Monica: I’ve read about it. This weird thing. It’s just fucking weird. To me. I guess if you’re religious, it can be different. Saving yourself. For marriage. When you can be with your man. Or your woman. Or whatever it is you’re into. Keeping yourself . . . Gah! Don’t even want to say the word. Pure. Virginal. To share this special thing. With the one you love. It seems . . . Fucking alien. To me. Which is damn funny. When you know my story. My whole story.
But that’s not for a while yet.
I fucked him. Put it down. In stark terms. And it was great. No. It was fucking awesome. I haven’t fucked someone. Or been fucked. In too fucking long. I would’ve ended up jumping Jake sooner or later. Is he my type? I don’t even have a type. Woman. Man. Gay. Bi. Trans. Where I’m from those fucking terms don’t even exist. I had to learn about ‘em. Research the fuck out of ‘em. Before I could wrap my mind around the concept. Fucking antiquated. Like something those folks in that ancient cave in South Africa might think. Juvenile. Ignorant.
Just fucking wrong, man.
So. To put it plain. I was pretty fucking horny. It’d been WAY too long. And I’ve mentioned before. A couple of times. I can’t remember how many hints I’ve dropped. But he’s a hot hunk of man. I’m not gonna lie, as he’s fond of saying. And it didn’t take long. To know he was into me. And I’m not surprised. I’m a hot piece of ass. Come-on. These are MY recordings. MY private thoughts. If I can’t be honest with myself here, I might as well just end it all now.
There’d be no fucking point.
But he was going through something. Looked like the beginnings of a mental breakdown. I can’t read his mind. Don’t really know what was going on upstairs. With him. He just looked like he was falling apart. Like I said. Before. I can’t afford that. Need him to keep it together. To keep going. Not give up. Just like I’m never going to. So I figured that was the right time. To make a move. Help him how I could. And have a good time doing it.
And like I said: it was fun for both of us.
~ ~ ~
Jake: I come to, slowly regaining consciousness. It’s that kind of sleep we all crave for: the thorough, deep, satisfying rest that recharges and revitalizes. And when you wake up it’s not sudden or forced. You crawl into the light, like a baby reaching for its mother, and getting there without falling over or hurting itself. There’s light, not too bright and not too dark, but just right. It doesn’t stun you, but slowly filters in, like the warmth of a day floating between the blinds of a hotel room on a beach in Hawaii. You are brought back to consciousness as if on a bed of feathers and down. You want to open your eyes and join the land of the awake, because it feels great; it just feels right.
And then I am awake, because I do feel great and right My head’s a little fuzzy, like it’s been stuffed with cotton candy, but it’s dissipating, like the wispy sugar it is. I can’t remember where I am or who I am at first. Then one by one, like perfectly shaped cogs locking into place, the answers come to me.
I’m Jake Fisher.
I’m in Ostium. The clock tower.
And I’m in bed. My mind flashes back to five days ago. When I had that really weird but really awesome dream about waking up in bed in Ostium . . . In bed with Monica. The memories are coming back fairly quickly now, as those cogs continue locking and the machinery begins winding. I’m not quite remembering last night in vivid detail. There are snippets here and there: skin, thighs, breasts, moans from both of us. I would like to remember it all in intricate detail, but I’ll take whatever I can.
And then I remember back to before all that . . . Fun. Monica coming to me and kissing me. Making the night a whole lot better after . . . After . . I can’t really remember what. I remember feeling down, like really worried, or scared, or overcome by something, but can’t remember what right now. There’s just haziness and fuzziness and blackness where it should be. Blackness. That’s an interesting word for it. Saying it almost makes it possible to see beyond it. To know and comprehend what it is. But it’s still eluding me. Staying away.
I’m . . . I’m not going to worry about it right now. If it was really important I would be able to remember it. Easily. So therefore it’s not. And as the seconds pass in this wonderfully comfortable bed I can recall less and less about it, remembering more about last night and how fucking amazing it was.
And I finally got laid.
