come to me, that my purpose would be clear, but nothing has changed.  I haven’t seen anything to even suggest that there’s anything outside of us, and this.  If I hadn’t gone through that whole experience with you, I’d swear I was going crazy.  I mean I’m open to wild idea’s, but I’m glad I had a witness, or I’d really be questioning my own sanity.”

“That’s funny, these last couple of days, I’ve been feeling the same way.  Like maybe it was post traumatic stress disorder, and I made it all up, in my head.  I was praying that when I called you, I wouldn’t get ‘Good afternoon Burger Baron, how can I help you?’”

Frank laughed loud.  “Well, do you feel like meeting me for lunch?  Say, in an hour or so?”

“Sure,  how about that new high rise Chinese restaurant, the one with a view, downtown.”

“Great. I’ll see you then.”  Frank told Wayne he was going for lunch with an old friend, and he might not be back today.

“No problem buddy,  I should have all the trims done by four or five, I’ll meet you here tomorrow at seven?”

“Sounds good.”  Frank walked out to his pickup, and packed up the tools in the box, then spent a few minutes cleaning out the cab.  He hopped inside and drove away.

-15-

Tracy was at the gas station filling her car, when her cell phone rang.  As she picked it up, she walked into the kiosk to pay.  On the other end, she heard a strange voice.  It varied in pitch, and the words came out at the wrong speed, like someone playing a record too fast, and trying to correct it by damping it down to speed by hand.  “Trayyyyyccceeee, pplleeease lsn, unedtrn. Gnooowwwww.  Iiiiiiiiiiiiiitttss Crfl, plsss RRRRUUUUUUUUNNNNNN!”  She saw the attendant outside pull the fuel hose out of the car, and spray gasoline all over the waiting car, all over the front of the kiosk.  He walked up and down the cement floor of the covered parking lanes, spraying gasoline as he went.  The boy had a ring in his nose, and a little bit of mascara on, his eyes were calm and expressionless.  Tracy had a strange image of him watering his garden.  The girl behind the counter watched him, mouth open.  “What the hell!”  She said.  Tracy broke from her slack jawed stance.  She ran for the side door.  Looking over her shoulder, she saw the boy reach into his pocket, and pull out a lighter.  She ran as hard as she could for the corner of the bank next door.  As she rounded the corner of the Concrete parkade, she felt more than heard a huge whoomp, then the over pressure and the heat knocked her to her knees.  She stood again, and ran as fast as she could.  The whole world felt thick and quiet, then it came back to crispness, and she heard the glass windows of the office across the street from the gas station falling in a tremendous prolonged crashing.  It went on steadily.  Hundreds of pounds of glass falling into and out of the building.  A man on a bicycle ahead of her looked at the carnage behind her.  His mouth was agape.  He slowed his bicycle, standing on the pedals.  She couldn’t see his eyes, but his mouth was hung like a broken trap.  He came to a stop, balancing, impossibly, then she realized, it was all silent.  He stood frozen, looking at the scene, on his pedals.

She walked carefully into the silent parkade, hoping to find a changer, before one of the others found her.

-16-

Frank waited for an hour at the restaurant, becoming increasingly uneasy.  At first he began to think Tracy was standing him up but as time went on, he became convinced that she wouldn’t do that.  No phone call, no Tracy.  Now, getting up from the table, he was worried.  He paid his bill, and went out the door, unsure where to begin.  Frank sat in his truck, and pulled his beat up phone book from under the seat.  He almost never used it, having memorized any trade number he needed, but it came in handy now and again.  He flipped through the pages looking for Tracy’s number.  Under Berg he found three R’s and a Randy.  He started with Randy.  He got a phone message saying “The estate of Randy Berg is being processed by Samson and Associates Law.  For any estate business. Please contact us during business hours at 3__ – ____.   Frank dialed the number.

“Hello, my name is Frank Renault.  I am trying to make contact with someone you represent.”

“Certainly Mr. Renault, how can I help you.”

“Is Randy Berg the man who was killed last month in a collision on 356?”

“Yes sir, we represent his estate.”

“I’m sorry to bother you with this, but I’m trying to contact his wife, Tracy, I have no other way to contact her.”

“I’m sorry sir, Mr. Berg was not married.”

“What do you mean not married?”

“He was a bachelor sir.  We have no immediate family on file.”

“I know his wife, she’s been grieving this and going through the details for a month.”

“I’m sorry sir, we’ve been dealing with his parents, and they are next of kin.  Mr. Berg was never married.  All the details have already been taken care of.”

“All right, thank you for your time.”

Frank put down the phone confused.

He didn’t know what to make of it.  Tracy couldn’t have been lying.  Something was happening here, and it suddenly occurred to him.  They’d taken her.  She was gone. ‘I have no way to find her, as things stand’ he thought, ‘but if I had, she wouldn’t be there anyway.  She’s gone.’  Frank felt hopeless, not knowing what to do next.  He began to drive back to the house, unable to think of any other approach to take.  He weighed as much of the situation as he could, trying to find a solution, finally, frustrated, he turned on the radio, caught the tail end of Tragically Hip’s It’s a good life, if you don’t weaken. Frank wasn’t so sure.  The news came on, and Frank snapped to attention.

“And in a bizarre, breaking story.  A gas bar at the intersection of third avenue and eighth street was entirely destroyed today when it burst into flames.  An eyewitness says he was pulling in to fill his vehicle, when he saw an attendant spraying fuel all over the filling station,  and vehicle’s in front.  He sped away, concerned with what he’d seen.  and saw a fireball erupt on the street behind him.  Fire department and emergency services were on the scene almost immediately, but there was little to salvage of the station.  Fire officials said there were six seriously injured on the street near the gas station, and in the surrounding office buildings and numerous minor injuries.  Three bodies were found in the debris.  Their names have not yet been released.”

Frank felt cold running down his back.  He didn’t have any reason to believe this explosion involved Tracy, but somehow, he knew it.  He pulled over on the side of the road, and opened his door.  Stepping out into the sun, Frank tried to breath deeply.  His mind was working fast now.  He realized he had no power in this at all.  Had they killed her… erased her?  It was a matter of time before they came looking for him.  Who did this?  Caraphal?  Frank innately trusted that Caraphal had been true with them, but he couldn’t count on it.  Did it matter?  If Caraphal wanted a piece of him, Frank knew he was helpless.  Here, he was vulnerable.  How could he fight back.  He considered this.  There was no way.  There was nothing fast enough.  Hell he couldn’t even shoot something like this.  He couldn’t grab it,  and it would probably be here and gone before he even knew it was there.

Fear began to rear it’s head, but Frank put it down.  He tried to steer his mind away to something useful.  Could he get back through?  He knew if he could, he had a fighting chance.  The struggles he’d had on the other side were with creatures that had no physical demands.  They were weak, and slow.  If he could get there, he would have long enough to find out the truth.  Here, he could not protect himself.  So once again his only choice was to get himself there.  He didn’t know how, unless they gave him a chink.  Unless he could make his own chink.  The last time, to his best understanding, it had been accomplished by unpredictable behavior.  Now, he could do that again.  Maybe he couldn’t outsmart them enough to get through, but possibly, he could stay far enough ahead that he didn’t present an easy target.

He walked away from the truck, leaving it parked on the side of the road, just like the last time and proceeded into the world, trying to be as unpredictable as he could.  He covered ground all afternoon.  Hoping for that moment when the noise would slur down to silence.  Hoping he was at least, safe.

-17-

By seven Frank was exhausted, he was still in this world, in this time, running at random.  Stopping in unlikely places, unsure what was unlikely.  He’d come to some conclusions.  The safest thing to believe was that someone was after him, that they’d killed Tracy, that they were very dangerous as long as he was still here.  He’d begun to think of the world as Home, and theirs as Paused, a whole different place.  In Paused, he could fight back.  In Home, he could do almost nothing.  So the goal was to get to Paused.  He didn’t know what limitations the others had but he guessed they must have some.  Caraphal seemed like a very complicated creature but Frank, after a great deal of consideration, decided that he trusted him.  The trick was to trust the other grey men, were they all together or not?  Frank found it easy to mistrust the snakelike flying creature he’d seen, but found himself with no good reason to do so.  His impressions led him to the obvious conclusions.  His sense of self preservation told him to be careful not to presume.

