Sunday, September 15, 2013

Testament Of Time (WIP Title)



Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. You might find yourself in there but that is a figment of your imagination or just the fact that you have the power to inspire.

[A long overdue update to this story seeing as I hadn't worked on it since July of 2012. I started work on Chapter 6, which continues the story of Susannia and Margaret, both innovators of their time begins tying their part into the overall story. This story has many important tie ins.]



Testament Of Time (WIP Title)


Draft I


by Brian Joseph Johns
 


Chapter One


Bannen awoke with the lucrid taste of dust and a tooth fragment pressed into his upper lip. Face down, on cold stone, he slowly pushed his upper body from the floor. His lower back screamed with pain, and he fell forward to the floor that did not want to give him up so readily. His eyes slowly adjusted to the lack of light within the current environment, where shapes like faceless eyes danced and disappeared, only to reappear again. A second attempt at raising himself from the floor’s cold embrace succeeded. This time his back only groaned a little, and then just kept quiet altogether. There were voices, whispers jumped from one end of the space to another. At this point he could make out the faces from which some of the whispers came, illuminated from a crack in the ceiling about four feet from the floor. He could not tell what the source of the light was, he knew only that it was not the sun, though it were just as pronounced through the quarter inch crevasse from which it passed. The whispers stopped, sensing that he could hear. His eyes now fully adjusted, he turned to take in his surroundings.

There appeared to be two or more handful of people, all sitting or laying, or in any peculiar arrangement that offered them some comfort in the cramped surroundings. One of them rocked cross-legged, side-to-side, cradling a vase back with a spindly dried flower back and forth in his arms, as he whispered very quietly to it. A wool toque sat on his head, the word “Biscuit” sown into it. He watched guardedly with one eye, and seemed to draw the vase closer as in defense crossed his. Bannen’s nearest neighbour just watched him carefully, and without expression, as a man who knew a little too much about his own destiny might. A heavy woollen hat covered his head and ears, while a scarf tucked into a heavy coat covered his body. Worry lines covered his forehead, and made his forty years appear like fifty-five. He looked down when Bannen glanced to him. Bannen continued his survey. Another lay curled up on the floor, sides rising and falling to the rhythm his lungs provided, eyes clamped as if they could somehow bare some protection from this predicament. Bannen noticed that the majority of them were dressed for winter, although the temperature was only marginally close to and above freezing. Three more huddled in a corner and had already formed their own clique. They looked over acknowledging Bannen’s conscious presence and then returned to a deck of cards which were sprawled on the floor in front of them, curtained by three piles of coin. One coin pile proudly, like its owner, a bit larger than the others. This player, with his round, well fed face, urged the game on. The other two, only seeming to be aware of each other through the directions of the rotund coordinator. One sporting a handlebar moustache and an accent that fell somewhere between Versailles and Mumbai. The other, a gangly looking man, even through a heavy overcoat. A pair of glasses perched on a thin, pointy nose, with a permanent case of the sniffles, as his coin pile abandon him.

The first lady that Bannen saw in there was love locked in arm with a man, away in one of the corners. Her head tucked just beneath his chin, her bright eyes, heavy lashes and pursed lips pierced even this half darkened dungeon. She glanced in Bannen’s direction briefly if only to take notice of movement. She appeared to be in her late twenties to early thirties. He looked to be about the same age, and kept her in place with one sturdy arm while he gently stroked her forehead with the other, her hair pouring out of her hat and down to her chest. He held a firmly protective and stern expression but his eyes revealed the same unsurity that was written on the face of the others. Resigned to the present and unsure about the future.

Another clique occupying the other corner was composed of three. At first glance Bannen thought they were also engaged in a card game. He stayed his glance upon them and realized that one of the three was fortune telling for a couple. The fortune teller, a refined lady of her early fifties, drew cards from a deck, and placed them each upon an arrangement of other cards on the floor. With each new card, she spoke of the past, present and future to one of the others. Her face held a smile fixed somewhere between optimism and unsurity, similar to the expressions on the faces of the couple. The couple appeared to be in their mid thirties, both the product of an urban center with bookstore lounges, upscale cafes and high priced ice cream. They listened intently as the fortune teller acted as cartographer for their future which was presently very uncertain. The man, portly and hatless, with thinning dark hair, listened, while his spouse asked his questions for him. His spouse, hatless as well, with deep red bob hair, and heavy eyeliner (which appeared to be under two days wear), and intelligent eyes that didn’t seem to miss a thing. She was the driver in their show. They both appeared quite happy, even under the circumstances.

