Episode 15: Columbia Transcript

Monica: The ends justify the means. Isn’t that the saying? Whatever it takes. Sacrifices have to be made. You win some, you lose some. It’ll turn out alright in the end. No pain no gain. You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.

This language has a ridiculous amount of phrases for vague things that don’t seem to mean shit when you say them. But when you think about them. When you get to the root of it . . . To the heart of the matter . . . The center of storm. See. There I go again. Nothing concrete. Nothing real. But sometimes it’s really hard to describe something. Be exact. Specific. Distinct. Get it right. Convey meaning. Not spouting vague nothing words that don’t actually tell you what the fuck is actually happening.

Ahem. Sometimes, you’ve gotta do what it takes.


Why can’t I just say what I mean? Because . . . Because I don’t want to mean what I say.

And there I go again. I feel like I’m stuck in the Groundhog Day episode of a bad Syfy show, or is that siff-ee? Every time I see it, that’s the only way I hear it.

It’s hard to talk about. In every sense of the word. I guess. Jake will have his way. His words. His feelings. His emotions. His thoughts. His . . . urges.

I’ll let him tell it his way.

~ ~ ~

Jake: Sleep is starting to happen a little better for me. The nightmares are starting to fade into the hazy blackness like forgotten ghosts . . . Now why did I say that? Why did I say it that way? As a human being who considers himself pretty fluent in the English language, and taking into account its simply vast vocabulary, why did I choose those particular words . . . Paging Dr. Freud. I think I might have some unresolved issues with something called the blackness and/or ghosts.

Anyway. For now, they’re just uncomfortable and disconcerting dreams. But the important point to all this is I’m getting more sleep and feeling a little more connected with the real world, even if Ostium physically isn’t. Monica wasn’t by my side shaking me awake from night sweats and somnolent terrors. And while I’m never against her being by my side for just about any occasion, this particular one is less than ideal. I know it’s perfectly natural, or psychological rather, what I’m going through and having never done therapy before (even though there are probably many who say I should’ve after the death of my parents), or experienced a severe trauma event (again, other than the death of my parents) at an older age, I really don’t know what to expect. I’m supposed to get over this in a day? A couple of days? Weeks? Longer? I just don’t know. Seems when it comes to a case of PTSD – again, of which I will fully admit I know nothing about – it’s something that takes time, for whatever scarring needs to heal. And I’m just going to stop talking about what I know nothing about. All I can give voice to are my personal thoughts and feelings in this situation.

I don’t know if I’ve achieved some sort of internal catharsis now, with the passage of time and what I went through on the other side of that door with the infinity symbol; where whatever needs to be resolved within me – in my heart, mind, and soul – is getting there. But I’ve reached some sort of restoration and things are looking better.

As for what happened on the world I used to call home, and what is continuing to happen; I still remain in the dark. No messages or contact from anyone: old coworkers, old friends, and nothing from Dave. For all I know he’s gotten himself completely lost in that new Ostium he found. He went through that first door to Roanoke and messed up in some way. Maybe he tripped and hurt himself. Got stuck there and the door closed forever. Or the blackness came and swallowed him up like a galactic vacuum cleaner that has no qualms about sucking up every iota of matter and life into oblivion. Possibly what might’ve happened to Steve, and maybe those military guys. I just don’t think it’s right I haven’t heard something. I know the Internet’s having its own connectivity issues and I’m getting nothing coming my way, but stuff seems to be okay going out. Dave’s always managed to find a way – somehow – to get in touch with me. Through thick and thin, and hell and high water – especially with him riding those treacherous Atlantic seas in that tanker – he’s always managed. And now . . . there’s just silence.

I think . . . I think I might be getting a mild case of Ostium fever, not knowing what’s going on elsewhere, and how this might be the rest of my life. The rest of our lives. Spending our days traveling through doors, bringing back artifacts, and doing the same thing day after day after day. Ostium threw a monkey wrench into the works with the infinity door to my old place of employment, but since then, after the earthquake repaired itself somehow and put Ostium back together again, just like humpty dumpty, it’s sort of felt like being on autopilot. Doing the same thing. With no end in sight. I still don’t understand why Ostium is doing what it’s doing to me, making us do it. Monica has Steve driving her through every door, hoping and waiting. Me. I’ve got nothing.

