I can’t believe we’re here: the rock of Gibraltar; one of the pillars of Hercules; the gateway to the Atlantic; the doorway to the Mediterranean. And speaking of doorway . . .
I turn around, looking behind me to see if there’s anything . . . But there’s no indication of the rip or rift I created, what I made that was somehow able to get us from that place in Fort Bragg to . . . Here. I’m still not sure exactly how I did . . . All that.
I was so goddamn scared at the end there. With that lady . . . That thing coming for us. I don’t know what it would’ve done to us, but I’ve got an idea what it’s capable of. Yeah. You remember the bodies . . . The state of the bodies in that house in Fort Bragg when we found them that first time.
I’m never going to get over it. And, even if I wanted to, I could never forget it. Yeah. Two words. Photographic memory. And that’s the only time I’m going to mention it . . . In this recording at least.
Hey, it’s a new place, a new world. So it’s like I have a clean slate . . . A tabula rasa if you will to wax poetic on my photographic memory. Eidetic? Isn’t that another way to say it?
And now Dave’s giving me one of his . . . Er, what would he call it: bloody pissed off looks?
Oh good, now he’s smirking. Must’ve said the right thing.
“So where shall we start?” I ask.
He pauses, for a number of seconds, eyes wide, and then says:
DAVE: “How should I bloody know? I don’t live here, do I?”
JAKE: “No, but I thought, you know, since they speak English here and have a lot of British ex-patriots, you might know a thing or two about it?”
DAVE: “Well, I bloody don’t! Yes, they have a lot of expats down here, but I never been bloody one of them. No bloody clue, mate. I’ve traveled around a bit, but not to here. And I don’t see another living soul around . . . As per usual with anything related to Ostium, so . . . Your guess is as good as mine: what does the great Jake Fisher think about all this?”
The sarcasm is oozing out, like fucking authentic Canadian maple syrup. I’m gonna give the guy some space.
JAKE: “You know,” I say, “Let me think about all this for a bit. Need some physical as well as mental space.”
DAVE: “Fine mate, take all the time you need. I need to sift through my mangled thoughts too.”
I step away, out of earshot. Dave seems to be going through . . . Something, I don’t know what. We’ve been through a lot of shit in the last twenty-four hours. Him just as much as me, according to his wild ride of a story. He saw that . . . Crone? I don’t know what to call her or it, so I’ll stick with crone for now. It was definitely female, but also definitely not human. I suppose it would be more accurate to say it had the outward appearance . . . The visible features of a woman. But that was as far as it went.
So Dave can have some private time to try and process all this. Being where we are now and all that. And it gives me some time to process all this too. I really need to think about everything that’s happened and try and digest it in some way.
All the shit that happened to me. When the blackness got me. I don’t know what the fuck it all was. And I don’t think I’m ever going to really know. It was some sort of messed up journey. A pilgrimage maybe? No. That implies a spirituality. I didn’t feel anything . . . Spiritual going on there. It just . . . It just happened. Whatever the fuck it all was.
And after that there was . . . Roanoke. Again. Somehow. And Dave there. Again . . . Somehow.
I suppose I should address my . . . Oh, what shall we call them . . . Changes? Upgrades? Improvements? Enhancements? I sound like a goddamn transformer! Or a version of Windows. Don’t worry, like Windows, I still have plenty of problems to deal with of my own. I just hope I don’t start crashing all the time. Blue screen of death and all that.
But when I was there, in Roanoke, I felt changed somehow. Things were just clearer too me, mentally. It was like I’d gotten more of the big picture and it’s all starting to kind of make sense to me now. No. Don’t ask for details. I can’t give you anything . . . Concrete. Just these vague platitudes. But I feel stronger. Dare I say more powerful?
Yeah . . . Yeah, that’s right. I do feel stronger and more able to handle all this. To deal with what Ostium throws at me.