Bannen craned his head back the other way and slowly carried his weight with it, his flexibility coming back. Some of the others nodded in greeting, fully acknowledging his presence. He returned their greetings as best he could. By the time he was facing the other direction, a hand was presented him by the remaining person.

“Davis Bigelow. And your name sir?”

Bannen paused for a moment to take in the monocled face that stared back at him. A large man, of about fifty years, bearing a remarkable resemblance to Orson Welles. Mr. Bigelow wore a similarly heavy long coat as the others, but his clothing seemed…

“…And your name sir?” he inquired a second time, hand still extended.

“Bannen. Bannen Thalis.” Bannen shook his hand firmly. A strong grip, returned the clasp.

“Well met Mr Thalis.” He spoke as if this were a dinner club meeting, unperturbed by the circumstances.

“Yes, we all appear to be guests here. None can recall whenst we came to be here or by what means.” He politely answered anticipating Bannen’s questions. He continued.

“What we have discerned is that none of our time pieces seem to be working. Judging by our apparel, we all appear to have been taken in the winter, and each from a different part of the globe.”

“We do know that we have been in here for three full days, which I estimate we‘ll be rounding out shortly. None of us are injured. Meals are dropped once in a twenty-four hour period. We‘ve had two, so the third should be on its way shortly…” His voice hung on the last word.

“We’ve tried every conceivable means of escape, barring a dig by hand through the stone blocks themselves.” Bannen wasn’t sure if he was being sarcastic.

Bannen looked toward the crevasse in the ceiling, lining his eyes up with the light source above. Looking up into the brightness, his eyes began to tear up, still revealing no source above. The crevasse seemed to make up part of what appeared to be a steel door, like the bilge on a cargo ship. He followed the crevasse to its edges, moving around the others as I crossed them. No hinge points apparent anywhere. Some time after a few moments of silence while he pondered the situation further, some of the others began to shift away from the center of the room (crawl space) in a manner expressing the inconvenience of doing so. Bannen watched, understanding why as it started to happen. The opening in the ceiling started to slowly widen, as either side of the portcullis style doors began to slide across an invisible path, and present an opening. Bannen watched as it opened enough to present a means of escape and made his move.

He moved as quick as his slightly groaning body would allow. As he advanced toward the opening, he failed to take notice of the warning gestured and hollered by Davis at the top of his lungs as he approached the point where he could conceivably stand to his height of six feet. Bannen quickly leveraged his balance to project himself upward, toward the opening beyond. As soon as he elevated himself past the height of the opening, he was completely immersed in a volume of solid light. He gasped as the sound of a thousand claxons seemed to permeate his head, making any kind of balance or perception impossible. His one hundred and eighty pounds quickly met the floor a third time, greeting him with a not so gentle stone kiss. The claxons blaring, still crushing his senses, he perceived being pulled across the floor as he slowly lost consciousness. An image of one of the fortune teller’s cards rippled across his mind’s eyes. A cloaked skeleton bearing a scythe reached out from the face of the card. On the bottom of the card, written in an ancient looking script, was “Death”.




Chapter Two

The Lady, meticulous in her execution, fed fine linen thread into the device slowly looping through its part only to reach the destination for the end of the linen, which she tied to a tiny loop next to a piece that resembled a piston. She stood back, revealing the device in its whole, which resembled a harp, laced with pistons, gears and a pair of rollers which housed a roll of parchment, with tiny holes which formed a pattern across the parchment. She picked up a cloth from the beside the device, and wiped her hands which were delicate in the same way that someone whose hands were used for stringed musical instruments may have been. She walked around the table toward the other side of the device, where a hand crank was exposed, perpendicular to the device.