Okay. I think I’ve depressed you listeners – if you’re still out there, somewhere – enough. I know I’ve brought myself down in the dumps, so let’s see what’s next for us and Ostium.

~ ~ ~

After a hearty breakfast of the last of our leftovers and remaining supplies from our brief foray into the tiny town of Covelo that made Ostium look kinda big – and if this is news to you, coming out of the blue, it means you missed one of my short recordings from before – we ready ourselves for the next door and what it might have to offer us.

This time we’re headed up into the unusual grasslands of Ostium. We walk for like ten minutes, deeper and deeper into the green, and farther away from the clock tower and those buildings of this town that have become oh so familiar to us. I’m starting to feel like I’m using that Wifinding app again – if this app doesn’t ring any bells, you’ll also find out all about it in one of my previous short recordings – except instead of using my phone, this time it’s somehow in my head, and I’m paying attention to any “brain lean,” any mental tug, any cranial pull that’s bringing us closer to the next door Ostium wants us to go through. We lead in an easterly direction for a little bit, then back to the north, then a little northwesterly, then back to north again, and it’s starting to feel like it’s never going to end. I can see the boundary wall coming closer, and I start to wonder. The direction doesn’t change any more and the stone palisade just continues to grow. Shortly after that we both see the door in the wall, and we both know that’s our next destination.

A bunch more minutes, closing in on the second hour, we reach it.

“This it?” Monica asks.

I nod. Just like we thought. There’s a door built into the stone wall. It looks solid and metal, like the door you’d imagine to a prison or on the deck of a military ship, an aircraft carrier; something that could be well locked and very hard to open, if needed. On the front of this metal door are stenciled – in white – numbers 325.

“Wow,” Monica says.

We’re both shocked. I couldn’t even remember if the numbers went that high. I was pretty sure I’d checked the map table thoroughly for numbers on the wall, also that we’d done a couple tours around the grounds of Ostium and never seen anything like this. It feels different. Like this door wasn’t here yesterday. Or possibly even twenty minutes ago, when we saw it for the first time.

Thank you once again, Ostium.

I turn to Monica. She’s ready. I swing it open and we go through to . . .

~ ~ ~

. . . A city street. A crossroads actually. I can see from the signs we’re on Main Street and State Street. Well that narrows it down, this could be . . . Just about anywhere in the U.S. From the looks of it, it’s definitely not a big city, more in the town range, you know, Ostium sized. And I feel an immediate sense of familiarity. I’ve been here before. Where? There were a few trips I did with my parents, like Catalina, before . . . all that happened, but I’ve never been much of a big vacation guy; don’t like to travel far. However, when I do go on trips, I like to make it something awesome. Worthwhile. And California has never failed in delivering that. We’ve got so much variety to entertain us in this state. There’s a long drive I like to do a couple times a year, where I head north of San Francisco and then west to the coast when I can – usually through San Rafael – and make my way up to Bodega. Enjoy the Pacific Ocean for a bit with a lunch of fish or what I consider to be the world’s best New England Clam Chowder at Lucas Wharf, then I drive through Sonoma County, enjoying a period of majestic Redwoods and then fields of vineyards sweeping across the hills. I’ll usually stop at one of the many, many wineries looking for my well-earned dollars. And then head back to Oakland.

I’ve also been up to Fort Bragg on the Mendocino Coast, and this is for real, not just when I’m lying to my friends about a place called Ostium, though I guess, ultimately, it was about a girl, sort of. Even made a trip all the way up to Eureka, just to see what all the fuss was about . . . Get it?

I’ve been to Southern California a number of times, for both work and fun, or a combination of the two . Saw the artistic explosion known as Hearst Castle that’s real heavy on the eyes. And once with my most recent ex – we were together for two years and things were starting to get pretty serious before she decided I wasn’t the one for her – we made this trip to an old west town which still had a lot of its original buildings that was called . . .

Oh shit. That’s where I am. Where we are.