So when I knew we were going to have to come face to face with . . . The crone, part of me was like: I have never been this scared, even when I was six and saw that Terrorvision movie that left some very horrific images in my mind and made every shape in the darkness move and come to life. But another part of me was in the zone of: this is another part of Ostium, coming after you just like the blackness, trying to stop you. Will it succeed? Possibly. But you’re going to do what you can to fight back. Maybe you’ll win. Maybe you’ll lose. But if you do, you’re gonna die trying.
The sheer power the crone possessed was . . . Overwhelming. That’s the best word for it. I’m pretty sure Dave will agree with me on that point. Outgunned and outmaneuvered. A expression they like to use in movies when they get their asses handed to them? Or something like that. Yeah. It was sort of like that.
And sort of like living in Australia.
Okay, hear me out for a moment: the number of extremely poisonous and venomous and downright scarifying in the sense that you will be killed creatures living on one substantial Australian landmass is astounding. I know, I know. Over twenty million people live there. They walk around. They live in houses. They swim in the warm waters and the ocean. And they don’t get killed by any of these pesky, lethal beasties. But I’m just imagining standing on that continent and wondering what might be watching me at that very moment, waiting to sink it claws or fangs or other sharp, venomous protrusions into me . . .
And where the hell was I going with this?
We felt helpless against her. Overwhelmed by her powers, whatever they might be. It was her sheer presence, her approaching form . . . The aura of doom stretched far and wide to us. We needed to find a way out. Somehow. Or it was all going to be over. Like that. We’d just be ripe pickings for her. Lying their forlorn and helpless. Just like she wanted, no doubt.
So I used that small part of me. The part that still had hope. To find a way. To come up with a way. To just do something.
That small part of me was feeling good about those men I saved. The soldiers. Sending them through an ostium I created; a new door to their place of origin. Where they wanted to go. And preventing the crone from getting at them. I made that door a reality for them. Therefore, there wasn’t any reason I couldn’t make it a reality for us to. I don’t know where it actually took them, but I knew I’d made it happen.
If I did it once, I could do it again. Yes. It takes focus and concentration and a considerable amount of energy to carry out. I was wiped after doing that one for the men. It had to be big enough for them to fit through, and last long enough for all of them, which is why I pretty much just passed out afterward. For a little while.
And that’s why I was only able to make a small ostium. A small doorway just big enough for each of us to essentially squeeze through. Which I did. And we did make it through. Barely.
And that’s how we ended up in the warm, sunny climes of the Rock of Gibraltar.
Oh . . . Shit. Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit. Something’s happening to me again. And I don’t know what the fuck it is. Again! Thank god Jake gave me some time alone. To think. To . . . To try to put the pieces together. He’s probably doing the same bloody thing right now.
Okay. Keep it together mate. Let’s try and . . . Make some sense of this. Let’s . . . Let’s try starting at the beginning. Well, not the complete beginning. The beginning of . . . The current shit-storm.
She . . . No . . . There’s was nothing human about it. I might’ve thought it was an old woman. A crone. But the way it moved. The way it . . . Spoke. The voice. I’ve never . . . Well, I’ve never heard or seen anything like it before. Obviously. I was . . . Shitting myself. Not literally. Thank god. But hearing it . . . Knowing it was coming closer; coming for us. And what it might do . . . Lots of things going through my mind. Very. Fucking. Scary. Things.
But . . . But Jake did it. Somehow. He got those soldiers out. Did the impossible.
In that room. I thought that was it. I thought we were done for. I half gave up . . . No. I did give up. Fully and completely. I thought it was the end, and soon we were going to be its play things. Shortly to be experiencing new levels and ways of pain.
But Jake did it. Somehow. He used whatever will power he had left. Dragged me along. And then opened another fucking door. A small one. And got us through. Somehow. Just in time. I was waiting for its . . . Its talons to grasp my ankles and pull me back from that opening. That ostium. That door to freedom . . .
But we made it.
And now we’re here. Gibraltar. Gib. The Rock.