She was thin, her hair long and curly, currently held back in a pony tail. She wore coveralls which concealed her figure. One would have guessed her to be about twenty two years. She was nearly twenty eight. She quite enjoyed her time in the tool house, which was quite often of late as her father was away on an exercise. Her father had protested her interests and hobbies from the moment she could walk. While ladies at her age and status were busy with a care-giver and a tutor, she was busy with toy boats, like the ones in her father’s fleet, and dolls, which she loved with a passion and still maintained a huge collection. As she became older, it became apparent to her tutor that she had an incredibly high aptitude for deduction and for the mechanical. This troubled her tutor, as it pitted the staunch views of the society which supported her house against her abilities. The tutor took her side and helped the girl develop her skills from a young age, while shielding the effort from her father. The girl learnt all of the lady-like behaviour and etiquette required by a lady in the manor of a lordship. She also pursued the areas that her interest and aptitude took her. So while other girls were learning how to curtsy, or how to properly lace a corset, she was learning about simple machines and wood working. She also studied sewing and music and was an accomplished seamstress and cellist at sixteen. She started to notice boys at around age eighteen. Any of the boys who made it by the harsh inspections of her father, were often turned off by her fearless and outgoing approach. It wasn’t until she was twenty two that she met her first serious love. He was the son of a mogul merchant, and commanded a very grounding presence. He was a handsome man of twenty six with an interest in the outdoors and nature, which similarly irritated his father, who had plans to pass on the family mercantile into his hands. He would visit her at the manor in the summers, staying three times over the course for a week at a time. Sometimes they would go horseback riding on the manor grounds, which had acres of paths, fields and forest much to his joy. Other times they would indulge her passions and play in the tool shop, just making things at her mind‘s impromptu. This relationship continued for three years, when in the third year, he was drafted by the Royal Navy, and killed at sea. Even though her father had often boasted about drinking hundred year old single malt with Poseidon himself, his influence couldn’t have saved her lover anymore than it could have saved the crew and war galley that followed him to the depths.

She turned inward for a very long time, spending most of her time in the tool shop, where she would weep for most of the day. She would head back to the manor at night and eat very little, if anything at all. Her father became concerned and sent a letter across Europe to an old friend of hers. Her friend, a lady she had met when she was in tutoring years ago, now an aspiring writer, helped her to climb out of her despair. Obsession and despair were some of the lands which her writing quill had crossed, and was the subject of her current effort. She had been married for a few years now, and while her husband was off gallivanting across the countryside, giving lectures at the various colleges, she had travelled across the channel for a visit with her friend. They bonded and became close friends over the course of two years. Her friend would make visits while taking a break from her writing. It was one such break that brought them together again.

The clanking of the device masked the sound of her friend’s entry. She turned the crank slowly while watching all of the parts of the device, perhaps making sure of their operation, or just admiring her effort. Near the bottom of the device, a strip of cloth emerged, multiple colours woven together and forming a linen. As the last part of the banner emerged from the device, a loud twang was emitted from the device, followed by several smaller twangs, which seized the crank, and a moment of silence. The device stood quiet for a second, and then one of the piston parts shot out at high speed, hitting a spool of linen from a shelf and knocking it down. The device groaned, nearly at the same time as she did.

“Hello Susannia. I thought I’d find you here.” Margaret slowly closed the door to the tool shop, and approached her friend.

They embraced each other, Susannia hesitantly more concerned about dirtying her friend’s clothes.

“What brings you here at this hour? Are you here to spy upon my designs again?” A sly grin crossing her face. It was impossible for her to contain the joy of seeing her friend.

“Of course not, my dear. Only to inspect your new male companionship.” Margaret parried with a coy smile, and a riposte wink.

Susannia paused for a minute to let the pain pass. Margaret cursed herself for her unintended insensitivity.

Susannia broke the tension. “I’ve been far too busy for friends” she countered, “but I’ve plenty of time for you.” disarming Margaret’s inquisitiveness with a wink of her own.

”…You must see this…” continued Susannia, reaching for the strip of cloth, which the device ejected shortly before its untimely demise.

She grabbed a pair of sewing scissors from the table and trimmed the message at the point from which it had emerged. In very rough block text it read Fâta viam inveni the remainder of the message lost in the innards of the device.

Margaret accepted the banner gracefully, examining the text on it, then looking curiously at the device, and finally back to her friend’s smiling eyes.

“‘Fate will find a way’. How on earth did you figure this out?” She asked politely without really wanting the answer.

“I studied Latin under my tutor, silly girl.” replied Susannia, Margaret rolling her eyes.

“And what about you. How is your latest effort coming along?” asked Susannia, while she gathered up the parts from the device’s death throes.