I look to my side and see Monica looking at me, her head propped on her arm, with a big smile on her face. Talk about a welcoming beam of sunlight. I could stare at her all day.
“Good morning sleepy head. Hope you had fun last night.”
I start stammering some nonsense words and she lets me off the hook. I guess the look on my face is enough to convince her we . . . Had a good time. A very good time.
She gets up, saying she’s going to throw some breakfast together before we set out for the next door. As she leaves the room, I see she’s wearing a black tank top, and these green booty shorts. For a second it seems like it says OSTIUM on the rear, but I shake my head and instead see HELLA.
I sit up, still pulling myself together, and begin retrieving strewn pieces of my clothing and putting them on. So I was completely naked in bed. And after what we got up to – and the details are continuing to show themselves in a very fair light – that’s not really surprising, but I usually like to wear something to bed and not go completely commando. Must’ve been really wrapped up in the moment.
Fully dressed, I stand up and before I leave try one last time to remember what was going on with me after going through the door yesterday that took us to Columbia, but still can’t remember anything. I head out of the room and begin helping Monica with breakfast and serving impressive volumes of strong, hot tea.
~ ~ ~
With a clear mind and a full stomach, I guide Monica to the next door. I’m actually hoping we might find Steve behind this door or the next. Yeah, it’s a little weird I’m routing for the woman I just slept with to find the guy she kind of had a thing for and clearly still has feelings for, especially since I’d like to have many more nights like last night. Now that I can remember it in . . . Intimate detail. But I feel I’ve supported Monica from the beginning with Ostium, since I’ve gotten to know her, because we’re here on the same side. We have our goals – though I’ll admit I’m not perfectly sure what I’m looking for, going through these doors and bringing back the artifacts, I guess it’s to find what the big link is between Ostium and me. I think I’ve talked about it before, but I obviously have all these links with like every door we go through, so I need to find out what the big deal is, and why Ostium wants me for some reason. So really we do have our own specific goals, haven’t really thought about it before in detail. Monica’s got her focus, and I’ve got mine; we’re a team, supporting and working with and for each other.
You might say we’re putting the “tea” – T-E-A – in team. You know . . . because we both like tea . . .
The door this time is 199.
The fact that it feels like an extreme odd number just kinda of gets to me. I prefer them to be nice solid even numbers. Don’t really know why, it’s like minor keys versus major keys in music, they just sound off in some way. But it’s not like I can do anything about it.
This one’s a weird one. Like all of them. Except it’s one of those doors I’ve mentioned before that clearly defy the laws of physics. The door is hovering . . . Well, I suppose hovering isn’t really the right word. That implies it can move around from location to location. This door’s staying put, except that it’s staying put four feet above the ground . . . Horizontally. As in lying flat, like a bed.
How do we even get in to this one?
Monica’s giving me a look something to the effect of: “How the fuck do we . . .”
I give her the old shrug of blame Ostium, it’s not my fault. And then I set about figuring out how we do this.
I guess . . . just go with it.
I reach for the handle and turn, and the door opens inward like a trapdoor, only without a sound. Well that was easy. And now we just . . . Jump in . . . Dive in like we’re diving into a swimming pool . . . A swimming pool full of ambiguous blackness that can take us anywhere in time and space.
Applying some levity, I draw in a deep breath and pretend to hold my nose, get a running start, and jump into the hole.
I sure hope Monica follows me.
~ ~ ~
The landing is painful, as one might expect when being dropped from a four-foot height onto solid ground. Knowing I don’t have long, I roll myself out of the way just in time to avoid Monica landing on me. Oh yeah, I hear you. A gentleman would’ve broken her fall, especially after we had enjoyed such shared pleasures the night before. It would be the least I could do. See, but here’s the thing: with Monica landing on me, something in me might’ve broken, you know, like a bone, so I had to move out of the way. Also Monica was ready for this type of Ostium delivery option and rolled with it like a pro, dealing herself very minimal bruising. If she’d landed on me, we probably both would’ve been hurt. Because of it being my fault. This way I’m only aching (though my ego took more of a bruising), and Monica, as she usually does, looks none the worse for wear.