“We’re in Columbia,” I say.

~ ~ ~

I look to the right down State Street as I begin telling Monica the story of Columbia, its history and relation to me. Down there I can see a sign in the distance that says Columbia Kate’s Teahouse. Yep, we’re here without a doubt. I had coffee there with Anne; we shared a pastry. A month after this vacation, she ended things abruptly.

I started talking and walking down Main Street, Monica following and listening.

“Columbia is a town located around the middle of the state of California and towards the Eastern border, in the substantial county of Tuolomne. It was founded in 1850 – the same year California became a state – as a boomtown for the exploding gold rush that was causing thousands to flock to the state in search of gold and riches. And not just men looking to mine the yellow metal, but women, children and families. We’re now heading down the historic central district.”

On either side of us are parallel rows of buildings all wooden and quaint and dusty and old, with various fronts advertising their wares within. I’m not gonna lie, it definitely has a similar and familiar feel to Ostium. You’ve got your blacksmith’s or your iron mongers, your candle-dipping store, your requisite gold panning store. There are a couple of craft stores that look as if they’re selling pretty similar merchandise, but one assumes on the inside their inventory varies somewhat. There’s of course the very important Candy Store, and the Fallon House Ice Cream Parlor. And no old west town would be complete without your Pioneer Emporium.

At the farther end of town, behind us, is the larger and perhaps more impressive – to some – Fallon Hotel. A regular, impressive-looking hotel for those seeking the niceties when staying at a place that is not your home will likely prefer. After the Columbia museum and Brown’s Coffee House, ahead of us, as we approach it and stop in front, is the Gold Rush town period-authentic Columbia City Hotel. If you’re looking for the real deal with Victorian-style furnishings and decorated rooms, this is where you want to stay.

“The Columbia City Hotel is a restored 19th century country inn with elegant authentic Victorian antiques in each room, custom-crafted wall coverings, featuring beautiful lithographs. While they have attempted to keep this and the Fallon Hotel as faithful to 19th century decor as possible, modern conveniences, such as indoor plumbing, heating, and air conditioning have been added for the comfort of the guests. When I first learned about this place, referenced in a travel book, I knew I had to check it out. Anne and I liked going on the occasional trip, and while this was a bit of a drive and somewhat removed from the lavish style she was used to, I eventually convinced her. She wasn’t a huge fan; I was way more into it than her. We ended up staying for a four-day weekend, leaving early Thursday and arriving in the afternoon. It was kind of weird; should’ve stretched through to Monday instead, but I had to work that day, had an important deadline due.

“Wow, a deadline. Doesn’t that sound like a weird concept to care about now.”

“Yep,” is Monica’s one word response.

“Anyway, since we arrived before the actual weekend did, it was totally dead here. Yeah. Not as dead as it is right now.  Not with a soul here. You know. For Ostium reasons. But still, eerily quiet. Nowhere was really open. I had to get the key – no key card that’s for sure – check, and receive all the details from the Fallon Hotel, then drive down to our hotel. Found some parking in the back. The key let us in through the front door and our room. There wasn’t a person around to be seen.”

I try the front door to the Columbia City Hotel and am not surprised to find it unlocked, unlike the last time I was here. We step inside to a welcoming sitting parlor. There’s artwork along the walls that looks period authentic. A bookcase with some old dusty books, though I don’t know if they’re all authentically 19th century. I see some Twain, Moby-Dick, some Poe. A nice selection. On the bottom shelf are board games: some boxes look old and used, though I’m pretty sure none of them were invented and patented until the twentieth century. There’s an ancient looking version of Scrabble which must be pretty gnarly to play.

“The parlor looks just like it did the last time. Down to the same number of books. Whenever I see a bookcase or a bookshelf just about anywhere, my eyes are automatically drawn to it like a magnet to metal.”

“Gee, I wonder why that is. Not that I blame you. I’m kinda the same.”

“Well, combine that with my photographic memory . . .”

“Don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten that you’ve got one. Or at least mentioned it once or twice, or a couple hundred times.”

I snort at this.