“In bits and pieces… one chapter at a time. Joseph loves the time that I spend on the book. Though he says he feels quite lonely whilst I‘m ‘bookering’ as he calls it. I always find him busy with his research when I turn in for the night.” Answering her friend’s question. She paused a moment, looking down before continuing.

“Its best we get back to the manor, there are some things that I would rather discuss there.” Margaret requested, waiting for a cue from Susannia, which came in the form of a nod.

“Finish up what you have to do and I’ll get the coach bell.” finished Margaret as she turned, already on her way out the door.

Susannia tidied the mess she had made with her latest experiment. She hated leaving a clutter for the tool smith, who was always so polite with her. Gathering up her belongings she closed the tool shop and locked the door, just as the coach arrived to pick them up.




Chapter Three

The cube van pulled into the alleyway at noon and stopped lining up perpendicular to the dock, and tucked cleanly beside the door. Too little space for one to back into the dock, in the tight New York alleyway. Beyond the end of the alleyway, Varick St., bustling with art shop enthusiasts and the avant garde street vendors pitching their wares to the passersby. The driver popped the driver’s door open and got out, inspecting a tiny dent on the front left fender. Shaking his head, he walked to the back of the truck, unlocked and unlatched the door and rolled it up. The load, which was the remainder of an estate kept in one of the storage units up on 12th Av and West 34th Street. The unit had not been opened since 1934, roughly one year after it was built and about seventy five years from today. The driver rang the bell on the loading bay door. A latch could be heard on the inside, the door sliding up, revealing a group of people, two of which were busy clearing space and sorting merchandise, the other standing at the edge of the dock, extending a hand to receive the waybill. The driver obliged, passing the waybill up.

“What do ya think?” asked the driver, looking to the contents of the truck.

The receiver eyed the contents, looking back to the waybill, and back to the contents.

“Pretty good. There’s a bit of stuff there. No furniture?” the receiver looked to the driver, raising an eyebrow.

“No, nothing like that. Its all in rolls. Some rugs, paintings, maybe a few tapestries judging by the weight.” the driver replied through a squint.

“Ok. Just pass it up here. We’ve got room. You need someone down there?” asked the receiver.

“Nope. I got it.” The driver reached for the first item and grabbed it and placed it carefully onto the the dock.

By the early afternoon the truck was clear and most of the contents were being examined for an estimation of their value. A very fashionably dressed elderly couple walked together through the receiving area, examining each piece together. Every so often, one of the two would indicate an interesting detail to the other, pointing it out to their partner’s expertise. For her, it was just about any item originating from from Western Europe to East Asia, for him, it was North and South America, Central Africa and Oceana. The love of their task was apparent. A looking glass was drawn from his inside suit jacket. He examined one of the tapestries, then handed the glass to her. She looked carefully at the binding and a very tiny inscription in one of the corners.

“Very good indeed. This is another part of the initial bundle. These are her weaves as well.” she said, nodding approvingly.

“This one as well.” said the man, pointing at the latest find. The shop hand walked over and carefully moved the roll to an area that contained items that the couple had already selected.

The couple had opened the shop twelve years ago, nearly to the day. They had met at a Soho dinner party hosted by a mutual friend, a sculptor of some renown in the art district. After a bitter divorce years prior to the party, she had worked up the courage to ‘get out and be social again’, as her friends put it. It was difficult for her as she was a very meticulous person, and this had scared men out of her life before her marriage and scared more away post divorce.

She had grown up the daughter of a couple that had left Cardiff after the second World War. Her father had been offered the position of Plant Manager in New York for the American division by the company that he had worked for. He had turned their offer down at first, loyal to the plant that he was in charge of now. The company explained that they expected little expansion in their market share in Cardiff for next decade. Still standing on his decision not to go, the company upped their offer, twice before he had little choice but to accept. The third offer had allowed him to keep the house in Cardiff, which he rented to his brother inlaw, and purchase a new home just north of New York City, a forty-five minute commute from the factory.

