Swylce

Musings and Writing of GG Alexander

Pinwheel 8: Tessa and George Are Late

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February 28th, 1931

Prince George Hotel, New York

‘I hope Alice is okay while we’re gone,’ Tessa says as they come to the top of the stairs. ‘I mean, it has to be today, right? We’ve been here so fucking long that it’d just be typical if –’

George puts his arm out, blocking her. He turns and raises his finger to his lips. She doesn’t realise the door to their room is ajar until he has knelt in front of it.

She creeps down and ducks underneath him to put her eye to the crack. So they sit, head above head. He instinctively puts his hand on her shoulder. The touch is reassuring to them both.

Through the slit, she sees a young woman, twirling in Tessa’s second fur-lined jacket. The sleeves are too short for the woman’s long arms, and the material is stretched taut across her back, but still she smooths her hands along the fur, smiling. George makes the beginning of a motion to rise, when the woman calls through to the ensuite in another language. A voice answers her, and the woman calls back, her tone teasing, friendly, yet gentle. Soothing voice for a skittish dog. Now Tessa recognises the language as Japanese – she thinks. She feels a low-conscious dissonance, hearing a black person speak Japanese.

The ensuite door opens and in steps an East Asian man. He has one of George’s jackets slung over his arm. He shakes his head, blushing, and the woman teases him in the same gentle way. Yes, definitely Japanese. Tessa scolds herself for her prejudice, then basks in the wonderful strangeness of their conversation.

The woman digs in the wardrobe, and finds a trilby. She pats it onto the man’s head, and he half-cringes down, like a child. They talk more – tone of compliments from the woman – then she turns and fishes out one of Tessa’s cloche hats. She struggles to get it over the bounce of her hair, but once it is locked in place, she turns to the mirror, and twirls again, seeing herself as a true 1920s woman.

Tessa knows. She spent her first morning here doing the same thing. “Lookit me! I’m a DAME! I’m one step from being a flapper!” she’d cried to George.

‘Kirei, na,’ the Japanese man says. He has a faint smile, and the soft eyes that men rarely show in public.

When the woman turns to him, an unbelieving laugh in her throat, he burns red and looks down.

‘Thank you,’ the woman says, in African-tinted English.

Tessa can help it no longer. A high pitched squeak emits from her throat. George squeezes her shoulder in warning, but she has to whisper:

‘They. Are. A-dorable!’

He squeezes again; this time, in agreement. Her hair rustles as he bring his lips to her ear.

‘Infatuation…it’s amazing to taste. Deep, spicy chocolate.’

She glances to him. He gives her a quick smile, before returning his eyes to the intruders. She can’t remember the last time she saw him look truly calm.

Unease filters through as she remembers why.

‘George…’ she whispers.

He doesn’t hear her.

Tessa looks back at the pair in their room. Still chatting, still cute as hell.

‘George, we need to go.’

Still he doesn’t move. Faint delight lies in the curve of his lips, oblivious to all except the wonderful taste. Tessa readies herself to stand and force him out of his reverie, when the woman stiffens and fishes something out of her trouser pocket.

The spokewheel necklace.

She holds it in her hands, looks at it, then puts it away again quickly. Tessa recognises the feeling well: afraid that it will disappear if you take your eyes away, equally frightened to hold it too long, in case you accidentally spirit yourself away to another time.

‘That…’ George says.

He and Tessa look at each other. The same thoughts hit them both in order, heavy as hailstones: the intruders are from another time, most likely the future. There is only one spokewheel necklace. If they have it now, then at some point they, or someone else, must have taken it from one person:

‘John!’ Tessa says.

‘Shit!’ George says, scrambling to his feet. ‘We need to go.’

Tessa struggles to think as she runs after him. If they stop John, the pair will have no way to get back in time, and they wouldn’t have seen them. But they did, they were still there. Have they already failed, then, if the intruders didn’t fade away as they watched? But if they’re too late because of them – no – no – it makes no sense! None!

