Updated: Feb 28, 2020
My grandmother had a saying: “a life well lived is a life with a lot of scars.” She fully understood what that meant. Both of her parents died in the Holocaust. She almost did as well. And once all that was behind her, she had to uproot her life and move to America, knowing no one, having no one to turn to, struggling to make ends meet.
She did it, though. And she never got bitter. Never complained. I always remember her smiling, happy, joking, laughing. When I asked her how she could be so upbeat in the face of all that darkness, she’d say “oh, those are just scars. I got them. Everyone does. But there’s a whole lot more of me than there are of them.”
I never fully understood that. I still don’t. And I really don’t know what it says about me that I don’t have scars.
Scars are things that healed. They may hurt, but not as much as they once did. So I don’t have scars. I have wounds. I have things that still cut deep, that still pain me as much as they did when I first think about them: Sam and the Alone place, Thorn, Zed, The Terrible Trivia Test…
And Timothy Chapman’s Mondays. That wound still bleeds as fresh as ever.
I was getting real sick of the South.
To be fair, no matter how long I spent on the road, I never felt at home anywhere other than the Midwest. North Eastern cities are baffling labyrinths. The West Coast is simply strange. Plain States are big empties populated by winds, and the South West is more of the same.
But the South is just plain hostile. Outside of the king of venom that is New York City, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten less friendly welcomes than deep South rural towns. Their legendary hospitality only applies once you know somebody; if you don’t have that, you’re an outsider, plain and simple.
And remember, we had to interview these people. The idea for “Faces of America” was to pull from everywhere, deep South included. But they refused to bite. Everyone was suspicious that we were with somebody, or spying on them, or trying to pull an elaborate con, so it was slammed doors or chased off all around. We did manage to find a few outliers, including some amazingly sweet and generous individuals. And if you could get your foot in the door and convince others to introduce you around, man did the tune change. But it still wasn’t as much as we were hoping for.
During that time, we used Jackson as a sort of safe ground to retreat to. I wish I was joking, but after the sheriff of an extremely small town started to follow us around, we figured that heading out after we overstayed our welcome wasn’t such a bad idea, and the relative anonymity of a big city helped with that.
“I still don’t get it,” Zoey complained as she stabbed more hashbrowns. We were at Huddle House, which was located just outside the city and was slowly becoming our favorite place to eat. “Aren’t there any places around here that won’t give us the ‘move along’ treatment?”
I shrugged. “Small towns are small towns, I guess. If they see a stranger, their first thought is ‘why’?”
“Hmph,” she replied. “Well they need to lighten up a little. Maybe let them know that the Civil War is over.”
I choked on my coffee. “Jeez Zoe. Comments like that definitely won’t help.”
She slid a fork full of potatoes into her mouth and began to stab more. “Well, I’m frustrated. We’ve only got five, maybe ten minutes of stuff to put in for this section when I was hoping for at least a half hour more. And I’m tired of being stared at like a bug in a microscope LIKE YOU ARE!” she finished, violently pointing at the other side of the diner.
I followed her finger to a middle-aged white guy, somewhere between thirty and forty, with thinning black hair, glasses and a crumpled gray suit and tie. He was staring wide-eyed at the two of us, as if we were aliens from outer space.
He continued to stare for a good three seconds more, before awkwardly shifting his gaze back to the plate in front of him.
Zoey groaned. “Please tell me we’re leaving soon.”
I fished out the crumpled itinerary. “Well, Alabama is next, then Georgia, then Florida…”
Zoey perked up.
“...then back to Mississippi.”
She slumped her head on the table and extended her fork towards me. “Do you think you can jab this into my ear so hard it kills me?”
I gently took the fork and placed it next to my plate. “I think somebody’s burnt out. I know we just got a new episode ready, but do you want to put ‘Faces’ on the backburner and work on the next ‘Creepy America’?”
She looked up at me. “I suppose that does sound better than suicide by silverware.” She sighed, stood up, stretched, and walked over to the front counter with me to pay the bill.
“Do we have any leads?” she asked as I exchanged cash.
“Well, we did have that mirror,” I replied. “The Myrtles Plantation in Mississippi. It wasn’t too bad of a drive the last time I checked.”
“Hmm.” As we walked out of the door, she glanced over her shoulder.
“What is it?”
“That weird guy sure is causing a scene.”
I turned and looked back. Inside of the diner, the crumpled businessman was rushing out, pushing past waitresses and leaving his food unpaid for.
“Wonder what his problem is,” I said.
Zoey shrugged. “Maybe he just forgot the ‘dine’ part of ‘dine-and-dash.’”
“You don’t think we should follow up on it?”
“What’s there to follow up on? Nothing ever comes from the crazy ones.”
“Fair enough, I suppose.”
We kept walking on in silence for a while, turning the corner to get to the parking lot, until Zoey suddenly stepped close to me. “We’re being followed. Crazy guy.”
