Predestination Unknown, страница 1
Copyright © 2017 by Tanya Chris (www.tanyachrs.com)
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author.
Cover graphic by Jen and Kris
Table of Contents
Mirror mazes had stopped being amusing at least ten birthdays ago, but I was bumbling my way through this one like a sport. After all, it wasn’t just a mirror maze; it was a haunted mirror maze. Go fun.
Somewhere behind me I heard Janelle and Aisling screaming at their boyfriend for jumping out at them. I could imagine them clutching at each other, pretending to be scared. Any excuse to grope each other. Wherever my other friends were, they were far enough away that I couldn’t see them or hear them. If I’d sat this activity out, no one would have missed me.
I had my game face on—mirror, mirror, bumble, bumble, look how fun—but I regretted agreeing to join my crew on their jaunt to Salem for the big Halloween mob-fest. They were all in relationships, and I was wondering why I’d wasted my first vacation day as a full-time drone—I mean, adult—on this trip. Why wasn’t I at a gay costume bash where I could’ve broken my much-too-long man-fast instead of tagging along with their coupledom? Or threedom. Whatever they had going on.
I’d been looking forward to spending All Hallow's Eve at the epicenter of early American witchcraft hysteria. I wasn’t a history geek, but everyone knew about Salem. Twenty plus people had died because a teenage girl had a stomach ache. Or a grudge. No one really knew why a bunch of otherwise sane people had accused each other of witchcraft to the point that half the town got hanged. Had the accusers been lying? Deluded? Hypnotized?
I knew for sure they hadn’t been bewitched because there was no such thing as witches. I hadn’t majored in Information Technology so I could believe in the supernatural. There was a logical explanation for everything, which meant there was a logical explanation for what had happened back at the end of the sixteen hundreds. But we sure as hell weren’t going to find it by jumping out at each other in a haunted mirror maze.
Despite living in Connecticut my whole life, I’d never made it up to Salem before, which was why I’d agreed to play odd-man-out with my friends on this trip. Salem on Halloween was bucket-list stuff, but so far the experience wasn't living up to the hype.
I’d had a vision of hip flasks in graveyards, selfies on haunted gallows, maybe even learning a thing or two about the real events behind the tourist attraction. On the drive up, I’d gone so far as to pull up the Wikipedia page for the Salem witchcraft trials, but five-in-a-car and a touch of motion sickness meant I hadn’t gotten deep into it. I’d thought there’d be time for education once we got up here, but we’d been more in the mood for lunch than museums when we finally piled out of the car.
Somehow we never had made it over to the museum, and when it started to rain as night fell we’d bailed on downtown Salem for the carnival on the edge of town where a party atmosphere reigned. The contents of those hip flasks were consumed as we scrambled between raindrops from one indoor amusement to another until we ended up in a house of mirrors we could have found in any passing carnival.
In a minor concession to Halloween and the spirit of Salem, management had dimmed the lights. It was meant to be spooky, but only had the effect of making the reflected images vaguer and the passages between them darker. It wasn’t hard to tell the reflections from the openings.
That, for instance, wasn’t my own reflection I was gawking at.
Between panels I’d spotted a white guy dressed in a costume a lot like my Three Musketeers outfit. His knee breeches showed off a pair of perfectly toned calves, but too many clothes covered his torso, not affording a peek at his abs like I might get in a sexy sailor outfit, though there was something about his controlled grace that suggested I’d like his abs if I could see them.
This wasn’t the first time I’d caught sight of him, but it was the first time he’d lingered long enough for me to really take stock. He met my eyes with something not quite a smile, something like the predisposition to smile, as if he were only waiting for me to give him a reason.
I’d plonked a curly brown wig over my tapered afro, but this guy wasn't wearing a wig. His hair—either a light brown or a dark blonde; impossible to tell in the dim light, but I went ahead and called him Blondie in my head because sometimes opposites attracted me—was cut in a Caesar that framed a face too innocent for all the dirty thoughts it called up.
Despite the innocent face, he seemed to know what he wanted. He beckoned and I obeyed, only to bump into a mirror. Damn. That must have been his reflection I’d seen, which meant he was actually behind me. I spun, but there was no one behind me now. The mirrors reflected nothing but my own silly self, and no matter which panel I pushed on, there wasn't a way through to wherever he’d been.
Too bad. He’d been cute enough to be worth ditching my friends over, and a quick dip of my dick would’ve salvaged something out of this trip.
I turned back the way I’d been heading, which was presumably out, though there was no rush. Once we got out we’d just all mill around in another “I don't know, what do you want to do?” scrum like the one that had landed us in a mirror maze in the first place.
A bar. That was what I wanted to do. And if the bar had cute guys with beautiful calves and angelic smiles, all the better.
To my right, I caught another flicker of Blondie. He was dressed as a Puritan, I decided. Apropos but kind of obvious. Maybe he worked in the house.
“Hey,” I called out as I bumped into yet another mirror. “Hold up.”
