Jenny’s hand slipped out of mine as the swirling wind sent everyone spinning.
There was some screaming, which you might expect, but not from me, which you might not. I was too busy scanning the ocean for signs of my other self.
I wasn’t sure what form of time travel this was, but possibly the me that saw us fall was down there watching. Or this could be a completely separate reality.
What would happen if we met up? Would the universe implode?
Or did the fact we didn’t meet last time mean we wouldn’t meet this time either?
Time travel is nothing but a big headache if you try to figure it out from a scientific point of view. This, however, was a world where magic existed. Unfortunately, that didn’t make it any easier to understand.
In any case, I was unable to see a tiny head bobbing in the water. Within a few seconds I was unable to see much of anything. The wind had picked up and the air had turned into a blurred wall that couldn’t be seen past.
We were flung in a circle, able to see each other as we flew around our mid-air centrifuge. There was more screaming, this time I may have made a small contribution. There were six of us in all; no sign of Mandy or Cheng.
Everything was happening just as I had witnessed it. I looked straight down and saw the sea rising to meet us. The water was whipped upwards as we were funnelled towards its peak.
As we neared the convergence point, we came together and were in danger of smashing into each other. Jenny grabbed me and Flossie grabbed her. Everyone ended up holding onto some part of the group, creating the world’s ugliest skydiving formation.
We hit the tip of the water, but rather than fall through the middle, we twisted onto the outside and slid down the slope.
The giant waterslide might have been quite fun if I wasn’t under everyone with my face half submerged. I pushed hard, sending everyone scattering.
It was still quite a frightening experience, but the screaming had stopped. We all tobogganned along the surface of the spinning water on our backs, the spray making it hard to hear or see anything.
As we skidded off the bottom of the slope, we shot into the sea, down, down until our momentum ran out and we floated there with mouths tightly shut.
For a moment, it felt like we would be stuck there, unable to climb back to the surface, but then everyone started kicking and we rose towards the light.
Six heads popped up one after the other. The mountain of water had been reduced to a hill and was shrinking. It was still spinning, causing us to be tossed around. The black hole in the sky had disappeared.
This was already different to what I had observed from my other position. From that perspective, the water had gone in an instant, whereas here it was slowly receding.
There were shouts of concern, followed by shouts of reassurance as the others swam towards each other.
“Where are we?” said Claire in between spitting out water. “Is this Nekromel?”
The water here was much choppier as opposed to the large swells I had experienced before.
“I thought it would be all fire and lava,” said Maurice. “And demons.” He coughed and spluttered as a small wave decided to make his mouth its new home.
“Do yo’ think the whole world’s under water?” asked Flossie. “Like Noah’s flood?”
“The flood in the Bible didn’t cover the whole world,” said Maurice, struggling to lecture and tread water at the same time. “It was just the local area. And he didn’t take two of every animal—” he disappeared for a second, and then came back up gasping for air “—it was just two of each of his animals. Two goats, two chickens and whatever other livestock he had.”
Not even an entire ocean could stop Maurice from correcting other people’s way of thinking..
“Did anyone see what happened to Mandy and Cheng?” called out Claire.
“Ah don’t think they jumped,” said Flossie.
It wouldn’t surprise me if that turned out to be the case. What kind of idiot would leap into a swirling black void just because I told them to?
“Yo’ don’t think they’re all dead, do yo’?”
There was an awkward silence. The truth was we didn’t know what had happened, but if Uncle Pete’s threats were to be believed, the chances of anyone in Monsterland still being alive seemed very slim.
Wondering about questions that were impossible to answer was a waste of time. I had other things on my mind. Judging from the topics preoccupying the others, they hadn’t had experienced a time shift the way I had. Or at least, they didn’t remember it. I didn’t know why only I went through it, but if this was the same world as last time, I had a distinct advantage which I meant to exploit to its fullest.
“Wait here, I’ll be back in a minute,” I said and dived without waiting for a response. Where were they going to go?