So he was trying to create a worst case scenario.  If Caraphal could contact him, or bring him through, he would trust him.  Anyone else was suspect.  Someone was pursuing him, and he had to try to protect himself.  He wasn’t fast enough to do so, but if he could make something that was, maybe he had a chance.  Electricity was the obvious choice. Light was as fast in Paused as it was here, so he felt safe to assume electricity would be too.  They would be vulnerable to it, but what could he do to use it against them.  He couldn’t come to them, they would have to come to him.  He had to bait them.

Next was the fact that he didn’t want to accidentally kill something that wasn’t trying to kill him.  He had to control the charge.  He’d seen Tasers that would do just that.  They were powerful enough to knock a person unconscious, but not to kill them.  They were available for self protection at a lot of personal security shops, even at outdoor shops, though he didn’t think they’d knock down a bear.  You could sell a fearful person anything.  He made his way to downtown and found the shopping mall he and Tracy had been in a month before.  Inside he looked over the directory map in the central atrium.  A store called Mission Security was just down the concourse.  He walked in and bought a taser just before closing time.  As an afterthought, he picked up a pair of handcuffs before he went out.  There was a Radioshack just down the mall from the Mission Security, where he bought some heavy gauge wire and a dual electrode patch.

Later, he stopped in at his Tim Hortons and over a coffee and two bagels, he built his weapon.  The Taser was to be live, strapped on his back under his jacket.  It was wired to the electrodes so that if anyone made contact with both of them, they would receive a blast that should put an average man down for forty five minutes.  He went in the bathroom and  carefully placed the patch in his pocket facing away from his body so the shield protected him from completing the circuit.  The wires ran through the pocket lining into the Taser from under his jeans.  They were undetectable.  He plugged them into the taser and strapped it to his back, then turned it on and put on his jacket.  It wasn’t much, Frank was counting on any creature that was after him going through his pockets first, which was a big assumption.  He was assuming that there was not a creature watching him, or going through his things between here and Mission Security, but he couldn’t do much else,   and he’d seen the grey men rummaging every time they came upon a person.  It could work.  He didn’t have many other options as far as he could see, so he decided to stop this evasive behavior.  He put the loose change from his pocket into his jacket, reminding himself not to put his hand in his jeans, laughing at the image of himself suddenly falling in a heap out on the street, and walked out to the street, toward his truck.

-18-

The next morning Frank went to work as he would any other day.  He was unusually quiet and Wayne kept asking him why he was wearing his jacket on such a warm Indian summer day but aside from that, he tried to be as routine as he could.

“It’s a beautiful day, lets go up and finish tabbing the roof.  That way if we get some weather, we can lay baseboard another day.”

“Iss coo.”  Said Wayne.

They climbed onto the roof and began tabbing, on opposite slopes.  The work went smoothly for half an hour.  Frank was half way up when it happened.  A shingle suddenly gave way under his foot, and before he knew it, he was sliding down, riding a wave of sluffing shingles.  His mind raced.  It was them.  He’d nailed these shingles himself, he and Wayne.  They were all free, as if someone had pulled all the nails, and he knew they had.  It was a two story drop plus a six foot basement wall, and Frank knew it would probably kill him.  He was halfway to the edge, and gaining speed, hearing the shingles swatting into the ground.  He rolled violently to the right, across the roof, to where the shingles weren’t moving so quickly.  He aimed for the chimney with a lunge.  His fingers just caught it, then slipped off the smooth tin shield.  He scrambled up the moving sheet of shingles, and reached the bare plywood they were uncovering just as he slid to the edge.  He’d made it, but as his boot touched the plywood and he went from a run to a standstill, he lost his balance.  He heard the last of the shingles crash to the ground below.  He stood reeling, and felt a push, like the wind hitting him, but he knew what it was.  As he fell back. he sprung up with both feet, so he would go down feet first.  He reached out and grabbed the eaves trough.  He grabbed it tightly, and immediately felt something trying to pull his fingers off, but he was stronger, and he was pushing adrenaline.  He held fast, anger welling up in him.  The eaves trough gave way under his weight, and he fell a full story and a half before it jerked him to a near stop.  Then it let go again, peeling off the fascia.  He fell the last fifteen feet and landed hard on his feet.  He rolled onto his back, winded, his legs screaming in pain.  ‘But not broken’ he thought.  He lay on his back stunned.  He tried to get up, and fell to the ground.  Suddenly he felt the tingle of electrical current in his pocket.  He was shielded from it, but it was so powerful that he could sense the jolt.  Then out of nowhere, was the man.  A servant, lying on his back. Out cold.

Frank grabbed the handcuffs from his pocket, locking them around the servants wrist and his own.  He was perplexed. He’d suspected a serpent, not a servant.  He grabbed the creature by the neck and suddenly it was moving, trapped.  He held fast.  Its body became a blur, like heat coming off asphalt, he yanked his other arm around, the creatures chained, trailing, and used it to punch the creature in the head.

Frank was in a blind rage.  The creature began to slow down.  It became easier to aim his blows.  It tried to hit him back, but it was weak.  Frank took a fist full in the face, and the way the creature reacted, he was sure it had hurt itself more than him.  He hit it again, and could feel it turning to putty in his hands, flailing around, dizzy.  He spun the creature face down in the dirt, and pushed its face into the soil, kneeling on its back.

“Now, you son of a bitch, now who’s the tough guy.”  Franks rage was abating while he pinned the creature and released himself to cuff the creature’s hands together behind its back.  He couldn’t hurt it too badly, it was like beating up a junior high school kid, not so fair.  Frank looked around and realized that there was not a sound.  No Wayne running around the corner to see what the commotion was.  He was puzzled for a moment, then he saw a bird hanging in midair, and it all came together.  The servant had slowed down because he’d come through.  He was here.  He’d done it.

“You didn’t expect that little joy buzzer did you, you little bastard.”  The creature didn’t respond, but it struggled helplessly, and it suddenly occurred to Frank.

“You don’t understand do you?”  he asked.  Not a twitch.  ‘Dammit,’ he thought.

“Up.”  He yanked the creature to it’s feet, and walked it over to the truck.  He chained it to the front mirror with one of his scaffold chains and stopped to think.  What could be done?

He could see Wayne up on the roof.  He was near the peak, and looked to be at a full run.  ‘Looking to see what was up.’ Thought Frank.  He knew he was where he needed to be, but how to find Charaphal?  He really hadn’t thought past here. Finally he decided to leave the creature, chained up here.  He went into the truck and dug out the robe he’d left behind the drivers seat.  He put it on over his clothes and started off toward downtown, where he hoped he’d find Caraphal.

-19-

It took Frank a long time to get downtown on foot.  During the walk, he thought about how to find Caraphal.  He couldn’t approach the servants and speak to them for fear of giving himself away.  He’d seen a number of them on his trek.  Rummaging or traveling.  Any one of them could be Caraphal and Caraphal had talked about others who were with him, but Frank had no way to distinguish.  He had to assume that most were against him.  He walked warily.  As long as he didn’t bother them, they seemed to take no notice of him.

He didn’t know if Caraphal had learned to read language when he went into Tracy’s mind or if any other servants could talk or read, but he finally decided to make a sign.  It was a small square of cardboard tied around his collar with a piece of string and on it he wrote one word, Frank.  Some of the servants seemed to take notice of this immediately.  He couldn’t tell if they could read it, or if it was just strange to see one of their people with a sign around his neck.