But the guy disappeared again, flitting from one panel to another and then out of sight.
“Tease,” I mumbled. He wanted a chase, did he? OK, I could play that way. I didn't normally go for a bear/twink type vibe, but I had a few inches on my Puritan and if he wanted to set himself up as prey, I could take on the role of pursuer.
I tapped around until I found an opening and moved through it, repeating the process with an urgency I hadn't felt a few moments ago. If I caught this guy in the maze, I might be able to get a little action right there—push him up against a mirror and rub off on him in the dark. That was crazy-talk, but fuck. I hadn't been laid since graduation back in May, which was way, way too long, and Blondie made me feel every day of it.
College had been full of opportunities for a quick fuck, but the real world was turning out to be more draining and less opportunistic. The leadership development program I’d snagged a spot in was a fantastic opportunity, but it sucked the life right out of my balls. Even when I found the energy to go out, I couldn't summon the energy to hook up. Sometimes the chase just wasn't worth what you caught.
But this guy? This guy looked worth the chase. If nothing else, I wanted to know what he looked like without that heavy frock coat on. I wanted to peel it off him and get down to the vest I’d caught a peep of beneath it. There was something sexy about
Instead of bumping into Blondie when I turned the next corner, I ran into Janelle, who shrieked like I’d cut her throat. Or maybe not. Cutting someone’s throat probably rendered them silent. So that was a thought.
“Relax,” I told her. “I’m not one of your lovers. You don’t gotta put on the show.”
“I totally didn’t see you,” she said. “It’s not my fault I have a strong startle reflex.”
“Is that what you’re calling it?”
“Whatever.” She stuck her tongue out at me, the primary point of which was to show off her latest piercing. “We’re having fun. What’re you doing?”
“I was chasing a piece of tail, but I lost him. You seen a white dude in a Puritan outfit go by?”
“Wouldn’t notice if one did.”
When it came to men, Janelle was all about the brothers, which was fine for her. I was more equal opportunity. I figured less than ten percent of the population were men interested in men to begin with. I wasn’t going to limit myself further by worrying about skin color. Blondie was hot. The end.
“What makes you think some random white dude is into you?” Janelle asked.
“You think I can’t tell?”
“Nah, just know when a body’s into me. You don’t know that?”
“Everybody’s into me.”
“Look who you talking to.”
“You just ain’t tried it.”
“Yeah, I’m done here.” I didn’t even bother rolling my eyes. Janelle and I went way back. We both knew what was what despite the banter. “I got a boy to locate. Don’t wait around for me, you don’t see me.”
I let Janelle go one way—back to find her boos—and I went the other. I had no idea which way Blondie was, but if he wanted me to catch him like I thought he did, he wouldn’t make it too hard. Sure enough, one more frame over and there he was—so close I reached out for him and only caught glass. Damn these mirrors. He was gone before I could orient myself again.
“What's your name?” I called, thinking we could play a little Marco Polo, but when there wasn't any answer, I began to doubt myself. I’d told Janelle I knew he was into me, but maybe he wasn’t. Maybe this was just a guy trying to get through the maze or, like I’d thought before, someone who worked there. Maybe his appearances and disappearances weren’t meant to be flirtatious. Maybe he just had somewhere to go.
So, fuck it. I wasn’t a stalker. I’d fight my way out of this cheesy version of hell and talk my crew into making the bar our next stop.
As if he knew I’d just given up on him, Blondie appeared again, and this time he didn't disappear as fast as he’d appeared. He stood straight in front of me and smiled a smile that couldn't be mistaken, a smile that was absolutely just for me, a smile I needed to kiss off his face.
I sprang like I was coming off the starting blocks back when I ran track, launching myself with a quickness I hoped he couldn’t evade. My body hit something that wasn’t man with a sickening crunch. Glass shattered and I tumbled through it—a confusion of darkness and pain as shards of mirror pierced my skin, overlaid by an endless feeling of falling, as though there'd been no floor on the other side of the mirror.
There was a vacuum of sensation and then my shoulder hit the ground with a rough thud.
Wherever I’d landed, it was dark—not dim, like the mirror maze, but dark. Cold, too. Colder even than it had been outside before we’d piled into the maze.
I put a hand up to my temple and felt a wet streak of blood dripping down from beneath the edge of my wig. My hand hurt as bad as my head. The glass had cut a slash down one of my pant legs too. Frigid air leaked through it.
Why was it so cold? And so dark?
I had to be behind-the-scenes somewhere, on the other side of the mirrors. My eyes had adjusted a little, but all I could make out were hulking shapes. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and used the flashlight app to illuminate my surroundings.
Definitely a warehouse. Lots of stuff—bits of furniture, some of it draped, something that looked like an old-fashioned manual plow, other things that looked vaguely farm-related. The most I knew about farms was that Old McDonald had one, but Salem was surrounded by farmland. Whoever ran this mirror maze during the Halloween season must spend the rest of their year farming. Not surprising.