The air grows tight around them, as if the world has shrunk, like an ill-washed jacket. Tremors shudder across waves they cannot see.

~~~

February 28th, 1931

Pinwheel Club, New York

‘Sam’s here,’ Bertram says. The tap-tap-click of his cane is audible in the back room. Bert glances to Alice. The hostility has not left him completely. She keeps eyes down like a serf.

‘You’d best stay here,’ he says, before walking through. Alice folds her hands in her lap, trying to remain calm, but a second later her hands are gripped tight on each other, knuckles whitening, tendons trembling. They’d only be a minute, she thought. Only a minute. Sam is here. She hears his voice through the wall and remembers John’s tears in Tokyo. No, it surely won’t be. She has changed the past before, she can change things again. But where are Tessa and George? They said they’d only be a minute.

‘You’re early,’ Bert says as he walks through. Sam turns. His expression is a shade more solemn than usual.

‘Thought it’d be best,’ he replies. ‘I’ve decided this is my last day here.’

Bert pauses for a half-second, then keep walking. He changes his direction to the bar.

‘Sad to hear that, Sam. Mind telling me why?’

Sam’s stare is withering as he says:

‘I think you know why.’

Bert sighs to himself as he round the bar and grabs a glass. Ever since Alice said those words – “I’ve only ever wanted to keep you safe” – he has felt fragile, as if he is one step away from falling off a high rope. He had counted on Sam’s sight to be a safety net, but that was naïve of him. Nothing to do but take it on the chin.

‘Well, I’d rather not lose someone with your abilities, but if you can make it on your own –’

‘I can. I’ve got enough stashed.’

Bert pours himself a slug and downs it.

‘Then I wish you well,’ he says, glad for the distracting burn in his throat. Sam still stares at him, not believing his well-wishing. Oh, the sight is something all right, but between anything and Alice it’s an easy choice.

Door clatters, and feet stamp halfway down the stairs before it swings shut. John runs into the club, hesitating when he sees Sam.

‘John? What’s wrong?’

He is pale, he is trembling, he has every sign of fear.

‘Shit, Sam, I didn’t want to get you involved in this, but – Bert, please, you gotta help me.’

Bert comes to the front of the bar.

‘What is it?’

‘I didn’t wanna get you all involved,’ he repeats, glancing at Sam again, ‘but I think maybe – they might be – aw, shit!’ He clenches his hair.

‘Hey, easy, just tell us what’s happened,’ Sam says.

‘I, uh, got some, ah, “accounting” issues –’

Two cars screech to a halt on the street outside, blotting the basement windows. John jumps like a cat and words are shaken out.

‘Oh no – they’ve – shit, Sam, it’s Al, he owed them all this money, I’ve given ’em every cent I have but it’s not enough, they got guys on the inside who’ll kill him if I don’t pay, say they’re gonna kill me if I don’t get it now–’

The door opens and multiple feet come down the stairs.

‘You gotta help me, you gotta–’

‘Easy, easy, I’ll handle it,’ Sam says, as ten – no, a dozen – men enter the club.

Bert folds his arms.

‘Afternoon, gentlemen. Sorry to say, the club’s not open yet –’

‘We’re not here for your club,’ says the leader, a broad-set man in his forties. At his side is a skinny rat-faced man, as twitchy as they come. Eyes dart around, hand flits to his holster, shoulders shrug, sniff.

‘Nice joint, this. Shame.’

He looks to John and John looks like he is about to piss his pants. He nearly does when Sam claps a hand on his shoulder, facing the speakers.

‘Shame there’s not more like ’em in the city, right? But enough of that – how can we help you?’

‘Shut your smart mouth, that’s what,’ ratface says, hand flitting to his holster.

Bert walks to the front of the bar, scowling.

‘The boy owes us a load,’ the boss says. ‘Personal business. Might be best if you take a step outside for a second, gentlemen.’

‘Don’t tell me to get out my own damn club,’ Bert growls.

The atmosphere drops to freezing. John’s eyes plead at Sam, but again Sam only smiles and grips his shoulder, looking the boss dead in the face.

‘See, the thing is I ain’t so good stepping about. Wouldn’t want to test your patience, understand? And the other thing is, this boy here’s like family to me. If you’ve got any problems with him, you can address them to me, and if you’re short a few cents, it might be I have some.’

John whispers, ‘Sam, you can’t –’

‘This guy be giving us the fuckin’ runaround for months and here he says he can just up and call in a favour?’ says ratface. ‘I don’t like being played for a fool, bub!’

‘What he means to say is, things have progressed beyond money at this point,’ says the boss. ‘This is about respect, capiche?’

‘Capisco, amico,’ Sam says. ‘See, we understand each other. There’s no need for you to bring all your boys here – I understand, and we can work things out.’

Boss’s features are inscrutable, but he is listening, and he emits an air of fatherly forbearance. John glances between him and Sam’s confident smile, and his eyes shine as if he hears angels sing.

‘After all,’ Sam continues, ‘as they say, ogni paese –

‘Jee-zuz, shut up!’ says ratface.

Sam ignores him. He fully lapses into Italian, gaze pinned on the boss.

‘Hey! You hear me?’ ratface says over the top of him. ‘You shut your whore mouth, else –’

‘I think you should get out,’ Bert says.

Ratface pulls out his pistol.

‘The hell did you say to me?’

The colour drains from Bert’s face as he looks on him. Breath spurts hard from his rigid body, like a bull preparing to charge.

‘What the hell did you say to me, pillface?’

