We clean up after ourselves because . . . Well, it’s a rule of time traveling I’ve just decided. If you time travel and you mess with other people’s stuff, you need to clean up after yourself and try your best to keep it as close to the same condition as you first found it. Also because . . . Well, it’s the decent thing to do. We also put out the lamp and the fire. You know, just in case. What if a great conflagration started, consuming everything, and somehow was able to reach through time to Ostium . . . I know. It’s like totally impossible. But still. It makes me feel better knowing these things are taken care of.
As Dave puts away the last mug, he asks: “So what door are we headed to then?”
Jake: “What door?”
Dave: “Yeah. What’s your plan for getting us off Roanoke and to wherever this bloody beach house is? We need a door to go through, don’t we?”
I start shaking my head. “Oh no. Where we’re going we don’t need . . . Doors.”
Dave: “Nice one. No really. Please be serious for a second.”
Jake: “I am. We don’t need doors. For real.”
Dave: “So I suppose you’ve got some floo powder in your pocket and you’re just going to magic us there?”
Jake: “Ten points for Slytherin!”
Dave: “Oi! I consider myself a bona fide Ravenclaw, thank you very much.”
Jake: “My apologies. And no, I don’t need floo powder, but yes, it is a magic of sorts, and no, no door is needed. But I will need to hold your hand.”
Dave: “Is this part of your newly discovered supernatural abilities after your adventure with the blackness?”
Jake: “You hit the nail right on the head. Now come on. Here, take my hand.”
As soon as he does, I close my eyes and concentrate. I do my best to clear any thoughts of Roanoke and the room we’re in from my mind. As soon as I’ve got it, I picture the setting for that beach house, creating and adding as many details as I can recall both from my memories of visiting there with my ex some time ago, and being there with Monica. One is the real thing; the other possibly the real thing, or an Ostium fabrication, or some in-between alternate world. I just don’t know for sure.
I can see the strip of coastline. The beach. The deep blue of the Pacific. The white crests and froth of crashing waves. The dark sand because it’s nighttime. And the phosphorescent algae in ubiquitous quantities forming a unique glowing map of the starry firmament above. And then there is the house, standing tall and impending like a dark shadow shrouded in gloom. There is the promenade leading to the house, following the beach and next to it a road that continues under a bridge and into complete darkness where no more details are needed.
I’ve got it.
And that’s when I imagine us there, under that bridge, in the darkness, with the road and the promenade and the beach and the ocean and the beach house opening up before us . . .
And we’re back. At the same place I’m pretty sure I told Monica I never wanted to be again. The place of such horrific carnage it . . . Well, I really don’t want to talk about it anymore. Also if my plans are correct, I’ve made a significant change in our arrival this time. I added a fourth dimension to my calculations when working out how to arrive at this exact spot. And if you’re not familiar with the fourth dimension, well, let me give you a hint: it’s called time. Right. I’ve arrived at this place earlier than when Monica and I were here last time. Quite a bit earlier.
We start heading down the road toward the house; I want to get there as quick as possible to confirm my expectations and see if I actually pulled this whole thing off correctly, since it was my first time trying this and all.
Dave becomes visibly more agitated the closer we get to the house. He must be remembering my vivid descriptions of what Monica and I found there.
Dave: “Look . . . Do I really need to be here?”
Jake [determined]: “Yes.”
Dave: “I mean, at the moment it all seems to be the one-man-show starring you. You know where you’re going. You know exactly what you’re doing. What do you need me for then?”
Jake: “That’s easy. Bait.”
I turn to him, looking directly into his eyes.
Jake: “Look Dave. I really need you. I need your help. I can’t do this without you. This is why we were brought together. You’re now just as much a part of this whole Ostium thing as I am.”
Dave [somewhat shocked]: “Really?”
Jake: “Yes. Definitely. Unquestioningly. Now we need to look inside that house so I can confirm we’ve arrived at the right time.”
Dave [now confident]: “Okay. Lead the way, guvna.”
And then I’m speed-walking back toward the house again, not really noticing or caring if Dave is following me. You see, as fun as it is to travel in time and arrive precisely at specific locations when you exactly want to, it doesn’t mean time has stopped for you. Time is always moving forward, whatever year or date or time you’ve traveled to. Even with time travel, you can’t stop it, you can only visit it at different points throughout its life. Like a flowing river. You can look into the river right in front of you. You can look upstream as far as you want. You can go all the way downstream. But that river isn’t going to stop while you’re looking at it. It’s going to do keep doing what a river does: which is flow toward a larger body of water. You can even jump into that river, if you really want to, and you know what’s gonna happen? That’s right. You’re going to flow right along with it, whether its water or time that you’re swimming in.