Frank reached first avenue and was beginning to wonder at the wisdom of his little sign.  He’d passed more than a dozen servants and they’d been more and more inquisitive, looking straight at him.  Now, he was nearing the rubble heap that had been a gas bar,  he had no better place to start looking, and he figured Caraphal might be nosing around this area.

As he came around the corner from sixth street onto first avenue, he stopped short.  There were four servants standing together, facing him, still.  They were waiting for him.  From the other side of sixth street,  another group were approaching, there were five more.  He turned back the way he had come and saw eight more coming together from both sides of the street a block behind him.  So it was a trap.  He didn’t know if these ones were with Caraphal, but he had a bad feeling.  There were too many.

“Hello….” No answer.  Frank only hesitated a moment.  He couldn’t risk letting them take the initiative.  He walked straight toward the group of four directly in front of him.  Two went left and two went right.  One reached for his face, he kicked it in the stomach, the other three grabbed his arms and tried to pin him down while their companion doubled over on the ground.  They were not very strong, but three at once was challenging.  ‘I might be in real trouble here,’ thought Frank.  He struggled and pulled his left arm free, using it to pummel the two hanging on his right.  He knocked one down hard and hit the other one.  Suddenly he felt a hand on his head.  He swung his left around visciously, backhanding the servant with a closed fist.  He could hear the jaw crack.  The servant went down without a sound, out cold.  It had been in his head.  There was no innocent intention here, they were here to bring him down.  He didn’t know whether they meant to kill him, but they meant to have him.

The five were across the street now, not running, but moving fast.  He drilled the one hanging on his arm and put it on the ground.  Now he charged the next group, bellowing.

“Let’s see what you can do you sons of bitches.”  The servants recoiled at his maddened attack, but now he wouldn’t let them go.  Frank beat them down one at a time.  Whenever one tried to get a grip he turned and focused on it, not pulling any punches.  Suddenly, one was on his back, spider like.  Frank ran out of the group, carrying it scrabbling for a grip on its hands.  He ran nearly half a block, struggling with the creature, then threw it off his back onto the hood of a car.  He grabbed the wrapped head and bashed it visciously against the steel hood.  It slumped in his hands.

Now he turned to face the rest of the attackers.  They’d nearly covered the distance, and Frank saw they were strengthened by the group that had been down the block.  There were eleven left standing, two were injured, behind the main group but still coming on.  Frank ran down the street past cars and frozen people, then he saw a work truck parked on the side of the road.  There were a full compliment of tools in the back, and a pile of lumber.  Frank didn’t want to kill the servants, so he skipped the hammer, and picked up a 2×4, maybe four feet long, and turned back down the street.  The servants saw him standing thus armed and stopped.  ‘Still no choice,’ he thought, and walked down the street toward them.  All but one stepped back, uncertain.  Frank went straight for him, swinging the 2×4 at his abdomen.  The servant jumped back, out of range, then, lunged before Frank could wind back up.  He hit Frank full on and knocked him down.  The others still weren’t moving but Frank rolled frantically trying to regain his feet.  The creature wrestled to keep him down.  He rolled on top of Frank and Frank hit him square in the mouth with the flat of the 2×4.  The creature roared in pain and fell back on the ground.  Frank felt an arm around his neck and saw that the others were swarming for him.  He half stood, then pushed as hard as he could and ran the choking servant out of the group.  He was losing his air quickly, and was blind to his attacker, but he lashed out above his head with the butt end of the 2×4.  He heard it thudding into flesh, and fell down as the creature crashed to the ground.  Now there were nine.  They didn’t look so excited to fight, and two were picking up the bigger one, trying to drag him away.

“You had enough?” Frank stood, chin out. “You want some more of that.”  He felt outrage, and wanted to wade into the group with the 2×4 but they approached cautiously and only long enough to drag away the other body.

“All right.”  Said Frank, turning on them.  He began to walk away.  He was maybe twenty paces away, not looking back when he felt a pair of arms grab his neck.  Again with the choking.  Two creatures had broken away from the group and one was trying to reach for his forehead.  He swung the 2×4 wildly, but the creature was out of his reach.  Suddenly it was torn out of his hands.  ‘Oh shit oh shit oh shit.’  Then the other was in front of him, its hand in front of his face.  He thrashed at it, pushing it away, then it was back.  Suddenly he heard a cry.

“Get the hell out of here!”  He heard a crack and fell to the ground, on top of his attacker.  Then he saw Tracy take a round out of the one in front of him.  It came nearly off its feet, with a 2×4 tucked neatly under its chin.  He gained his feet, and saw the rest of the group making their retreat as quickly as they could.

“It’s nice to see you.”  He said, and fell to the ground in exhaustion.

-20-

Tracy and Frank left the area quickly, they settled on the High rise restaurant and made their way carefully to it.  Frank stripped off his robe along the way, unsure if it was entirely useless, but certain that it was cumbersome and it hadn’t protected his identity from the servants.  Frank was aching from the battle down on the street, and welcomed the cushioned seat.  The atmosphere was actually quite comfortable in the restaurant, excepting the phenomenal silence.  They had a view of the city below, and a courtyard directly across the street.  All the buildings in the immediate area were low roofed, and they felt ringed in by other high rises that surrounded this neighborhood.

“What’s happened to you?”  asked Frank.  “I thought you were dead.  That gas station was destroyed.”

“I’ve been running for what seems like weeks.”  Tracy looked haggard and her clothes were tattered.  “It was night for a long time.  At first I was terrified but I think it was actually safer.  I don’t know who to trust.  I don’t know how to find Caraphal.  I probably wouldn’t recognize him if I could.  Thank god you’re here.”

“I don’t know if we can trust Caraphal.”

“We can.  He saved me.  He called me on my cell phone right before the gas station exploded.  He told me to run.  I got around the corner before it went up and then I was here.  I think I was supposed to die, I wasn’t where they wanted me to be, so now I’m here.”

“You don’t exist anymore.  I tried to find you.  I looked everywhere.  They’ve erased everything.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean Randy was a bachelor, there’s no record of you.”

“How can they do that!??”

“They did it.  We’re on the run now.  They tried to kill me too.  I bet there’s no me now either.”

“So what do we do now?”

“We fight back.”

“Caraphal is with us, but we have to find him.”

“All right.  We need to come up with a plan, and equip ourselves.  What have you been eating?”

“Nothing.  I haven’t been hungry.  It’s like this place changes what’s what.”

“Well, we need to find some kind of weapons.  I don’t know what they might try to do, but if they get enough together and surround us, we could be in serious trouble.  What we could really use is something that could protect us from a group.  Hell, if we even had some sort of vehicle we could steer clear of them easily enough. I don’t think any of them has ever really been in any kind of a fight before.”

“Bicycles.”  Tracy said.

“THAT is a good idea.”  Said Frank. “They wouldn’t have a hope of catching us.  It would take them a while at least to come up with a plan.  The 2×4 was not a bad choice, but I think I’d rather have a billyclub, or even two of them.”

“That shouldn’t be too hard.  We could take them off a couple of cops.”

“Perfect.  So lets worry about that for now, and once we have what we need, we look for Caraphal.”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Tracy.  They talked for what seemed like hours.  Getting reacquainted, discussing their lives, trying to guess at their future. Tracy looked at Franks wounds, making sure there was nothing severe.  After a good rest they went back down the stairs.

-21-

They found Caraphal hanging  in the lobby.  He was dead.  Beaten.  Frank cut him down.  They didn’t speak.  He carried the body out the door into the street.  It was empty.  Frank had a deep surreal feeling.  Like he was in an old western, like he wasn’t a hero and there wasn’t anybody else to be a hero.

They walked on the open street knowing there was no real way to fight back.  No way to win.  The servants knew what they would do, they knew what they had done.  ‘I can defend myself’ thought Frank, ‘but for how long.  They’ll always be there.’ He felt hopeless.

“We could walk around here for years.” He said.