‘I said, this is my goddamn bar,’ Bert says. Suppressed. Growing louder. ‘And if you can’t level like a goddamn grown man, then get the hell out!’

Ratface peaks. Pupils shrink, twitching halts, visibly snapping.

Sam’s Italian bubbles like a prayer over the scene.

Gun up. Sudden turn.

‘You motherfucking – will you SHUT UP!’

He spins to Sam and pulls the trigger. Only at the last half-second does Sam turn to face the bullet that ends him. The back of his head bursts over the shining floor and he thuds to the floor, lips still mid-word.

Ratface spins back to Bertram and shoots again. He slams against the bar and slides down, gripping his thigh and cursing

The boss sighs, and takes his pistol from his jacket. The gang straighten up, tommys pointed once more at John.

And John can only stare at Sam’s body, the blood oozing from him, his eyepatch skewed.

‘Now, as I was saying,’ the boss says. ‘We –’

The door bursts open. It’s Alice. She freezes at the sight of the mobsters.

‘Morning, ma’am,’ boss continues, not breaking stride. ‘Just a little business here. Best be on your way.’

She sees Bertram and cries out.

Boss sighs again and shoots ratface a glare.

Alice kneels beside Bertram, pressing her hand on his bleeding leg.

‘Sorry,’ he pants. ‘Sorry –’

‘C’mon, boss, enough stallin’,’ says ratface.

‘No,’ Alice repeats, again, again, again, ‘no, no – where are they? They said they would be here – Tessa promised me –’

‘Take him,’ boss says.

John is still staring at Sam. He sees the world unravel. He sees order shrivel and hope die. In their place lie shallow cruelty, and the chaos of swirling power.

He hears a step towards him. Without turning, he sees ratface reach a hand out to grab him. He sees the men take a step closer, forming a circle, excluding Alice and Bertram. Images flitting in his mind. Sam’s sight shows him what’s beyond Sam’s body.

Without moving, John reaches out.

Ratface’s gun arm jerks, springs back on itself. Before he can voice complaint, ratface pulls the trigger. First shouts are for that, second shouts – louder – are when he pulls every gun out of every hand and flips it around.

Don’t look. Don’t look.

He closes his eyes, and screams into the shots.

When he opens them again, everyone bar Alice, Bert, and himself are dead.

It doesn’t help any.

He sobs and grabs ratface’s gun.

‘Don’t,’ Bert gasps. ‘Wasn’t your fault – wasn’t your –’

‘Shut up,’ John says, voice thick with bitterness. ‘You don’t know anything! I could’ve…I should’ve…’

He straightens and turns to them. Alice shakes her head as she looks at him, then down at Bertram.

‘Again,’ she says to herself. ‘Again, isn’t it? I thought…I thought…’

Crazy girl, talking nonsense. John points the gun at her.

‘Give me the necklace.’

‘John –’ Bert starts.

‘If you don’t get him to hospital soon, he’ll –’

‘He’ll die,’ she says. Tears spill over her yet-unmoving face. ‘This is what you meant. I’ve done nothing. I’ve changed nothing. All for nothing.’

‘You idiot,’ Bertram says, with a cough-laugh. ‘After all that.’

‘Alice!’ John cries, stepping closer. ‘You know these things, right? Sam told me I’d bring people together. He said I’d do good. Is this what he meant, huh? Is it? I make everything bigger, better or worse – but it’ll never get better, will it? I can only ever make things worse!’

‘No,’ she says. Her face creases. She looks up at him and cries. ‘I’m the one who only makes things worse!’

‘Give me that necklace!’

‘You can’t undo it!’ she sobs. ‘You can never undo it. It’s not possible. Even if you don’t meet yourself – even if you don’t make a paradox – you can never undo it. You’ll never make it better, John!’

She curls into herself, tears falling on Bertram’s suit jacket.

‘Ha,’ he says, lowering his gun, happy to have his despair mirrored. ‘So what do I do? If I can’t make it better, and I can only make it worse – if I draw everything to myself, and I can’t stop it…’

He glances back at Sam’s corpse and laughs again.

‘I’m gonna do as he said,’ he says, quietly. ‘I’ll bring them together. Dammit! I’m a hole, a circling drain – I’ll bring it all together. I’ll bring every fucking thing together!’

He turns back.

‘So give me that necklace!’

‘No –’ Bert gasps.

Alice is defeated. She pulls the necklace over her head with a bloody hand.

Once more, the door opens and again feet descend the stairs.

‘Oh GOD!’

John spins and aims at the intruders: Tessa on the stairs, hands covering her mouth, quivering at her first sight of dead bodies; George gripping the handrail for strength, eyes on the necklace in Alice’s hands, wits firing haphazardly.

‘John,’ he says, ‘John, it’s okay, it’s o-‘

John shoots and Tessa screams. The bullet hits the wall five feet away from them.

‘Don’t you touch my feelings, you freak,’ John says.

‘John, please!’ Tessa cries. ‘Don’t do it!’

George sinks down beside her. His lips move, as he repeats to himself: Sam’s dead.

John turns to Alice.

‘Alice!’ Tessa cries.

Alice holds the necklace out to him. John snatches it from her. He looks at her, at Bert. Turns to look at Tessa and George. Looks at Sam’s body, one last time.

He vanishes.

‘We – we – shit,’ George says. The corpses make his brain misfire. ‘Ambulance. Ambulance.’

‘Alice…’ Tessa calls. ‘Why? You…you didn’t need to give it to him!’

‘It’s not use,’ Alice sobs. ‘It’s no use. Nothing changed. Nothing can ever change. It only ever grows worse. Nothing can be done.’

‘No,’ Tessa says, standing up. She hauls George up from the floor. ‘There is a way – there is a way, and we just saw it! If we’re quick enough.’

It takes George a second to understand her. He nods.

‘We’ll be back,’ Tessa says. ‘I promise Alice – I promise!’

They run out the club.

‘Best be quick,’ Bert wheezes.

Alice tries to respond, but only a wail escapes her.