But how did I end up in their warehouse? That was the surprising part.
Turning in a full circle, I scanned my surroundings using the light from my phone and found no opening through which I could have fallen. It just didn't make sense.
The obvious thing to do was to call someone, though I had no idea what to say—I don't know where I am; please come find me?—but I didn’t have a signal. I’d had four bars before we’d gone into the maze because I’d checked the forecast, which called for rain and more rain, but I didn't have even a single bar of 1G now. Useless.
I turned off the flashlight before I drained the battery and tucked the phone back into my fancy knee breeches, wondering if I cut as fine a figure as a musketeer as the guy I’d been chasing did as a Puritan. Fuck that guy, though. Nothing good ever did come from chasing white boys, but this had to be the worst result ever.
“Hello?” I called out. I just about jumped out of my skin when a voice called back “Hello?”
“Can you help me? I don't know where I am.”
There was a pause and then a creak. I turned towards the sound to see a wide panel swing open to reveal the night sky and the silhouette of a man.
“You're in my barn,” the man said. “How came you here?”
“No idea.” I picked my way through the various lumps cluttering the floor towards the relatively brighter light of the outdoors. The sky had cleared, despite the forecast, because the moon shone bright enough that I could make out the man's costume as I neared him.
“You,” I accused, recognizing Blondie. “You're how I came to be here. I was trying to follow you and I somehow went through one of the mirrors and landed here. You could have stayed put if you were interested. You didn't need to lead me on a chase.”
I was close enough now that I could see the gleam of his teeth when he smiled.
“I assure you I meant only to go about my chores. Though you saw me, I did not see you. Did you have business with me?”
Was this guy serious? He was really going to deny flirting? Whatever. I just wanted to get back to my friends at this point and have the cut on my head looked at.
“You've hurt yourself,” the man observed.
“The mirror.” I’d already explained about that. Was he going to get pissy about me breaking one of his mirrors? They shouldn't be flimsy enough to walk through. After all, people were bound to bump into them. If this guy tried to get me to pay for the mirror, I’d sue him for damages.
“What's your name?” I asked abruptly, just in case.
“I'm Ezekiel Cheever.”
Ezekiel. Nice. Very Salem-like. I wondered if it was meant to be a character name, but it would do for now. He held out his hand and I took it, wincing when we made contact.
“I'm sorry. You've hurt your hand as well.”
“Yes.” I flexed it and winced again. It was stiffening up now, getting more sore by the moment. I should probably go to the emergency room, which wasn't going to make my friends happy. This whole trip was turning into a disaster and I doubted I was getting laid either.
“You didn't give me your name, sir.”
“A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Luther.”
“Oh, no. It’s Johnson,” I clarified. “Luther Johnson.”
“Mr. Johnson,” Ezekiel agreed.
Definitely a worker then, someone playing the Puritan part, though considering that we were alone and not exactly in the haunted
We weren't in the haunted house—that was clear—but where exactly were we? The weather had certainly cleared up. Not only was the moon strong, which was odd because I didn't remember that there'd been a full moon—not that I tracked the moon's comings and goings all that closely, but this was a moon that called attention to itself, low on the horizon and impossibly large—but the night sky was filled with stars. I was momentarily dazzled by them. I couldn't remember ever seeing so many stars, like a mosaic where I only remembered polka dots. I hadn't even realized there were so many stars.
But that wasn't the point, was it? The point was—where was I? Where was the street, the carnival, the crowds of people? The street in front of the haunted house had been full, even with the drizzle, but it was empty now. Not that there was a street.
There was a faint track of a dirt road about twenty feet in front of me. There was the bulk of what Ezekiel had called his barn behind me. There was a man and a shit-ton of stars and darkness. And silence. I’d never seen such stars, and I’d never heard such silence.
“Where's Salem?” I asked, leaving aside the question of how I’d come to be somewhere other than Salem for the moment.
“That way.” Ezekiel pointed to the right. “A far piece. Three miles if it's a foot. Have you not a horse?”
A horse? No, I didn't have a horse.
“How came you to be here then?” he asked when I shook my head.
“I'm not sure. Do you … do you work here?”
“I was finishing up some chores, about to head home for the night. You'd best come home with me if you’ve not a horse. It's a cold night and like to get colder. You're not dressed for the weather, I think.”
I shivered. Adrenaline had helped keep me warm, but now that he mentioned it, yeah, I was cold. Our breath made puffs of air in the moonlight that suggested a temperature below freezing.
Ezekiel's costume was clearly made of better stuff than mine. Now that we were close, I could see he was dressed in heavier layers—of wool probably—than the flimsy polyester/cotton blend of my Amazon forty-dollar-special. He had a cloak flung about his shoulders and his stockings were thick, not like the nylons I wore. In the maze, he'd been bareheaded but since last I’d caught sight of him, he'd donned a period-appropriate hat that looked both dashing and warm. My wig, which had been making my head sweat all day, was doing little to keep me warm now.