The Other Side

CrystalShe pushed her breath out in tight bursts as she scrambled between the house-sized rocks that had, in some past epoch, tumbled from the cliffs above turning the valley floor into a maze of rock and stone. The black sky shone above, its smooth face unmarred by even a single pinprick of light. It was the sort of day she loved.

She moved fast. She’d never been to this section of the narrows before but that mattered little. Her body knew how to climb, jump, squirm, and squeeze so well she barely spared a thought for such things. A fine film of powdered rock and dusk lined her arms, her face, she could feel its grit collected at the sides of her nose and between the teeth she clenched and unclenched as she moved. She could feel the muscles at the bottoms of her cheeks jumping and twitching in response.

She came to a small crack at the base of a tower of stone that otherwise completely blocked her way forward. She crouched low, twisted her body sideways, and slipped through without a thought. Unyielding stone scraped at her fine skin, removing a layer from her left cheek and the knuckles of both hands.

Her people never explored the narrows. It was dangerous, they said. There were… things… that lurked here, they said. There were wild magics that could hold a person in thrall until they wasted away and their bones turned to dust. There was even light, they said.

She’d come, at first, in search of these things. But all she’d found was dirt and stone and a sort of solace she’d never found anywhere else. In the narrows, the only sounds were the wind whistling through tight alleys and cracks of stone, the occasional trill of a canyon wren, and the scuff of her calloused heels on dusty stone. The only rules were those she made up herself, and she’d made up only one so far. There must never be any further rules.

The crack she moved through tightened further, but she could see a vague glowing whiteness ahead, something brilliantly white almost glowing in the cool darkness of the day, and it was close. She took a deep breath and held it briefly before pushing it all out, collapsing her lungs as much as she could. She scrunched down lower, the crack widened a tiny bit down low, and shoved herself through.

She tumbled out into a wide cavern and looked about in surprise. Cobwebs hung in tattered strings in the corners, a layer of dust covered the floor so thickly her bare feet left clearly defined imprints behind. To her surprise there were stone benches scattered about the room, most lying cracked and broken now. The room was old, clearly unused for a long time.

Along the far wall, an expanse of crystal stretched from floor to ceiling and wall to wall, glimmering white in the cool darkness. The expanse of crystal was so thin she could see through it to the other side. And on the other side, a light so brilliantly white she could see little more than vague shapes and shadows.

She held back at first, fear strumming her nerves like instrument strings. Light. The great enemy of her people. Something that robbed them of their sight, that burned their pale skin to deep blistering shades of red, and most terrifyingly of all, housed the others. Those with eyes so dark they could see right through that blinding whiteness, and skin so black even fire couldn’t burn it.

But while the sheer whiteness on the other side made it difficult for her to see details, it did not burn her eyes. She glanced from one side to the other, scanning the room around her. Her vision was as clear as it ever was. The fear plucking at her nerves subsided a little, and excitement began to run in its place. She moved forward a step, the forward momentum of her foot seeming to take an entire month to complete. A second step, a third, and time seemed to both speed up and slow down simultaneously, as if her mind now moved so quickly it felt as if it took an epoch for her body to catch up.

And then she was there, forehead leaning gently against the clear crystal surface, both hands splayed along its smoothness. She narrowed her eyes, willing them to pierce the blinding whiteness and reveal the secrets it conspired to hide. A room, but beautiful and shining where hers was old and in ruins. Colors seemed to cover the walls, colors of a brightness and hue she’d never imagined could exist. She pressed her forehead against the crystal wall, the last of the fear she’d felt at the realization of light vanished, the desire to see those colors, to touch them, overrode everything else.

In the center of the room was something that looked like a sort of sofa. Brown, she thought, maybe wood, maybe stone, but polished to a warm glow in the brightness of the other side and covered with something… fabric maybe. But fabric that danced and cavorted with color and shapes so fine she couldn’t quite make them out through the blinding light.