~~~

February 28th, 1931

Prince George Hotel, New York

They are lying on the bed, top-to-tail, staring up at the ceiling.

‘I wish I could go out there, without fear,’ Grace says.

‘Historically, seventy years isn’t very long,’ Sosuke mumbles. ‘But between now, and 2005…it’s the difference between being able to walk around New York with you, without fear.’

‘I’ll come back here,’ she says, sitting up. ‘I will.’

He starts to speak, then hesitates.

‘What?’ she asks. He turns away, arm folded under his head like he’s trying to sleep.

She barely hears it: ‘Can I come with you…?’

Grace laughs. She likes him. She’d like to see how the world could mould him – what soul lies strong underneath the fear and self-hate.

She is going to say yes.

Two people burst into the room. They jump.

‘WAIT waitwaitwaitwait, listen to me!’ the girl says, in English, pointing at Grace. ‘We need your help. You’re from the future, we know you are. We know you used the necklace to travel here. Well, we’re from the future too, and John just took the necklace from this timeline – we need to find him!’

Grace pauses, struggling to understand the girl, hand in pocket but fingers not yet clutching the spokewheel.

‘What do you mean?’ Grace says. ‘What future?’

‘We were brought here from 2007. We need to find John, if you know him – he had that necklace, once.’

Sosuke still looks alarmed. Grace quickly translates. 1996 and 2005 look at each other, then to 2007.

‘John is in 2008,’ she says, slowly. ‘We have been working with him in Switzerland.’

Tessa clasps her hands in front of her. A prayer, a plead.

‘You have to take us to him. He’s lost it – we don’t know what he’s going to do – and we need to – to – to make things right. We were too late here – you’re our only chance!’