In Cardiff, her father had been the ‘staple’ at the local pub in the years prior to their migration. He was the rising star at the company and the life of the party at the pub. He was a hands on kind of person and always civil, but often engaged in playful competitions of wit, which intimidated some, although there wasn‘t a malicious bone in his body. It was just his way of measuring a person. Her mother was attending her last year of college while working as a waitress at the pub. She was smart (and sometimes as volatile) as a whip. When she spoke, she was able to say exactly what should be said, with few words. When she had first started working at the pub, he thought that he would test her out with one of his competitions of wit. It was early on a Friday night and the weekend was just beginning. She had just arrived for her shift and was donning her apron and sorting her till when he looked her way. She was a buxom beauty, not slender but not portly. Her face was an exercise in symmetry and curves as much as her figure was. Her strawberry blonde, shoulder length curls and a tiny but plump mouth and piercing blue eyes framed by a pair of glasses were the coup de gras. He couldn‘t have taken his eyes from her if he had wanted to, but knew he had to in order to keep the upper hand. As observant as he was, he wasn’t sure if she knew he was examining her. He had been at a table with some of his work mates, debating how a bit heating slowly on a lathe would indicate how sharp it was. She walked down the length of the bar and attended one of the tables, in the smoke filled establishment. He glanced over to her again, half listening to his mates, now clanking tankards. She still gave no indication that she had noticed him. He looked back to his mates, raising his tankard, half smiling, half frowning. After servicing two other tables, she made her way over to theirs casually.

“My name is Linda. I’ll be your bar maid for the evening. What can I get you?” she asked cordially, eyeing each of them in turn.

“My name is Richard. I’ll be both the lead seat and the representative for this table. You can get us all a fresh tankard of your finest on tap. And when you leave the table, be sure to walk twice as slow so I can take you in a little better.” he said, with boyish charm and a wolf’s smile.

“Six tankards then.” She was completely unshaken by the comment and left as casually as she had approached. As she passed the bar, she stopped for a quick chat with a male patron.

Richard was careful not to retreat in this war of wit. He bandaged his ego, now curious about this fellow at the bar, and turned his attention to his mates and his drink, still smiling. Their debate had taken a turn and added the drill press to the sharp bit lathe argument. He gave his input occasionally, but stopped when he noticed Linda on her way back to the table, six tankards balanced expertly on a tray.

“Here we are gentlemen. That will be eighty pence.” she said, handing out each tankard in turn and then turning to Richard, in wait for payment.

“We’re running a tab Linda. I could have sworn you were a sharper bit, but I could be wrong.” he said, looking to his mates for approval. He got his approval but it was short lived.

“You’ll dull the bit if you try and cut too much at once.” she replied, not even batting an eyelash. His mates laughing with her remark. Her smile visible. She was the wolf now.

 

“I guess I’d better keep mine in my pants then.” he tried to say without sounding crude. He regained the support of his mates, his ego sighed with relief, his smile: coy as he glanced back to her.

She looked him squarely in the eyes and replied:

“You should always keep the little bits in the tool case. They‘re easier to lose you know”. No pause in her onslaught, his ego already out the door and halfway down the street. His mates, and perhaps the whole bar which had grown silent in the exchange, was now laughing in hysterics.

They stared at each other for a moment, before a smile crept onto his face, unable to contain the belly laugh that had been building in him. He bellowed with the rest of the pub. It was at that point that they knew they were a just at the beginning of a lifetime together.

He forced himself to catch his breath, stood and spoke into her ear “Who’s the gentleman you were talking with at the bar, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“That’s my brother.” she replied, leaning to his ear.

In that evening she had earned her reputation as one of the few people in Cardiff that could keep up with his version of the ‘dance’. They were married a year later. Three years later, she gave birth to Laura.

Laura was born in Cardiff, grew up in New York, and returned to Cardiff to attend University where she majored in history and linguistics. While in Cardiff, she stayed in the house where her mother and father had lived before moving to New York. Her uncle had long since moved into his own house in Bournemouth, where he had resettled to start a new life in his second marriage. Fiercely independent, she made it through the five years in school with ease and relatively friendless. Occasionally, she would force herself away from her books, and down to the library or the local pub, but would usually end up leaving early and unsatisfied that she had even given it credence. The rest of her school years were spent in some form of solitude, with the occasional call to her parents. Her grades were impeccable but still left her longing for something that eluded her. After her graduation, she returned with her parents to New York, where she worked as a researcher in the American Museum of Natural History. Her parents became concerned for her lack of social activity and goaded her constantly to go out and enjoy life, and find someone with which to share her time and interests. Occasionally, it would get her thinking about her life and what she really wanted to pursue and experience.

