Tempus Automata – two

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My companion had ground to a complete stop before me and I had nearly walked right over her.  But when I looked at what held her eyes, I too stepped back in shock.

The being before us was like a man and yet unlike one.  It was sexless.  Its hide was run through with small fissures where it had dried under the harsh winds.  In some spots it had blackened with age.  Its hands loosely rested on the exposed rock that somehow resembled a chair; no a throne.  The skin over the fingers was cracked at the joints and metal, though pitted, shone through.  Its head hung forward and its eyes were closed.

Was this the Watcher?  What did it see with its eyes closed?  Did it still live or was it dead?

“Has our journey been a waste?” cried my companion.  “Was all this just to find another carcass among many?  Was it all for naught?”

My hand reached out to touch her shoulder, but I held back.  A small, simian-like creature had arrayed itself across the being’s shoulder and glared at us.  My companion moved away as the thing chittered at her in annoyance.  The strange little eyes of the ape spoke with a dark intellect as they bored into mine.  One of its hands rapped a repeating pattern against the large head of the being until the eyelids of it split open.

My companion and I crumpled under the strange gaze.  Its machine eyes measured us and we felt small in comparison.  It was hard not to look away, but we had come to this forsaken planet for this very meeting.  My companion fell to her knees and I joined her.  We clasped hands and whispered our request.

The being’s voice stuttered out from long disuse, “You wish to ask of me questions?”

We both nodded, though mine was with the slightest hesitation.

“You traveled all this way for that?  What would you ask of me that you couldn’t find elsewhere?”

The voice of my companion echoed out into the wind of this dead planet, “What are you?”

Tempus Automata – one

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The earth below us was broken.  Shards of stone jutted out into a sky as black as a cave.  But there was light.  The very cracks in the ground seemed to glow with it.

We had left the ruins of the city behind and followed this ancient trail out into the fractured peaks that lay on the western edge.   Strange weeds struggled to grow underfoot, but our steps turned them into dust.

Were the weeds truly alive?  Was anything on this Gods forsaken planet?

The stories of this world were whispered of in the darkest corners of the universe and they were believed to be the tales of madmen.

“There is no Earth to be found!” cried the naysayers.  “No Sol System on any star chart.”

Where the rumors say it hung in the night sky was a spot of blackness, blacker than the darkest night.  But one day, that fleck of blackness had faded and an ancient star system had lain in its center.

My companion and I had come to this ancient birthplace of the human species and we had come in search of answers.

“Answers to what?” you might ask.

What had happened here?  What had brought the denizens of the darkest domain back to this moribund sphere?  Where had they gone?  The answer would always be knowledge, be it forbidden or dangerous.

Time was of the essence as the days left for it to circle its dying star grew short.  Its magnetic field had begun to weaken and the atmosphere was dissipating into space.  The oceans had lost much of their moisture, but the waves continued to slap the lonely shores.

It was with a shock of surprise that we actually found our quarry seated amongst the bones of this corpse world.  We had believed it to be myth and fairytale, but our deepest hopes had been that there still lay a grain of truth in the legend, that the Watcher was real.

And it was.

The Mysteries of Waking

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The dry rasp of his eyes opening dispelled the dust that had accumulated in the grooves of his skin.  His sudden indrawn breath created motes in the dim light of the early dawn.

His body jerked violently upward and a wretched cry burst from his lips as gravity pulled him to the dry, rotted floorboards.  Thin slivers of wood punctured his skin while he lay there panting.

It was a matter of moments before he pieced together that the slick wetness his hands and head lay in glittered with a crimson sheen.  The surface of the pool was broken as he struggled to push himself away from it.

Wildness radiated from his large eyes as his hands searched his body for the source of the blood.  Streaks of it ran up the walls and glistened against the filthy popcorn ceiling.  Horror ruled the curves of his face as he spied the body draped unceremoniously over the small chest in the corner.

Tears cut runnels through the scarlet splashed across his face as his body shook, “How long have I been here?  How many days?  How many months?  Each morning it’s the same.  More blood on my hands and a new body somewhere in here.”

His eyes lit upon the long piece of cool metal that rested forlornly under the saggy and broken bed frame.  Greedily, his fingers reached for it.  It was cold to the touch, much colder than the room would allow.

“Why is this happening?” he cursed against the four walls of his prison.  “How many times have I tried to leave and yet I always find myself here,” his eyes lit upon the form on the chest, “with only the company of a corpse.”

The slide of the M1911 pulled back to frame an empty chamber before it slipped back with a violent click.  The magazine clattered against the floor, but he could tell from the sound that it was empty.

