They were riding the steam train again, sitting behind Ripple, the edges of their seats smudged with black and velvet. The train lurched to a stop, and the doors slid open.
Beyond was utter darkness.
“This is our stop!” Ripple shouted. Even as he spoke these words he had the queer feeling of time doubling over.
The Copper man leaped up and ran to the exit, Karla and Joseph at his heels. They jumped down and the metal doors slammed shut behind them.
Outside, the station’s wood was rotted, the doors boarded up. The windows were dusty and smashed—the few remaining shards of glass, hanging like broken teeth. Ahead, the train disappeared into the fog.
“Hurry up!” Ripple shouted, “Or we’ll be trapped here!”
Another wave of déjà vu washed over him, this one so strong it made him dizzy. Nevertheless he took off running past the train into the fog. A mist shrouded forest stood in the distance, and he sprinted toward it. Karla and Joseph followed.
Time slowed to a crawl. They moved in slow motion now—struggling through a syrupy wave of moments…seconds…minutes…
Joseph reached out and took Karla’s hand.
And they began to change.
Ripple became a black wolf, his fur streaked with silver. Karla, a smaller dark lupine, Joseph, a wolf with burnt sienna fur—running through the towering redwoods, oaks and weeping willows.
Thin light pushed through the treetops and made splotchy patches at their feet. Mist floating in the air, thick and cloying.
“What’s happening!” Karla cried out, glancing wildly around.
Joseph took a few aimless steps forward, squeezing his head between his hands. Grandfather—! Grandfather where are you!”
The sound of approaching hoofs echoed through the forest. A creature ran toward them, weaving easily between the trees. From the waist up, she was a fetching Bronze woman of twenty or so odd years with sepia skin.
But her torso curved out into a burgundy mare’s hindquarters, her hair curled about her shoulders, her small breasts cupped by a silver bustier.
The last time they’d seen a centaur, had been during the Time of Legend. Then the female centaur had been a Guardian.
But they sensed that this creature was no ally. An aura of malevolence floated about her, as cloying as the fog.
“Hello!” she said, her lashes fluttering prettily above her green eyes. “I haven’t seen you here before. Are you lost?”
They stared at her. Joseph opened his mouth. For several seconds nothing came out. “We uh—my grandfather came in with us.” he stammered.
Her eyes glittered balefully. “You mean Ripple? Yes, I know where he is. He’ll be staying with us now. And you have business elsewhere.”
“Wha-what are you saying?” Karla gasped moving closer to Joseph.
But he was melting away in her arms.
She screamed horribly—clutching at the floating flesh that was her lover.
The centaur galloped past her into the woods, her mocking laughter mixing with the Indigo woman’s cries.
* * *
The New World awoke to a roaring wind, light blazed from the mirror—swallowing the planet—a churning, savage vortex. Tundra’s inhabitants cried out, as their flesh bled from their bones like wet clay.
The world shuddered.
And was still.
Joseph came to on a carpeted floor and lifted his head to gaze at her. She stood with her back pressed against the wall, her face twisted in fear.
She looked down at him: a slender, dark woman with a long face, high cheekbones and full lips. She was dressed in a sheer nightgown. Wavy tresses spilled over the Indigo woman’s shoulders.
“Who are you?”
He rose from the thick carpet: a tall, muscular man with reddish-brown skin. His thick hair was gathered into a ponytail at the nape of his neck.
“You called me ‘Karla.’ Why? That’s not my name. I’m Sonya. Where did you come from?”
His eyes searched her face. “I don’t know.”
Karla…The name was like a caress. It reminded him of a song—the words forgotten, but the melody etched upon his heart.
Joseph tore his eyes away from her and scanned the bedroom. To his right was a high bed with a canopy. A wardrobe sat beside it. Across from him, stood a vanity table and mirror. Filigreed lamps were arranged here and there about the room.
The furniture spoke to him of antiquity—of an older, bygone age. Yet above the vanity hung a triangular clock, full of visible cogs and dials and encased in metal. It was ticking loudly.
The Copper man looked behind him, at the tall mirror encased in a delicately carved frame.
“I think…I think I came from inside your mirror.”
Her eyes shot to the glass, and a curious mixture of fear and longing played over her face.
“From my mirror?” He nodded. “Ho-how did you do that?”
How indeed? “I’m not sure.”
“It’s one of the servants! Hide there!” She pointed behind the bed.
Sonya cracked the door. A plumb face peered inside. “Yes, Elsie?
“Are you alright, mum?”
“But I heard you scream!” Despite her humble demeanor, Elsie sounded annoyed not to know what was troubling Sonya, and not to be confided in. She pushed at the door—a polite but insistent way of trying to get inside.
The young woman put her weight against the door. “I had a nightmare.”
“Would you like me to stay with you?” Elsie said imploring; but the plea didn’t reach her eyes, they were cold and hard.
In the next moment, Sonya’s face was above him. “You can get up, she’s gone now.” She turned away from him, pulled a robe from her dresser and slipped it on.
“You can’t stay here. Someone’s bound to find you.” She picked up a huge candle from the vanity, and lit it. “I was just about to go downstairs for some hot chocolate and biscuits. Would you like some?”
He nodded. “Alright.” Sure. Why not? Your mirror spit me out and I don’t know who I am. You don’t know either. But yeah, I’d love to share some chocolate and biscuits. An ironic smile curled about his lips, as he followed her out of the room.
Sonya watched him out of the corner of her eye. I should just scream again and have him dragged out of here. But…I’ve seen him before.