As I get up I notice I’m covered in a yellowish-ocher dust and proceed to dust myself off pretty much from head to foot. Monica does the same, not in such a dirty state due to the aforementioned skillful roll. Then the heats hit me. A dry, blistering heat. It has to be at least high 90’s out here, possibly over a hundred. I can hear bugs making themselves known, like cicadas. That immediately starts narrowing us down to a certain number of states. Also, it means we haven’t materialized into an ancient time before the evolution of insects, which would be seriously long ago, like when the Earth’s atmosphere was different and we probably wouldn’t be able to breath. Also since it seems like the big deal with the Ostium doors is taking us to places where people have disappeared, sending us back to a point before the evolution of the homo genus doesn’t seem right.
Using my hand as a sun shade, I scan the horizon, making a complete turn. Monica does the same. We’re trying to get our bearings; see if we can possibly recognize where we are. Naturally, I’m more likely to be successful at this, since Ostium and I are like this . . . And since this is an audio recording and not a visual one, let the record show my fingers are crossed, indicating a strong relationship between this mysterious town and myself.
I spot a high cliff face the same time Monica does. From our distance we can make out small holes and caves in the rock face.
I’m not certain, at least not yet, but my brain has an inkling of what these holes might represent; what this cliff face is, and what time we might be in. But I’m not about to make any guesses until I know for sure.
I start walking towards the wall of rock. Monica knows the drill and follows.
It doesn’t take long to reach the cliff face. As I study some of the features presenting themselves to me, I confirm my thoughts about our location.
“I know where we are.”
This time there’s no surprised look from Monica. She knows the drill and what to expect. She waits and listens for information to help us do what needs to be done on this other side of the door of Ostium.
“We’re in one of four states: New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, or Utah. The year is . . . Well it could be a range of centuries, anywhere from the beginning of the tenth century up to 1350. Though it’s probably sometime in the fourteenth century, which will make more sense once you get the full story. This village is home to a group of the Ancestral Puebloan culture.”
Monica raises her eyebrows at the use of the word village. Looking at the cliff face there are a number of holes at various heights, what look to be some narrow ledges, and perhaps some storage structures, but from down here it’s really hard to tell. To call this a people’s village seems more than a stretch.
“A diverse and varied people who lived in various settlements, toward the end of this period they moved in to caves and dwellings in cliff faces. It’s not exactly known why. The evidence doesn’t make it clear. It could’ve been due to limiting resources combined with attacks from enemies. They adapted and learned how to live in caves in the cliff face and created their own homes there to protect themselves. According to some archaeologists, there was a lot of fighting going on, even some instances of cannibalism. Purportedly.”
“How many people lived in a dwelling of this size?”
“No one knows for sure, which is often the problem with archeology; it’s an educated guess. A hundred? A couple hundred? Probably not more than that.”
“And so . . . What . . . they mysteriously got up and walked away?”
Now it’s my turn to look surprised.
“Actually yes, that’s exactly what the evidence shows. These settlements were simply abandoned. Now the contention is how long this took. Some say a settlement like this was just abandoned from one day to the next. And others say it took much longer, over a period of generations. Of course, those who support the former claim like to make it all the more dramatic, talking about how they left their supplies and granaries full, so not quite to the level of the ‘meals still hot while waiting to be eaten’ like on the Mary Celeste, but . . .”
“Anything to get a story. I swear I’ve heard about them before. Something about this just seems fucking familiar.”
I give her a “no shit” look.
“Hey! Fuck you. I know every time you go through a door it’s a trip down fucking memory lane for you. But what you just said. What does ‘Puebloan’ mean?”
“Villager. Though for this particular period and these specific indigenous people located in the northern area, they were known by another name. The ancient ones or ancient enemies . . . Anasazi.”
~ ~ ~
“I knew it sounded familiar.”
“Anasazi is a moniker that contemporary indigenous people aren’t too happy with . . .”
The look on her face is priceless.
