Supply Run

The knock at the door signaled the delivery Julia had been anticipating. Aisha was standing on the other side, her bag slung over her shoulder, smile wide on her face.

“Hey, stranger. Good to see your face.”

Nearly two years had passed since Julia had been trapped in the past. She had met Aisha shortly after her relocation to the other side of the country, and she had been providing Julia with supplies for over a year. The move, and relying on Aisha, was all to avoid having any impact on her own past.

Even before her move, Julia knew that no one was coming back for her. No matter how long it took them to figure out how to return, they could have always traveled back to the time she had closed the portal. That no one had appeared in the first few days after she was trapped meant she was on her own. If she wanted to get back to her proper time, she would have to do it herself. However, she had no real idea how to go about it. Instead, she threw herself into research, and Aisha was crucial to that.

“It hasn’t been that long, has it?” Julia stepped aside to let the other woman come in.

“Well, I tried to come by yesterday, but you weren’t here. Or you were ignoring me.” Aisha walked into the living room and sat down without waiting for an invitation. “So which was it?”

Julia sat down facing her. “I wasn’t ignoring you. You know better than that. I thought you weren’t coming until today, so I was visiting a friend.” Esther and Rook still wanted her to drop by now and then.

“I didn’t think you had any friends. Beside me, that is.”

“Very funny. I’ll have you know I am very popular.”

“So popular, you live alone in a cabin in the middle of nowhere.”

“Okay, okay.” Julia held up her hands in surrender. “I give. Your tongue is too sharp.”

Aisha’s smile widened, flashing her teeth. “Not just my tongue.”

Julia ignored that. “So what did you bring me this time.”

Aisha was brash and friendly, but there was more to her. Julia hadn’t gotten too far below the surface, but she valued the other woman’s company and friendship.

“The mundane supplies should be delivered tomorrow. As for the more interesting stuff…” Taking her bag off her shoulder, Aisha set it on the table and opened it. “First, and most obviously, more crystals.” She pulled out more than a dozen empty crystals and put them down on the table. “I was also able to track down the rarer ingredients you asked for.” She set five jars with different substances next to the crystals. “This one,” she held up a bottle containing a purple powder, “was the tricky one. Asking for ground quartz exposed to temporal magic raised more than a few eyebrows.”

“I appreciate the effort, Aisha. Were you able to track down any books?”

“There I struck out, I’m afraid. You have to know mages don’t write a lot of books.”

“I suppose not. Thanks anyway.” Julia had never asked if Aisha was actually a mage or not.

“However,” Aisha pulled out a file folder, “I did manage to track down some notes that might be usable. On mana, not temporal magic.”

Julia took the folder and began paging through it. “Aisha, this is wonderful. Anything helps. I cannot thank you enough.”

“Glad I could help.” She hesitated for a moment. “Can I ask you something?”

“Don’t worry, I’ve got your payment.” Julia looked up from the pages in the folder to hand six charged crystals to Aisha.

“Not that. Although, thank you.” She put the crystals in her bag. “I’ve been supplying you for a while, and I know it’s none of my business, but would you tell me what you’re up to? Your requests are always so specific, and I thought it might help if I knew what you were doing.”

Julia smiled. “You’re right, it’s none of your business. You want a beer?”

Aisha shrugged. “Sure. We can talk about the weather instead.”

Past/Present (part six)

Julia knocked on the door and was relieved when Esther opened it. This was the one place she could think of that offered some hope. Somehow, Esther had recognized her, so the older woman must have some connection to the future. Wanting to be certain Jason wasn’t home, Julia had waited nearly half a day before approaching the building.

“Julia, you’ve returned. What a pleasant surprise.” Esther’s smile seemed genuine.

“Hello. Do you mind if I come in? I don’t want Jason to see me.”

“Of course, of course, dear. Please, follow me. I’ll make us some tea.”

As Esther led her down a hallway, Julia caught glimpses of other rooms. The entire place looked exactly like one might expect from an elderly widow’s home. Bits of cross-stitching hung against old wallpaper patterns. Small lamps sat on doilies atop end tables. The couch was covered with rough upholstery. It was almost too perfect, as though its occupant was trying very hard to put forward the image of a kindly grandmother.

In the kitchen, two teacups were already set on the table, and, as if on cue, a kettle began whistling on the stove.

“Were you expecting someone?” Julia asked.