Tracy didn’t respond.  They walked out of the great circle of high rises, after a while, out of the downtown.  They saw no one.  Along the way Frank saw a Garden shop and walked in the door.  He came out with a long handled spade under his free arm.  As he walked on, Tracy came up beside him and took it from him.  Neither spoke.

They came upon a police car along the way and found one cop inside, another out, writing a ticket.  They took both their billyclubs and hand cuffs with keys.  Frank pulled the gun from a holster, he cocked it and pulled the trigger.  WHAAFOOOOM.  The sound stretched out low.  He could feel it almost more than he could hear it.  He watched the bullet sail away the speed of a fast ball and punch a hole in the door of the police car.  A neat round little hole.  He could feel the vibration of it smacking into the door but couldn’t hear it.  He put the gun in the back of his pants, then thought twice, put all the equipment back on the standing mans belt, and put it on his own waist.  He motioned for Tracy to do the same and she shook her head.  She turned and walked away.  Frank picked up Caraphals body from the hood of the car where he layed it down, and followed her.

 

They walked quietly until they found a quiet city park.  They stopped on top of a low hill, well into the place.  Frank dug a hole.  By the time he was done, the sun was beginning its descent.  They carefully pulled Caraphals body over into the hole.  They lay him out long and buried him.

When it was all done, Frank stood for a long time at the foot of the grave.

“Caraphal, I believe you were someone true.  I believe you died because of us.  I’m very sorry they did that to you.  If you are there somewhere, I hope you don’t hurt, I hope you’ve fullfilled the purpose you were made for, and I thank you for trying to help us fulfill ours.”  He turned away from the grave, black and Tracy followed him, still quiet.

They sat down in a grove of trees, the sunlight cool, not cold though, in a world that was cool, not cold though, and silent.

“We can’t give up Frank.” Tracy said quietly.

“I don’t plan on giving up.  I just don’t know what to do next.”

“I don’t either.”

“Are you tired?”

“No.  I don’t know if I ever will be.  Not here.”

“Are we alive.  I mean, it’s not the same as it is in the real.”

“I thought maybe we’d need to eat, to sleep, on the paused cycle.  But I don’t think so anymore.  I’ve been here at least 2 days now.  I haven’t slept or eaten. I still don’t need to.”

“Me neither.”

 

After a good rest, they walked around the park.  They found a swimming pond on the south end.  There were few people there this time of day and only a handful were out in the water.

“You want to go for a dip?” Tracy looked at Frank raising her eyebrow.

“Yeah, I guess I’m game.”

Frank turned his back while Tracy stripped down to her underclothes and went in.  Then he got undressed.  She glanced at him a moment, then turned away, ashamed at herself.  He was a good looking man, and he’d respected her time to get into the water without gawking at her.  It wasn’t right to leave Randy behind her so soon, even though she knew he would have wanted her to let him go.  She pushed the wanting down in her heart, wondering as she did, how he felt about it.

They swam and splashed in the water.  It was nearly like it would have been in real time, except the water (which would have been cold) was the same cool as the air, and the temperature didn’t seem to pull the heat from their bodies.  The surface was funny.  Where they’d cut a swath of water with their hand, it didn’t wash back, but underneath, when they kicked to keep themselves up, it would swirl and fill in the gaps where there was low pressure created.  After a while, they noticed they’d cleared out a good sized little bowl from the surface, and it hung in the air where they’d splashed it.

“I’d like to see the moment after we’re done here in real time.” said Frank.

They set to digging out as much water as they could, throwing it in the air, where it hung.  Shortly they had a large area, maybe fifteen feet across that was two, maybe three feet deep.  They were looking up at walls of water all around them, and a great cloud of spray and splash hung above their heads.  Laughing, Frank dove into the wall, and swam up to the top.  He treaded water and looked down at Tracy.

“Come on.” he said.

She followed him up and out of the water, feeling really good.  She didn’t realize until she went to get dressed, that she hadn’t bothered to cover herself.  She smiled inwardly, picking up her clothes and going behind a tree to strip down naked.  She pulled her clothes on over her wet body, and hung her underwear up to dry.  When she came back out, Frank was just pulling on his shirt, and again, she appreciated the well muscled, though bruised body.  He laughed, pointing at the crater they’d dug in the little lake.  They walked across the park and noticed a look of horror on the face of a couple walking toward the pond.  Their mouths didn’t gape yet, but their eyes were wide.

“They’ll probably think a meteor just hit the lake,” Frank laughed.

“I’d love to come back right now.” Tracy smiled at him, pulling her wet hair up and tying it back off her neck.

The two walked together,  their spirits back up.  They were ready to face what they knew they had to.  Suddenly, Frank saw movement just above the trees on the other side of the park.  “Freeze.” He hissed.  They watched, barely able to make out the form of a long flying snake.  It swung low, cutting across their path, then towards them.  They couldn’t guess the range exactly because the creature was so hard to distinguish, but Frank guessed less than a quarter mile.  His hand crept over the butt of the gun, loosing it in his belt.  The creature came directly for them, then went up high, hovered maybe two hundred feet in the air, almost directly above them, spun and flew back the way it had come.

“Damn it.” said Frank.

“It saw us?”

“I’m certain it did.  It couldn’t have been a fluke the way it hung over us then flew back.”

“We might be in for some trouble.”

-22-

They decided to head out of the park through the forest on the east side.  It provided some cover, and led right into a residential neighborhood, so they wouldn’t have to cross in the open, and they figured they could find some bicycles there.  They made their way through the brush, trying to be as quiet as they could.  Even moreso than the rest of the city, it was strange to walk through this little wooded area, and hear nothing.  Normally there would be birds singing, and the thick buzzing of insects, living their last days of Indian summer.  They walked along, trying to keep on the grass beside the path, off the gravel, but out of the brush and branches.  Frank motioned for Tracy to wait, and he went ahead the last fifty yards to the edge of the forest.  He looked around, noting everything he saw, but there was no movement.  Finally, he waved her on.  They ran quickly across the open street, to the sidewalk lined with poplar trees, and under their cover.  They were much more careful now than they had been before, speaking only in low tones, moving quickly, and scanning constantly.

“There are two bicycles in that porch,” said Frank.  “What do you think.”

“They look good to me.”  Tracy walked up the walk and into the porch carefully.

“They aren’t locked, and they should be perfect for us.”  She walked one down into the yard, while Frank walked in and got the other.  They tried them out for size, and soon they were riding down the little street.  Now they stuck to the middle.  They were not under cover, but they were more able to maneuver and any one trying to grab them would have to come across open ground and give away their position.

They rode fast till they reached the river.  They’d covered thirty blocks or more, now they rode under the bridge and rested on a bench at the edge of the pedestrian walkway.

“Well, we have what we wanted,” Frank said, “now we have to decide what to do.”

“I’ve been thinking along the way and I’m right where we were the last time.  We need to find someone to help us.  We really don’t have any choice.”

“I don’t know.  I haven’t seen any of them jumping to help us.  I think Caraphal may have been one of a small minority.  I know the one that had me down when you jumped in was not for us.  He was pure mean, I could see it when he was in my head.”

“But we’ve been letting them come to us.  We haven’t approached any of them.  Maybe that’s their plan.  Fill us with fear, so we won’t go to anyone else.  Then it’s only a matter of time before they can catch us.”

“Okay.  We can run for a minute on the premise that the bad ones are the minority.  Then what? We do what we did last time?  Same plan?”

“Sure.  We hit it head-on.”

“All right, but we have to plan for the worst as well.”

“Okay.  That’s fair enough.  So the one we find isn’t on our side.”

“What happens if he tries to kill you. Do you think he could do that from inside your head?”

“Well if they can change our memories, our perceptions, they could at least turn our minds to Swiss cheese.  I’m sure they could lobotomize us, you know, for all intents and purposes.”

“So, dead, or crazy, it doesn’t matter.  How long would it take?”

“Well Caraphal took my language in only a second.  I got the feeling though, that I could have resisted him.  I just wasn’t prepared for it.  I think it would be a fight.  I think I could struggle.  What if I told him take it and leave, or there’ll be trouble?”