I looked back. The man in the wrinkled suit rounded the corner in a hurry and stopped as soon as he saw me watching him, instead making a big show of observing the area around him.
Zoey jabbed me in the side. “Don’t stare. Keep walking.”
I picked up the pace again.
“Who the hell is he?” Zoey muttered.
“Not Archangel,” I answered. “He sucks at this too much.”
“That’s not assuring. Not professional isn’t the same as not dangerous.”
“So what do you want to do?”
“Turn down this next alley and hide.” Zoey said in a harsh whisper. “If he tries anything, we jump him.”
My stomach turned a bit at that statement, but I turned down the darkened side street without saying anything. Once there, I flattened myself behind the wall of the right building while Zoey crouched behind the dumpster.
A minute later, the man bolted in, panting and out of breath. “Where did…” he wheezed. He spun around in a circle, then widened his eyes when he saw me.
“You!” he gasped.
Zoey leaped forward and tackled him, shoving both of them onto the ground. It was hardly a fair fight, seeing as how he was a winded forty-year-old and Zoey was still in her spry twenties, so it didn’t last very long. Once he was down, Zoey scrambled back to her feet and put a foot on his chest, keeping him there.
“Why are you following us!?” she demanded.
“I’m sorry, I just thought maybe you knew something or were something because I’d never seen you before today…” His words continued into more meaningless babble.
I raised an eyebrow. “He’s really not making any sense.”
“Yeah,” Zoey agreed, “maybe we should call someone…”
“No!” The man exclaimed. “Please don’t I…” He closed his eyes and swallowed. “My name is Timothy Chapman. I’ve been living the same Monday for almost twenty years. Every day is the same date. Every day, the exact same things happen.”
He opened his eyes and stared at us. “Except you two. You two are different. I’ve never seen you before, so you have to be part of this. Please…” he begged, “please get me to Tuesday.”
Timothy Chapman (“please, just Tim” he told us,) was staying at a Motel 6 outside of town. After pleading for a while, we agreed to meet him there and hear him out, but once we had entered the lobby, Zoey grabbed my arm and forced me to stay behind for a second.
“What are we doing here? He’s obviously nuts!” Zoey hissed. “And the dangerous kind, too!”
“Maybe, maybe not,” I said. “We’ve seen crazier things. Hell, we’ve done crazier things.”
“But reliving the same day over and over?”
“It makes sense, given what we’ve seen.”
Zoey stared at me in disbelief.
“You remember what I was talking about at the Monolith?” I asked. “About secret pockets of space and time?”
She thought for a second, then turned back to the hallway where Tim was waiting. “So… what? You think he’s trapped in one of these secret pockets of time?”
Zoey shook her head. “Then why would we be any different?”
“I think…” I stopped to choose my words. “I think that maybe when we used that terminal, we de-syched ourselves from the normal time stream. Everyone else here may be trapped linearly, but we now exist outside of that linearity, even if we’re still going in the same direction.”
Zoey groaned and rubbed her temples. “Fine, I don’t get it, but…” she looked back at me, “tell me the truth Liam: do you actually believe this could happen?”
I met her gaze. “With what we’ve seen? A thousand times yes.”
She nodded. “Fine. We’ll at least hear him out then.”
Tim’s room was the normal fare for a motel: bed, bathroom, desk. It didn’t look like he had been living there long, though: the bed was still neat and made and a solitary, unopened suitcase sat next to it. He had to have just checked in, I figured, which was weird considering that he had rattled off the directions without any hesitation whatsoever.
Tim sat down on the bed and looked at us sheepishly. “So, um, I guess you need to hear about what happened to me now, huh?”
Zoey shot me a look of impatience.
I silently asked her to wait it out with my eyes.
She sighed. “If you would. And, you don’t mind us recording this, do you?”
“No, not at all.”
Zoey pointed at me and I started up the camcorder.
Tim cleared his throat. “My name is Timothy Chapman. I’m 23…”
Zoey and I glanced at each other.
“...and every day, I live the exact same Monday.”
“What do you mean by ‘the exact same Monday’?” Zoey asked.
“I mean the exact same Monday,” he insisted. “February Seventeenth, 2016. The date never changes. I go to sleep, I wake up, it’s still the seventeenth. And every single day, the exact same things happen over and over and over again. Here,” he jumped up and ran over to the window, “let me show you.”
We walked over to the window and watched.
“In twelve seconds, you’re going to see a tall woman with blonde hair walking a big white dog. In fifteen, a hispanic man with a reflective vest is going to come from the opposite direction.”
I pointed the camera at the window and waited. Sure enough, a tall blonde woman showed up, walking a poodle. A moment later, a man with a neon yellow vest passed her.
Zoey cleared her throat. “That’s not exactly…”
“We’re good, thank you!” Tim interrupted.