“So, it looks pretty much identical now to how it did then. But while I was drawn to the books, Anne was pulling on my hand, and dragging me upstairs to check out the room. We wanted to make sure the bed . . . Was in working order.”

“Ahuh. I see now why you and Anne had so much in common. Must’ve been her personality. Her . . . Magnetism.”

I snort again.

“The room was lavishly decorated. Just gorgeous. Though it only had a half-bathroom. There was a shared shower room. Anne wasn’t . . . A fan of this. Understandably. Still: I swear I told her about it in advance. She remains absolutely certain I didn’t.”

“Sounds like a healthy basis for a strong relationship based on . . . Good fucking.”

“I . . . I’ve got nothing to say to that.”

“Good to know that sometimes that can happen. And that I have the power to do it.”

“Moving on now . . .”

“Nothing to say for not very fucking long, huh?”

“I repeat: moving on. Let’s check out the rooms upstairs. I can feel the artifact is up there some place.”

We started walking up the stairs and at the top I stop and make Monica stop behind me.

“In my defense . . .”

“Oh, this should be real good.”

“There was no one around. No other guests checked into the hotel. If she wanted, she could’ve walked from our room to the shower completely naked, taken her shower, then returned still naked to our room without being seen by a single other person.”

“Except you.”

I pause.

“Except me.”

“Guessing that didn’t make a difference.”

“Nope. Not one fucking bit.”

Monica steps in front of me and heads down the hallway. It’s your standard small hotel hallway, so like one of those at The Overlook or any other hotel that gives you the creeps: lots of firmly closed doors that could lead to empty rooms, or something much worse.

That’s when we hear the first ghostly howl. Just like on the Mary Celeste. Just . . . great.

It stops Monica in her tracks. She looks at me.

“The blackness?” she asks.

“I can feel it now. It’s coming. But we’ve still got time. Not a ton. But . . . Enough.”

“Let’s hope so.”

I’m behind her by the time she reaches the first door on the left. She turns, checks I’m ready, then turns the handle and throws it open. It’s a quaint looking room, with impressive artwork, classy furniture and a double bed with an ornate duvet.

Then there’s a loud moan.

Monica slams the door. We’re both breathing pretty heavy.

“I hope you had enough time to tell whether the artifact was in there or not.”

“I did. It wasn’t.”

“Alright then.”

It’s at this point I should probably tell her I’m betting the artifact is in the room I stayed in at the end of the hall on the right. Basically the absolute last room we’re going to be checking. But I can’t be sure. Not 100%. With the way things have been going in Ostium, it probably will be, but with the blackness coming and these weird sounds, I . . . We can’t afford to take the risk.

I try the door to the right, Monica at my side. Our hearts are still racing. I open the door and see a very similar room, different artwork, and slightly different design of furniture, otherwise the same. This isn’t where the artifact is. Then I hear the growing sound of a growl. I don’t wait for something else to happen; I slam the door shut.

I look at her and see a similar bordering-on-terrified look on her face. Good, it wasn’t just me hearing and reacting in that way to it.

Next door. Same deal. This time there’s some creepy coughing. Monica doesn’t slam the door this time, but closes it slowly, perhaps giving me time to deduce whether the artifact is in there, or perhaps to make sure whatever’s making that sound isn’t disturbed in any way; catch it’s attention. Or maybe a little from column A and a little from column B.

I handle the next door on the right. More of the same. Except for a hissing sound that begins almost immediately and steadily increases in volume. Well, that’s enough of that. Door closed. Moving on.

Third door on the left. Another ghostly moan. Still no artifact.

Third door on the right. A yell this time. Just as creepy. Neither of us wants anything to do with it.

The next door is marked SHOWER. Monica opens it slowly. It’s a small shower room with one shower. The curtain is closed. There’s the sound of water running. I can see the steam billowing up over the top of the shower curtain. Then the water stops. There’s just a dripping sound. Then a dragging something. The shower curtain rings rattle and start to open. Monica yanks the door shut, looking at me.

There’s something weird about it, but it’s definitely not where the artifact is. I shake my head. Next.