She stared through the looking glass as the day grew old behind her. Beyond the narrows, the first flickering star made its debut in the lightening sky. At the far edge of the horizon, a soft pink stain formed and grew, slowly stretching long fingers across the sky. As she strained her eyes against the glare of the far side, her own people hurried home as the brightness of night grew around them.

In the narrows, in that small room lost to time, she stared. Stared as the burning bright light on the other side faded into dusk, finer details began to reveal themselves to her thirsting eyes. Brilliantly feathered birds with jeweled eyes cavorted along marble-white walls. A fireplace, mantle of living tree, huddled hungrily on the far side. And in the center, a reclining sofa made of shining tiger eye stone rested at ease, padded by thick layers of feathered pelts in ruby reds, sapphire blues, amethyst purples and smoldering oranges. And atop them, a dark shadow reclined.

With a gasp, she jerked her head back before thrusting it forward once again, clacking her curling horns sharply against the crystal barrier. It was one of them. One of the others. She inhaled sharply and held her breath as its head turned toward her, eyes open wide in surprise. She watched as the figure climbed to its feet, facing her.

The burning whiteness of that other place had faded enough that she could see his eyes glittering like shards of obsidian. His dark skin stood out starkly, breathtakingly beautifully, from the color of the room behind him, and his body rippled as he moved toward her.

The soft pink light of the approaching night had finally made its way through the myriad cracks and valleys of the barrens and filled the room around her with a soft glow. The light in that other place faded quickly now, a cool darkness suffusing what had been a blazing fire of light a short time before.

A strange sort of equilibrium settled over both rooms, as heat seeks the balance of coolness, and wet the balance of dryness, light reached across that crystal boundary in search of balancing darkness. He tilted his head to one side and she could see the curling thickness of one of his spiraling horns, larger, darker, but otherwise so like her own. He lifted a hand then, placing it over hers, his skin black as night, hers as white as the marble lining that far room. A sigh passed through them, through the crystalline barrier, through both her room and that other room, as light and darkness came into balance. She felt her own breath pass from her lips, heard his do the same. She felt his touch, warm and dry and direct. She turned her pale blue eyes to his glittering black ones and they breathed. One moment. Two. An eternity in an instant. And then the balance was broken. The last of the light drained out of his room, the pink glow of her nighttime sun filled hers, and the thin crystalline skin between worlds separated them once again.

A Stitch in Time Can Cost You More, by Hamilton Kohl

A Stitch in TimeI could always use a little more time and it just so happened that the gentleman seated across the aisle from me wore a rather nice black and gold Movado. I wore a flat gray quartz, well worn and nothing to look at, but it held time to perfection. Only amateurs wore anything with more than a ten-second variance. (Per annum mind you, not some department store model that could lose thirty ticks every month.)

But it wasn’t the old man’s timepiece that caught my eye; he was running a full two minutes fast. How long had the fool been walking around carrying all that extra time?

“Nice watch you have there,” I said, loudly enough to get his attention.

He peered over the top of his paper, unsure if I was addressing him or the clueless skirt and blouse wearing office drone to his right. I swapped my normal wolfish grin for a sheepish smile.

“Your watch-” I said again, and brandished my own plain affair. I tapped the face in case my words were lost over the steady click-clack cadence of the train, “-it’s very sharp.”

His interest piqued, he folded the paper and laid it across his lap. “Not too many young men care to wear a traditional timepiece nowadays.”

“Savages.” I replied, to which he laughed. When he was done I continued to soften him up. “Can I have a look?”

“Be my guest,” he said, and extended his arm across the aisle to me, “but mind the finger prints… please.”

I gave him my best earnest nod. “Of course,” I replied, and took him by the wrist making a show of examining the face. I oohed and aahed at the fine cut of the inlay and the understated elegance of the black leather strap.

I met his eye and held his gaze fast while my thumb swept counter clockwise over the minute hand and I whispered a perfectly timed incantation.

“Sorry, I didn’t catch that last bit,” he prompted, as he sat back in his seat.

I held up my own watch again. “I’m afraid it will be some time before I can afford anything as nice as that.”