We stared at him.
“No housekeeping?” a muffled voice asked from behind the room door.
“No housekeeping,” he yelled, then looked back at us.
“And how do we know that this isn’t some elaborate prank?” Zoey asked.
He sighed. “Go outside and travel one block east, towards the gas station. On the corner, there’ll be a man with sunglasses arguing with a teenage kid standing next to a red ferrari that’s been rear-ended by a white station wagon. Go see, just,” he looked down at his watch, “please hurry. We’re running out of Monday.”
Zoey and I glanced at each other, then silently walked out of the hotel and down the block he told us to. There, parked behind a stop sign, was a smashed cherry red ferrari, back end rammed into by an old, white station wagon. Standing next to it was an angry white guy alternating between screaming into a cell phone and screaming at a teenage boy, head in hands, sitting on the curb.
“Now way he could arrange that,” Zoey said. “I guess he’s legitimate.”
“So now what?” I asked.
Zoey held her hands out. “That’s on you. I do people, you do weird.”
“Since you saved me from the blood curse.”
“Mmmph,” I grumbled.
“C’mon,” Zoey goaded me, “don’t tell me you haven’t been obessively thinking over this already.”
I paused. “You know, he looks awfully old for 23.”
When we got back to the room, Tim had the door propped open, pacing back and forth inside. Once he saw that we were there, his eyes immediately lit up. “You saw it, right?! You know I’m telling the truth now, right?!”
“Yes yes, we saw it.” I motioned for him to sit back down on the bed. “Can I ask you some questions?”
“Of course!” He sat down on the mattress and leaned forward, far enough to be in danger of falling off.
“You said you were 23.”
“Yes, I am,” he confirmed. “Or maybe, I was. I’m still aging.”
I furrowed my brow. “At the exact same rate?”
“But, that would mean…”
He gave me a sad smile. “6,198 Mondays. Almost seventeen years in the exact same day.”
I slowly nodded. “The aging, is that why you move out of your house every morning?”
He looked down at the packed suitcase at his feet. “At first, it wasn’t really noticeable. But my wife, Kaitlyn, she started to say things. Asking me if I was sick, or if I was stressed out at work. After a while, she stopped recognizing me and started freaking out in, attacking me and asking me what I did with her husband, so I started sneaking out of my house in the morning and come here.”
“So you wake up in your own bed every morning?”
“Yeah. No matter what happens.”
“What about… physical harm?”
“You mean…” he mimed putting a gun to his head.
“Yeah,” I admitted.
“Tried several times. Never seems to work. I just wake up back in bed.”
Zoey gave me a sideways glance. “You’ve got an idea, Liam. I can see it.”
“I don’t know if it’s an exact match, but the terminal…”
“Right. Good thinking.” Zoey checked her watch. “Do you know how far it is from here?”
“About two and a half hours.”
Tim’s eyes bounced between the two of us. “What? What is it?”
“You stay here and explain it to him,” I told Zoey. “I’m going to bring the car up.”
“Right,” Zoey said, sitting down next to Tim. “Don’t worry Mr. Chapman, we’re going to fix this soon. I promise.”
It took me all of five minutes to get to the car, unlock the door, and slide into the passenger seat. Once there, I cracked my knuckles and slid the key into the ignition. “Right,” I said out loud to myself, “time to use this knowledge to do some good for once.”
A soft click-clack answered me. “Hello Foster.”
I glanced up into the rearview mirror. Behind me was a large tan man dressed in a black suit and trench coat, shiny aviator glasses covering his face.
“Thorn,” I whispered, “what are you doing here?”
“Just came to ask what a bright young man such as yourself is doing leaving the fine city of Jackson.” His hand moved up an inch and the black of his pistol became visible in the reflection.
“You already know, don’t you?”
He scoffed. “Of course I already know. We’ve been watching you since Bethesda. The question is, what are you doing trying to head back to the access terminal?”
“My guess is that you already know the answer to that one, too.”
“Yeah I do. What is it with you kids these days? Being famous isn’t enough, you want to be heroes too?”
I gripped the steering wheel tighter. “So what are going to do? Kill me?”
He chuckled. “Course not. If I wanted you dead, I would have put a bomb in your car engine. Or took you out with a sniper already. Or brought something heavier than a silenced .22 when I decided to take potshots at your RV. No, I’m here to warn you.”
“That if it was up to me, you would be dead.” He brought the gun up to my ear, tickling it. “Anderson thinks you’re harmless. That when push comes to shove, you’ll play ball. But I’ve been doing this for a while, Foster, and I know what a crusader looks like. You won’t quit, not until everyone and everything around you has been burnt to the ground in the name of your little quest. And you want to know why I know this?”
I stayed silent.