The right door is also marked SHOWER. I open it quickly. Same room. There’s no water running in the shower. The curtain is open. There’s no one or no thing in the shower stall. That’s a relief. I feel something pulling me in, mentally, like the artifact might be in there. But it’s different from any feeling I’ve had before. Sort of sharper, almost painful. I take a few steps into the shower room.

“Jake, wait!”

And the door slams in Monica’s face. I just watch it, dumbstruck. It closed on its own with such fury. She immediately begins hammering on the door, yelling for me. Her voice us muffled.

“Jake? Jake! Are you okay? Open the door. Try to get it open from your side. Jake!”

I turn around, my body calm and collected. I’m not sure why. The feeling I’m having doesn’t feel . . . Malicious in any way.

I follow it, feeling it draw me to the window ahead, next to the shower stall. There’s a small curtain covering it, giving whoever’s using the shower a level of privacy. I reach it and draw the curtain aside and can see through the crystal clear glass.

Below is not Columbia, as it should be. It’s . . . Downtown San Francisco. What? I look up and see across from me the office building where I used to work. I can see many windows. On the floor where I used to work, and through those windows . . . Is me, turning to look out at . . . I flail back, getting out of the view of the window. I end up falling into the shower stall. Bruise myself a little, but nothing serious. The floor of the shower is dry. No one’s been using it recently in this alternate version of Columbia as seen through the eyes and doors of Ostium.

Once I know I’m okay, I pull myself up, count to 30, then peak through the bottom right corner of the window, keeping myself as hidden and sheltered as possible.

Without a doubt it’s my office building, well the Ostium version when Monica and I were there. We’re standing looking over the fourth clone of me. And it looks just a creepy from this viewpoint. At this point I’m learning about the tanker that’s run aground along the south coast of Britain. I’m not taking it well, understandably. Then we move on to the fifth simulacrum, where my cubicle used to be, where I’ll learn about Catalina and what happened to all its people.

I duck back down and crawl toward the door of the shower room. Once I’m far enough away to be seen from the window I stand up and reach for the door. The banging from Monica has stopped. Maybe she just gave up, waiting for me to do something about it. Or maybe thinking something serious has happened to me and there’s nothing she can do. Or perhaps worse . . . Something has happened to her.

I pull on the door and it opens with ease. I don’t see Monica on the other side and my heart jumps into my mouth,  but then I see her out of the corner of my eye, sitting on the ground, back to the wall, her head in her hands.

I drop to my knees in front of her and grab her hands, pulling them from her face, then my hands delicately hold her head, tilting her face up to mine; her eyes to my eyes.

“I’m okay,” I say. “I don’t know what happened in there. But I’m okay. I’m safe now.”

She gives me a nod and I decide on a bold move, moving in to kiss her. She tilts her head up further and our lips meet in soft warmth.

Another moment that feels an eternity but isn’t.

Then she’s grabbing my shoulders and pulling herself up to a standing position.

We move down to the next door. We’re holding hands, doing this together now. We stand in front of the next door, and before she reaches to open it, I say:

“Not this one.”

We turn to the right side of the hallway, where the next door is. I shake my head. We move on to the next door on the left. On the front of the door it’s marked NIGHT WATCH. What the hell does that mean? I swear I’ve never seen this door – or any other door for that matter – with these words before. I visited Columbia with Anne before the Game of Thrones TV series started, but I’d read the books in the 90’s when they came out. I would’ve totally noticed these two words on a door and freaked out about them.

I can also feel the pull of the artifact much stronger here. The room I had stayed in with Anne was directly behind me. I can feel a pull from behind also, but the door marked NIGHT WATCH is where it’s all at right now.

Monica opens the door and I wonder what I’m going to see: some sort of barracks-type place for the Night’s Watch guarding the wall from the Wildlings, or maybe something from that crazy fantasy novel of the same name by the Russian author Sergei Lukyanenko. Obviously, it should just be the room where one of the hotel attendants stays should someone need help during the night. Like I said, when I stayed here I wasn’t even aware of this particular room, and if it had been here, it probably would’ve been empty anyway. Now, at this time, I’m sure it’s empty.