“Oh no. I just like to be prepared in case someone drops by. Now sit, dear. I only have the one kind of tea. I hope you don’t mind.” She brought the kettle to the table and poured hot water into each of the cups.

They sat down across from one another, and Esther began absently stirring her tea.

“So how did your visit with Jason go yesterday?”

“You don’t know?”

“I’m not omniscient, dear.”

“Of course.” Julia couldn’t say why she thought the other woman would know, but she was surprised that Esther didn’t. “We had a brief visit. It was good to see him again. But he persuaded me that altering the past wasn’t a good idea.”

“Mmm.” Esther nodded. “Probably not.”

“I have to know, how did you recognize me yesterday? Are you a time mage?”

“No. Nothing so interesting. Rather, it has to do with the nature of time itself. What’s the best way to explain?” Esther was silent for a moment, presumably trying to decide how to answer her own question. “Most people think of time like a river. Events, information, flow from upstream to downstream, earlier to later. That’s how most people experience it, so it’s a natural analogy.

“But time’s not really like that. A better analogy would be to think of time like a lake, rather than a river. A pebble falls into the lake, and the ripples expand in every direction. If you travel in a boat from one side to the other, you’d be tempted to say the shore you sailed from is the beginning and your destination is the end. But there are other orders in which parts of the lake can be experienced. Just because many people see the lake in a particular way doesn’t make that the only way to observe it.”

“So when we met, and I told you my name, that rippled to you now?”


“Then, if you aren’t a time mage, what are you?”

“Just someone who experiences time differently than most.”

“Does that mean you can help me get back to my own time? Or no?”

“Unfortunately, seeing time differently does not mean traveling through time differently. Are you not able to go back the way you came?”

“I had to close that off that path. I didn’t want to, but I had to.”

Before Esther could respond, a familiar-looking black cat jumped up on to the table.

“Rook, you know you aren’t supposed to be up here.” The cat ignored Esther’s scolding and licked his paw.

“Rook? That’s Rook?” As far as Julia could tell, the cat looked exactly the same as it did fifteen years from now. “How old is this cat?” Rook took a few steps in her direction and lowered his head. She scratched between his ears, just like she always did.

“He obviously remembers you. As for his age, he doesn’t experience time in the way you do, either.”

Julia continued petting Rook as she turned her attention back to Esther. “Is there anything you can do to help me get back to proper time?”

“None that I can think of. I’m sorry, dear.”

Julia knew that coming here had been a long shot. She needed a source of time magic, and she had no idea where she might find one. And even if she did, she wasn’t sure she could replicate what Rebecca, Thomas, and she had managed to do. If Esther couldn’t help, it was time to move on and figure out what to do next.

“Thank you for your time. And the tea.” Julia stood to leave.

“Where will you go?”

“I’m not sure. I should probably leave this area, though. Too many chances – too much temptation – to mess up my own future.”

Esther followed Julia to the front door, with Rook close behind. Once at the door, Julia reached down to give him a final pet.

“If you need to talk, or even just a cup of tea, you’re welcome here any time.”

“Thanks, Esther. I appreciate that.”

“And you have to come back to visit Rook. I think he would be upset if he didn’t get to see you again soon.”

Looking at the cat, she said, “I will, I promise.” Then she turned and walked away.

Past/Present (part five)

“Julia!” Rebecca’s warning carried through the portal. From where she was sprawled on the floor, Julia could see Thomas trying to make his way back through the portal. Stopping him was her priority, so she did the only thing she could think of: she closed the portal.

Pulling herself up, she slowly walked over to where the portal had been and just stared at the emptiness in its place. She was fifteen years in her past with no means of returning to her present. On the floor was a severed hand. It had to be Thomas’s, caught on the wrong side of the portal when it had shut. Voices on the other side of the door warned her that others were about to enter the lab, so she grabbed the hand and crouched behind one of the tables.

“. . . never seen anything like it.” That sounded like Thomas, but younger.

“Where is it?” An older male voice she didn’t recognize.

“What? It was here! You must believe me.”

“I do, Thomas. Do you know what sort of portal it was?”

“As I said, I did not recognize it.”

“Research it. Come find me when you know. Then we can decide how to proceed. I will check the rest of the house.”

The door opened and closed again, then she heard someone, presumably Thomas, open a book and begin paging through it. Thomas had said he wanted to learn something in this time, but what? It couldn’t be about the portal. The moment they traveled back he must have realized what the portal was. So what had he come for?