“Because I was part of the team that had to fix that access terminal. Quite the mess, Foster. It was going all kinds of apeshit. And that didn’t have to happen. You could have done the smart thing and walked away. You didn’t have to play with keys. But you did, because you felt you needed to know, and you caused damage that you couldn’t comprehend and that I don’t have time to explain.
“So here’s your one chance to prove me wrong: stay in Jackson, and forget that terminal exists”
“No can do.” I gripped the steering wheel tighter. “I’ve got someone in there who needs it.”
He pressed the gun closer. “You willing to stake your life on that?”
“What about the life of Ms. Hammersham?”
I tried to respond, but my throat went dry.
Slowly, I took my hands away from the steering wheel.
He gave another soft laugh. “That’s what I thought.” He opened up the back door and stepped out. “Think about that the next time you want to play hero, Foster. And remember, I’ll be watching.”
The walk back from the car to the motel was the longest walk of my life.
I stepped into Tim’s room to find Zoey and him waiting, suitcase slung over one shoulder.
“Alright, ready?” Zoey asked.
I shook my head.
Zoey’s furrowed her brow. “What’s…”
“We can’t use the terminal,” I replied.
I stared and shook my head again.
Tim collapsed backwards, into the bed. “Bu… what now? If we can’t…”
“I promised I’d help you, and I’m going to keep that promise.” I sat down at the writing desk and pulled out my phone, Googling ‘Jackson MS missing persons.’ “Tim, you said you’ve been re-living the same Monday, right?”
He looked up at me with watery, red eyes. “Yes?”
“Do you remember Sunday?”
“That was so long ago.”
“Seventeen, eighteen, nineteen,” I whispered to myself. “That’s below the national average.”
Tim looked up at me. “Huh?”
“Nothing, just tell me about Sunday.”
He looked up to the ceiling and closed his eyes. “I… was excited for the new promotion at Parkway. We both were. I had worked hard to get it. Monday was supposed to be the first day, but…” he scrunched his face up, “...Kaitlyn had to go to her Mom’s and I went to the museum…”
“Museum?” I asked.
“Yeah.” Eyes still closed, he blushed a bit. “The Mississippi Art Museum. It’s kind of an interesting place.”
As I opened up Google again, Zoey leaned over my shoulder. “What are you looking for?”
“Jackson Mississippi has roughly the national average of missing people, which suggests that whatever happened to Tim hasn’t been here for long; it moved in recently. And if the last place he went was the Art Museum…”
I opened up the museum page and scrolled down to exhibits, continuing until I found , ‘Garretson’s Tempus Fugit Collection. NEW!’ Once there, I clicked open a gallery to showcase dozens of clockwork figures, animals, buildings, and humans made out of gears and metal scrap.
Zoey squinted at the text line at the top. “In this sculpture collection, Garretson, better known by his alias ‘Mind Over Matter’, demonstrates the fleeting nature of time with these interactable sculptures made out of repurposed scrap…”
Hearing those words, Tim came over and peered at my phone as well. “That’s it! I was looking at those!”
“Interactable, huh?” I flicked through the gallery pages until I came across a gray box with the words ‘Oops! We’re sorry, but it appears this image link is broken!’
I pointed at a small winged ‘A’ in the corner.
“No way…” Zoey whispered.
Tim looked back and forth between us. “What? What is it?”
“A sign that something shouldn’t have been there, and telling people like us to stay away.” I flipped from there to Twitter, clicking on the search box and typing in #MississippiArtMuseum.
“What are you doing now?” Zoey asked.
“Hoping,” I replied. Not seeing what I wanted, I hit search again and typed in #MindOverMatter.
“Hoping for what?” Zoey continued.
“That Anderson was right when he said that Archangel can’t catch everything.”
Half a page down, I found what I was looking for: a woman posing for a selfie with a clockwork old man with a cane. A sculpture that definitely hadn’t been part of the original gallery images.
“I remember that one!” Tim said, practically bouncing. “That one came with a handle that you would spin to make it move!”
I opened the picture up and zoomed in a tiny bit, over to where a wooden handle was attached to a thin metal gear. Alongside one section of it, cut into the metal itself, were the letters “WONDERLAND CONTROL GEAR 136-A.”
“Wonderland again,” Zoey whispered.
“What’s Wonderland?” Tim asked.
“Not sure,” I answered, “but everytime we run into it, freaky stuff starts happening.”
“Hang on,” Zoey interrupted, “if this is what put him in a time-loop, why haven’t these other people been affected?”
I scratched my head. “Again, no idea. But if this thing caused it, this thing can fix it.”
“But if Archangel already found it…”
“...then it’s gone, yeah.” I tilted my head back to the two of them. “But even so, I don’t think it’s gone gone. My guess is that they couldn’t move something like that too quickly, especially if it was potentially dangerous. So it’s most likely still there.”
“So all we have to do is break into a museum protecting priceless pieces of art,” Zoey grimaced. “Great.”