It’s the same sized room as all the others, only different. There’s no art on the walls. The room is devoid of furniture, except for a bed in the center of the room that looks to be a single. The duvet covering it is black. There’s no pillow.

“It’s in here . . . Or at least part of it is.”

“What does that mean?”

“I’m not sure. I feel a strong pull in this room, but also a lesser pull behind me from the room I stayed in with Anne.”

I step into the room and walk to the bed. There’s nothing on it, but I’ve honed my senses to this spot. In a strange fit of impatience, I rip off the duvet, blankets and sheets, then the cover sheet until the mattress is exposed. And there it is. What looks like a golden C in the center of the bed. I reach out and pick it up. I immediately think C for Columbia. Right? Makes sense. Each end of the C is jagged, like there’s another part to this artifact that’s missing, that should connect to these jagged edges.

I turn and look across the hallway at the final door. Monica has been following everything and knows what’s next. The number on that door is . . . Somehow . . . 325. I swear, truly swear it wasn’t like that just minutes ago. Our room number when we stayed here was ten. Again, I swear I saw a ten on the door as I turned to the NIGHT WATCH door and saw an 8.

And now it’s changed.

I can’t help but snort, as I imagine an image and then proceed to explain it to Monica who’s looking at me in confusion.

In my head I’m raising my shaking fist at the ceiling of the hotel, and essentially at the sky, yelling a long drawn-out: “Ossssstiuuuuummmm!”

We have a little laugh about it and that’s when there’s a long drawn-out howl. We haven’t heard one in a while. Forgotten how goddamn scary it sounds.

It came from across the hallway. From Room 325, the room formerly known as 10.

~ ~ ~

Monica looks at me.

“You can’t . . .”

“I don’t have a choice. The blackness is coming. We’re quickly running out of time. If I don’t find the other part of the artifact, it’s all pointless.”

I can see her working things over in her mind. She’s wondering what if we just used part of the artifact. Would it work the same way? But she doesn’t want to find out. Doesn’t want to have to try to come back here. And knows if the partial artifact doesn’t work right it might sever the connection, and end everything, including her chances of ever finding Steve. Alive or dead.

I walk across the hallway, feeling myself suddenly covered in a sheen of sweat. The moan comes again, and I look for what bravery I have left to confront whatever is on the other side of the door. I grasp the handle, turn and push. The door swings open.

I’m not sure how far Monica is behind me. I want her real close for support, possibly for protection and defense, because I’m pretty sure she can kick anyone’s and anything’s ass. But I also want her far away for her protection, because, you know . . . That’s manly, and if I haven’t made it perfectly clear before: I’m pretty sure I’m in love with Monica.

With the door now open I can see into the room and it looks . . . Like the other rooms. Like the room we stayed in looked. I step inside and see a queen-sized bed along one wall with a familiar duvet. The artwork and the furniture are the same. It feels eerily unchanged, almost as if we’d either never visited or this is the moment just before we stepped into our hotel room.

A ghostly moan begins then, changes to really quiet voices. I can’t quite hear what they’re saying, but it sounds like there are two of them. I recognize a particular phrase, one that hits deep, because it’s something I always say. I realize those voices are us. Anne and I. The sound of our arrival, in mild argument over the place.

What the hell? Is time folding over itself? Are Anne and my other self going to start materializing before my eyes? Does that mean Monica and I are going to start . . . De-materializing?

I look out the window and can now see the blackness making its way down Main Street, consuming all within its path, swallowing everything.

The voices haven’t stopped, and if I stand perfectly still I can just make out a few words. My own are a little easier with my deeper voice. Feels really weird to hear Anne’s voice again.

But I don’t have time. Working on my gut feeling alone again, I go for the bed, ripping duvet and blankets up. Next it’s the sheets and there on the mattress is the other gold C. As this is revealed the voices of Anne and me disappear and the ghostly wails begin again. Great. Ostium, or whatever’s running the show here isn’t happy. Maybe it’s a personification of the blackness? Giving it a voice.

I don’t waste time, grabbing the gold semicircle and heading out into the hallway. Monica is there and ready.

“We don’t have time to get to the door again, do we?”