On one such occasion, she sat quietly with her father, while he told her one of the many domestic adventures he had been on with her mother. They had rarely left their familiar surroundings, but every once in a while, they would break pattern as he would refer to it, and just drive somewhere for the weekend. No forethought or planning. They would just up and leave, hours later finding themselves in unfamiliar surroundings.

Two months after hearing one such story from her mother and father, she left her job at the museum to backpack across Europe and Asia. Two years after she had started at the museum, she gave one month’s notice to the director of research, and spent her last two weeks bringing a graduate intern up to speed on the museum’s research effort. On her last day, a small group of the museum staff threw a party for her after the day had ended. The party itself was more of a formality, abeit a friendly one, issued by a group of coworkers who knew little of Laura. Allen Wright, the lead researcher had organized the party during Laura’s last days at the Museum. After the lab had closed, everyone (the seven people from the research lab and an off duty security guard) had settled to the lunch room, where they had a cake and a few presents for Laura. After the last of formalities, four of the staff accompanied Laura to a bar in Soho.

The night went relatively quietly while the group talked and enjoyed a few drinks. Slowly, the group was whittled down to three, lightly tipsy women. Laura, who had been a little more talkative than usual hadn’t noticed the man at the bar, who was keep watch over the trio. He was dressed casually, and nursed a drink while casually reading a newspaper. Laura and her friends were seated at a table a bit of a ways from the bar. Laura went to the bar to buy what would probably be the last round for the night. When she had reached the bar, the man who was keeping watch approached her and offered her a business card.

“You may need my help in Europe. Look me up when you get there.” He said, smiling and winking as he turned and walked toward the exit.

“Wait…” Laura tried to breach the growing noise level in the bar with little success.

She watched the man exit the bar, without giving him chase, and then examined the business card.

GUIDE AND COMPASS

Helping travellers find their way.

X-000-936-1341

The card only begged more questions than it answered, which she supposed was what a business card was supposed to do. She put the card in her purse, gathered the drinks and made her way back to the table with her former coworkers. While they finished their last drinks, Laura kept thinking about the stranger, the Guide. How did he even know she was going to be travelling to Europe? How did she know to find her in this bar? Did he follow her here? She felt a little uneasy about the situation, but kept it well hidden. She made her way home in a taxi after bidding her friends farewell, leaving them at the bar. Her parents were either out, or in bed when she arrived home, which was fine with her as she was a little too tired to service their inquiries. She got cleaned up and made her way to bed, completely unaware that her life was about to change.



Chapter Four

The man had been speaking in a barely audible voice. He rocked back and forth in a large rocking chair, a cloak covering his body and face. A book lay propped open between his hands, which he seemed to be browsing through with some interest, perhaps quietly reading aloud in an eerie monotone that sounded like latin. It was nearly impossible to make out any details regarding the book itself, although one could see that the edges of the pages were rough and uneven. I could sense that the book itself was old. Very old. The man’s voice quietly tapered off as he levelled his head, as if pausing to reflect upon what he had just read. He closed the book abruptly and spoke calmly.

“What else are you keeping from us?” The gravely voice of the cloaked man inquired.

Bannen tried to answer, but found that he couldn’t make a sound. He was confident with the convenience of his soundless plight.

“We have her you know. She already told us everything.” The rocking chair stopped.

Bannen felt more like an observer to his inquest than the subject of his questioning. He tried again to get a closer look at the book without any measure success.

There was a pause for a moment, and then a sound like a stampede rippled through the air. Everything went black.

He woke up, his head cradled on a pile of discarded jackets, with a discarded t-shirt wrapped around a wound on his head. As the room came into focus, he saw Davis and the lady from the couple getting their fortunes read.

“That could have been worse.” Her smile genuine and lacking any hidden concern. Bannen’s head pounding nearly as loud as his stomach, he sat up slowly.

“How long was I out?” he asked.

“About twenty minutes by my time piece.” Answered Davis. “We thought your demise was certain by the way you hit the floor.” He continued.

“One of the others already tried your little stunt. Are you trying to get us killed?” Interjected the portly card player. His bitterness seemed attuned to the fact that it was an interruption to his winning streak.

Bannen glared in his direction, evaluating his intensity. The portly man’s reaction was a false sense of concern geared as a distraction to the fact that he was hiding something, probably from his fellow card players.

“Thanks for your concern.” said Bannen, without facetiousness. He kept his measurement of the man to himself for the time being.

He turned back to the lady and Davis.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name.” Bannen looked to the lady.