Tim stood up straight. “I can help with that.”
Tim told us to meet him at the museum at five in the evening; that would be the ‘easiest time’ to get in. That gave us a couple hours to drive around and do our best to case the place out, even though we really had no idea what we were looking for.
After our third time around, we saw Tim stepping out of a yellow taxi cab, so I swung into a parking space and stepped out to meet him.
“Are you ready?” he asked us.
“Sure, but…” I took a glance back at the building, “I don’t think there’s anyway in. That place is locked up tight.”
“You leave that to me,” he declared, striding around to a side door labeled ‘employees only.’
I turned to Zoey. She shrugged and started following him. I hurried to catch up.
As soon as we reached the door, it swung open to reveal a large, muscular black man in a kevlar vest with “SECURITY” written on it. He stopped and looked at us in bewilderment. “What the…”
“Shh… it’s okay Carl,” Tim interrupted.
The other guy took a step back. “How do you…”
“Melissa sent me.” He put a hand on his shoulder. “She’s ready for you to come home.”
I winced and stepped back a bit, ready for the man to clock Tim straight in the face.
The other guy drew himself up…
...and started crying.
“I can’t” he mumbled, tears coming down his cheeks. “That night, what I said…”
“Hey, hey, hey,” Tim consoled him, “it’s okay. I know that you’re still hurting, but she’s hurting too, man, You both need to heal… together.”
“She really wants me back?” he asked.
Tim just silently nodded.
The man ran out, shouting “thank you!”s all the way across the parking lot.
We stared at Tim.
“I take it this isn’t your first time breaking in here?” I finally asked.
“After a few Mondays, you start seeing what you can get away with.” He waved us forward into the open doorway. “Follow my lead.”
We did, trailing on his heels as he moved from white stucco hallway to white stucco hallway, too fast for me to discern any pattern behind it. I could barely keep up with him, much less take time to process my surroundings.
Suddenly, he stuck his arm out and crouched low, forcing us to follow suit. Ahead of us, around a corner, was a chest-high wall and windows that reached up to the room’s ceiling, forming a small room, and inside, a red-headed man in another “SECURITY” vest was seated, reading a magazine of some kind.
“What now?” I whispered.
Tim looked at his watch. “Seventeen seconds and the Miller kid comes out.”
Zoey tapped my shoulder. I turned around and shrugged back.
“Son of a bitch!” the guard shouted. He stood up and bolted out of the room, leaving the door to the guard-house wide open.
Tim slunk out and into the guard house with us behind. Once inside, I turned the camera to the computer monitor there, showing a teenager running away and the guard close behind. Framing the chase was a large wall with scarlet spray paint dripping down the side.
“Here.” I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to the source. Tim was holding out a plastic keycard. “This should open all the doors. The PIN is 8161.”
“Thanks,” I muttered, grabbing it. “So where do we go now?”
“I have no idea,” Tim admitted. “Usually I’m here to screw around, not find things.”
“Right then,” I sat down at the computer and started hitting keys. “How long do we have until that guard gets back?”
“Thirteen minutes, give or take 30 seconds.”
I clicked through files until I found one labeled “DIRECTORY.” I opened it and scrolled through the pdf it brought up. “Temporary storage. That sounds like what we want… Wing B, Sublevel One.”
Tim leaned over my shoulder and studied the document with me. “We’re on Sublevel One right now. Wing B is a right, then a left, a left, then straight.”
“How about we just follow you?” Zoey suggested. Tim nodded and barreled down the hallways, forcing us to run in order to keep up. He dashed down three intersections like he was being chased and abruptly stopped at the fourth, holding his arm out and causing us to almost trip and fall as we stopped as well.
A young man pushing a trash can and a mop glided past us, headphones blaring with music and eyes focused on empty space.
After another minute more, Tim waved and we continued moving down the hallway, this time at a brisk walk instead of an all-out run.
The hallway we were following turned right one more time and emptied out into a long corridor with a large, blue letter “B” painted on the side. Down the walls were dozens upon dozens of doors, each with a small, wire-meshed glass window set into the center and a keycard reader and number pad set above the handle.
“Wing B,” Tim announced.
Zoey spun around the passage. “There has to be at least 50 doors here!”
“Better get started,” I moved to the closest one on my left, slid the card Tim had given me through, and punched in ‘8161.’ Once I did, the door gave a tiny beep and I swung it open to reveal a small room filled with crates and hand-dollies.
I heard Tim mutter “the pin is 0115” behind me. A minute later, Zoey was by my side, sliding a card through and punching in keys while the sound of Tim opening doors continued behind me. I leap-frogged over Zoey and continued down the line, the three of us accessing rooms as fast as we could.