The pistol fell loosely from his grip before he looked skyward, “Why is it always a different body?  Where do they come from?  Where do they go?”  His bloodied hands clutched at the skin stretched over his skull, “Am I going mad?”

A woman watched as he pulled himself under the bed from the tiny monitor bolted to the desk.  Her lips curled of their own accord as she grabbed the handset of the old rotary phone and her long, painted nail dialed 0, 1, and 0.

The buzz and click sounded loud in the confines of the security station, but she remained languid until the voice came through.  “Yes sir, I believe this one is almost ready.  Only another day or two.  Thank you, sir.”

The phone clacked against the ancient plastic of its body.  Her fingers steepled as she continued to watch him through the monitor, “Only another day or two…”

Lost on the Dark Streets

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I was alone in the alley and it was dingy.  Pools of gray water were trapped in pits by the edges of the buildings.  Pieces of garbage floated by in some while in others they had sunken beneath their miniscule waves.  There was a smell to the place that could be said to be indescribable only in the sense that a person wouldn’t want to bother with the time and research it would take to find out to do so.

Shadows were everywhere; some layered deeply enough to become impenetrable by any light.  Others were just on the edge of the cone of brightness from the bulb above.  There was little of interest here, so why had I agreed to meet here?

In a fit of boredom and the need for a sense of control, I opened the case and pulled out the six string.  Two string sets in double octaves that created a richer tone.  The wood of the instrument fairly glowed under the poor street lamp.

Warily, I placed my hand against the strings and felt the roughness of the bound wire.  My fingers curled into position and I strummed the strings ever so lightly.  Melancholy filled the air and burgeoning light began to filter through one of the walls that enclosed the alley.  An ancient song came to mind and the words fluttered to my lips.  I played alone in that place for what felt like eternity yet must have only been a fleeting moment.

A voice spoke quietly from the edge of darkness, “Yes, my friend, I was right.  This is a place for magic, where the walls between the universes are so very thin.”

His pointed teeth glittered like starlight from the blackest of the shadows as the strings under my fingers continued to vibrate their tones in this shabby space between buildings… between worlds.

(Photo by Kaique Rocha from Pexels https://www.pexels.com/photo/street-urban-japan-brasil-50859/)

Bridge over the River

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It had a taken a week but the body of the missing young woman had been found.  Her arms and legs had kept her lodged between the railings of the bridge.  But finding her corpse only led to more questions.

The locals had spoken about a young couple who had been seen camping out in the nearby forest but neither of them had set foot in town in the past couple weeks.  The search for the lady had begun once the police had fished her husband’s body out of the river.  The need to find her had grown once the black and white photos sealed in plastic bags were discovered in his coat pockets.

The pictures told a story of a young couple on vacation.  They ranged from candid shots at a gas station, to posing in front of a ball of twine and a monument or two.  The photos slowly degraded into a gruesome end for the woman.

The husband’s body showed no physical forms of trauma.  It simply looked like he had drowned.  She had rope burns around her ankles and wrists.  The photos unfolded the horror that she had suffered through on her last days.

While still alive, she had been stretched taut between two trees until her husband had cut her arteries and she bled out.  The last of the pictures showed her husband as he worked diligently to cut the organs out of her body before he cleaned them carefully.  Each of her organs were then carefully sealed in plastic bags and then placed back into the open cavity in their proper place.

The most troubling part was that cases like his had been appearing all across the country in the past couple months.  Each one had the old black and white photos of the organs being removed and cleansed.  Nothing linked the victims together, nothing at all.

The detectives were left with two main questions, who had taken the pictures and where had they been developed?  Was this a single person or was there more than one photographer?

(image courtesy of Ryan McGuire of https://www.tinyrobotcreative.com/)

Circles within Circles

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He awoke as if from a dream.  He pirouetted before he slid across the floor to his next partner.  Her mask was a creature of nightmare and it startled him.

“How long have I been here?” he wondered.  “How long have I been dancing?”

But he continued to glide his way along the dance floor from one freakishly masked partner to the next.  Confusion took him and his movements began to slow.  His steps began to falter as he realized, “Why can’t I stop?”

His vision swam and distorted laughter rang in his ears but still he continued to move.  His last dance partner threw him into a dip before spinning him like a top.  Around and around he went as he careened along the dance floor until he slipped and fell onto the tiles and found himself resting against the fireplace.

It felt like he was laying on a bed of moss and the ballroom smelled of the forest.  He giggled haphazardly as he tried to stand but he tripped on a pile of long hair.  His bushy brows obscured his sight but he realized that he had slipped on his snowy white beard.