I lied to Jake. I have been here before. Once. When I was on holiday on the Costa del Sol. Spent a day taking the hydrofoil across to Tangiers. And a day visiting Gib. This little piece of England . . . A home away from home. It was nothing special really. Lots of British things. Lots of people speaking English. So not that different really from Spain. Like I said. Nothing special. Nothing that would’ve helped Jake at all. It’s not like I can tell him where certain places are. I went to the shops. Had lunch at a pub. And then went back to my hotel across the border.
I still feel uncomfortable about it. Guilty. And I know. I could easily walk over to him right now and make things kosher.
But . . . What’s done is done. And I’m going to leave it at that.
So let’s talk about the other fox in the hen house.
Yes. You heard me right. I’m dealing with more than one at the moment.
Fuck me. I know.
So the other thing I’m trying to wrap my mind around right now is . . . What I’m feeling being back here. In Gibraltar. A familiarity. It’s not that I’ve been here once before. A long time ago. It’s that . . . I’m going through a series of emotions. Being here again. Feelings and thoughts . . . Strange pictures flickering through my mind . . . It’s all the sort of stuff that would inform a bloke he’s back in his old haunts. A place he definitively called home at some point in his life.
As far as I know I’ve spent a whole what . . . four hours here in my entire life. So, riddle me this Batman: why am I having all these feels when I look down the street we’re standing on? Why do I know that the street we’re standing on is called Devil’s Tower Road? I know. It’s an unusual name. But this street looks like any old street. And I can see a sign over there, in the distance, telling me I know exactly where I am. Why do I feel like I’ve cast my gaze over these buildings lots of times before; so many times that they’ve become mundane to me. Normal. Why am I casting my gaze up up to the very top of the rock where I can see a very strange looking building. And I think my brain just turned over in it’s skull. I’m experiencing a very strong sense of deja vu right now. Double deja vu! Because . . . Because in my mind I can remember looking up there to the top of that very iconic mountain when I last visited here and not seeing that strange thing up there. There were some aerial thingies and that was it.
Except. Except! Seeing that fucking strange-looking building up there feels . . . In tune with everything else I’m looking at around it. It too feels familiar . . . And comfortable . . . And correct. Part of the natural facade here.
I turn around in a slow circle and then feel something else pulling at me. Setting off certain synapses in my brain.
DAVE: “Jake? Jake!” I yell at him.
He turns and looks at me.
DAVE: I have a lot of shit going on with me mentally right now. I’m sure you do too. But there’s something really fucking weird going on with me. And I need to ask you a favor, mate.”
DAVE: “I need you to follow me. Keep up, I’m going to be going pretty fast.”
And then I’m off, chasing a thought that should be a memory for me, but both is and isn’t some-fucking-how. Because I can’t actually remember experiencing it for the first time.
It’s . . . It’s a very weird fucking feeling.
I just hope I don’t go completely bonkers when I find out what it actually is.
I’m following Dave and I have no clue where we’re going. He shouldn’t have a clue either, but he’s walking like he knows . . . With determination. I don’t know. The guys walking like he has a plan, and since I’ve got bupkis, I’m all legs and feet . . . As in I’m following him.
It feels weird here. Aforementioned weirdnesses aside, there’s something just off about this place. It’s not that it’s a totally foreign country to me, because it obviously is. But no. It’s something more. This place has a . . . I don’t know . . . Like a future feel to me. Not distant future, but near future. Everything looks clean and shiny and sleek. I know. There’s no people here, so that makes sense. But I can’t quite put my finger on it. I can see the buildings. I can see the asphalt road I’m walking on. And yet, they seem unusual to me . . . Not quite right. I’m looking at this one building I’m walking past. It’s got five floors by the look of it. Lots of windows. A few balconies. All normal stuff, right? But as I look at it I’m noticing the edges of the buildings are all rounded. When I think of buildings in my head I picture corners . . . Four corners to a building. Perfect ninety-degree angled sides, not rounded edges going from bottom to top.
And the facade of the building. It’s not brick. It doesn’t look like a concrete outer layer. It doesn’t even look like paint actually. It’s a reddish color, like a dark red. And it’s shiny. Reflective. Almost looks like a plastic polymer, which is just crazy for the outside of a building. Right? The windows are dark black. So one-way probably? But they look too black. Not dark like the fancy windows people have in their cars. They . . . They don’t really look like glass. Is that even possible?