Thomas was always so secretive; it was why she had never trusted him. This could be a chance to find out more about him, about his past. Something important happened on this day, in this place. Important enough for him to solicit her help to come back here. However, she didn’t know what he had been looking for, and she had no idea how her presence here might alter events. Her focus had to be on finding a way to return to her own present.

From behind the table, she heard the door open again, followed by the sounds of someone casting. This might have been the event Thomas wanted to learn about, but whatever it was, Julia was certain she didn’t want to be involved. She needed a distraction so she could get out of the situation. At least, that was the excuse she told herself. In her heart, she knew that she could probably have just left without drawing too much attention. After all, someone was casting a spell which probably meant that things were about to become chaotic without her help. She just wanted to be sure, and it almost certainly wasn’t to mess with Thomas. Probably.

Without a reliable location set up in advance, there was no controlled chaos she could create. Instead, she simply opened a portal in the ceiling to let whatever was in the room above fall into Thomas’s lab. Once things began to drop, she opened a second portal and left the lab before anything else could happen. She didn’t know what spell the new arrival had been about to cast, and she didn’t wait to see Thomas’s reaction.

Once more on the street, she wandered aimlessly. Fifteen years ago, she would have still been in training, so she wasn’t likely to run into her younger self. Jason already made it clear that he couldn’t help her, and approaching anyone else might have a ripple effect into the future. Thomas’s magic had made the trip possible, but now she had no access to time magic. If she couldn’t come up with a solution, she was stuck in her own past.

Past/Present (part four)

“We’re leaving.” Julia’s voice sounded definitive but not angry.

“Julia? What happened with Jason?” Rebecca assumed Julia had realized Thomas had his own motives for this trip.

Julia didn’t take her eyes of Thomas. “Later. When we’re back at the house. For now, we need leave before we mess up the past. Or at least before we mess it up anymore.”

“Nothing has been ‘messed up,’ as you put it,” Thomas objected. “That is not how time travel works.”

“Really, Thomas?” Now there was irritation in her voice. “Why don’t you tell us how it works? When we talked about this earlier, you said you didn’t know.”

“You are not being fair, Julia. I formulated probable . . .”

“I said, later.” Julia cut him off. “Let’s go.”

“We cannot leave yet; I still have not learned about . . .”

Before he could finish, Julia closed the distance between them and began pushing him toward the portal. Thomas stumbled back a few steps before he regained his footing. He then managed to shove Julia to the ground.

Rebecca wanted to intervene, to stop this altercation, but she didn’t think either of them were in a mood to listen. When she noticed Thomas trying to cast a spell, she expected things to get much worse. Instead, nothing happened, and he scowled.

“You drained me. Is this why you took all my magic in casting the spell? To make me powerless?”

Julia, who had gotten back to her feet, chuckled softly. “You sound paranoid. If I had known then you were up to something, I wouldn’t have drained you. I simply wouldn’t have cast the spell in the first place.”

Even though Thomas seemed to be without magical resources, Julia wasn’t taking advantage of that fact. She was keeping the fight physical, not using her own magic.To Rebecca, it looked like Julia was holding back, though she couldn’t imagine why.

Julia sprang at Thomas, but he was ready for her and shoved her back to the floor.

“Stop this, Julia. It is unbecoming to engage in such a brutish display. I have no desire to hurt you. I just need to see what happens here today. Then we can leave, and you can chastise me all you like.”

Rebecca knew that Julia wasn’t going to give up; she was even beginning to think Julia was right. Thomas always had a convenient excuse while he manipulated people. She didn’t even trust that he merely wanted to observe this attack, if there even was one. She needed to end this before anyone got hurt.

Thomas was focused entirely on Julia as she slowly circled him. Because of that, Rebecca was able to get behind him when he was facing away from the portal. She made sure Julia saw her, and the next time Julia lunged at Thomas, Rebecca tripped him when he stumbled backwards. As he fell to the floor, she grabbed his arm and dragged him through.

The portal was several inches off the floor, and she had to let go of Thomas as she tried to keep her balance. Thomas pushed her away when she went to grab hold of him again. He turned back to the portal as she fell.

“Julia!” She yelled. Julia needed to get through and close the portal. Rebecca didn’t know what Julia was worried about, but right now she trusted her more than Thomas.

As Thomas reached the portal and started to cross back over, it suddenly vanished, along with his left hand.