“I’m Wendy, and this is my husband, Andrew.” She answered, pointing to her partner in fortune receiving.

“Very pleased to meet you. I’m Bannen.” he replied extending a hand to each of them in turn.

“I‘m Sherula.” Added the fortune teller. She was somewhat more reserved than she had been with Wendy and Andrew.

“I’m Rolsen. Rolsen Heward.” Said the card player with the handlebar moustache. He extended his hand in a friendly gesture, eager to be a part of the introduction.

“Martin.” Added the other card player, who appeared even thinner since the last twenty minutes. He barely made eye contact and shied back into the darkness.

The card dealer, looked away momentarily, and then sighed as if this was a chore.

“Gil. Gil’s the name.” He smirked as if the introduction was painful.

The man with the wrinkled forehead had moved a bit closer.

“Harlan. Harlan Walker.” He extended a hand, and Bannen offered his. A very strong calloused grip was returned. He was likely a skilled tradesman, probably some form of tool work.

The younger couple had joined the introductions, and the lady with the piercing eyes presented herself to the group.

“I‘m Monique and this is…” She was cut off mid sentence.

“Jeremy. We‘re Monique and Jeremy.” The man interrupted her protectively, perhaps sparked to life by his girlfriend’s initiative, and struggling to keep up with her. It was easy to see that he was trying to be her man in a situation that didn’t present any easy direction to do so.

“What about the other two?” he asked before any intensity in the situation could develop.

“The young gentleman with the dried flower, we just call him ‘Biscuit’ as he is none too talkative. He communicates to us when the need arises.” Davis jumped in on cue.

“The other one, we‘re not quite sure. He‘s been sleeping off a rather steep alcohol sickness. He smelled of whiskey when we first awoke here. He‘s eaten once in that time and regurgitated it shortly there after.” Davis paused with a puzzled look on his face.

“Err… Speaking of such, the meals have arrived in your absence.”

“We should eat, and then we should spend some time trying to piece together our situation. Where are we? Why are we here? Who brought us here? We have to figure these things in order to know where we stand and where we‘re going.” I paused and looked around at each of the faces in turn.

“Agreed?” he inquired.

Everyone nodded in agreement and quickly turned to the food which was prepared upon thirteen deep steel plates with covers over each one. They all contained the same meal in the same quantity, which was substantial. There were also thirteen cups and three large steel decanters decorated in elaborate detail, each containing water enough to last through the meal and longer.

For the next ten minutes, eleven people ate hungrily, one nursed and consoled a dried flower, and the last slept away the remnants of a tremendous hangover. Bannen didn’t feel the newly acquired bruise on his forehead. Nobody spoke, but the silence wasn‘t in the least bit comforting. Although some of them had suspected it, they were each being carefully observed.



Chapter 5

The flight from La Guardia to Regensburg, Germany was relatively uneventful and Laura slept for most of it. She had dreamt about her last night at the bar with her co-workers and the mysterious stranger. In her dream, she had been sitting at the table with her friends, enjoying her drink. The bar was hazy and densely packed with patrons. She was engaged in a toast with her friends, when she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned her head to see the stranger at the end of the bar. Instead of discretion, he was waving to Laura with both hands, screaming something to her. He gestured to the other side of the crowded room mouthing the words RUN NOW! She turned her head in the direction he gestured looking for the source of the stranger’s alarm. Her friends continued their toast as she turned her head in search. The patrons were all engaged in their cliques, carrying on in an orderly drunkeness. When her glance had reached the far corner from the end of the bar, she had observed that it was visibly darker than the rest of the bar. She looked closer trying to see if she could see anything, and then back to the stranger and mouthed WHAT? He was still in the same spot, somehow unable to move and still waving frantically to her. JUST RUN! He mouthed as he waved frantically. The stranger’s direction only incensed her curiosity even further. She stood and started walk slowly to the dark corner, while the music and commotion blared around her. As she approached, she could barely make out a dark figure, cloaked. Two eyes glared out from the innards of the cloak, and pierced the atmosphere of the bar. Laura sensed something very sinister about the man and realized that she should have heeded the warning. She turned to looking for the stranger with the warning, but he was gone. She scanned the room in a panic, realizing her co-workers were gone as well. Time itself seemed to slow to a crawl as some of the other bar patrons now stepped into view, each wearing cloaks, slowly approaching her. She turned to the emergency exit and walked to door, her footsteps audible over the music. She barely made it through the crowd of cloaked figures to the door. She pushed the door open and was greeted with a darkness too thick for any vision to pierce. She turned to see the cloaked figures approaching and scanned them for a way out. She spotted an opening between a group of them and the front entrance to the bar just beyond. She poised herself for the sprint, when from behind her a pair of hands reached out from the darkness and grabbed her firmly by the shoulders. She screamed as she was dragged into its depths…

“Are you alright Miss?” asked the stewardess, with a hand on her shoulder.