Contacting Wyndam was a lot easier this time. I called him by name, for a start. The glowing ball of light I created as I swam down lit up his eight eyes as he rose from the depths.
“I’m sorry, do I know you?”
He had no idea who I was, so my theory that I was the only one reliving everything seemed to be right. Once again it made me think of this as a game. Losing a life and then redoing a level is the basic structure of just about every video game. Every time you die, it gets easier. Only, death was not something I wanted to experience again.
Even now, just closing my eyes took me back to that moment of utter darkness and the sound of laughter. I shuddered and focused on getting us a ride.
I told Wyndam I’d heard he was a great singer from the depths and he was so chuffed he didn’t bother asking where I came across this information.
We made the same deal as before. Knowing what he wanted speeded up the whole process and his reaction to ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ was exactly the same. He was only too happy to agree to take us to land in exchange for more songs. And this time, I had Flossie with me so I expected things to go even better.
I did wonder if me contracting Wyndam meant the other me would be left stranded at sea, or if he had a Wyndam of his own. The whole thing made my head hurt, so I stopped thinking about it.
When I resurfaced, the others were in a circle holding hands. I half-expected one of them to come shooting up through the middle and hold an elegant pose. My money would be on Dudley.
“We saw your light,” said Jenny. “What were you doing?”
“Sorting out a ride,” I said. “Remember, he’s friendly. Don’t freak out.”
Their looks turned from apprehensive to panicked as Wyndam surfaced from beneath us like a nuclear submarine, only more threatening-looking.
There was a lot of whimpering and clinging to each other as we were lifted above the surf on Wyndam’s back. He eyes along the rim of the carapace swivelled to look at us and the tentacles tangled and untangled at the other end.
“Ah, ah…” stammered Flossie. “Ah think he said hello. In mah head.”
Maurice stood up and walked around, inspecting everything. “It’s like something out of Cthulu. Or is he a Kraken?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “His name’s Wyndam.”
It took a while to make introductions. The concept of telepathic communication was straightforward enough, but even though everyone could hear and talk to Wyndam, we couldn’t hear each other. And when he spoke to someone, only they heard him.
It was because of the private nature of communications that we nearly got ditched. I told the others the deal I’d made with Wyndam and, as expected, Flossie immediately volunteered to take over singing duties.
However, her choice of song was not to Wyndam’s taste. We were surging through the waves aboard our own oceangoing vessel, so of course Flossie chose to sing Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’.
We came to a rapid stop as Wyndam and Flossie had a falling out. I couldn’t tell what was happening as no one else could hear them having their disagreement about the Canadian warbler. Only when Flossie turned to us, practically in tears, did we realise something was up.
“He says it isn’t a good song. It’s the theme from Titanic!”
I explained to her that creatures from the bottom of the sea had a less refined palate for music (or more refined, depending on how you looked at it) and that he wasn’t ready for the full Dion treatment. She agreed to keep it simple and sing nursery rhymes, although since I couldn’t hear her, I couldn’t tell what she was singing.
Whatever it was, Wyndam seemed okay after that and we continued on our journey. Flossie’s opinion on Kraken musical tastes may have been irrevocably damaged, though.
We sighted land within a few hours. Although Flossie was able to converse with Wyndam, the rest of us weren’t able to make ourselves heard over the sound of the water rushing past. We were also too busy hanging on as waves washed over us.
We left Wyndam a short distance from the beach with a catalogue of new songs to impress his wife with. Everyone thanked him profusely, both mentally and verbally as we swam for shore. I can’t be certain, but I think I heard him singing ‘Blurred Lines’ as he disappeared back to the depths. Kind of a nursery rhyme, I guess.
We struggled out of the surf and were relieved to be back on dry land. The beach looked like the one I’d arrived at the first time around, although it was hard to be sure. I did a quick look around for the sign I had left behind but unsurprisingly there was nothing like that on the beach.
“This looks pretty normal,” said Maurice. “I mean, apart from the sky.”
“Yes,” said Dudley, looking straight up. “Something very odd about the sky.”