“If he’s in for more than a moment, I pop him one.”

“Works for me.”

“Okay.  So where do we want to go?”

“Same again.  Walk into a residential neighborhood, watch for one, follow him into a house.  I say we cross the bridge, keep moving away from the city.”

“Let’s go.”

They carried their bicycles up the slope and lifted them over the railing onto the roadway.

-23-

Shortly, they were lying in wait behind a low hedge.  Tracy had seen a lone servant making his way up the street toward the intersection a hundred yards west of them.  They ran around through the back yards to get down the street from him then found the blind of the hedge.  He came into sight at the corner.  They watched him walk down the street toward them, then, as theyd hoped, into a house on the other side.  The overhead door was open, and a man stood frozen at the workbench.  They ran quickly across the street, into the open garage.  They could hear the servant inside, rummaging away.  Frank opened the door silently, and slipped through.  Tracy followed.  This time Frank was less tactful.  He ran quietly up the stairs and tackled the startled servant, pinning him down on the couch.  Frank pulled his arms behind his back, and pulled him up into a choke hold.  Tracy only just reached the top of the stairs.

“Jesus Frank.” She smiled. She started to say something, then stopped herself.

“Try to sign to him what you want to do.”

Tracy walked in front of the creature.  She took his hand and pointed with her own to her forehead.  Frank jerked him back hard.

“I think that’s the best we can do.”  Said Tracy.  The creature looked at her blankly.

She took his hand and put it on her forehead.

 

‘Take the language and leave, or he’ll hurt you.’

‘You will both die.’  She felt the creature take her words, but it kicked around the inside of her head like it was trying to make it as uncomfortable as possible.  She hit it as hard as she could, however she could.  The creature just laughed.  Pain shot through her mind, then he let go.

 

Tracy fell back on the floor her head aching.  She cried out “Son of a bitch!”

The creature laughed out loud.

Frank belted him in the back of the head hard, with a closed fist.  The creature hit the floor like a pile of bricks.

“She’s not supposed to say Son of a bitch!” Said Frank.  He kicked the creature in the stomach.  He let out a yelp.  Frank rolled him over on his back, put one of the servants hands under his knee and pinned it down on his chest.  Then with one hand he pinned the servants free arm and with the other he grabbed his cheeks.

“You all right Tracy?”  he asked.

“Yeah.”  She rolled into a sitting position, grimacing. “He’s one of the ass holes.”

“So how many of you are ass holes?”  Frank asked.

“You will die.”  The creature spoke through his pinched mouth.  Frank squeezed harder.

“No small talk you little toad.”  Frank said.  He looked up at Tracy again, reassuring himself that she wasn’t hurt.  “Now listen.  What’s your goal, we’ve been trying to live our lives, do our part.  It was you all who started this.  So what the hell’s going on.”

“You aren’t supposed to be alive.  You aren’t part of the plan.  My master wants you dead.  You will die.”

“Frank look out!”  Tracy shouted.

As he spun to his feet, Frank saw a Servant coming up the stairs behind him.  Suddenly his feet went out from under him, and he realized the one he’d pinned had kicked them out.  He crashed to the floor.  Two more came into the room from the hallway, and Tracy screamed as they knocked her down.  He tried to stand, but the one from the stairs landed hard on top of him.  The wind was knocked out of him.  The creature was on top of his body, pinning him down.  The other joined him immediately, and Frank saw Tracy being drug out of the room.  More came up the stairs.  Frank struggled and got one arm free.  He punched the creature on top of him in the face, it reeled back.  Another took its place immediately and he could see the first getting its feet.  He felt a sharp blow to his stomach, and could see one of the newcomers was kicking him in the stomach.

“We were following you all day.. ass hole.”  Said the creature he’d pinned down. “We don’t need to be together to talk.”  The new one kicked Frank again in the stomach.  Frank Tried to double up to protect himself, but the servants had him pinned down. “Only one needs to see you, and we all know.”  The creature got down in his face, on all fours, and squeezed his cheeks hard.  It looked in his eyes.  Frank saw its other hand coming up, palm out.  He struggled with his free hand, pulled out the revolver, and fired blindly.  He heard an animal scream.  One of the creatures staggered through the room, into the picture window.  Frank could hear shattering glass, and felt the other creatures grips relax.  He felt the palm on his face, and it was in his head.  ‘oh you sonofabitch’ ‘yourdeadyourdeadyourdeadyourdead’ ‘GETOFFME!’  He could feel the creature smashing around inside his head, he fought back as hard as he could, trying to hold it out.  He almost forgot about the real world.  ‘yourdeadyourdeadyourdeadyourdead’  Frank swung the gun up as hard as he could and whipped the creature with the barrel.  The palm lifted and it fell to the side unconscious.

There were two more holding him down.  One reached for the gun and Frank put a bullet in his head.  The other came around with a poker he’d grabbed from the fireplace.  He hit Frank in the hand, knocking the gun clear.  The poker came around again, Frank tried to ward off the blow with his arms.  It smashed his right forearm and he felt a searing numbness run up it.  He sat up, the creature was trying to back up so he had room to swing.  Frank punched him, not as hard as he could, sitting, but hard enough, in the stomach.  The creature staggered back, and Frank jumped up after him.  He tackled the creature and both of them went over the stair railing.  Frank grabbed hard around the servants head and they both went down into the landing.  He landed on his face and shoulder with a whump.  The creature stopped struggling and Frank looked down.  He saw that its neck was broken.  He walked back into the living room, his shoulder and forearm aching, and picked up the gun.  He walked over to the slumped creature that was lying on the floor, and kicked him the stomach.  He woke with a yelp.

“Come on,” said Frank, dragging him to his feet.  He pushed the reeling creature against the railing and handcuffed his hands, then checked the gun.  There were three rounds left.  ‘Should’ve picked up extra ammo.’  Frank pushed the creature roughly out the back door of the house, hoping to see Tracy,  there was no one there.  He dragged the staggering servant down the stairs off the deck, and out into the alley.  There were fresh footprints in the mud at the gate, and they went west across the gravel, but they thinned, then disappeared after ten feet.  Frank set a good pace, and dragged the unhappy creature along with him.  At the next intersection he scanned up and down the street, but there was no movement.  Tracy was gone.

-24-

“Where are they?” Frank asked.

“It is only a matter of time before they catch you.”  The servant wore a rough blindfold, tied around his whole face.  Frank wasn’t going to take the risk that the servant could give away their position.  He twisted the creature’s arm.

“You can communicate with them can’t you.”  Frank didn’t ask. “Tell them I won’t cause them any more grief if they bring her back now.”

“They will not.”

“Tell them I will break them if they don’t.”

“They will not.”

“And tell them if they hurt her, I will kill them.”

“You cannot hurt us.  We are more than you.  We are the servants, you are the sheep.”

“No son, I was the sheep but I’m here now, and if you mess with this dog, you will get the teeth.  You understand me?  I don’t think you do, cause your used to us being vulnerable, but I want you to think about this.  Who’s vulnerable now? Who’s messing with who?”

The creature laughed.  “She will die, then you will die.”

Frank stomped down on the servants and gave him a viscious shove.  His face smacked into the ground and he screamed.  “I’ll kill you!  You’ll suffer!  You can’t do this to me!”

“No,”  Frank kicked him in the stomach hard.  He could hear the creature trying to suck in a harsh breath.  “You aren’t a god any more.  You aren’t anything to me.  If you hurt her, I will kill you as dead as dead.  So listen up you little son of a bitch.  Tell them to bring her back now.  Tell them how much this all hurts, and tell them I’m coming for them.  It’ll be them next.  You understand me?”

The servant lay on the ground, finally he began to breath again, doggedly.  He didn’t speak any more.  Frank let him lay a minute, then dragged him to his feet and kept going.  Frank searched silently until the sun was nearing the horizon.  It would be dark soon, and for a long time.  Finally he sat the creature down on a large stone set near the street in a small garden and he stretched himself out on the grass to rest.