When I opened the twelfth down, a life-sized, flat sculpture of an old, hunched-over man composed out of rusted sheet metal and large, interlocked pieces of scrap and gears stood in the center of the room, a paper sheet reading “DO NOT TOUCH UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES” taped onto it. Following the arm down, the area where the hand rested on the cane had a large wooden handle on it, and attached to the handle was a long, thin gear that read “WONDERLAND CONTROL GEAR 136-A.”
“Guys” I shouted, “I found it!”
I turned around. Zoey was gone. As was Tim.
I walked around, seeing the doors they had been searching through swung open, but no sign of the other two. “Tim?” I asked in a harsh whisper, trying to grab their attention without revealing ourselves. “Zoey?”
They didn’t answer.
But something else did.
THERE GOES LIAM. ONE OF GOD’S OWN PROTOTYPES. TOO WEIRD TO LIVE, TO RARE TO DIE.
My blood ran cold. I slowly stepped back into the room with the sculpture. There, perched on top of it like some kind of demented angel, was Sam, green hoodie, jeans, boots and all, perched on top of the metal head and grabbed on with both its hands and feet. Two large, black wings of pure shadow extended from behind its shoulders, filling the entire top half of the room and those damnable shining pinpricks of eyes and crazy, twisted grin were visible in the blackness of his hood.
“Go away.” It barely came out as a whisper.
It cocked its head. WHAT WAS THAT?
“I said go away!” This time, I managed to shout it.
IS THAT ANY WAY TO TALK TO YOUR MESSIAH?
“Leave me alone! I didn’t ask for your help, or your baptism, or…”
FUNNY. There was a rush of darkness and all of a sudden it was in front of me. It happened so fast I startled backwards and fell over, letting Sam leer over me. YOU’VE USED MY GIFT SEVERAL TIMES WITH NO ISSUES WHATSOEVER.
“What the hell are you talking about?” I said, trying to get back up.
As I sat up, he reached over and covered my face with a large, dirt-caked hand. My vision went black, then faded back into view with me sitting in the darkened RV, Zoey collapsed into a chair in front of me. “I just… I just wish there was a way to fight back,” she sighed.
“Archangel,” I said to myself. “This was the night they talked to us.” But that’s not what came out of my mouth. What came out of my mouth was what I said when I had a sudden flash of insight:
“We can. They’re afraid of ‘Creepy America.’ They’re afraid of this show.”
The colors twisted and blurred until Zoey and I were standing on top of a large desert rock, black terminal with green letters in front of me.
“No, it can’t be,” I thought to myself.
“Wonderland access terminal,” past-me said. “Wonderland. Wonderland. Worlds of… Hey Zoey, you don’t think…”
The scene faded to black and my vision returned as Sam’s hairy, dirty hand lifted from my face.
“You…” I stammered.
I TOLD YOU LIAM, Sam leaned closer to me until its face was only inches away from mine, I AM A MUSE. I AM HERE TO INSPIRE YOU TO DO GREAT WORKS. ALL YOU NEED ARE A COUPLE OF HINTS.
“I don’t want them!” I turned around and crawled away, then scrambled back to my feet.
OH REALLY? EVEN IF I WERE TO TELL YOU SOMETHING LIKE… HOW TO CORRECTLY TURN A WONDERLAND GEAR?
I stopped, then slowly spun back. Sam was leaning against the statue, gently caressing the gear with the wooden handle. MR. WONDERLAND DOES MAKE SUCH INTRICATE TOYS. BUT HE RARELY INCLUDES THE INSTRUCTION MANUAL. He stood back up and stepped forward, offering a hand to me. BUT I AM AN OPEN BOOK. I AM THE ALMIGHTY WIKI OF ALL THINGS: KNOWN, UNKNOWN, SECRET, COMPLEX, OCCULT. ACCEPT MY PENTECOST, LIAM, AND YOU CAN DO MUCH MORE THAN SIMPLY RESUME THE CLOCK OF A TOCK-STUCK MORTAL. YOU COULD OPEN DOORS TO OTHER WORLDS, ASCEND TO NEW REALMS, REWRITE REALITY ITSELF. JUST TAKE MY HAND….
I reached out my hand…
Sam’s eyes grew larger.
...and slapped its arm away.
“I don’t know what you are,” I growled, “but you’re wrong. I can feel it. I’m never joining you, Sam. So feel free to take your little pentecost and shove it.”
Its grin downturned into a grimace and its eyes slanted into rage. YOU… ARROGANT! It reeled back and shoved me with both arms, throwing me to the ground and sliding me into the wall behind me hard, hard enough to hurt.
“Liam!” Zoey appeared in my vision, bent down next to me.
“I’m fine,” I muttered.
Tim looked at me, then back to where I just was. “What the hell just happened?”
“I’ll tell you later,” I grabbed my side and hobbled back towards the room.
“‘Ey Bobby!” A staticky voice crackled near Tim. “You hear something near B Wing? Over.”