As for the road. I said asphalt, but I don’t know what the hell it’s made of. It’s a gray color, pretty light. It’s also sort of springy. With each step, I can feel it push down a little with my weight, then lift up as I raise my foot. So what? Rubber? Chewing gum roads?
And before me I can now see water. Not that weird, right? When I picture Gibraltar in my head, it’s a little like San Francisco. A promontory of land sticking out into the waters of . . . In this case, the Mediterranean. But I know enough basic geography, at least when it comes to the Iberian peninsula – guess those many hours of Geoguessr finally paid off for something, right? Emphatic wink-wink! To know that the mountain of Gibraltar, the pillar of Hercules is sort of on the outer edge of the town or colony or whatever it is. All the buildings and people pretty much live on the side facing Spain, so to speak. Meaning the direction we’re headed in is towards the border. Towards the mainland. Meaning there should be water surrounding the mountain and town, but where we’re headed should be nothing but land. I think there’s even supposed to be an airport somewhere near here, along with a border crossing. And that’s not what I’m seeing. Dave’s face is telling me he thinks something’s not right in the state of Gibraltar as well.
Okay, we’re at the water’s edge now and . . . Yeah. It’s definitely not right. Where there should be land there’s water. And I’m not just talking a little, like a stream or even a river in between. No. The land belonging to the considerably-sized country known as Spain is . . . Nowhere to be found. I’m looking all along the horizon where I see water and there’s absolutely no sign of land anywhere.
Okay. Now I’m starting to get . . . Scared.
JAKE: “What the fuck’s going on here, Dave?”
He turns to me, bewilderment as plain on his face as if it were a pie I’d just thrown at him.
Yeah. I know. That’s a pretty bad metaphor. But it’s because I’m kinda freaking out right now.
DAVE: “It’s . . . It’s a bloody island.”
JAKE [shock and surprise]: “What?!”
DAVE: “It’s a bloody island mate. You know. Bit of land with water all round it.”
JAKE [angry, scared]: “I know what a fucking island is. Mate. But last time I checked Gibraltar was very much not an island and very firmly attached to the big and very unmissable country of España.”
Dave just stares at me. He doesn’t say anything. Then he sort of shrugs his shoulders and turns back to the water.
It’s a very smart move, because I’m getting more pissed off as time passes. It’s how I’m dealing with this situation apparently. If he kept talking, I might’ve punched him, and the last time I did something like that was . . . I don’t know. Middle school? A very long time ago. But Dave turning around immediately diffuses the situation. I’m confronted by all that water again and it shuts me the hell up, almost as if I just went and doused my head in it.
There’s also proof that Gibraltar didn’t just decide to separate itself from mainland Spain for some reason, or, like, a really bad earthquake caused it to happen somehow . . . In front of us is a wooden dock. Solidly built. About thirty feet long. There are stanchions. Looks like a space for one big boat or a couple small ones. But it’s presence is very . . . Permanent. This dock has been here a while, which means Gibraltar has been in this way for some time.
And that’s when there’s this loud, distant booming sound that echoes off the rock of Gibraltar for a long time . . .
Dave and I spin around and face the rock, the town and buildings laid out before us. It was deep and echoing, but unlike anything I’ve really heard before. I have no clue what it is. I’m searching the skyline just above the buildings for a cloud of anything . . . Smoke? Dust? A radioactive cloud?
Sorry. That last one was in poor taste.
DAVE: “What the bloody hell was that?!”
JAKE: “I don’t know, man. I’ve never heard anything like it. You?”
DAVE: “No, mate.”
JAKE: “I’m looking for any signs of it. Smoke or something. But I can’t see anything. Can you?”
DAVE: “Looks all clear to me. Bloody scary. That’s for sure.”
JAKE: “Yeah. I’m glad we haven’t made the really dumb decision to split up yet. Hearing that on my own would’ve been . . . Bad.”