“What is your purpose?”  Said Frank.

“We control you.”

“Don’t even try that crap.  You are a servant, you do what you’re told.  What is your purpose?”

“My master rules all of this.  I make changes when you make mistakes.  I bring you back to what you were destined for.”

“Then how did I get here?”

“You were helped here by a renegade.  He was destroyed for what he did.”

“Are there more like him.”

The creature paused.  “No, he was alone.”  Frank could sense the lie.  Did this creature think he didn’t know about the others?  Or was he baiting Frank.  ‘They don’t know who the others are.’ thought Frank.  They want to find them as badly as I do.

“Who are these snake men?” asked Frank changing the topic, so he could have some time to consider this.

“They would tear you to pieces.  They are animals in our world, causing chaos and interfering with our work.  One day we will destroy them too.”

Frank was quiet.  Finally he said “Do you know where she is?”

“She is with them.”

“Is she all right?”

“For now, she is alive.  You should swear off.  You are the danger, they hold her, alive, until they can capture you.”

“How do I know she would be safe if I did swear off?”

“You do not.”

“I have no reason to give in.  What would happen to us?”

“We could put you back, promise not to hurt you.”

“I cannot take your word.”

“You will never find her.”

Frank stopped.  “Do you speak for all of them?”

“We will take this out of your minds, and put you back.  It will be over.”

“All right, tell them to bring her to us.”

-25-

They met in a park.  A wide open plain stretched before Frank.  He’d learned the servants name was Arapheth.  Arapheth sat, his blindfold off, on the grass in front of Frank.  Seven servants had gathered on the grass on the far side of the park, maybe a quarter mile away.  There was still no sign of Tracy.  Frank could feel the tension like a wire had tightened up in his chest.

“I want them to send Tracy out front here.  I want to talk to her before we go over, to see that she’s all right.”

Arapheth was silent a moment.  “They will escort her out to the middle of the park.  There will be three with her, to make sure you do not break your promise.”

“One,” said Frank, “and you will come with me.”

A moment then, “Two, and I will go with you.”

“All right.”  Said Frank.  Suddenly, through a gap in the trees on the far side of the park, two servants escorted Tracy toward the center.  ‘I wonder how many more are back there.’ Thought Frank.  He and Arapheth walked carefully toward the center of the park.  They stopped a short distance from the closing group.  Frank uncuffed Arapheth, and told him to sit.  He did.

“Are you all right Tracy?”

“I’m all right.  What happened?  Why are you here?”

“We’re giving up.  They’re going to let us go back.”

“You can’t trust them Frank.”

“Your all right?  They didn’t mess with you?  Are you strong?”

Tracy saw a glint in Franks eye, and wondered.  “Yeah Frank, I’m all right.”

“Come over here.”

Tracy began to take a step, and one of the servants put a hand on her shoulder.

“Tell him to let her go Arapheth.”

“You are in no place to bargain.”  Arapheth looked up at Frank, his eyes scowling.

“Tracy, you and I are going to walk away now.”

“You cannot break your promise.”  Arapheth looked surprised.

The two servants with Tracy raised the clubs they had hidden in their robes and the one holding her shoulder swung it at Tracy.  Frank drew the gun and swung the night stick in one motion, he heard it thud into Arapheths head as he fired on the servant.  The bullet took him in the shoulder, and tossed his thin body back off his feet.  Frank fired again, killing the second servant before he could react.  He turned and saw that Arapheth was out cold, then he grabbed Tracys hand and they broke for the trees behind them.  Out of the forest came thirty or more servants.  They wheeled on their feet and charged the first line, who were now coming towards them, in their odd, half running way.  There were seven, and three more joined them from the gap in the trees, but there didn’t appear to be any more.  Frank ran straight at the group, knowing no matter what way he tried to go, they would head him off, and that if he could break through before the ones behind them caught up, they might have a chance.  There was a softball sized rock lying on the ground and he told Tracy to grab it as they went by.  When they came into the group, there were four still a little bit behind.  Frank swung the nightstick madly.  He leveled the first two, and the third swept past him to Tracy before he could reach him.  Then the other four were on him, all at once.  They were at close quarters and he couldn’t put enough power into a swing to do any great damage, so he struggled to distance himself from them.  Out of the corner of his eye he saw Tracy pummeling the other servant.  She was getting in some good blows, but she didn’t have enough strength behind them to knock him down.  He finally got hold of her arm and pushed her to the ground.  Frank swung madly at his four, one after another.  He managed to knock one out, with a good lick to the skull, and he pistol whipped another to the ground, but he was up again and still in it.

Frank saw Tracys servant pick up the large stone and raise it up over her face.  Frantically, he kicked his way clear and took aim with the pistol.  Suddenly he was knocked to the ground by the one he’d whipped down.  He could see blood in its eyes, and he felt another lock onto the baton, but he took aim, with all he could muster, and fired at Tracys servant.  The bullet caught him under his uplifted arm and lifted him right off of her.  Frank felt the nightstick wallop him across the face, and he swung up blindly with the gun.  He caught one of the creatures in the gut, but then the night stick caught him across the back, and pain screamed up his whole spine.  He couldn’t see through the tears in his eyes.  He managed to get hold of the scruff of the robe of one of his servants, and he brought the pistol up hard.  He heard a crack and the creature fell limp in his arms.  Then he heard Tracy screaming, tear into the other two.  She had the rock again and she let one have it square in the face.  He dropped to the ground, then the other caught her across the back of the head.  He didn’t hit her too hard, but she went down and he was on her.  Frank groped over to them, trying to clear his vision.  He managed to catch the creature by the leg and through a rain of its blows he pulled his way up its body till he had it by the throat, the creature screamed and writhed, trying to shake him.  Then Frank pushed him out as if to throw him, and visciously jerked him back in, smashing his forehead into the creatures face.  He dropped to the ground like a sack of grain, and Frank fell on top of him.

“You all right Tracy?”  Frank lay still on the servants body.

“We have to go Frank.  Come on, NOW.”

He felt her dragging him to his feet and he tried his best to follow, clearing his eyes of blood and tears as best he could.  When he looked up, he could see the small army of servants were no more than eighty feet away.

“I’m all right Tracy,” he said.

She let go his arm and they sprinted with their last energy into the gap in the forest.  They were on a narrow path, winding through the dense birch and aspen trees.  There was light ahead, in the branches, the woods were only a couple hundred feet deep, and now they could see an opening in the brush at the far end of the path.

“Do you have the nightstick?”  Frank asked.

“No, I didn’t have time.”

“Dammit.” Frank put the empty revolver under his belt, and looked back to see the servants beginning to come through the bottleneck.  Then they sprinted the last stretch and broke through into sunlight.

There was a circle of servants waiting, silent, maybe one hundred of them.  They were boxed in.  They reigned up, and Frank fell to his knees.

“I don’t know what to do Tracy.”

“Its all right Frank.  There’s nothing you can do.”

She sat down beside him, and put her arm around his shoulders.  He fell down in her lap, bleeding. “I’m sorry Tracy.  I did the best I could.”

-26-

Tracy expected to be dead.  The servants closed in on all sides until she and Frank sat in the middle of the crowd, at their feet.  Frank didn’t even look up.  He just closed his eyes and waited.  She tried not to make eye contact.  After a while, she realized the servants had stopped milling about and just stood silently.  She began to feel very uncomfortable.

“Frank, what are they doing?”

He opened his eyes.  “I don’t know.”

They sat quietly together for some time.  Then, suddenly, the crowd parted behind them.  ‘Do they want us to leave?’ Tracy thought.  Her question was answered almost immediately, when they saw a lone figure walk to the center of the group.  It was Arapheth.  His face was bloodied, and his hands still cuffed.

“Remove these now.”  He said.