He laughed at my pun and added his own: “your ‘time’ will come, young man.”

The brakes squealed and the train swayed as we entered the station. I was prepared to make my exit, but he rose from his seat instead and we exchanged goodbyes.

I looked down at my quartz and smiled. One hundred and twenty seconds stitched in time; enough to hop past a problem or even slide back for a quick do-over.

I glanced over my shoulder as the train began to pull away and nearly jumped out of my seat. He stood outside the window and made a show of checking the time. “Thank you,” he shouted through the glass, “You’ve relieved me of the worst two minutes I’ve had all week. I wouldn’t try using them if I were you though.” A wolfish grin split his face as the platform disappeared from view.

~ The End ~

 

As a husband and father of two, Hamilton Kohl frequently finds himself in need of a couple additional minutes on most days. He writes from his cubicle in the scant seconds when his corporate overlords aren’t looking over his shoulder. He hasn’t owned a watch in years.

The Cockerel

Hen Pecked ..*In UR face!
Cockerel4BlueEyes Pete Williamson / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

 

The Cockerel

I feel bad about it. Really, I do. But it just couldn’t be helped. I loved her first, you see, and everything was great until he came along.

I’d loved her from the moment I laid eyes on her. Long black hair so thick I could almost vanish inside of it. I loved the way it looked fanned out around us as we lay in bed after we finally got together. I was in seventh heaven in those days, never believing anything could change how great we were together.

But then it did. I don’t understand why. She never gave any indication of why. We woke that fateful morning, we cuddled, stretched, yawned and purred as we always did. She went out, which happens often, but she brought someone back with her that day and nothing was the same after that. From that point on I had to share. I got half the lovin I was used to and my share of the couch went from 1/2 to 1/3.

So you see, I had to kill him. There was no other way. I planned it so carefully, and pulled it off without a hitch. I hid the body, dragging it out into the backyard and hiding it deep in the thick shrub at the back of the yard. I even cleaned up all the tufts of fur I’d yanked out during the fight, not that it was much of a fight. Damn fool never saw it coming, he was dead almost before he realized he was under attack.

I’d figured once I got rid of the upstart things would return to normal and that first night everything did. She mentioned him once or twice but showed only mild concern. But then she became increasingly agitated and worried. To my frustration she spent most of the following day and evening out looking for him, calling his name and shaking the treat bag to coax him back to her. I should have known it wouldn’t stop there.

When she pulled out the charm I knew I was in trouble. But goddamn if I didn’t forget just how special my girl was. She had powers, witchy powers, and she was hell bent on finding him. And I knew she would. And then she’d come looking for me. There was only one thing I knew that could protect me from witchcraft, and that brings me to the here and now.

I can hear her hungry panting and the soft pad of her bare feet as she aproaches. I can smell her too, the stink of the devil on her, the scent of murder. She aims to kill me just like I killed him. I’m huddled under the coop, both the cockerel’s eyes held gently on my tongue, spit dripping down my chin because I’m too afraid to swallow. Without those eyes I am lost.

I can see her feet. All the hair on my body stretches upright as she begins chanting. I’ve been her familiar for years, but I don’t know the language of spellcraft. I pray the stories about cockerel eyes protecting against witchcraft are true.

Her hands drop down near her feet and one black eye appears, staring through me as the chanting becomes increasingly feverish. My heart is pounding, like to leap out my chest.

A brilliant flash of light exploded in my face and when it cleared I was relieved to find I was still breathing. But things looked weird. Everything seemed dramatically bigger than it had before.

“Have fun mousie mousie.” Her voice was husky and clipped. “I’ll bring a new cat tomorrow. Enjoy the time you have left.”

I looked down and where I used to have black furred paws I saw tiny naked feet. The stories had not been true after-all, I had loved her, been by her side for all those years, and that bitch turned me into a fucking mouse.

I looked up at the now enormous corpse of the young cock, it’s empty eye sockets seeming to glare at me accusingly. “Damn your eyes!” I wanted to scream in rage but the only sound was an angry sounding squeak.