DAVE [concerned]: “Do you want to go separate ways then?”
JAKE: “No. No! I was just saying. It was really fucking scary hearing that. And I’m really glad you’re here. With me.”
Dave raises his hand and offers a fist bump. I complete it, not wanting to leave the guy hanging.
It helps break the mood.
DAVE: “You know what?”
DAVE: “I’m bloody famished.”
JAKE: “You know. Now that you mention it, I could totally go for some grub about now. Know of any good places in town?”
He gives me a look questioning whether I’m being serious or not. I give a slight shake of the head and he starts smiling again.
DAVE: “Not a bloody clue. But it can’t hurt to have a look now, can it?”
JAKE: “Lead the way. Your guess is as good as mine.”
We both take one last look at the deep waters before us, then start walking back into town.
I don’t really know if I have a poker face, but when I got to the water’s edge I wasn’t as surprised as I should’ve been. I put on a performance for Jake and I think he believed me. The double-deja vu sense isn’t going away. Not at all. If anything, it’s getting stronger. It’s making me come to terms with a fact that I just have to accept. All the evidence is pointing towards it.
I’ve been here before. In this Gibraltar. This other Gib. I know it’s not the one I visited lots of years ago. It’s different. Feels more modern. Might even say futuristic. And since we got here via a device that’s known for traveling through time, it really shouldn’t be that surprising, should it? It’s still blood disconcerting. Coming to grips with me being here before but still not able to remember under what circumstances.
I suppose I just have to trust that my mind will unfurl all those memories eventually. They keep coming to me in bits and pieces. Random images. No people in them. Yet. I’m hoping that will change. The sooner the better. Remembering a specific someone being here with me will do wonders for the cognitive recall.
For now, I’ll just keep muddling along.
We’ve been walking for quite a while now. Not really saying anything to each other. I think Jake is still working on taking all this in. It’s a big deal for him. For me too, obviously. But especially for him. He had his heart set on Ostium. Completely and utterly. He probably thought he was going to live out his days there. And now all that’s gone. I wonder if he’s thought about it yet. You know. The fact that he might never be going back there. He could do his fancy magic and make a door back there. Possibly. I don’t know. It took a helluva lot of mojo to get the door to here. It’s not an easy thing. Obviously. Probably bloody hard to get the door to go exactly where you want it to go. And when too. So that might be it for Jake and Ostium then. Big bloody deal that. I actually really hope he hasn’t considered it yet. It’s going to start him on a downward spiral. Definitely.
Oh look. Here’s a big building. One storey. Looks pretty promising.
DAVE: “Oy, Jake! I’ve got a good feeling about this one.”
I point to where I mean and the the smile that light’s up his face is like a burst of fresh sunshine after some English rain. Does wonders for the constitution.
We’re at the door and I do the honors. I feel it’s like my duty or something. There’s a handle which I turn, but nothing moves. I pull and feel a little give. So I give it a yank. With a hermetically-sealed whoosh, the door opens and we go in.
JAKE: “Nice job, Dave. Hole in one!”
It’s a big room with lots of tables and chairs. They all look to be some sort of white plastic, but glossy. Everything looks shiny and clean. Not a scratch or speck of dust in sight.
JAKE: “Hey, Dave. Notice anything weird about this place?”
Dave’s looking around, trying to figure out what I’m getting at.
DAVE: “Erm . . . Not . . . Really? Give us a clue?”
JAKE: “The lights are on, but nobody’s home.”
DAVE: “Oh my god, you’re bloody right!”
I didn’t catch it right away, so when I did it made me take a deep breath. The lights are all on, giving us the full view of the room. There’s a long counter and behind it a door that presumably leads to a kitchen. I can hear humming coming from that direction.
DAVE: “Sounds like everything’s up and running and kosher. I can hear the fridges and freezers singing their chilly symphony in the kitchen.”
JAKE [laughing]: “That’s pretty good, Dave. I like that. Er . . . Garcon, could I see a menu please?”