I shake my head, then grab her hand.

We charge down the hall, the sound of the blackness outside clear now and getting louder.

What door will lead us back to Ostium? It’s not like I ever know, I just get this feeling. Like I do with the artifact, and the blackness, and everything else Ostium likes to keep me informed about.

I stop at the doors marked SHOWER on either side of us. I go through the one where there was something taking a shower not too long ago. I’m pulling Monica in with me, whether she wants to come or not.

The water is off and the shower curtain is still closed.

We run to the window and I immediately notice it’s not your usual window. Instead of sliding up or down or swinging open, while it’s still made of glass, there’s a little glass doorknob on the side. Without hesitation, I turn and push it  .

In that same magical way, Ostium appears before us on the other side.

“You first!” I yell at her.

Monica doesn’t question, and knowing it’s not a ton of room, gets running start and dives through.

Damn she’s brave. I’m going to have to really brace myself for impact on the other side.

I get ready and see movement out of the corner of my eye.

There’s a hand coming out from behind the shower curtain, reaching for me.

“Fuck!” I yell and then pretty much tumble through the open window.

~ ~ ~

The ground is hard and brings me back to earth and reality in a nanosecond.

Monica helps me to me my feet.

“That was a wild ride,” she says.

“I don’t know; I’m really starting to feel my age.”

Back at the clock tower and the map table, I take out the two golden Cs – one from each pocket. Together, it seems painfully obvious. I almost see a Well, duh! Sign  bubble over my head.

I stick the two pieces together and they fuse before my eyes. Now the two Cs have become a perfect O.

Nice twist there, Ostium.

The light this time is a shimmering fuchsia, just as bright and blinding.

We make some dinner and choose non-verbally to enjoy it on our own. We each need some solo time we’ve somehow decided. Probably after everything that’s happened today, and over the last few days.

I sit there eating a can of warmed up sphaghettios with franks, not ideal dinner eating, I know, but I’m starving and it sounded good. It’s palatable.

And that’s when my brain starts doing some deep thinking, and it doesn’t go so well . . .

~ ~ ~

I’m thinking about how we’ve gone through the same cycle again and it’s actually really freaking me out. First there was Roanoke, then the Mary Celeste. That’s two places in the past. Then Mars. The future. Then Avalon. A place from my past, my life. Then a bunch of weird shit happened and it started all over again. The ancient cave in south Africa. The Anjikuni village. Both from the past. The spaceship and Voyager probes. The future. And now Columbia, from my life, my memories.

Does that mean we’re going to get a whole load of weird shit again?

Is another earthquake going to happen? Another mighty crack in the world that will reveal another hidden door. And on the other side of that my place of work again? Or somewhere else from my life where I’ll find clones of myself or something else to really fuck with my head? And what will they reveal?

Perhaps what I’ve been dreading over the last four days. That with each door I go through, each time I bring back a trinket, a piece of my world – the one Ostium is no longer connected to – is destroyed. Another catastrophic event, another devastating virus, another accident that wreaks untold havoc. It’s what I’ve felt each time I brought back an artifact and put it on the map table.

And what about that hand reaching for me? Was it trying to get me? Was it trying to get the artifact? Was it related to the blackness somehow? A part of it? Is the blackness coming after me? Not to destroy this pocket in time that’s been created by Ostium, but to help me. Perhaps save me? From what I was doing. From the death and destruction I’ve been causing.

It’s a possibility, inasmuch as it isn’t.

You notice the particular pronoun I’ve been using? I’ve been very specific and clear about using me. I. Because I’m holding myself to blame here.

All those deaths are now on me.

The more I think about it, the more real it seems.

I’m killing all those people.

I’m causing all that suffering . . .

[Breaks down, crying for some time.]

 [Sound of a door opening. Footsteps.]

[Softly, slowly] “Jake . . . Jake. Look at me . . . Look at me, please.”

[Sound of Jake getting to his feet.]

[Sound of rustling clothing. Then kissing. This goes on for some time.]

[A sigh from Jake.]

[Footsteps going to the bedroom.]

[Sound of the door closing.]