“That’s moniker as in M-O-N-I-K-E-R.”
“Ohhhhh. You fucking did that deliberately, didn’t you?”
“Maybe,” I say with a smile on my face. “But it was some archaeologist way back when who chose the term from the original language to make them easily identified, but ‘ancient enemies’ isn’t exactly what you’d like to call your ancestors. Hence, Ancestral Puebloans.”
“So let me ask a dumbass question.”
“There are no dumbass questions in Ostium. Or dumbass answers. Anything goes here.”
“Naturally. And where’s today’s artifact going to take us?” she asks, her eyes looking up.
“Well, that depends. How good are you at climbing?”
“Better than you. That’s for sure.”
The first ledge is about thirty feet high. The rock face is smooth, offering no nooks or crannies to get a grip with. But there’s also a tree a little further along, an important tree. It’s been hypothesized that this was how the villagers were able to reach their high homes: a tree with notches that worked as a ladder. Well, looks like one theory has been proved for this specific group.
I indicate the tree and start climbing, Monica comes up behind me. Because, as we both know, she’s much better at this than I am, and if one of us is going to slip, it’s more likely to be me and she might be able to do something to help, or choose to just let me fall to my death.
So, you know, the ultimate “I’ve got your back, trust fall” situation.
We reach the ledge which can barely be called that. It’s real narrow. I lead the way, taking short steps, leaning towards the rock face. I can feel the pull of the artifact higher up. I don’t think it’s at the very top level. I hope it’s not at the very top level. But we still have a ways to ascend. I make it to the next tree log. I check to make sure it’s not going to move or roll while I start climbing. Seems sturdy. As I look at the wedges cut into the wood and start climbing, I wonder how these logs would’ve been used in regular daily life. Like when there was an enemy approaching. Were the logs somehow drawn up? I don’t see any indications of rope or vine or anything that could be used to hoist them up. Were they just knocked away? Sent crashing hopefully into the attacking enemies below? And how did the people get down after the enemy presumably gave up and went away? Since I’m now reaching a pretty scary height, I’m just not going to think about that right now.
On to the next ledge I go even slower. They say to never look down, but when you’re carefully stepping along a ledge, part of your vision is always looking down, so it can’t be avoided. We reach our first wall. It’s about four feet high with small round holes in it for people to see through. It’s not that hard to climb over, except when there’s a hundred foot drop staring at you, begging you to take a free, one-way gravity ticket to the bottom. We pass through a granary, filled with a plentiful stock of corn. Almost makes me hungry. There’s a few ears that are on the ground in the middle of the granary where you walk through. It seems a little weird, with how everything has been stacked so neat so far. But it is stacked corn after all, sometimes that stack just crumbles to the ground like a house of cards.
And then we reach the next de-branched tree leading us up higher. I indicate to Monica I think this should be the last one. We’re definitely getting close to the artifact now.
Up we go and as we close in on the top I start debating how much I want to go down these trees to get to the bottom. About a million percent not. But it’s not like I’m seeing an abundance of doors here that I might be able to use to get back to Ostium. And then I’m at the top and want to hone in on this artifact and get done with these dizzying heights. Though the view and scenery are spectacular.
I look right, then left, assessing the artifact’s pull. I turn left and we go through another granary, equally well stocked. Three caves down I stop and enter into the hole. It’s roomy and definitely cooler than outside. I can even feel a bit of a breeze, but just getting out of the hot sun beating down on me is well worth it. We squat for a bit to catch our breath and lower out temperatures. I see markings on the wall, paintings of people and animals, of a life in the past. Well, I guess not that much in the past, since we’ve traveled back in time to pretty close to when these people disappeared. So not that old. The pictographs do look relatively new and fresh. Quite beautiful, with a mixture of blacks, whites and browns. They tell of a normal life for these people, living with each other and enjoying what this world had to offer.