DAVE [laughing, attempt at French accent]: “Non, non, monsieur. That will not be necessary. You will take a seat. Tout suit, si vous plait. And I shall prepare the chef’s special which will be the most exquisite meal you have ever tasted.”
JAKE [laughing, 20’s mobster accent]: “And be snappy about it, kid!”
Giggling to himself, Dave disappears into the kitchen. I walk slowly around the room, trying to spot anything I might’ve missed on first entering. Doesn’t look like it. Everything seems pristine and well kept. Impeccable is a word that comes to mind. I head behind the counter and start looking through cabinets above and below. I soon find the glasses, though cups is a more accurate description. Long and tall and made of something that isn’t glass, but also isn’t just plastic. Something else completely. Now I’m on the hunt for a beverage. I’m sure I could find a faucet and get some water, but this place seems to be of a high caliber, so I’m hoping to score big.
After opening many doors, I find a number of drinks refrigerators, though nothing is labeled, which I think a little weird. I grab a bottle – like the cup, it’s not glass or plastic – and study the top, trying to figure out how to open it. I try a clockwise, then counter-clockwise twist. The latter does the trick and there’s a hiss of escaping carbonation.
I grab another for Dave, as well as a cup. Then I look for an icebox. Doesn’t take long and I’m shocked to find it well stocked. Score!
I choose a table in the center of the room and poor our drinks. I sit and get comfortable. I take a sip, feeling the bubbles go up my nose and make my eyes water. It’s heavenly. It’s some sort of cola. Like the cup and bottle, it’s an in between: not Coca Cola, but not Pepsi either. But it takes fucking great.
I take a long second drink, knowing there’s lots more where that came from.
That’s when Dave comes through the kitchen door with two plates of steaming hot food. The smell quickly pervades the room and my stomach immediately starts making some very audible noises.
He puts the plates down and I stare in head-over-heels love at big steaks, boiled potatoes, and is that broccoli? It looks a vibrant green and incredibly fresh. Dave is back again with silverware.
We sit down to eat, both grabbing out drinks and toasting.
JAKE: “Welcome to Gibraltar.”
Then we start eating. I attack the broccoli first and it’s as juicy and delicious as it looks. The potatoes are soft and already have salt and pepper. The steak is medium rare and just wonderful. As I savor each bite, I notice Dave’s steak is well done.
He is British after all.
I’m all full up. That meal was just an absolute joy. Definitely the best thing I’ve eaten in . . . Hwaw, gawd knows. Probably my entire bloody life. I knew Jake would want his meat rare and bloody. Me. I like mine cooked all the way through. Call me old fashioned.
I’m cleaning up now. I insisted Jake stay in his seat. Told him I’d see if I can come up with some sort of dessert. I had to tell him I was on the hunt for some spotted dick. Couldn’t avoid that one, could I?
And Jake knew what I meant. Had a right laugh at it. Bless him.
I didn’t tell Jake about the packaging the meat was in. It had a, well, not really a sell by, but more of an “eat by” date. It said January 14. And the year was . . . 2105. I know. I couldn’t fucking believe it when I saw it. I was right though. This place is in the future. Lot farther than I thought.
I don’t know about telling Jake. If I should. When I should. It’s a lot to take in . . . No, I will tell him. Just not yet. After the meal’s all done.
So . . .
It’s while I’m cleaning things up that I find the rubbish bin. To throw away the packaging and other bits. It’s in a logical spot, so doesn’t take me long to find. I open it up, and glance into it, then drop what’s in my hands.
I start walking away, and like a cliche cartoon character I stop. I slowly walk back to the bin and open it up again. I take out each piece of rubbish I threw in. It’s the two of us. So not a lot. I know what each piece is. It all comes out.
Then I look back in the rubbish bin.
At the bottom is more packaging and some other rubbish. I take it out. It’s packaging for chicken. And for vegetables. And at the very bottom is a finished bottle of wine.
I have a sniff, then turn it over. A few drops come out.
Someone’s been here.