As for salmon swimming upstream. Applying that rubric to time is a much more complicated upper-level lecture for another time. So let me know once you sign up for that course, and be prepared for A LOT of homework!
I make it to the house and push open the door. The hallway light is on like last time and I go through to the dining room, turning on the light – as I’m very familiar with where the light switch is now – and bracing myself . . .
. . . I let out a long-held breath as Dave joins me by my side. He’s not screaming, so that’s got to be a good sign.
There’s a dining table and chairs, with place settings in front of each chair. There are no bodies or body parts or heads; no people at all.
That’s perfect. I’ve arrived at the right time. I don’t need to bother checking the rest of the house.
“Okay Dave,” I say, turning to him, “time for us to get into our positions.”
The confused look on his face is exactly the one I want him to have when those men arrive.
Dave is now where he needs to be: equidistant between the house and the dark tunnel. I tell him to enjoy looking out at the ocean and the lapping waves and the moonlight shining down on the dark sea, and don’t forget the phosphorescent algae. I don’t really care what he wants to look at, but he needs to be ready for when those men come through, because he’s the first thing they’re going to see once they exit that tunnel. They’re going to be wary and confused; on their guard. They just got led through the door by Monica on the other side, so they’re probably going to be pretty pissed off too. As soon as they make eye contact with him, that’s his cue to start running toward the house, then around it, and then toward a spot I’ve designated and where I’ll be real close to.
The soldiers could come through any second, but I still have this calm feeling deep within me – whether it’s in my mind, or my heart, or my soul: I’m not sure, but it’s telling me I’ve still got enough time to do what I need to do.
The river’s flowing like usual . . . Just like time . . . Only this time I’m in a boat and I’m able to control how fast or slow I want or need to go. Though, don’t ask me how; it’s just something I’m now able to do. Like controlling the blackness. So . . . You sick of the river as time metaphor yet? Yeah, I’ll give it a rest. But don’t be surprised if it starts . . . Pouring through when you least expect it.
Okay, time to streamline this and get on with the show.
What’s wrong? Can’t hold your water?
And I’m done . . . My cup runneth over . . .
I jog along the road, passing the house that is now little more than an innocent and welcome abode for people to stay. Having been inside, I’m a lot calmer around it now. Something I never would’ve expected until I set foot in it for the second time. Well, technically the third time; second time in the world of Ostium.
It wasn’t like I sat down and thought out this plan. It kinda all just came back to me on Roanoke. In the space of . . . What? Seconds? Milliseconds? Nanoseconds? Fractions of a nanosecond? It felt almost instantaneous. I’ve heard a number of authors I like to read describe this feeling during interviews, for how they come up with stories and book ideas. Usually they’ll be doing something else to divert their attention, like exercise, going for a walk, a manual task, while in the back of their mind they’re telling themselves to think about some plot they’re working on . . . And then, all of a sudden, it’ll all be there, coherent and complete, inside their heads. Now they just need to get it written down or typed out before it all goes away. I’ve always marveled at Stephen King’s ability to refrain from writing down story ideas but letting them mature, adapt, and form in his mind over time and when they’re ready, that’s when he starts writing the book.
Okay, enough distraction. I’m now also in position. I’m hiding in some bushes, with a clear sight of the road in front of me. I can see back to where Dave is standing, and, more important, I can see directly in front of me at the spot in the road where I plan to open a door . . . Or make an opening . . . Create an ostium . . . For the soldiers to go through. I know, I know. Where the hell is all this coming from? I’ve never ever done anything like this before. I know. Like I said, it all just came to me. Back on Roanoke with Dave. And how did it all just come to me? Or more importantly: why? I’m not sure exactly, but I believe it has everything to do with what happened once the blackness enveloped me and I fell and went through that whole crazy experience. I came out the other side changed. Confident is a word I’d use. Confident about why I was in Ostium and what I need to do now. I still don’t have all the details, not by a long shot. And you know: I don’t think I ever will. But I feel I know now what needs to be done. To start putting things right in Ostium. To stop whatever badness, whatever destruction and decay, whatever evil and death has been happening. Hearing Dave’s story and what he’s seen is a part of that. An important part. It’s like it’s given me the last few pieces of a puzzle I’m putting together and while it’s pretty much all complete now, I still can’t quite work out what the picture is, but I have a good idea of what it might be . . . Or what it’s trying to be.