‘We need to go home,’ the man says, behind her. ‘It’s too late, Tess. We blew it.’

‘No way,’ Tessa says. ‘I made a promise. I won’t give up until it’s all fucking over!’ She turns back to Grace. Tears in her eyes. ‘Please. I’m begging you.’

Do worthwhile work, her mother always said. The right thing in God’s eyes.

‘Of course we will take you,’ Grace says.

Sosuke senses her agreement and begins to object. Grace takes the spokewheel out of her pocket and holds it in front of her.

The girl puts her arm around Grace’s shoulders as she grips her hand.

‘Thank you,’ she says.

The man adds his hand. Sosuke, panicked, clasps onto the pile with both hands.

Grace closes her eyes. So much for coming back to new New York. She knows their jaunt is over. The necklace is no longer hers.

CERN, September 8th, 2008…CERN, September 8th, 2008…

~~~

September 8th, 2008

CERN Headquarters, Geneva

‘Ah,’ John says, as Onyeka points the gun at him. The door bangs shut behind him. Sholeh cries out in Iranian – easy to ignore.

‘Now,’ Onyeka says, supporting the grip with her left hand, as her father told her to do. ‘You will answer my questions.’

John puts his hands up, but he smirks.

‘So if I say “shoot”, which are you gonna do?’

Onyeka gives him a withering look, unable to believe his nonchalance.

‘The chamber for the Hadron Collider,’ she starts. ‘Who is going to stand in there?’

‘Who d’you think?’ he replies, still smirking.

Her calm breaks.

‘Do not play funny with me! Do you intend to kill one of us? Or are you going to put yourself in there, as she says?’ She nods to Sholeh, who is tense and wide-eyed, like a cat ready to spring.

John says, softly: ‘If I’d wanted to kill any of you, I’d have done it long ago.’

‘So you intend to kill yourself, and leave us stranded here?’

‘You won’t be stranded,’ he says, equally soft.

A chill runs through her arms.

‘What are you?’ she asks. ‘You can do so many things…you learn without trying…you break all rules. What are you, and what are trying to do with the collider?’

John opens his mouth, then turns to Sholeh:

‘Sholeh, can you understand this?’

.

The air warps and turns around his voice. An echo behind each word. Speaking twice.

Onyeka grips the pistol even tighter in her hands.

Sholeh starts. The words bubble out clearer. Again, she understands. He has translated without meaning to, again.

‘Yes,’ she replies. ‘I can.’

John gives her a wan smile, then turns back to Onyeka.

‘I guess no way to put it off. Might as well say.’

Onyeka’s hands are trembling.

I’m a magnet,’ he says. ‘That’s what someone told me, a while ago. I draw everything to myself. And it seems it’s only getting stronger, and stronger. It doesn’t help anyone. It only hurts. So I…’

He hesitates, and looks again at Sholeh, as if the sight of her bolsters him. A light of madness, of desperation, dances in his eyes. Caught and cornered, she sees something in him pleading with her, begging her to help.

‘I stole the way the travel through time, looking for a way to make things right. But she was right. There was no way.’

He looks at the floor, turning back to face the barrel.

‘And all over time, I saw…I saw the same things, over and over. Endless suffering. Just, oceans and oceans of meaningless death and cruelty – if not in one place, then the next. Never ending. And I thought, I’d just like to sleep. If I can’t make it right, then let me sleep, let it go. But I couldn’t sleep with the memory of Sam’s – of Sam dead, Bert dead, Alice screamin’ at me…and I thought…’

Eyes turn to the ceiling, to sky, to God.

‘If you take a huge map, and you fold it together, the places that are far away from each other come together, sit against each other. And I wondered, maybe if I folded the world up right, the different ends would meet together again, and I’d see my family again and I’d see Sam again. And if it didn’t work, then at least we’d get nothing, be nothing – and there’s no pain when you’re nothing.’