Frank stood up, unsteady.  His muscles ached from the exertions of this afternoon.  In the dusk light, he unlocked Arapheths handcuffs.  Behind Arapheth, a line of servants had formed.  All were beaten and bloody, and at the back were a number of bodies, layed out lengthwise being carried by six each.

“What do you want?”  Tracy asked.

“Now you must be punished for the chaos you’ve created in this place.  Servants die rarely.  When they do and someone is to blame, the penalty is high.  You will suffer at the hands of all here, especially at ours.”  He gestured back down the line.  “It is time to begin.”

They were lay down side by side on the ground, and the bodies were brought up.  Tracy couldn’t believe it when they placed the first body across her and Frank.  She shuddered to feel the cold skin and the material of the robe on her chest.

“What the hell are you doing?”  Frank struggled helplessly.  There were servants holding down his arms and legs.  The corpses were layed out, then a new layer, face down, above Frank and Tracy.  She could see the gaping eyes.

“This is to remind you of the weight of your crimes.  It is only the beginning.”  Arapheth hovered over them, when Frank struggled, he kicked him in the side, under his shoulder.  Tracy couldn’t speak.  She was trying to keep herself from panic.  She could see three empty faces now, looking down at her, and blood dripped from the mouth of the one between them.  It spattered the sides of her and Franks faces when it hit the ground.   Now all the bodies were on top of them, and it was hard to even breath.  Tracy kept hold of herself the best she could.  She looked over at Frank and saw blind terror in his eyes.  They were locked on the face of the body above him.  He trembled and didn’t blink.  Now the servants that were around them closed in, and she could see that the circle looking down from directly above were the ones they’d injured.  She felt a kick, across the top of her skull, it was not hard, but it hurt her neck.  A number of servants milled past, kicking them or reaching down to slap them hard across the face.  Tears began to well up in her eyes, and Tracy couldn’t see the blows coming any more.  She wept, feeling completely humiliated, not knowing when it would end, praying in her mind that it must be soon.  Finally the blows did end.  Tracy had her eyes closed.  She lay, panting deep breaths, trying to keep her composure, feeling on the edge of raw panic.  Nothing more came.  She opened her eyes and looked over at Frank.  He lay, battered, still looking up at the servant above him.  Then she saw the hands coming down.  A servant was above Frank, and she realized one was above her.  Their hands were on their way down onto their foreheads.  She clenched her teeth in protest, trying to shake her head away, then the fingers touched her forehead and he was inside.  As she began to fight, she saw more servants reaching for them.

“I’ll hurt you bitch, you’re going to pay for this.”  He was digging through her memories, pulling up things she’d long forgotten about, spitting them at her.  She was weeping again, this time crying out loud.  Other hands were touching her head.  Other voices berated her.  ‘Whore.Yourgoingtodie.Suffer.Fucker.Ihopethishurts.We’regoingtotakeourtime.asdjkfj;fasdl;joiajew.’

‘Please stop. This isn’t right. Don’t do this to me.’ Tracy’s mind was close to falling apart.  If they’d wanted to they could have pulled out all her wires at once, but they were just juggling her right now.  She tried to see Frank, but there were too many down here now.  Just arms and heads were visible around them.  ‘Please.’

She began to feel a pulling in her head.  They were ready to destroy her.  “Please shtop. Pleashe.” she said out loud, slurring unsure now, even how to speak.  Then she felt, for an instant, screaming. “AAARRR.       ”  All the voices ceased, and all the hands were gone.  Her eyes were closed, and for a moment she thought she was dead.  Then she tried to look over at Frank, but she had trouble getting her head to move right.  Her whole body felt weak and unresponsive, like she’d been electrocuted, or had the adrenaline rush from hell.  Her eyes opened, and she could see Frank looking back at her.  There were tears in his eyes and blood all over his face.  He just looked at her, stupidly.  Vaguely, out of the corner of her eye, she saw movement.  Heard the running of many feet and something roaring.  Like a multitude of deaf people trying to sing.  Then she heard a scream.  Out loud.  It was from a distance. It rose and rose in pitch, then with a dull thud, it stopped.  The roaring ebbed and flowed, and the feet traveled further away, until it was silent, and nothing moved.  Then she closed her eyes and fell asleep.

-27-

Arapheth was ready to kill them both.  He spoke to the others in his mind.  Using the words he’d learned in their heads, the worst ones.  ‘Let’s kill em now.  Fuck em up.’

‘We’re going to take our time.’  He heard back.

‘Let’s fuckin do it now.’  He was in an ecstasy of hurting and power, feeling the ability to exercise his own will like never before.  He owned what he was doing.  They were reacting to it, in real time.  He was in control of them.  The others were feeling it too.  The rage, the killing lust.

“Ha Ha HAHHAAHAA!” Someone shrieked out loud…. from their mouth.

Suddenly,  he was torn free.  Thrown to the ground, against the feet of the servants surrounding him.  More were thrown on top of him.  They came crashing into him from above.  ‘What was..?’ and immediately the thought came back to him, in a scream, ‘PHALLADRIIEM!!!!”

They couldn’t be here.  They wouldn’t attack a group of servants this size.  They couldn’t.  He was confused, but underlying that was terror.  He began to hear more and more voices speaking, babbling, terrified.  Then he heard something that scared him.  Outside the voices in his head, he heard the voices of the other servants screaming out loud.  It was pathetic and horrifying.  They were actually crying out in loud Yops and AAUUGS.  Trying to put voice to their terror as they were taken down.

Arapheth struggled to his feet and looked to the sky.  For a moment he was hopeful, then he looked to the west and saw a Phalladriiem flying straight at him. He turned to run, stumbling through the confusion.  Suddenly he felt a strong pair of arms seize his, and the long snakelike tail wrap around one of his legs, and he was plucked out of the crowd, carried to a great height.  He looked down at the crowd of servants far away, milling about in a frenzy, and the Phalladriiem flying in amongst them, dragging them off, tossing them to and fro and the servants were breaking for the forest and into the city on the other side, then to his horror, he was released, and he was falling.  He remembered the memories he’d seen in Tracy’s head.  Falling out of a tree as a child, the blind panic as she hit the ground.  She’d fallen a twentieth the distance he was.  Fear welled up in him, worse than when he’d been Franks prisoner, beaten,  then blind panic.  Arapheth let out an almost human cry, long and mournful and loud, then he hit the ground.

-28-

Frank awoke slowly, in the silence of the morning.  He lay with his eyes closed, and could feel something cool and damp pressed against his head.  He didn’t open his eyes, he heard only a low murmur of voices a distance away.  The sun was only beginning to come up and he could see the half light through his eyelids.  He was sure he was lying on a hard bunk in his grandfathers barn, but he had a curious sense of detachment.  He couldn’t remember how he’d come to be here or, better yet, what had been happening, then he realized he wasn’t at grandpa’s.  The idea stole over him slowly and he didn’t feel particularly panicked.  He was a man, not still a boy.  For the life of him, he couldn’t remember what had been happening, but he lay eyes closed, trying to remember, contented.  He’d been dreaming bad dreams, and strange dreams, about being alone in the world, but he couldn’t sort it out, it was all a blur, and it was gone now.  He lay dozing, half conscious, wondering where he was.  Then, he was out again….

 

….Frank awoke, again in the familiar silence of the hay barn, but it wasn’t hay, it was grass, cool grass.  He opened his eyes, and saw a tall spreading willow over him.  He lay peacefully, looking up at it.  His body ached, a dull overexerted throb.  He looked over and saw a woman lying beside him.  A moment.. “Tracy.”  She didn’t stir.  He suddenly felt strange, he knew Tracy, but his mind was muddled, it felt like he was drugged except reality, all around him was crisp and clear.  He stood and let out a bellow of pain as his thighs charliehorsed.  He fell to the ground and Tracy sat up, dozily.  She cleared her eyes “Frank.  Are you all right.”