The ride had left everyone soaked and they were keen to lie on the sand and do a bit of sunbathing, even though there was no sun.
“Come on, we have to get going.” I urged them back onto their feet. “We don’t know what this place is like. We need to find shelter.”
What I said was true, but my main reason for forcing them to get up was a strong urge to return to the little shack where I had met my demise. Things were going to turn out very differently this time.
Finding the track in the grass convinced them that there was a destination to head towards and I made a case for getting there before nightfall. I had no idea if there was a night here, but it got everyone moving, which was the main thing.
We walked for about an hour, with constant complaints from behind me. I ignored them and kept up a decent pace. My mind was too preoccupied about how best to approach the upcoming situation to worry about the grumbling of Les Miserables.
It was important to keep moving, stay focused and, if at all possible, not close my eyes. I could sense the darkness waiting for me.
“Are you okay?” Jenny asked me, her voice underplaying her concern. She could tell something was up with me, but I didn’t feel like going into it.
“I’m fine. Wasn’t expecting things to turn out like this.” Which was true.
You might wonder why I didn’t just tell her and the others what had happened to me, but I liked their reaction when I seemed to know exactly where I was going. It made me feel in control.
I also enjoyed Jenny trying to work out what I was up to. She generally had two modes when it came to me. Either she had me completely figured, or she she had no clue what I was thinking. I much preferred the latter.
In any case, I had plenty to keep my mind preoccupied. The problem with reliving a life you’ve already lived—a fantasy most of us have wished for at some point, I think—is that as soon as you make the first change, everything else is no longer the way you remember it.
You might think it would be great to go back and live your life again with your memories intact, but you would very quickly veer from the path you took first time around and everything would be different.
The only advantage you’d have would be the wisdom of being an adult, but then, how helpful was that for you when you were an adult?
When the shack appeared in the distance, there was much discussion about who might be living there.
“Maybe we should hide and scope things out a bit,” suggested Maurice.
I had no intention of doing that. My plan was to go in fast and hard and 360 no scope those bastards.
I scoured the ground for bits of wood and handed them out to be used as weapons.
The closer we got, the more anxious my party became. They were being dragged along in my wake. Other than Jenny, they all lagged behind. They definitely wanted to pause proceedings for a meeting, possibly a vote of no confidence, either in me or themselves, hard to tell.
I marched up to the house and knocked on the door. There were some protests behind me, which I ignored.
The door was opened by the woman. She didn’t seem to recognise me, not that I expected her to.
“Hello,” I said.
“Who are you?” she said, sounding a little annoyed. Now that I was seeing her without the threat of my impending death, I noticed how haggard she appeared. She wasn’t that old, but her skin had a grey pallor and she was very gaunt.
“Before we get to that, can I just ask, are you pregnant?”
The question took her by surprise, but she quickly rallied. “What? No! What kind of question is that?”
It was all the information I needed. I punched her in the stomach.
You probably think that was a bit over the top. The reason you think that is because you’ve never been murdered. I have. Trust me, it was a restrained response.
The woman fell backwards into the house, clutching her stomach and unable to make more than a slight wheezing sound.
I stepped inside as the older son came running at me with his axe in hand. I had been expecting him and hit his arm with my stick. I didn’t hold back. He dropped the axe and grabbed onto his arm like he was trying to stop it from falling off.
I wasn’t finished, though. The younger son had run to his mother and was trying to help her up. She was struggling for breath and kept pushing him away.
I stepped closer and kicked the kid in the solar plexus. He crumpled into a heap without making a sound.
The others had rushed forward and followed me in, and were somewhat stunned by what they’d seen me do. Claire screamed when I kicked the little boy.
“Colin! What are you doing?!”
“Don’t worry,” I said calmly. “These people are monsters.”
“No,” Claire screamed even louder, “they’re just people.”
I walked over to the little boy and roughly pulled him to his feet. He was dazed and didn’t resist. I ripped open his jacket, revealing his collection of knives.