He laughs.

‘And if anything, at least I wouldn’t be here anymore.’

‘How dare you,’ Sholeh says.

She can barely see John and Onyeka’s surprise behind her rage.

‘How dare you?’ she repeats. ‘You know you have done wrong – you see the suffering in the world – and you drown in self-pity? You look to hurt others because of your own pain? You – you see evil, and you bend beneath it? No – how dare you! How dare you give up!’

Her own words shudder into her, through her, lighting memories of Persepolis and Tehran and her mother and every pixel of information she has learned in the past ten days. Still, she screams it through her again: How Dare You Give Up?!

Onyeka takes a step closer. John is struck, eyes only for Sholeh. His weakness is spluttering, guttering, become unstable. She sees fight – then despair – then hate – then further despair, echoing and spiralling down, down, down.

‘You are going to give us the necklace,’ Onyeka says, voice firm. ‘When Grace and Sosuke arrive, we will all go back to our homes, one person at a time. Then you will return to your own time, and give the necklace back to its rightful owner.’

John laughs.

He laughs, and they do not know why. He puts his hand to his face, and chuckles, as if he has only now realised something essential.

‘What was it she said?’ he says, voice suddenly choked. ‘I remember now. “Again, again. I’ve done nothing. I’ve changed nothing.” I remember now.’

The gun jolts out of Onyeka’s hand. Suspended in air, the safety flicks off.

How dare you! Sholeh thinks again.

Onyeka fumbles forward, grasping for the gun. It it too late.

Sholeh slams her hands against John, pushing him aside.

Pain rips through her shoulder.

THUD.

Grace, Sosuke, and two other people thump to the floor.

Sholeh falls against the door, and slides down.

She grips her pulsing blood, and through her terror, she smiles in satisfaction.

.

How many times can a world end?

Sholeh is bleeding just like Bert did, almost unconcerned about it, just like he was.

And Tessa and George are standing in 2008.

‘You-!’ he cries.

George sways at the blood, the volume of people, the cacophony of feelings. He leans on Tessa, whispering ‘Shit, shit, shit, shit…’

‘Nnwanne,’ Grace cries. ‘What happened?’

‘You stupid, stupid motherfuckers,’ John says, seeing the jacket that Grace is wearing, his sight telling him the sense of it all. Spiralling down to that day again. How many times can a world end?

‘It was an accident,’ Onyeka says. She crouches beside Sholeh, pressing her cardigan into the blood. ‘An accident.’

Sholeh smiles.

‘John,’ Tessa says, hands out like he’s a growling dog, ‘John, we need to go back. Come back with us, and we’ll give the necklace to Alice –’

All for nothing, she screams. Sam’s brains blow across the club floor.

George’s head snaps up.

‘I’m never going back there!’ John shouts.

He lifts the gun into the air again – but George is already on top of it, muscles stronger than John’s mind. No – no – John pulls again. The gun jerks in George’s hand. Once strong push, and on the trigger – George pulls the opposite way. He spins. The gun fires.

Grace drops. The spokewheel necklace tinkles out of her palm.

Draw everything to you except bullets, it seems.

Inside John’s head there is nothing but screams.

How many times can a world end?

How many times can a mind break?

No. It can’t be. It must stop, sometime.

Onyeka wails.

Sosuke falls to his knees.

No more. No more.

John leaps for the necklace. Tessa snatches it first, grabs George’s arm.

No.

John leaps on them both: Tessa’s hair gripped in one hand, George’s neck in the other.

White rush.