They came out into a long hallway, and made their way to staircase that split the hall in half. The carpet was a deep wine color, and oil lamps were interspersed along the walls.
Paintings of citizens wearing top hats and derbies hung from the walls; some with high buttoned coats and collars, others with walking canes. Still others wore glass monocles, and dresses with cinched waists, bustles and petticoats.
Many also sported curious short metal tubes with gears, strapped to their waists. Those are firearms!
And at this, a sense of wrongness swept over him.
Joseph glimpsed more of the portraits across the stairwell. All at once he realized that he was dressed in a likewise fashion. He wore a jacket with wide lapels, a high collar shirt and stovepipe pants. But he had no weapon. And for this, he felt strangely grateful.
Downstairs, Sonya led him past the staircase, and to the right to the kitchen. While he sat at the wooden table, she rummaged about in the cabinet, sneaking glances at him as she did so. At length, she pulled down glass canister of chocolate and sugar, and set them beside the gas stove.
“Do you know what you were doing,” she asked, “you know just before?” He shook his head.
The Indigo woman turned a knob on the stove, and held the candle to the eye until the flame caught. She blew out the candle, poured water into a tin, coffee pot and put it on the unit to heat.
Sonya fished biscuits from the glass container on the table. “Well, you must remember something.”
Joseph leaned forward, his face twisted in concentration. “Very little… I remember being with you—well, somebody that looked like you. But I don’t think we were here.”
Sonya gazed down at him for another long moment, then turned away, pouring hot water into two mugs and stirring chocolate and sugar into them.
“Come on,” she said, handing him one. “Let’s eat in the breakfast room, I can think better in there, and the servants are less likely to stumble across us.”
She led him back out into the hall, past the staircase into an adjacent alcove. They sat in the low chairs, a small table between them. To their right, an entire wall had been crafted of glass.
Beyond it, he glimpsed an alien city.
Sonya sipped her chocolate. “You’ll have to get out of here, you know. If my father finds you, he’ll turn you over to the enforcers.”
Joseph looked confused. “What’s an enforcer?”
“The peacekeepers. They make sure we citizens don’t break the law,” she smirked, “nobody can break any laws but them. If they detain you, they’ll stick you with an indentured family and keep you there—maybe for as long as ten years.”
I don’t like the sound of that.
“Or they’ll make you fight in the wars,” she went on, “After your service, municipal lets you start to pay your bond off. That could take another two years.”
“Sounds like slavery to me,” Joseph said dryly.
A hard smile curled about her lips. “Yeah, I guess it is. You got ID? Look in your jacket.”
He patted his coat. He pulled a folded parchment from his inside pocket.
“Let me see that,” Sonya unfolded it to reveal an ink drawing of him. Beneath it a calligraphy inscription read:
Height: 6 feet 0”
The bottom of the page was stamped with the wax insignia of a T.
“You’re an artist! Well, that’s a start. Too bad you can’t remember anything else. But it’s still dangerous for you to go wandering around Topaz with amnesia.”
Topaz. This name too, sparked a faint memory. “That’s where I am?” he asked.
“That’s where you are. And if they pick you up—even with amnesia, even with papers―they’ll throw you in an asylum. It’s where they put crazy people. But not all the time.”
Sonya chewed at her bottom lip. “I’m betrothed to a man twice my age. When I told my father I wouldn’t marry him, he threatened to commit me.”
“Do you have any bills? If an enforcer stops you, you might be able to bribe him into letting you go.”
Joseph’s head spinning was from all the foreign information being thrown at him. He reached into his pants pocket, and pulled forth a small bundle of rectangular bills.
A man’s face was engraved in the center of each one… a cruel face crafted of angels and sharp edges, and stamped with the letter T.
Joseph tapped the image with his finger. “Who is he?”
Sonya handed the currency back to him, with a trembling hand. “Tehotep, my betrothed. He rules the empire.”
The Copper man stared down at the face a moment longer, before shoving the bills into his pocket. Once more, vague formless images tugged at his memory.
“I want you to go to my friend Joan’s house. You’ll be safe there. When you get there, offer to pay your way. She’s always strapped for bills…It’s near morning, you better get going.”
Sonya led him out of the alcove to a heavy oak door. She opened the door onto a tree lined street. Three houses down, it dipped down into a steep hill. Ten feet away, a trolley car idled on the tracks in the middle of the lane; puffs of steam poured from the corkscrew pipe at the front of the car.
She followed his eyes to the trolley. “It’s safer for you to walk, sometimes enforcers ride the train,” and pointed to the incline. “Go down that hill, and follow the street for a mile. Take a right at Culpepper. Travel another two miles and make a right at Mulberry.”
“Then just keep walking. You can’t miss it. Joan’s building is 2000 Mulberry. It sits between two others. Cobblestones lead up to her door. Her apartment is H-12; it’s upstairs.”
Sonya lifted her arm to display a bracelet with objects hanging from it. “Here help me get this off… Show her this and tell her I sent you.”
“Give me your papers too.” She carried the sheet to the end table behind them; then dipped the feathered quill into an ink well, turned the paper over and scribbled on the back.
The Indigo woman waved the paper a few times to dry the ink. “Give this to her too.”
Joseph hesitated, he was loathe to part company with this mysterious woman. He felt connected to her somehow.
“Will I see you again?”
Sonya smiled. “Count on it. Joan is my best friend.”
* * *
Outside he turned the paper over.
She’d written one line.
Look at his arm.
Copyright Valjeanne Jeffers 2012 all rights reserved
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