We move further inside and I expect to see more signs of habitation, but there are none. A little strange. And then in the last room of the cave I see on the floor in the dimming light a piece of pottery. A potsherd I believe they call it, though that might be when it’s dug up from the ground and is hundreds or thousands of years old. This looks like it recently came from a vase or jug. But if that’s the case, why isn’t the floor littered with more broken pieces, and not just this one? It fits snugly in the palm of my hand and has a series of black white wavy lines. It’s quite striking.
“This is it.”
I put the piece in my pocket and turn to head back through the long cave. I think about what it’s going to take to go all the way back to the solid ground. A lot. A lot of precarious and careful movement. We’re going to be at risk of hurting ourselves; especially me.
So what other option do we have?
“Wait,” I tell Monica.
I turn around and walk to the back wall of the cave. It’s rock, solid, impenetrable.
I take out the potsherd, looking at it. I flip it over and see a big O painted in white on the reddish clay-colored side. It’s a vague triangular shape with one sharp edge. I hold it so that the pointed edge is sticking out like a weapon . . . Or a writing implement. Something you might use to make markings on a cave wall.
I reach out, starting at the bottom and draw a long vertical line going up, then a shorter horizontal line across, then a line going down all the way to the floor. It’s a rectangular shape, or . . . A door.
I think about drawing some sort of handle but can feel it’s not going to do anything. Also it’s unnecessary.
I look at the piece of pottery again and see there is no wear on the sharp edge; it’s still whole and pointed, as if it wasn’t used to draw anything. Putting it back in my pocket, I reach out and touch the spot on the drawn door where one would expect a doorknob to be.
I look at Monica and see her just watching me in disbelief, but I can also see a spark in her eyes: a spark of hope.
I push and at first nothing happens; I’m just pushing against solid rock, and as I start to feel considerably more foolish, the cave wall begins to crumble and groan as rock is torn asunder. A gap forms along the line I drew, white light emanating from the other side. I push hard and the pictographic door begins to open, just like in those wacky Road Runner cartoons.
The door opens fully, it’s opposite edge somehow remaining attached to the cave wall but also forming one long hinge allowing the door to open properly.
“Ladies first,” I say with a smirk on my face.
“Uh-uh. You made it. You get to test it out.”
“As you wish.”
I step through into the bright white light and Monica follows behind me. We’re surrounded by all this white and can’t see anything of where we are. Once she’s close to me, I hold her hand so we don’t lose each other, but also because I like holding her hand. With my other hand I reach out and close the door.
“What the fuck are you doing!” Monica manages before the door is closed. Almost immediately the bright white light begins to lessen, transforming into normal bright sunlight, except there’s no visible ball of hydrogen gas anywhere in the sky. But that’s because we’re back in Ostium. We let out our breaths simultaneously.
In front of us is the clock tower, just like it was that other time we went through an unknown door.
~ ~ ~
As we head inside, I look back, wondering if we actually came through one of the Ostium doors, or did I just cut a hole in reality with an artifact and pass through back to Ostium like it was nothing?
If that’s the case, that must’ve required an immense amount of energy. It leads me to Newtonian laws, how everything needs to be balanced, and how nothing can truly be destroyed, but simply transformed. Where does all the energy come from? Where does it go? What sort of sacrifice has to be made. Depressingly, this leads me to the cost Ostium seems to have exacted not just on us but perhaps on others?
And then all that death happening on my home planet comes back to me. I’d totally forgotten it, like it was . . . Hidden in my mind. How could I have forgotten that series of horrible tragedies? That devastation and death?
Inside the clock tower as Monica is preparing yet another batch of award-winning tea, I bring this to her attention, voicing my thoughts, feelings, and concerns. She turns to me and for just a second I see a look of . . . Exasperation in her eyes. What the hell? But then it’s gone, replaced by . . . Woah . . . A sultry look. Is that lust?
Then Monica comes hungrily at me and I’m in her arms, falling to the floor, as we tear at each other’s clothing, wanting to feel flesh, get skin to skin, and satisfy those pleasure centers in our brains and, ahem, other parts.
A while later the water in the pot starts boiling for tea, but we don’t care.
We’re already hot enough.