Basically I’m juggling a ton of balls in the air right now and while before I accepted that many of them were going to be dropped and picked up again, now I’m confident I’m not going to drop any, no matter how many there are.
It’s just a feeling I have.
And I feel great. Fantastic, in fact.
And . . . And I’m out of time.
The cavalry’s arrived.
Dave carries out his role like an Academy Award winning actor. He sees the men first, before they see him, and as I’m watching him, I can tell this. His body stiffening; straighting; standing to attention, then a bending of the knees in preparation to run. I look behind him and can just barely see the tunnel and there are all the men, looking lost and confused. They try to go back into the tunnel; back through the door they just came from, but it’s gone. Closed. They’re trapped here.
They come out of the tunnel, then one spots Dave, pointing at him. The rest all see him and then Dave is running like . . . Well like there’s a bunch of armed soldiers coming at him. He puts some distance between him and them, but nothing a bullet couldn’t annihilate in less than a second and bury itself in his body. He asked me about this as I explained the plan to him and got him in position.
Dave: How do you know they’re not going to fill me up with bullets as soon as they see me?
It wasn’t easy to explain, because I didn’t really have an explanation other than I just know; it’s a feeling, an intuition, a confidence I have in myself and in him, and in those soldiers that they will not open fire. He wasn’t happy with this; not by any means, but we were already in the thick of it, as he might like to say, and getting out of it wasn’t an option.
And I’m right. No guns are raised. But they’re all charging after him. What they’ll do if they actually catch him I don’t have a clue, but it probably won’t be good. Fortunately, Dave is a good runner, which might have something to do with what’s coming up the rear, and he’s able to maintain his distance. It doesn’t take long before he’s close to where I am; where there are more trees; where it’s darker and there’s coverage. He reaches his marked spot and then dives into the bushes on the other side of the road to me.
Now I switch my focus to the men. Dave’s part has been played out, perfectly I might add. Lawrence Olivier would be jealous! They’re coming fast . . . But they haven’t seen where Dave went. The cover of trees and darkness worked like charm. They’re slowing down, but still jogging, confused once again.
Just like I want them.
I turn to the space in the road where it is darkest. Then I imagine: I create a world in my mind that is on the other side of this hole; this fissure; this rip in time and space, but their world is vague and nebulous to me; unclear and dreamy, like I’m wearing glasses that are the wrong magnification; I can see shapes and forms on the other side; hints of colors; but I can see nothing concrete or detailed. It could be anything and anywhere, just how I want it. I imbue it with as much reality and life as I can, as if I’m pouring my energy and essence into it, birthing it into existence. I can feel my own strength and constitution weakening. This isn’t something I can keep up indefinitely, just as I thought. But I can maintain it for long enough.
The soldiers keep moving, stepping beneath the trees and into the darkness: one by one they pass through the ostium and into their world from where they came from. I don’t know it, not by any means. Monica never told me. I never had any details. But I am confident that what I’ve created is as close to the world they’re from as can be, making it therefore the same exact world they left when they first came into Ostium.
As the last man passes through, I release the opening, and the ostium closes up like the reverse of a ripple on water, until there’s nothing there.
Then I collapse to the ground, unconscious and wiped.
I’m not out for long, as I’m told by a very pale and terrified-looking Dave. The guy was shitting bricks . . . But not literally. He thought I’d died of a heart attack or exhaustion or something. When my consciousness returned to me and my eyes fluttered open, he started crying tears of joy. I took it as a compliment.
Jake: “How long was I out?”
Dave: “Not long mate, a minute or two. Thank bloody god your alive!”
I stand up, assessing how I’m feeling: a little dizzy but okay for the most part. Although I’m really tired. It’s to be expected after the amount of energy I used up opening that ostium.
Jake: “We need to move. Now! Follow me.”
Dave doesn’t question, but is right behind me as I start running straight for the house. I know I don’t have the liberty of as much time as I’d like anymore. I can feel it. A tension in the air. I almost think I hear a static crackling.
[Said in a strong whisper] She’s coming . . . Very soon.
I get to the door of the house, throw it open, and once Dave’s inside, I slam it closed, and start running up the stairs. Dave is being my loyal Igor, following a literal step behind, not asking a question. Good. I don’t have the fucking time.
Upstairs I open the door to the first room and am happy to see a window. I don’t remember if the beach house of bloody bodies had a window in this room, but at this point I don’t give a shit. As I come close to the window, I turn to Dave and, with palms out, I make a stopping gesture, telling him to stay exactly where he is. He understands instantly and halts. Then I put a single finger to my lips. He nods in comprehension. I nod back, then step to the window.
