A New Customer (part two)

The basement was little more than a cement floor with cinderblock walls. It was large but mostly occupied by boxes piled seemingly at random. What light there was came from the few lightbulbs suspended here and there from the beams above. The only space that didn’t have boxes strewn about was one corner occupied by a washer and dryer. There weren’t any places to hide that he could see; if there was a monster, it couldn’t be that large.

David slowly made his way through the area. The woman who had come into the shop, Jennifer, said that she had seen it on the side of the basement opposite from the laundry. He was skeptical that there was a monster, but she had been on the verge of tears all the way back to her house. Something had clearly terrified her, so he wanted to be thorough. He moved boxes aside to look behind them and even opened a few to look inside.

He had made it over halfway through the basement when he saw something out of the corner of his eye. As soon as he turned his head, it disappeared. The light in that part of the room wasn’t good, but it looked like a large white mouse or maybe a small rat. Had she mistaken a mouse for a monster? Not wanting to jump to any conclusions, he decided to investigate more closely.

With all the boxes around, even a small flame could quickly turn into an inferno. So he bent down to touch the floor and sent a wave of ice toward the place he had seen the mouse. He hoped it might trap it in the ice, but at least it might make it harder for the thing to run away. A squeal from a box suggested the ice had had the desired effect. He carefully picked his way over the ice and lifted the box. There was nothing there.

Putting the box back down, he began looking around to find where it had run off to. When the box touched the ice again, the squeal came back. Out of the top of the box, between the flaps concealing the contents, the head of a white mouse poked out. David quickly grabbed at it and somehow managed to catch hold of it.

He tried pulling it out, but it resisted him as though something were pulling in back inside the box. Surprised, David let the mouse slip out of his grasp. He hurriedly pulled back the flaps to look in the box. Upon seeing inside, he involuntarily took a step back.

There was a white, amorphous blob, roughly one foot across at the widest point. Several tentacles extended from the mass; each of them ending in the shape of the front two-thirds of a mouse’s body. He had the impression the thing was staring at him with the mouse eyes.

Samuel had told him about horrors, but David never expected to see one. His training protected him from the madness that usually emanated from such beings, and it was small enough that it didn’t pose much of a threat in other ways. Not yet. Had Jennifer gotten a good look at it, she very well might have been driven insane. He covered it in ice, abruptly silencing it. Then he wrapped it in a blanket to keep anyone else from seeing it. The real question was where it had come from.

“Julia?” he called out tentatively.

Her response was nearly immediate. “Did you find your monster?” It sounded like she was chuckling.

“Yes, as a matter of fact. Already have it contained. But I need your help.”

“Why?”

“It’s a horror.”

He paused, expecting her to react, but she didn’t say anything.

“I need you to locate the portal it came through and close it.”

“A horror? You’re joking, right?” Any hint of amusement was gone from her voice.

“Unfortunately, no. It’s small, and I froze it. Luckily, it was vulnerable to cold rather than heat. But I don’t think I can find it’s portal on my own.”

“Why do you sound sane? Are you sure it’s a horror?”

“Quite sure. My guide, Samuel, trained me, prepared me to deal with these things. He has had to deal with them before, so he wanted to make sure I was equipped to deal with them, too.”

“That’s good, I guess. I’m going to come through. Please keep the thing out of sight. I don’t think I can deal with it.”

“Don’t worry. I have it wrapped up.”

A portal appeared in front of David. He assumed it had been there all along, allowing Julia to keep tabs on him. Julia stepped through holding a green crystal. It looked like the same crystal she had been holding in the coffee shop when they had been looking for Rebecca.

“Where did you find it?”

“That box over there.” He pointed it out.

Julia took a few steps toward the box and looked at it while holding the crystal up to it. She was being careful not to touch the box. “Yeah. The box itself is a portal. I’m not finding any others.”

“Can you close it?”

“Not here, but I should be able to stop anything else from coming through until I can deal with it properly.”

“Good. Can you open a portal to the shop? I want to secure this thing elsewhere before talking with Jennifer again.”

“Sure. Better your shop than the house. Just be careful.”

“Always.”

A New Customer (part one)

David was sitting behind the counter when the bell over the entrance jingled. Looking up from the book he was reading, he saw Julia enter the little shop.