~~~

Nassau, 2004

John prises Tessa’s fingers open.

~~~

Sydney, 2000

She digs her fingernail into his palm and wrestles it back.

~~~

Bath, 2007

George is hyperventilating. His back slams against his old Johnny Marr and Dylan Moran posters. John steps on his DVD cases and breaks one.

In a year’s time, I killed a girl.

John growls from the pit of his throat as he takes the necklace out of Tessa’s hand. She grabs onto his ears, one in each hand.

George hooks his arms around his girlfriend’s waist. He will not be left here without her. Not ever.

~~~

Rome, 1808

Enough screaming. George jerks the necklace chain and the medallion comes into his hand.

‘Yes!’ Tessa shouts, clasping her hand over his.

George grabs John by the shirt.

Her eyes are shining. He doesn’t want to go back. But she’s right. It’s the only way to set things straight.

~~~

February 28th, 1931

Pinwheel Club, New York

‘Alice!’ Tessa shouts, taking the necklace from George’s limp hand.

The smell of blood. Alice’s despair, and the chaos that is John. Sam is dead.

‘No – not here! Anywhere but here!’

Alice springs from the floor and reaches for the necklace. John roars. Her fingers clasp around the chain. Near miss. John is touching the medallion.

~~~

Santiago, 1953

Three against one.

Neither George nor Tessa knows where they are going. Or who is touching the medallion now.

~~~

?????

They land behind a stage curtain. The place smells of beeswax and alcohol.

I know this smell, Tessa thinks. I swear, this is familiar. This day is familiar.

John pushes off the group, but Alice holds tight onto him. They spin away, and stumbling down the steps of the stage. Tessa and George run after them.

John freezes.

Tessa’s chest constricts until she can hardly breathe.

The air warps and swirls around them.

.

Before them is a small table. At that table sits Bertram, Sam…and John.

It is January 28th, 1931.

.

John stares at himself.

He looks back.

The colours of the world run, high-pitched ringing, gravity tilting.

A noise of animal terror rips out of his throat.

.

The world is ending, the world is ending.

Alice refuses to let it be.

I want to never exist.

Rescue, escape, gibbet. Something.

She grabs his hand.

They disappear.

Leaving Tessa and George behind.

.

The air settles. Ringing stops. The ground is stable.

John of January, 1931 suddenly breathes again. He panics.

‘The hell was that?’

Bertram and Sam are speechless.

‘No way,’ John says. ‘No way. I’m out’

He scrapes his chair as he rises from his seat, and he tries not to look at Tessa and George, still standing there.

The door to the club bangs shut.

I’m over at the bar, Tessa thinks. Right now.

‘What do we do?’ she whispers. ‘We’re stranded.’

George looks at his hands in reply. And laughs humourlessly. He brings them up to his face.

His fingers are fading away.

Tessa looks down.

Her feet are disappearing, like sand washed away at the beach.

‘No!’ she cries. ‘No! How –’

‘John sees himself,’ George says. He is back to normal: quiet, calm. ‘He leaves and never works for Bertram. The gang never comes to the club. Sam and Bertram live. John never takes the necklace. He never goes to the future. He never meets Alice there. She never asks us to stop him.’

‘No,’ Tessa says. ‘No – fuck! – no, that can’t – we’re dying!’ She looks again at her rapidly fading limbs. ‘We’re dying!’

‘We’re not dying,’ George says. ‘We’ll just…have never existed, in this timeline. Back in 2007, everything will be fine.’

‘No, no, that’s not fair,’ Tessa sobs. George pulls her close. They are floating in mid-air, now, torsos suspended without legs to stand on. ‘We got married! What about Paradise Island? What about Wicked? It’s not fair! It’s not fair!’

She sobs into his chest as the last of their arms disappear.

‘It’s alright,’ he says. He closes his eyes for absolution. Grace doesn’t die. Sam doesn’t die. He prays that, in 2007, he will appreciate everything he has.

‘It’s alright, Tessa.’

They are gone.

.

Sam and Bertram stare at the place where, moments before, two strangers disappeared into mist.

A clatter of heels.

Alice turns the corner.

‘I thought I heard crying –’

She stops. Sees Sam is at the table.

Sam takes her in.

He laughs.

He guffaws like this is the best joke he’s heard in a long time.

Bert puts his head in his hands, and Alice turns and runs, and Sam laughs and laughs and takes off his eyepatch and throws it onto the table, and he leans back in his chair and laughs and laughs as his eyelids open and white mist tendrils snake out and dissipate and he laughs and laughs as his useless, useless sight clouds up in the air before him.

~~~

March 13th, 1602

Bitton, England

John is raving insanity when she leaves him in the woods. Maybe the villagers or wolves will find him before he disappears. She doesn’t care which. The world spins tight and her hands are fading, and she has something she needs to do.

~~~

June 1st, 1930

Fort Greene, New York

Alice puts her hand on the doorknob to leave.

A crash in the kitchen makes her jump.

She walks through, tense, ready to flee.

Someone is curled up on the kitchen floor. Alice feels sick to her stomach at the sight of them, but she approaches nevertheless.

They leap up, and icy stub-fingers grab her arm.

Eyes.

Her own.

In one soul-curdling flash she sees death, the future, madness, and everything she was intending to do coming to naught.

Then it is gone. There is no-one on the kitchen floor but herself.

She would think it was a hallucination. But the frozen touch is still on her skin, and when she asks her sight for guidance it tells her:

It was all the truth.

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Written by G.J.

23/10/2014 at 12:58 pm

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