Keeping to the bottom right corner, I slowly peek over the edge until I have one eye looking through the glass. It’s still nighttime out there, but the moon is also shining, soaking the world in a silvery light.
There’s an electric crackle in the darkness of the tunnel and like a witnessed bolt of lightning I get a singed evil image on my retinas.
1.21 gigawatts of badness.
It’s her. I recognize the woman instantly; if that thing can be called such. Creature is a better word. She’s just like Dave described. The cloak and hood covering and hiding her shriveled form.
I don’t know what she is. I don’t know whence she came. I don’t know how she came to be. All I know is that she is behind it all.
She is . . . The blackness.
This is something I intrinsically know; I feel it in my very bones. If I wasn’t an atheist, I’d say I have complete and utter faith that she is the root of all that is wrong in Ostium. Because I know it to be true. Like the laws of gravity and thermodynamics. And the known fact that I am tied to Ostium and it is tied to me.
Perhaps she is the ying to my yang. The balance. I am trying to do good and help in Ostium; she is the antithesis of this. I know nature and reality like balance like this – matter and antimatter – but in this case I fucking hate it. And I also don’t believe it. Evil doesn’t need to exist because of balance. Nature is red in tooth and claw, and cruelty is always alive and well, but does not exist to justify the goodness and kindness of the world. Whatever some religious zealots might tell you.
No. However this creature came into being, either some other thing or some other someone brought her here or put her in Ostium; or she made herself part of all this. Just as there was nothing natural and logical about my discovering and coming to Ostium; there is nothing right about her being here.
She is moving now, walking to the . . . No, floating towards the house. I can’t see any shoes or feet beneath the cloak. The material just ends a little above the ground, and below that is nothing but air . . . Or something else. She is drifting toward us, while her hood scans from side to side, then does an impossible three hundred and sixty degree turn, like a lighthouse overlooking the Styx. I have to pull back, wanting to get that incredible fucked up image out of my mind . . . Not that I ever can.
She is coming closer now and we begin to hear her . . .
The look on Dave’s face is how I feel inside, and probably quite similar to the look I’m wearing on my face too.
I don’t know how we’re going to get out of this one, but dying of fright is starting to seem like not just a viable, but possibly preferable option.
Her voice is that of nightmares and discomfort and pain . . .
Iron filings dragging across a never-ending blackboard . . .
A pit of writhing insects that just sucks one in deeper . . .
One’s imaginings of the unbelievable pain of being burned alive . . .
All of this in a croaky, phlegmy, whispery sound that can’t possibly be created by human vocal cords.
The words are drawn out, long and sinuous . . . Verbal serpents searching for listening victims . . .
Woman: Where . . . Are . . . They . . .
I try to stop myself shivering and can’t. Losing my balance, I roll to the floor, bringing my knees up to my chin, feeling goosebumps over my entire body.
Woman: I . . . Made . . . Her . . . Bring . . . Them . . . Here . . . . . . I . . . Saw . . . Her . . . Do . . . It . . . . . . I . . . Saw . . . Her . . . Send . . . Them . . . Through . . . . . . . They . . . Should . . . Be . . . HERE!
That last word brings Dave to the ground, his teeth chattering.
I don’t know how much of this I can take.
I force myself to let go of my knees and cover my eyes with my palms. Dave gets the idea and does the same. We hope it’ll help to block out these horrible sounds.
Woman: I . . . Wanted . . . To . . . Have . . . Fun . . . . . . Where . . . Are . . . THEY?
I force myself to stand. She’s getting closer. Can’t be too far away from the house now. Then she’ll make her way upstairs, and find us: quivering puddles of helpless that she’ll enjoy separating piece by piece. I don’t need to remember what she did to those men the first time . . . Those men that I’ve now managed to save. At least that’s something. Something she can’t take away from me. Something that can’t be changed.
Leaning against the wall, I drag myself over to Dave, then reach down and pull him to his feet. His cheeks are wet with tears, his eyes red-rimmed. Our arms support each other and we shuffle towards the doorway. When we reach it I force him to move along the hallway towards the final room. It feels excruciatingly slow and I know she’s just coming closer and closer.
[Exasperated:] We need to get the fuck out of here!
I have an idea forming and I seize it in my mind, grasping and clasping on to it like a life-ring, pulling myself up; keeping us afloat.
We make it to that last door and enter the room, closing the door behind us, not that it will be any hindrance to her when she reaches it.