“Oh. Hi.”

She feigned a hurt expression. “I’m sorry to disappoint you.”

“It’s not that. I was just hoping you were a customer.”

“It does look a little slow in here. Maybe if you put a sign out front . . . ?”

“Sarah warned me against doing that. Thought it might draw too much of the wrong kind of attention.”

“As someone who isn’t known for playing it safe, I hate to admit that she’s probably right.” Julia walked over to one shelf and picked up a bottle filled with a light blue liquid. “What’s this?”

“Rebecca gave me those. They are a very weak healing potions. Good for minor illnesses.”

“And these?” She gestured to a few baskets of colored balls about the size of a jawbreaker.

“I made them. If you bite into one of the blue ones, they slowly release water suitable for drinking. The red ones can be used to start small fires. And throwing the sea-foam green ones into a fire will extinguish it.”

“Handy.”

David wasn’t sure if she was being sincere or sarcastic. “I don’t want to sell anything too powerful. Especially to people who might be unfamiliar with magic.”

“No, no. I wasn’t being critical. These are clever items. Practical. Have you had any customers?”

“A few. I keep hoping that word of mouth will bring in more, but it’s been slow.”

“Don’t get discouraged. This is a good idea.”

It was strange to hear encouragement from Julia. Even though she was taking a more active role in the house of late, she still maintained a distance from everyone. Indeed, David couldn’t remember ever having a casual conversation with her before now.

“So do you sell anything for mages?”

“Well most of the things in here could be useful to anyone. The only mage specific items are the white crystals you gave me.”

“Oh right. I’m sorry I can’t make them quickly. Jason’s notes were useful, but they don’t make up for my lack of a gift in that area.”

“Don’t worry about it. I haven’t had any mages stop by yet, anyway.”

The bell jingled again, and both of them turned as a woman entered the store. She was out of breath and looked panicked.

“Is this the magic shop?”

“It is. What’s wrong?” David asked.

“There is . . . something in my house. Some kind of monster. Do you have anything that can help?” Whatever she had seen clearly had upset her greatly.

“What does this monster look like?”

“I didn’t get a good look at it. I was in my basement when I saw it. I ran up the stairs and came straight here. My friend told me about this shop, so I though you could help.”

David looked to Julia, who still hadn’t said anything. She just shrugged. David turned back to the woman. “I’m not sure I have anything, especially if we don’t know what it is.”

“So there’s nothing you can do?”

“I’m not sure. Not without more . . .”

“You could come over. That way you can figure out what it is.”

David was taken aback by the request. Making house calls or hunting monsters were not what he had in mind when he opened the store. It was just something to do to feel useful. He turned once more to Julia.

“This could help with word of mouth,” she said.

“You’re right.” After all, he thought, he did want to help people. “Okay. Let’s go find this monster.”

“Thank you!” She began leading him outside.

David looked behind him. “Are you coming?”

“This is your thing. I wouldn’t want to steal your thunder. Go ahead and call if you need help.” Before he could reply Julia disappeared into a portal. David then hurried after the woman.

Hard Truths

I sat cross-legged on the floor and closed my eyes. Focusing on my breath, I simply waited. I could not say how much time passed before she arrived. Sometimes she seems to walk down a set of stairs; on other occasions – such as today – she simply appears before me. Apparently uncomfortable standing above me, she sat down.

“It has been awhile,” she began.

“I’m sorry. I’ve been . . .” She stopped me before I could finish.

“I know. I’m you, remember. You don’t need to apologize to me.”

“Okay.” Out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a dark, indistinct figure. “Why did you bring him?”

“I didn’t. He’s always here. He’s your shadow.”

“Can’t you make him go away?”

“Why?”

“I don’t like him.”

“Of course you don’t like him. If you did, he wouldn’t be your shadow.”

“He makes me nervous.”

“You could try talking to him.”

“I don’t want to talk to him. I don’t want to reconcile with parts of me I’d rather be rid of.”

“You sound petulant.”

As soon as she said that, I knew it was true: I was being petulant. Still, facing him was something I wasn’t prepared to do. I know his weight dragged me down, but so much of who I am was wrapped up in rejecting him. What becomes of me if I actually try to deal with him?