Laura caught her breath, her ears pounding furiously.

“Yes. I’m fine, thank you.” replied Laura, visibly shaken and alert.

“Can I get you something to eat or drink?” asked the flight attendant with a rehearsed professionalism.

“No really, I’m fine.” Laura responded, visibly agitated now.

The flight attendant nodded politely and proceeded down the aisle. Laura sat staring out of the window into the darkness of the country side below.

Three hours later and she was checked into her hotel room, where she lay quietly on top of the bed covers in an attempt to stave off the jet lag. She fell asleep at three thirty ad meridiem Dusseldorf time with the stranger’s business card grasped in her hand.

She woke up promptly at seven ad meridiem, completely refreshed. The hotel room was quaint and located in the north end of Regensburg a short distance from some of the sites that she intended to see. She jumped into the shower and washed the remnants of her jet lag away. A week here would give her ample time to see some of the sites of interest in Regensburg. She thought about the stranger and the business card but in the end she decided against calling him for the time being. She still had her suspicions about the stranger, although inside she knew that his intent was true.
 

Chapter 6
 
Margaret leafed through the pages of her book, selecting a chapter she'd would read before her friend Susannia. Susannia had always been a hands on person though she reveled in the creative endeavor Margaret had pursued in writing and often drew inspiration from it. Both were innovators in a time when women often did not dabble in such things as writing and mechanics and both were adventurous in their pursuits. Susannia sat through the reading of Margaret's chapter, which has seen a young genius scientist seeking to overcome the limits of mortality via experimentation. Susannia could hear Margaret's husband in the work as he was a touring lecturer at various medical facilities around the country and throughout Europe.


Margaret finished the chapter and Susannia asked for another.

"I'd rather save it for next time. You might have the whole finished thing by that time." Margaret responded.

"If you'd rather it that way, I can wait. But only barely." she smiled at Margaret.

"So what has you so interested in mortality, you've been thinking hard about this. It's apparent in your work." Susannia commented.

Margaret couldn't conceal her struggle, and looked down to her lap before continuing.

"I've been having the nightmares again." she continued, again. A tear crept down her face shrinking as its tail grew.

"It starts with the men in cloaks, eerie and dark, slowly pacing towards me. Just like last time. Then there is the man, dressed strangely like he's from another place." she paused.

"He's pleading with me, trying to rouse me. He's asking me 'where is it?'. I try to speak and nothing comes out." the tears flowing freely down her face.

"Then you come in, you hand a paper to someone, who hands it to someone else and yet another person and then to the man in the strange clothing. He unfolds the paper and reads it and gasps covering his mouth with his hand. He drops the paper, and holds his hands to the sky. You all become bones and fall to the floor, and there is blackness." Margaret reached into her blouse and pulled a kerchief and began wiping her eyes and face.

"Not even the drink works anymore to quiet the nightmares." Margaret stopped, her eyes bloodshot and red.

Susannia sat beside her friend on the chesterfield, moving close beside her.

"You need to talk to someone about this. If you keep it bottled up inside, you'll burst. You need to see someone and to talk about it and get it out. You're going to stay here with me for the rest of the month, that's three weeks. You need a break from this. If you want to write, you can use my personal study. If you can't sleep or you have nightmares, you wake up and we'll talk you through it. You're going to cut down on the drink as well. Not quit, just get yourself to a responsible level to yourself and your health."  Susannia held her friend and rocked her gently.

"You always were the sensible one." Margaret responded.

"You always were the sensitive one." Susannia returned, pecking her forehead with her lips.









“…Events within time and space leave an impression in causality and are perceivable in every direction of time… and space.”

Any likeness to the events of any person living or dead (or undead) is purely coincidental.

© Copyright 2011-2025 Brian Joseph Johns
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