Tim pulled out a large walkie talkie from his jacket pocket and clicked it on. “It’s this damn art piece, Jamie. It’s hooked up to some kind of video clip and I can’t shut it off! Over.”
The walkie talkie laughed. “Artists, right? Over.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Tim replied. “Now quit yammering so I can figure out how to shut it up, Over and out.” Tim then turned back to me, panic in his eyes. “We’ve got to hurry. We’ve only got about a half hour left before the night crew comes and starts moving pieces around from here.”
“Don’t worry,” I grabbed onto the door and creaked it back open, revealing the sculpture and the handled gear attached to it, “I found it.”
Tim stepped in and began to walk around the it. “So this is the thing that got me stuck in Monday?” He sounded unconvinced.
“100 percent,” I said. “Time never works right when Wonderland is around.”
He grabbed the handle and moved it back and forth. “So what do I do?”
“Well, what did you do with it on Sunday?” Zoey asked.
He blushed. “I don’t remember.”
“Not at all?” I asked.
“It was a long time ago!” Tim protested.
There was a sharp bang from the other end of the hallway. The three of us scooted back into the room and I moved the door back, almost closed but open just enough to hear out of.
“Tim,” I whispered, “what’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” he stammered. “This has never happened before.”
There was the click-click-click of two sets of footsteps, then it stopped.
“I don’t see why this has to be done tonight…” one voice whined.
“Circumstances changed,” a deeper, familiar voice replied. “We need to get it out of here before interested parties steal it.”
Zoey tapped me on the shoulder. “Is that…”
“Thorn,” I finished quietly. “He must have decided to move the sculpture sooner after talking to me.”
“Talking to?” Zoey hissed.
I looked back at Tim. “I’m going to go out and make a distraction.”
Zoey squeezed my shoulder. “We’re.”
I started to say something, but Zoey just squeezed tighter. “Not the time to argue,” she said.
“Fine,” I sighed. “We’re going to go out and make a distraction. You stay here and experiment with the gear. Get yourself unstuck.”
“Alright. See you at my hotel room,” he smiled, “on Tuesday.”
I nodded back, then turned to Zoey. “Ready?”
“Depends,” she replied. “What’s the plan?”
“I was just going to run out and make him chase me.”
She smirked. “Think I can manage that.”
“Okay. One, and two, and three!” Zoey and I barreled out of the room, hitting the door so hard it flew around its hinge and slammed into the adjacent wall, clipping both Thorn and the headphoned janitor I had seen earlier. The janitor immediately fell over, but Thorn rolled back with the motion, bringing his arm up and pistol raised as he did so. “Foster, stop!”
“Split up,” Zoey panted. She went left and I went right. Back towards the guard shack, I realized.
I heard running footsteps, much faster than my own, stop at the intersection, then squeak and chase my path. I pushed further and dove into the guard shack, curling myself up underneath the desk.
The footsteps continued, then stopped. I heard the soft tinks of the pistol being handled as Thorn began moving slowly across the area, scanning for me.
I summoned all of my willpower and held my breath. The action inflamed my already burning lungs and turned my heartbeat into a roar.
C’mon, I mentally urged, we have to be close to thirteen minutes.
As if on cue, footsteps from the other side of the hallway sounded off, then stopped. “What the…” the voice of the security guard muttered.
“Stand down!” Thorn shouted. “I’m a member of Archangel!”
“A whowhatnow?” The guard raised something else tinky up. “Hands up! Drop the gun!”
“I’m with Archangel! Protocall Five!”
The guard brought his walkie-talkie to life with a click-beep. “Robison, call the police right now. We have someone who’s armed and dangerous, possibly insane.”
Thorn mirrored the action with his own click-beep. “Copy base, I am in pursuit of the assets, about to be detained by local law. Permission to terminate obstacle.”
The air turned deadly quiet.
“Denied,” a radio voice sounded next to Thorn. I couldn’t quite be sure, but it sounded like Anderson. “Allow yourself to be taken in.”
“Sir,” Thorn insisted, “the assets…”
“Are to be allowed to escape,” the maybe-Anderson interrupted. “We’ve told you before: they are to be given a certain degree of trust. Comply with law enforcement and consider this your punishment for disobeying orders. We will pick you up in the morning.”
The silence resumed.
Something clattered to the ground where Thorn was.
Carefully, I crawled out of my hiding spot and back the way I came. As I did, I watched Thorn stare daggers through his reflective aviators, scowling as he laid flat on the ground, hands behind his head.
It took another hour of sneaking around and making distractions to get out of there, an hour I’ll skip for the sake of time. Once I did, though, I found Zoey waiting for me in the parking lot. Without a word, we got into our car, drove back to the Motel 6, and headed into Tim’s room, door still unlocked and opened from when we had left.