She knew what I was thinking and gave me the space to work through it. She also knew when I was done.

“You really don’t have to do anything. No one will force you to confront him. Many people never confront theirs. Everything in life is a choice, and each brings hardships. It can be hell, and it’s ridiculous to think no one is ever faced with something more than they can handle. We damage ourselves when we think we have to face everything. Other people damage us when they try convince us to do something we aren’t prepared for. Just… Try to understand why you are making the choices you do.”

“Right now, I want to curl up in a lap and have someone comfort me.”

“I know. I would like to be able to give that to you, but you know you can’t find it here.”

“I do.” I opened my eyes and stood up. Hearing things I already knew was often unpleasant.

Leaving

There was a soft tapping on her door followed by Thomas’s voice. “Sarah? I’m sorry. Can we talk?”

She got out of her chair and opened the door. “Come in.”

After walking back to the center of the room, they sat down facing one another. Sarah waited for Thomas to speak.

“I did not mean for that to happen. I certainly never wanted to cause you harm. I had brought back a piece of the attacker’s clothes. The stasis field in which it was suspended collapsed unexpectedly.”

Sarah interrupted Thomas’s uncharacteristic wordy explanation. “And that caused the explosion?”

“Yes. Basically, additional matter suddenly appeared in the world. All the matter that had been in that spot was violently displaced.”

“This was all part of your investigation into the attack on your master’s house?”

“Yes.” His chattiness was gone; Thomas obviously believed he had explained himself fully.

“Did you at least learn anything?”

“No. I never had the opportunity to study it.”

“You realize Matthew is ready to leave. He wants me to go with him.” The Mistress would not approve of this tack. Even if Sarah didn’t intend to follow through with the threat, this interference with Thomas’s decisions went against her intent if not her explicit orders. But Sarah was more interested in stopping Matthew from leaving, and she hoped this would push Thomas away from the edge.

“Maybe it would be good for you leave.” Thomas avoided her gaze.

Hiding her surprise, Sarah responded immediately. “I don’t want to leave. I want you to let this obsession to go. If you are really sorry, then you need to stop before anyone gets harmed again.”

“You will stay if I stop investigating the attack?”

“I don’t expect you to stop looking into it. I want you to stop messing with time. You’ve proven it’s dangerous, and you need to quit doing it.”

“I am not sure I can do that,” Thomas said after a few moments.

“Really?”

“I merely want to be honest with you.”

“Well, honestly, the next time you might kill me. Or Matthew. Or even yourself. Is it worth it? Will you be sorry then? If you would be, just don’t do it in the first place.”

Thomas sat in silence for a bit. “You are right. I need to think about this.”

“You do that.” Sarah kept the exasperation out of her voice.

Thomas stood and left without saying anything else. Maybe she had gotten through to him. If she stayed, she was risking her life, but she couldn’t bring herself to leave just yet.

Walking down the hallway, Sarah wanted to talk to Matthew about her conversation with Thomas. As soon as she knocked, his door swung open. Inside, it was immediately obvious that the room had been vacated; nothing of Matthew’s remained. On the coffee table was a note addressed to her.

“Dear Sarah,

I hope you understand that I can’t stay. He has shown us that he cares only about himself, and that he will hurt anyone to accomplish his goals. I wish you would leave, but it’s your decision. If you ever do leave, come find me.

Yours,

Matthew”

After reading it, she crumpled the paper and threw it away. Even if Thomas did stop playing with time, it wasn’t enough to fix anything. And now they needed new members if the house was to survive.

Near Death Experience

Sarah’s head was pounding when she opened her eyes. The room was too bright, intensifying her headache and forcing her to shut her eyes tight to block out the light.

“Sarah!” The concern was evident in Matthew’s voice. Still, she couldn’t imagine why he was in her room.

“Sarah!” He repeated.

“Please, not so loud. Why are you in my room?” Slowly she began opening her eyes a little once more.

“This is my room. You don’t remember?”

She tried to think back. “The last thing I remember is a very loud noise just before everything went dark.”

“Your room exploded, burying you under a pile of rubble. It’s a miracle you survived. You’ve been unconscious for three days. I had to bring someone in to heal you.”