But he could only remember being clean shaven and it had been black as the darkest of nights.  “My hair?  It is so pale!  Why is it so long?”  He wondered as the ballroom faded away.   He found himself with his back against the trunk of a tree in a vast forest.  A lonely ring of mushrooms encircled him.

“Why do I feel so old?  Am I so tired from dancing?”

A voice whispered in his ear, “Good night sweet prince.”

The lids of his eyes closed of their own volition as snow began to fall upon his body from the branches above.

He didn’t wake that night or ever again.  His bones still grace that fairy circle and they do not rest alone.

The Morning After

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The lids of his eyes split open and a grunt escaped his lips.  Through the grumbling pain only one thought occupied his mind, why did he have such a pounding headache?  Carpet fibers wiggled their way between his fingers and brushed against the sides of his chest.  Why was he laying on the floor?  Groggily he got to his feet.

The last thing he remembered was that after a fifteen hour driving day, they had pulled into this tiny town somewhere in the middle of the Southwest.  This little motel on the side of the road had vacancies and it was cheap.  It had been a long day but the two of them were finally almost to California.

He ran his hand through his messy hair and his fingers snagged into something sticky.  At the same he muttered, “Why is the carpet wet?”

He pulled his hand free from his hair and looked down.  Sticky redness coated his feet but he also noticed a couple empty wine bottles lying haphazardly on the carpet.  A chuckle burst out, “We must’ve had one hell of a night…”

With a long stretch, he made his way to the small bathroom.  As he struggled to find the light switch, he scratched at his lower back and a brittle material broke under his fingernails.  Once the light clicked on he glanced down and old crusted blood fragments were trapped in the crease of his nails.  Bemusedly, he looked up into the mirror below the bright lights and stood there in absolute shock.

Old blood spattered the filthy t shirt that looked like he had been lying in it. His feet squelched as he dug them into the bathroom mat. He looked down in confusion, “What the fuck…”

Fear tingled down his spine as it began to eat at him.  In a panic he ran into the main room and his eyes grew wide in horror. Blood sprayed the walls and the ceiling peeling from the weight of it.  The bed sheets lay in ragged rust streaked piles.  In the center of it all, was her.  No breath moved her chest and she was as pale as if she had never seen the sun.  Her freckles stood out starkly against the pallor of her skin.

The mattress was fair to bursting with her blood.  On the cleanest corner of it, her internal organs were splayed out individually and placed in a perfect pattern of their placement in the body.  Each of them had been meticulously cleaned of her blood before being placed there.

He choked on the keening that burst from his throat as he fell to his knees.  Tears sprouted from his face as he crawled over to her corpse.  As he clutched her unresponsive body, he shook.  Grief ripped through him as well as a blind rage, who would do this to her?

Slowly, he let her slip from his grasp to fall back to the reddened mattress.  He ground the tears from his eyes into his face.  He got to his feet and looked for his phone.  It took some doing but he finally found it lying under the bed stand.  The battery was dead but the charging cord was right next to it.

It took a few minutes for the phone to boot up and its little chime echoed in the quiet room.  He stared at the screen blankly.  The date was wrong.  It had to be.  “We’ve been here a week?  No way.  It’s just not possible…”

He dialed the Police and waited for them to pick up.  Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a vintage camera lying on its side on top of a pile of black and white photos.  The camera wasn’t one he’d seen before.  While hold music blared in his ear, he wandered over and picked up some of the pictures.

Just then, a voice came over the line, “911, what’s your emergency?”

“I need to report a murder…” his dead voice uttered into the receiver.  He sat on the edge of the bed and steadily answered the questions that he was asked.  Idly, he sifted through the photos in his hand. Strangely the people in them looked familiar. They were of him and his wife at different stops along the trip.  He flipped through them until he came across the first of the motel room itself.

The first one was the two of them unpacking. The next were the two of them sharing a glass of wine after they had showered.  There was a series of photos as they made love. Each of the photos had been taken from inside the room.

The remaining few in his hand showed his back as he approached the bed and plunged a knife into her chest, repeatedly.  The phone slipped from his fingers as he rifled through the pile of photos under the camera.  Both he and his wife were in every single photo and the images grew worse.  He shook as he went through them again and again while a tinny voice echoed in the background from his phone, “Sir?  Are you there? Sir?”

“We weren’t alone.  Someone was with us the whole time.  But who was it?”

The door burst open and the police subdued him quickly.  The entire time, he kept shouting, “Who was the photographer?  Who was it?”