Still silent, we sat on the bed, waiting for Thorn to come back. We sat like that for hours, not moving, not talking, until finally, Zoey looked down at her phone. “Where the hell is he?” she complained. “It’s after midnight.”
We waited a minute longer.
“He’s still in Monday,” I realized.
Zoey glared at me. “Don’t say that. He’s… he probably got caught in the museum, and they put him in jail. Or back home, or…”
I stood up and moved over to the writing desk. A solitary piece of paper sat there, covered in tiny, neat letters.
“That… wasn’t there before,” Zoey said.
I picked it up and began to read out loud:
“Liam and Zoey,
“I hope this letter manages to find you. I can only pray that these words, unlike myself, manage to find a way to get to tomorrow. It’s funny, or pathetic, I can’t say which, that at my dying hour all I can think about is you. Not my wife, or my parents, or all the friends who will wonder about me when I’m gone. No, instead, all I can think about are the two strange kids who, in one Monday in a million, found me and tried to help.
“The gear didn’t work. I don’t know why. I’ve tried a million times since, but nothing ever happens, no matter what I do. I’m sure that if you were here with me, you could explain to me how to use it, but that’s no use now. I used to be angry at you, but years later, I realize that you were just doing the best you could. Perhaps not even you knew how the gear worked, and you were just grasping at straws, like me.
“I’ve seen your work, by the way. Good stuff. I’d ask you how you do the effects, but… well, I think we both know the answer.
“I can feel my body give way as I write this. Far too many Mondays, I fear. My frame has become one of an old man, so please, consider this my Will. Remember me. The others won’t. Not Katherine. Not those who knew me. I’ll be vanished. But you, you two, who knew what happened, remember me. And keep working at it. Help others, if you can. Nobody deserves this.
“Nobody deserves this.
“Well, maybe, if we get that gear, we can go back,” Zoey said, tears in the corners of her eyes. “Right, Liam? I mean…”
I hung my head.
The conversation ended.
“Liam, c’mon, it’s time to move on.”
It was two days later. I was seated at Huddle House, staring blankly at the spot where we had first seen Tim. Sprawled out at my booth was a large poster:
HAVE YOU SEEN ME?
TIMOTHY CHAPMAN, 23
150 LBS. 5’8”
REWARD FOR ANY INFORMATION
PLEASE CALL KAITLYN CHAPMAN:
And a picture of a much younger, much happier Tim than I had ever known.
“I know it hurts,” Zoey said, “but we have to move on. We can’t beat ourselves up every time we have a loss like this.”
“At any given time, around 90,000 people are missing in the United States,” I muttered numbly.
Zoey looked at me confused. “What did you say?”
“My mantra as of late.” I buried my face in my hands. “What are we doing, Zoey? Everytime we try to help, we just make it worse.”
“Don’t say that,” she whispered. “We’ve had our good moments. Millie, and Red Like Roses…”
“And Greg and Sims and Tim.” I sat back up. “We can’t save one person. Not one.”
“Liam, we’re not gods. There’s only so much you can do…”
Zoey sighed and sat down at the seat across from me. “No, Liam, we exhausted all our options.”
“No we didn’t,” I insisted. “We had something we knew would work. The terminal. But Thorn came. Intimidated me. Convinced me not to go. And then…” I swallowed, “and then, Sam came. Offered to tell me how to work the gear. But I was scared. Again. And I said no, and…”
“Hush,” Zoey commanded me. She paused, then reached into her pocket and pulled out a crumpled sheet of paper and handed it to me.
I took it and read the top. “Raven’s Riddle. A spell for learning secrets. Dominis Enim Novit Omnia.” I looked back up to Zoey. “Is this…”
“One of Jenny’s spells, yeah,” she confirmed.
“I thought we burned them all.”
“Me too, but this was lodged under some stuff. We must have missed it when we were rounding the papers up.” She took the paper back. “I was going to get rid of it, and then Tim happened. And I turned it over and over in my hands, thinking about how much easier it would be if I could just use it once.”
I stayed silent, watching the paper.
“And you know what?” Zoey took the spell and ripped it into pieces.
“We could have used that,” I said.
Zoey shook her head. “No, we couldn’t. Liam, this… world, we keep finding, it’s not right. It’s… consuming. And the first thing we need to do is make sure it doesn’t consume us. I want to help people just as much as you do, but we can’t do that dead. Or screwed over by spells. Or under the influence of whatever a dark pentecost is.”
“So what are you saying?”
“I’m saying that Monday sucked. Tim should be here. But we need to be here also, and we can’t kill ourselves for the sake of one person. If we go, nobody fights this fight anymore.” She gave me a sad smile. “That alone is worth sticking around for. So… hero responsibly, okay?”
I stayed quiet, then nodded.
“Okay,” Zoey said. “We’ll win. Eventually. Trust me.”
I don’t if I believed her then. All I know is that I don’t believe her now.