Matthew’s worry now made sense, but the explanation gave rise to new confusion. “My room exploded? I was working on illusions. How could that have caused an explosion?”

Matthew sighed and sat down on a chair next to the bed. “You didn’t cause the explosion. It happened in the room next to yours, but it caused your lab to collapse.”

“You mean . . .”

Matthew nodded. “Something happened in Thomas’s lab.”

“Is he okay?”

“Are you serious?”

“What?”

“Thomas nearly killed you, and you’re worried about him?”

“I’m sure he didn’t do it intentionally.” She understood how Matthew felt. She even felt a little anger herself but was determined to keep it in check, at least until she knew more. “Is he okay?”

“Yes. He’s fine. He wasn’t even here when it happened.”

“Has he explained the cause of the explosion?”

“Not to my satisfaction.”

“Then we need to talk to him.”

“Listen, Sarah, I know he’s our friend, but I think we should leave. Maybe find another house to join. Even start our own house. But I don’t think we ought to stay here. He promised to give us a heads up when he was engaged in dangerous magic, and he didn’t. It doesn’t matter if this happened on purpose or not; he is keeping things from us and putting us at risk.”

More than she could say, Sarah wanted to leave with Matthew, but she knew she couldn’t. “Matthew, I have to stay.”

“Why?”

“I made a promise to Thomas.” She hated herself a little for lying to Matthew. The Mistress had sent her with Thomas to keep an eye on him. She also had sworn Sarah to secrecy.

“Sarah, that’s absurd. He’s put us in danger. More than once. He’s shown no regard for us. Whatever commitments we’ve made, he cannot really expect us to keep them now.”

“Still. We need to talk to him.” Sarah began to feel tired. “Though maybe not today.”

“Is something wrong?”

“No. I’m just worn out.”

“Do you want me to get the healer?”

“It’s not necessary. Really. I just need more sleep. Who was this healer, anyway?”

“A friend of mine recommended her. Rebecca. Don’t worry, I stayed and watched over you the entire time she was here.”

“I should thank her.” After those words, unconsciousness overtook her once more.

The Field of Glass Gem

Late summer days in Illinois could get oppressively hot. Thankfully, today was merely pleasantly warm. In the countryside, with no buildings in the way, the sky was clear blue. The red and cream checkered picnic blanket contrasted with the green of the grass. Nearby, a field of corn reached to the sky.

“This is very nice, John. But why are we here?” Rachel had her legs straight out in front of her as she sat on the blanket next to the picnic basket.

“I thought it would be nice to get out to the country and have some time away from everything.” John sat with his legs crossed on the other side of the basket.

“But isn’t your mother expecting us?”

“Well…”

“John?”

“No. My mom isn’t expecting us. I just used that as an excuse to get you to come out here with me.”

“What? You said this was important! You know I have a big project at work. I only came so your mother wouldn’t have any more reason to dislike me.”

“She doesn’t dislike you.”

“That’s not the point. The point is, I don’t have time for a picnic right now.”

“But you’ve been so busy at work lately. I thought you needed a break. Look, I even made your favorite, blueberry scones.” John opened the basket and brought out a small container. Inside were several triangular-shaped scones.

Rachel picked up the one on top, looked at it with mild annoyance, and then threw it into the cornfield. “I don’t care. I don’t appreciate being lied to.”

John didn’t say anything. He simply stared with his mouth open at the place she had thrown the scone.

“Look. I know you were trying to be nice, but . . .”

While she was still talking, he jumped up and ran into the corn. Rachel got up a bit more slowly and followed, calling after him.

“John? John! What are you doing?”

He was already out of sight, but she heard him answer. “I’ve got to find that scone!”

“What?” She pushed her way in and found him on his hands and knees, carefully inspecting the ground. “John, we have other scones. Are you even going to apologize for lying?”

“I’m sorry, Rachel, I really am,” John said without looking up. “But it’s really important I find that scone.”

“Why?”

“It’s supposed to be a surprise.”

“A surprise scone?”

“It’s . . . Look, I’ll explain when we find it.”

“Well, it can’t be too far. I didn’t throw it that hard.”

“You played softball in college. You were a pitcher.”

“Yeah, but I wasn’t pitching the scone.”