“Sorry, yeah, I’m just all sprung, my whole body aches.”  The memories of their fight came back, in pieces, like a dream, or a distant memory.  After they were captured… the torture…  was only a blur.  He remembered the suffocating crush of the bodies on him, after that, it was all gone, fragmented.

“How did we get here?”  he asked.

“I think something, or someone helped us.  I don’t remember any of it that well, but I know they let go of us, they were panicked, then they disappeared, and I was out of it.  They were in our heads, messing in, then they were gone.”

“Who dressed us?”

She looked down and saw that she was wearing a new T-shirt and a pair of loose fitting jeans, belted.  Frank was wearing jeans as well and a light flannel work shirt.  They were cleaned up, no blood, no sweat.  “I don’t remember any of this.”  Tracy said, uncertain.

“Well, it’s nice to be clean, well dressed, they didn’t choose too badly.”

Frank looked around him.  They were still in the park, but they’d moved far up the slope where they’d been captured, to the top of a hill.  The tops of the trees stretched out below them, and small houses surrounded this place on all sides.  He still heard voices, and behind them, he caught sight of a group of servants, talking in low tones.  They were obscured by the trees and their robes.

“Tracy, they’re over there.”  He ducked back down to the ground, and she followed his lead.  “Do you want to go talk to these guys?”

“I don’t know if we can trust them.  We don’t know that they were the ones who helped us.  They could be looking for us right now.”

“They aren’t moving, let’s try and get closer and we’ll see what they’re saying.”

“Frank.”  He looked at her.  “They’re all speaking.”  It took a moment for that to sink in.

They crept forward toward the group, staying down low behind a pair of fallen trees, trying to be silent.  When they reached the pile, Frank signaled to Tracy that he was going to have a look.  He rose to his knees and peered over the logs.  He froze for a moment, then came back down, quietly.  In a whisper, “Tracy, they aren’t servants.  They’re the snake men.”

“What?”

“They’re like the one we saw from the roof top, and the one that flew over us in the park.”

“What do you want to do?”

“Let’s go.  I don’t trust them.”

“What if they were the ones who saved us.”

“I don’t think we can count on that.  We can’t take the risk.”

“Okay let’s go.”

Frank turned and ran almost straight into the legs of one of the creatures.  It stood silently looking down at him.  For a moment, Frank was frozen, then the tall creature reached down for him.  Frank recoiled, and kicked up at the creature.  In a blinding movement, the snake man caught his foot full in his hand, and held it, then let it drop and reached down again.  Frank lunged up at him, swinging.  Again, before he could land a blow, the snake man was under him and both his arms were pinned to his sides, his legs wrapped tight in the creatures large powerful tail.  Tracy scrambled to her feet, ready to fight.

“Don’t struggle any more, we will not hurt you.  We are not your enemies.”  Frank yanked an arm free and tried to throw a punch at the creature.  Before he landed it, the creature had slapped the back of his head, only hard enough to smart, then pulled his fist out of the air and pinned it again to his side.  “Enough,”  said the creature, “the next time will hurt.”

Frank stopped struggling, seeing he was outclassed and was silent while the creature carried him out of the trees.  Tracy followed, and the creature released him.  He turned to see it, but it was already up above him, flying silently over to the group twenty feet away.

“Hello Frank…Tracy.  We are the Phalladreiim.”  Said one of the creatures, stepping forward.  “We must take the time to speak together, while we have it.”  He sat on the ground before them, gesturing for them to do the same.

-29-

“We are glad we came in time.  You would not have lasted long.”

“We were in some trouble, but we did all right..” Said Frank looking blackly down.

“You fought well, but there were many, and there are others, stronger.  This is the first time we’ve had occasion to go into battle in many thousand years, albeit a small one.”

“I imagine that wasn’t much of a battle for you.” Said Tracy. Frank didn’t look up at her. “Who are they?  Did you know Caraphal?”

“Yes, Caraphal was a great leader among the servants, though few followed him.  He did not think like most of them do.  He believed he was meant to be a servant of the Creator, and mankind.  The other changers believe they are better than the creation, that they were made higher than it, and many of them are bitter, they do not understand why the creator would trifle with it.  Caraphal studied the history of the creation, he believed that the creator had made him to make it better, to help mankind, for their betterment, not just to control them.”

“So who are you?  Which side of the fence are you on?”
“I am Phalladreiim, my name is Oordt, I am a watcher.  I believe as Caraphal did, so do these.”  He motioned to those behind them. “Again, there are some who do not.  However, we were made with a strong sense of duty, and we watch over this realm, we make certain, no one attacks the purpose on this highest level.”

“This highest level?  Are you gods then?”  Frank looked him in the eye.

“You are full of anger.  After what you suffered, I do not hold it to you but we are not your enemies.  I do not hold you in low regard.   You fought very well, without understanding your enemies limitations, and their strengths.  NO!  We are not gods!  But it will do you no good to continue to goad us.  This is the highest level of the plan.  Where things may be altered, great damage done, with minor tampering but it is not the highest level of existence.  That is reserved for the creator alone, we can only see it from afar.”

Frank was silent.

“We are sorry for the lack of patience.” Tracy looked over at Frank empathetically.  “We’ve been through a lot.  We will try to be a little more respectful.”  Frank nodded, then looked back up, but he remained silent.

“Why did you save us from the servants?”

“They are fearful, mostly.  Some of them are on the line, serving the other master.  That is when fear becomes hatred.  That is who Arapheth had become.  He was angry, and arrogant, and full of scorn for humanity.  He would have killed you, in his own pride.  He was a danger to the purpose, and he’d crossed a line he could not cross.  The others were not so full of hatred, they were only fools following a fool.  They were punished, and they will not continue this stupidity alone.  It is our part to maintain the safety of the purpose.  Your purpose is unclear, but you were made by the creator, you have your own role to play, but it is not here.  You are not supposed to die here.  Caraphal brought you here to understand.  That is why I protected you.  When you return to your world, I will continue to watch over you, but I will not interfere with that place.  Only, you will not have to fear any danger from this place.”

“We already have.  They already tried to kill us.  Before we came through.”  Frank said, now under control.

“We did not know you were in this danger then.  They have masked their purposes well.  Caraphal believed you were in danger, that someone was against you, but we did not believe it until it was almost too late.  You survived, by your own hand, long enough to come into our protection.  When we found the body of Caraphal, we knew something was terribly amiss.  We’d seen you travelling, and when we found you, they already had you down.  I will tell you now, that Caraphal suspected someone was after you directly.  That they believed you were a danger to their plans.  So you must reflect on your own lives and try to understand, what has been your part in the world, what sets you apart and makes you dangerous.  I have a gift for you.”  He made a gesture, and all the Phalladriiem except one departed, the remaining Phalladriiem brought each of them a what looked like a small coin.  Frank looked at his, and saw that it was not a coin, but a seal, with a regal face upon it, a hard face.

“These are the seals of Solomon, the ancient king.  They are not known in our world or yours.  The fact that you have them is a massive lag in the connection between our world and yours.  If you need to return here.  Simply bring them out, flip them in the air, you will have broken through to our world.  Use them only if you must, they will only work once, but in a time of danger, use them, and you will be here.  Now, you must go back to your world.  You know as much of ours as will be any help to you.  You must find your purpose.”

“Thank you.”  Said Frank. His tension of posture had begun to ease.   Then he looked back at Oordt.  “Tracy’s life, everything has been taken away.  Mine may well be gone too.”

“We will amend that.  It was almost certainly not Arapheth who did it, though he likely ordered it.  I will speak to some of the changers and they will rectify it among their own.”

“All right.”

They spent a little time talking, and walking around the park, but soon, as they had before, they lay down, curled together, on the grass in the mid morning sunlight.  And fell asleep.  When they awoke, it was to the sound of an ambulance roaring by, on the street below.

-30-

 

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~ by Dave on February 28, 2010.

One Response to “Francis the Baby – First 4 Chapters”

  1. Well, this is an interesting start!

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