“See? They would have killed us the first chance they got. Don’t be fooled by appearances.”
Jenny came to the front of the crowd. She had been watching me intently, I could feel her glare on me.
“How did you know?”
“You mean the daggers?”
“The daggers, the monster fish, getting us here… all of it. What’s going on, Colin? It’s like, like…”
“Like he’s been here before,” said Maurice. “That’s it, isn’t it? You’ve done all this before.”
“Yes.” I told them what had happened to me the first time around. And how it had ended.
“You died?” Jenny’s voice was strained.
“Yes, but then I came back, so it’s fine. But I know what these people had planned. I know what I’m doing.”
“Why couldn’t you have just told all of this in the first place?” said Claire with her hand in her hair..
“It was just easier this way. Explanations would have taken too much time.” Which was true, up to a point.
“Colin,” said Jenny very quietly, which was never a good sign, “you just punched a woman and kicked a small child.”
“In self-defence.” I felt quite proud of myself. I knew the dangers and I took care of each of them before they had a chance to act. Round Two, winner: me.
“No,” said Jenny. “They didn’t attack you. You attacked them. That isn’t self-defence.”
“But I told you what happened. All I did was beat them to the punch.”
Jenny shook her head. “No, that’s not what you did. You can’t convict them of a crime they haven’t committed yet. You don’t know if they’d do the same this time. It’s different. Once one thing changes, everything can. Or it might not, but you don’t know. And whatever’s going to happen, that shouldn’t change what you do. How you act isn’t down to how others act.”
“I know that!” I shouted, suddenly feeling very angry. “But you weren’t there. They murdered me. They killed me for no reason. The kid, this toddler, he finished me off. They don’t deserve any chances. They don’t!”
I was screaming at her, but Jenny didn’t react.
“They do. Because you’re better than them.”
“What good is being better if I’m dead?”
“If I may?” The high-pitched voice from the back of the group came from Dudley. “If you become a monster to defeat a monster, you’re only making more monsters. You taught us that, Colin.”
They were all looking at me, not with anger or disappointment, but with something far worse. Sympathy.
“No! You don’t understand,” I insisted. “You weren’t there. You didn’t feel your heart stop. You didn’t… The darkness…”
“I’m sorry,” said Jenny. “I’m sorry I wasn’t with you.”
I wanted to scream and shout and kick and punch. I wanted to fight. Hit something solid, not be smothered in endless blackness.
“I don’t know what you people are talking about,” said the woman on the floor. She had her youngest cradled in her arms. “I’ve never seen any of you before.”
Yes, I hit a woman, but this was different. She was a monster. A mother of monsters. I was nothing like her. I’d even checked she wasn’t pregnant before punching her in the stomach. Was that what a monster would do?
I felt drained, ready to collapse. “Well, I’ve met you, and you killed me.”
“You don’t think I’d remember that? You’re all crazy.”
Nobody understood. They all thought I’d gone mad, but they didn’t realise the danger we were all in.
“What about Jerala?” This got her son’s attention. “Have you told your mother she dumped you?”
“How do you know Jerala?” The boy looked confused. He let go of his arm and it hung limp by his side. All he could do was stare at me. “Are you the reason she doesn’t want to be with me?”
“No, I’ve never met her. Whatever her reasons, it’s got nothing to do with me.”
“Is it true?” the mother asked him. “Did she break off the engagement?” He nodded. She turned back to me. “How did you know that?”
“It doesn’t matter. But what are you going to tell him to do about it? Take a knife, right? Find her and kill her. Isn’t that it?” I had to make the rest of them see we were dealing with killers.
The woman seemed to be thinking it over. “Probably. But so what? A little death ain’t so bad. Not like it’s permanent.”
I was sure I must have misheard her. “Sorry, what?”
“She’d be dead for a bit, give the boy a chance to say he broke it off with her.”
I felt like I’d had my legs kicked out from under me. “And then she’d come back to life?”
“Of course,” said the woman, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Nobody stays dead in Nekromel.”
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