John continued searching, looking behind the base of each stalk and sifting dirt through his fingers. Rachel showed little interest in his frantic search, instead turning her attention to the corn that surrounded them. “What kind of corn do you suppose this?”

“How should I know, Rachel?”

“Weren’t you raised on a farm?”

“We didn’t grow corn.”

Rachel reached and pulled an ear off of a nearby stalk.

“Don’t do that. This is someone’s crop.”

“It’s just one ear. I only want to see what it is . . . Oh my!”

“What?” John finally looked up to see Rachel holding an ear of corn she had partially pulled the husk off of. The kernels were colors neither of them had seen on corn, and each shone as though it had been polished. Bubblegum pink, deep burgundy, pearl, even amethyst were dotted throughout. It looked like a cob of jewels.

“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” John said after admiring it for a moment.

“I think it’s called Glass Gem. I’ve never seen it in person, though. It’s beautiful.”

“Yes, it is.” At that moment, John noticed a light-colored triangle on the ground. It was the scone. Before he could get to it, however, a small creature, maybe a squirrel or chipmunk, grabbed it and began running away.

“No! Come back here! Drop it!” John chased after the creature, desperation driving him to crash through stalks, cutting across the rows. Still he couldn’t keep up with it, and, after a few minutes of following it, he lost any trace of the creature.

“John!” Rachel’s voice sounded distant. “Dammit! Don’t leave me here. John!”

The scone was gone, and along with it, the romantic moment he had planned. Rachel was mad at him. Nothing had gone the way it was supposed to. He began making his way back to Rachel and called out, his defeat obvious in every word. “I’m coming back. I haven’t left.” The least he could do was reassure her. Hoping to save the situation somehow, he plucked his own ear of corn as he walked.

When he reached her, there was a little anger on her face, but mostly, she looked worried.

“There you are. Please don’t run off like that.”

He walked up to her and got down on one knee. “I know this doesn’t make up for anything, but will you marry me, Rachel?” He held up the ear of Glass Gem corn, which was sparkling in the sunlight.

“John. That’s so sweet.”

“I had a ring, but . . .”

“This ring?” Rachel held out a ring made of two delicate bands, one white gold and the other rose gold, woven together. The round stone in the center was a light blue aquamarine, and on either side of it sat two smaller diamonds.

“Where . . .?”

“Before I threw the scone. I saw it embedded in there and pulled it out. Honestly, who puts a ring into food? I might have chipped a tooth.”

“This entire time?”

“Well, you were so panicked, and I was still a little mad that you lied to me.” She put the ring on her finger. “Yes, I will. And thank you for the beautiful ear of corn. I’ll treasure it.” She took it from him and bent down to give him a kiss.

This week’s story was submitted for the second challenge of the NYC Midnight 2021 Flash Fiction challenge. While this story was well-received by the judges, I did not advance to the next round of the competition. Still, I enjoyed writing this, and I hope you enjoy reading it.

Equal Exchange

The solution took Thomas weeks to work out, and once he did, it seemed obvious. Even so, he wasn’t at all sure that it was possible. Determined to make the attempt, he once again wrapped the note in a shell to isolate it from time and projected himself into the past.

Back in his old lab, he began looking for something he could use. The overall tidiness of the room made his search harder. Finally, he found a crumpled piece of paper in the wastebasket. Unable to interact with it directly, Thomas began casting the stasis spell. This was the most uncertain part of the solution: would he be able to cast a spell in the past? Against his expectations, it worked, and the paper was unmoored from time. Now he could pick it up easily.

The idea was an equal exchange of mass between temporal moments should prevent time from rejecting either. He had succeeded in removing the mass of the crumpled paper, so theoretically there should be a “gap” in mass that his note could now fill. He placed the note on the table in the corner, and, after a deep breath, released the stasis spell. Unlike his first attempt, the note stayed where it was. Now he had to wait for his past self to notice it.

Nearly an hour passed before his patience was rewarded. When the other Thomas saw the note, he picked it up and unfolded it. As he read, his face did not hide his surprise. Now that he had accomplished his goal, Thomas returned to his own present.