Woman: After . . . My . . . Fun . . . I . . . Was . . . Going . . . To . . . Make . . . Him . . . Play . . . With . . . Them . . . . . . Kill . . . Them . . . One . . . By . . . One . . . . . . Those . . . I . . . Left . . . For . . . Him . . .
I’ve got us to the back of the room and we’re on the ground again; on our knees. Dave is holding himself in a ball. He’s repeating something over and over . . .
“I . . . I think she’s talking about me . . . I . . . I think she’s talking about me . . .”
That’s okay for now. I will need him soon, but not yet. Then I close my eyes and try ever so hard to focus. To push away the fear and darkness. To work on crafting another ostium. This one completely different from the last. I’m exhausted. Tired beyond all means. But I know if I don’t do this we’re . . . We’re going to discover many things worse than death.
The ostium begins to take shape in my mind, and accordingly a pinprick of a hole opens up in this reality leading to the world I’m trying to get us to. Like it was with the soldiers, this is also a fuzzy, blurry, unclear place. If we make it through in time and survive, the details will solidify and become clear.
But the more I work at it, the easier things become; the faster things move , and I watch the door growing before . . .
Woman: Who . . . Has . . . Meddled . . . . . . Yes . . . Yes . . . I . . . Can . . . Sense . . . You . . . . . . Where . . . Are . . . You . . . Little . . . Helpless . . . Child . . . Where . . . Ahhhhhh . . . Yes . . . . . . Now . . . I . . . See . . . You . . . . . . Now . . . I . . . Feel . . . You . . . . . . Do . . . Not . . . Fret . . . . . . I . . . Am . . . Coming . . . For . . . Youuuuu . . .
That last word slams into me like a phantasmagorical punch. I almost lose control completely. The ostium would’ve disappeared like the closing wink of an eye . . . But I was able to hold on, by the very tips of my mental fingers.
[Soft, but scared] Not long to go now . . . [utter terror] Oh shit. She’s at the top of the stairs.
The ostium is big enough now for us to move through. I’ll keep making it bigger to aid us. But we need to move. NOW!
I grab Dave’s arm and pull him up to me. He leans against me. More slumps. I slap his face and he regains a little composure. Enough to hold his own sort of. Keep himself kneeling. I can’t support both of us. I start crawling towards the door, pulling Dave along. He is aware enough to understand what I’m doing and helps himself along.
She’s got to us.
[Door creaking open]
Woman: There . . . You . . . Are . . . . . . My . . . Pretties . . .
I don’t look back. I know if I do, it’ll all be over. She’ll win.
We’re at the threshold.
[Roaring/screaming sound begins, increasing in volume]
I wrap my arms around Dave and he does the same for me.
We fall into the hole, and as we do so, I finally look back.
She is there. Her hood is pulled back. A pale skull. Oily tendrils of scant hair. Dark pits for eyes. Two even rows of teeth, each one tapered to a fine point.
[Woman, whispering:] All the better to chew you with, my dear . . . I’ll see you soooooooon . . .
And then I’m screaming and falling . . .
I regain consciousness after passing out yet again. Only this time I’m experiencing a whole new level of weariness. My limbs feel like dead weights. My body feels numb. I wait and sensation slowly creeps back into them.
Then I remember those last few moments.
I remember her.
I look back but the ostium is long-ago closed. Dave is by my side, still out. But he’s breathing. I can see his chest rising nad falling. There is no sign of the woman or the world we just left.
I can’t help letting out a huge sigh of relief.
[Letting out breath sound]
Then I notice I’m breathing in something new . . . Something different. Salty air. No . . . Briny air. We’re near the ocean, somewhere. No. Better. We’re right on the ocean. I can see it just twenty or thirty feet away. Small waves lapping against the shore. Not much of a beach though.
I can see a short dock. Looks sturdy and new. There’s a boat tied to it. A really flashing looking motor yacht. Wow. When’s the last time I saw one of those? Er . . . More like . . . Never.
The smells and the sights are restoring my energy, and I slowly pull myself to my feet. I can hear Dave coming around now too. Good. Was starting to worry a little. He was farther gone than I was; passing through could’ve put him over the edge. But he’s a fellow Ostium-traveler. He’s made of strong stuff. Just like Monica and I.
I turn around to learn more about where I am and then I see it and my mouth just drops open.
It was behind me the whole time and I had no idea.
I’m staring at something I’ve seen a number of times on images before, but never in real life.
Though I’ve always wanted to visit.
Because it was on the other side of the world from me.
As I stare at the Rock of Gibraltar, a smile forms on my lips.
Well, there’s one item off my bucket list.