He was back in the house he had founded. There were no obvious changes. Thomas did not even remember finding and reading the note. Yet he had watched himself read it. Why did his memories not reflect that? Something had to be different. Perhaps the attack had changed, even though there were no obvious changes in his own room. The only way to be certain was to travel back and watch it again. He had visited that moment so often that he could cast the spell without thinking about it.

The scene looked just as it had every other time he had watched it. Just as the intruder entered the lab, Thomas cast a spell to stop time. He hadn’t tried before, but his success with the stasis spell gave him reason to believe it would work. When he finished casting everything was frozen. Now he could examine the attacker more closely.

As he approached the other mage, a voice startled him.

“You aren’t the only one who can wield time magic, you know.” The other mage was staring straight at him.

“How . . . ?”

“I just told you. I’m not going to repeat myself.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Before I answer that, what are you doing?”

“I am trying to discover the motive behind this attack, as well as the identity of you and your accomplices.”

“Really? That’s all you’re trying to do? Nothing more?”

“What else would I be doing?”

“Trying to change the past, perhaps? Alter the outcome of this encounter?”

“What if I am?”

“I would have thought your master taught you better.”

“You mean the man you kill?”

“None of this happens without you. Try to remember that.”

Even though Thomas had not canceled his spell, time began moving again. The attack began to play out just as it always had. He didn’t wait for it to end. Instead, he returned to his present.

Having nothing to offset the extra mass, he left the piece from the attacker’s shirt in its stasis shell. Once he could figure out how to remove it without it disappearing from this time, the fabric might provide him with some clue about the identity of the attackers.

The Problem with Roommates

Matthew was in his rooms when magic began behaving strangely. There were a number of power cells he had created using electricity magic, and each of them began throwing off sparks at the same time. The electrical discharges became more frequent until each was just a thread of electric current. All of the threads were curving towards one wall, each a tendril reaching for . . . something. Whatever they were pointing to was beyond the wall that separated Matthew’s and Thomas’s rooms.

Worried about the risk from fire, he began deactivating the cells. Before he could finish, however, a crashing sound from the other side of the wall distracted him, and when it had stopped the streams of electric current disappeared. He waited a few moments in case the strange effect started up again. When it seemed that it had truly passed, he hurried to Thomas’s door.

Sarah was already there, knocking.

“Thomas? Is everything alright?”

“So it wasn’t just my imagination.”

“All my illusions began to distort.”

Sarah knocked again, and the door opened. Thomas stood on the other side of the threshold, disappointment obvious in his demeanor.

“My apologies for the noise. A bookcase fell over.”

“That doesn’t explain why our magics began to warp,” Matthew said. “What are you doing in there?”

“I was just working on some research.”

“Thomas,” Sarah interjected. “Whatever you are up to in there is affecting us. We need to know what’s going on.”

“I am not ready to talk about it yet.” Thomas seemed ready to leave the issue there, but Matthew wasn’t.

“I respect everybody wanting to keep their research private, but when it goes beyond your lab, we need to know if it’s dangerous.”

Thomas sighed. “I am trying to discover the identity of those who attacked my master’s house. I thought I had worked a spell that would reveal new information. The results were . . . unexpected.”

“That’s it?” Sarah sounded unconvinced.

“Yes. I have to rethink the spell. I will not cast it again without giving you notice.”

“Can we help?” Matthew offered.

“It relies on time magic. I do not think either of you will be able to assist me.”

“Well, if there is anything we can do . . . We were there, too, and we want answers as well. Just . . . Be careful.”

“I will. And again, I apologize for disturbing you both.”

After the door closed, Matthew gave Sarah a questioning look. She shrugged back. “It’s plausible. I’ve never had much experience with time magic. And while he doesn’t show it, the Mistress did tell me he was distressed about the attack.”

“Should we do anything?”

“I don’t think he’ll let us. Not right now, anyway. We’ll just have to trust him to keep his word about keeping us informed.” With a weak smile, Sarah headed back to her rooms, leaving Matthew alone with his doubts.

Experimenting with Time

The man entered the lab and started casting. Thomas had watched this scene play out many times. His younger self began casting a protection spell that would only partially keep him from harm. He stopped watching before Matthew dispatched the intruder.

It had been almost a year since he had established his house, and most of that time was spent revisiting the moment he had been attacked. No matter how often Thomas observed it, he could find no additional information that might lead him to the identity or motive of the attackers. Because he only had a link to himself, he could not view any other members of the house; this fact had completely thwarted his attempts at getting answers. He needed to know more.

His research had led him to one idea; it was risky and might not work, but he had gotten nowhere merely observing the past. Under the supervision of his master, he had mastered a stasis spell that would protect an object from the flow of time. The spell was intended to preserve items from decay, but he had come to believe it could be used to insert something into a different time. If it worked, he could warn his past self about the attack before it happened.

The note was short and direct, indicating the date and time of the attack. He had written it by hand and ensured that his handwriting would be recognizable. The paper itself was folded into a small square so that the stasis spell wouldn’t need to be large and also to minimize the impact on the past. The spell was relatively simple, merely a modification of the spell he had originally mastered. The original spell rooted its target to a particular moment in time, isolating it from the normal effects of time’s passage. His modification unmoored the target from time entirely. His master would have vehemently opposed this use of the spell were he still alive to raise an objection.

Once the note was protected, he secured it inside his sleeve and began projecting his consciousness back in time. This trip took him further into the past, arriving in his old lab a month or so prior to the attack. If his memory was accurate, his past self would be working on the modifications he was currently employing in this experiment.

Looking around the lab for a suitable place to leave the note, Thomas noticed an empty table in the corner. He placed the note in the center of the table where, given his own fastidiousness, it should stand out to his younger self. Intending to wait until the note had been discovered, Thomas released the stasis spell. The instant the spell ended, however, the note vanished.

The anti-climatic ending to this experiment caused disappointment mixed with relief. His plan had failed, but it hadn’t caused a catastrophe. The other Thomas hadn’t even looked up from his work. Determined to figure out what had gone wrong, he returned to the present.

Back in his rooms, he discovered that someone or something had caused a chaotic mess. One bookshelf had fallen over, spilling its contents onto the floor. A small hole in the wall where it had stood suggested something from the outside was the cause. His writing desk looked like it had been smashed by a sledgehammer. Finally, in the center of a small clear patch on the floor, he saw a small square of paper. The note had returned to its proper time.

Rejection

“Jason. Thank you for coming.” Thomas sat in the parlor. It was his favorite room in the Mistress’s house. Bright and peaceful, he had spent many hours reading there.

Jason stood in the doorway. “I couldn’t say no to you.”

“But you also couldn’t be on time.” Over the years they had known each other, Thomas had learned to expect Jason’s lack of responsibility, but he still pointed it out.

“There’s a reason this time. I knew we would need to have a private chat.” Jason finally entered the room and sat in a chair.

“Why is that?”

“I don’t know. I just knew it would be better to be late.”

Thomas knew from experience that he wouldn’t get any clarity from Jason, so he dropped the subject.

“I asked you here because I have a proposition for you. I inherited some money, and I plan to use it to start my own house. At the meeting I asked you to attend, I invited Sarah and Matthew to be founding members. They both accepted, and I’m hoping you will join us.”

“No.”

The speed of Jason’s response surprised Thomas. “At least take a moment to consider it.”

Jason smiled in that mysterious way that always vexed Thomas. “See? I was right. We do need to talk. Good thing I was late.”

Exasperated, Thomas asked, “What do you mean?”

“I think Sarah and Matthew will be great choices, but I can’t accept your invitation.”

“Why not?”

“I have things I need to do, and belonging to a house will get in the way.”

“What do you have to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know? The house wouldn’t stop you from carrying out your research or whatever else you need to do. You know this.”

“It can’t be helped. I can’t be part of a house right now.”

“You’re not making any sense.”

“I’ve tried to explain this to you before. I just know when something is a bad idea.”

“So you are saying my house is a bad idea?”

“No. I’m saying it’s a bad idea for me. I need to be free from such associations right now.”

“You are actually turning me down?” Thomas was not certain which surprised him more: Jason turning him down or the disappointment he felt.

“It’s not you. I would have turned down any offers. Just not my path right now.”

“Well, I must say this is unexpected. And unfortunate. I suppose we will have to move forward without you.”

“You’ll be fine.” Jason continued to smile, much to Thomas’s annoyance.