Martha ran through the forest garden at night
Bare feet against the cold grass, sweat dripping down her face.
She had been running for a while
Isolated lamp posts showed islands separated by the sea of dark.
Ringlets of vibrant green grass that faded into nothingness
There were no stars, at least not through the thick canopy of trees
She ran between tree-houses
Ones from her childhood she remembered vaguely.
They were far apart but she could make it out in the distance.
A faintly yellow glow revealed the oak leaves more than the structure
She crested a hill and saw a sidewalk next to a small canal
A circle bridge twisted into the sky further down the way - the same direction of the tree-house
She moved that direction - running on the sidewalk
Her legs strained - sweat dampened her clothes - a college jersey she used to wear while running.
She focused on her breathing - in and out - careful to measure her breaths.
Her panic was subsiding, her adrenaline still pumping, but that was a point of focus.
She had made the choice - run and not to fight.
Behind her - some distance back she couldn't be sure - a figure in a hockey mask with a machete crept at an even jog
The distance to the tree-house was stretching away from her.
Slowly at first - but picking up speed as she realized.
She was making progress - but it was slowing.
Each step revealing more she had to take than she realized.
Behind her she could hear a heavy thud of footfalls - creeping closer
She was going to make it, the tree-house grew closer
She slammed against the base of the tree, braced against her sudden stop.
And for the first time she glanced behind
The masked figure's hand was raised back above his head - ready to swing.
Closer than she had thought, directly behind her
Time slowed as the blade plunged down
She felt the tree give way, and she lost her balance
She fell away from the machete - into the tree.
The wood fibers twist and undulate - and morph into distance shapes
She heard a sharp thwack and caught the glint of the machete lodged inches in front of her
She landed on the ground as she expected
Only a different ground than before, a hard metal floor.
Her arms had braced the fall
She rolled over and turned to face the sky
Her nightmare was gone, and Martha saw a twisting tempest above her
Encompassing all her vision.
She stared at it.
purple, pink, even green shapes formed reflecting in the storm
Not in the storm, against it.
A thin film barrier like a soap bubble.
It protected her from the onslaught raging beyond
She leaned up
To find herself on a ship of some sort.
The storm all around her.
Not just above her but stretching out into the horizon.
Stretching out below her, below the ship, no water.
Just endless sky and storm.
The tempest inaudible
Steps came from the direction of her feet, where the tree had been
Martha turned her head and saw the deck of the ship more clearly
A figure in white - a captain's jacket - stood there.
Her hair was shoulder length and blond
Her voice was consoling, her hand outstretched
"You've had a rough time."
"Where am I?"
A certain formality touched her tone
"We are at the edge of all things, at the end of all things."
Martha took her hand - and got to her feet
She was near the edge of the bow.
She saw to her left, the storm spread down below the ship.
The ship was flying inside this place.
Protected all around by the thin shield
"We're here to help."
"Welcome to the End's Dreadnought."
"Who are you?"
"Captain Alacira, again: we're here to help."
"Where you were just now.
Do you know what was following you?"
"That's from a movie.
That's a representation, a social icon.
It's wearing it like a mask.
So you can't get a good look at it, so you can't 'know' it..."
"What is it?"
She walked, and turned back with an expectant look for Martha to follow
"A small bit of a story, a story not told in human heads."
The part of the story that's in you, well...
It wears the skin of a man.
It hunts you in your dreams - where it can do worse than kill you.
More than become you."
'Piece of a story?'
Martha followed her to the center tower of this ship
It resembled a ship at sea but the center tower was incredibly tall.
It looked a little bit like an airplane wing, just turned 90 degrees
Inside it was a long hallway well lit with yellow tungsten lamps.
The very old kind: turn of the century time.
Each next to a door on either side
Some distance away was an elevator at the end of the hall.
Which stretched much farther inward than the outside of the tower would suggest.
It appeared bigger on the inside
"The creature that wrote it first broke though, snuck in, a few thousand years ago...
We're still dealing with the remnants...
It's broken through again it looks like, what's in you is one of it's tools."
She suddenly barked the name
Martha heard a noise from the last room before the elevator.
A short balding man in a mostly fitted uniform with a clipboard waited as they approached
The captain motioned for him to speak and she pressed the button for floor 133
We're here to kill it, and in order to do that.
You are our avenue of attack.
We've only a few moments to explain: so excuse our brevity.
We've pulled you out - and will send you somewhere where you can get us information to kill it.
"Which one is this?"
Martha felt the captain's gaze fall across her...
"The first one."
He cleared his throat
Her brain was still processing this
"So you'll be going to a monastery in italy - 1450, december 13th, 4:23pm.
You'll be a few feet from the tower just before the fire."
['Did they say it was a dream...',
'Am I in a dream now?']
"We're connected by every point through great tragedy, yes, fire.
You'll have a minute or two before it starts, and a few minutes during."
Captain Alacira watched the numbers climb.
They were going up in to the decimal place.
Flashing known irrational constants like e and pi, in the process.
Around 23 she saw e to the pi
"To do what?"
"To get the information you need.
We're connected there - moments where no one else would look.
At the destruction."
Martha felt like she was obeying a script.
A feeling of still being in a dream - unable to control or wake from it.
But aware of it nonetheless
"What information do I need?"
Martha watched the numbers tick by, they were in the 50's now
"It's in a book - somewhere at the top floor.
I'm afraid we don't know more than that...
Once we go there, that moment passes, and it burns."
Captain Alacira shook her head
"Why not connect earlier in time."
"Every other moment is taken - we were first to every last spot...
It's not even there before that moment."
The captain nodded
"So I only get one shot at this?"
The man with the clipboard shuffled his feet
"What exactly am I looking for...?"
"It'll be a book, or some paper, or something written somewhere...
It won't fit in with place, it will stand out in some way.
Out of time...
You need to bring it back with you."
The captain again shook her head
I'm really going to the past?
Like, Actual time travel?"
The elevator doors dinged.
Floor 123 opened to reveal a single room that stretched on into the darkness
The narrow room was lined with structures.
Twisted wooden gateways made from gnarled black wood.
Each hummed slightly.
In in each center sat a slowly flickering, uniquely colored glow.
This hallway was missing those victorian lamps.
And the corners held shadows.
Shadows thick enough to stick to you
"It's still through the link - we aren't the walkers.
I don't think even they can walk through time.
But these are some of the last solid places left...
It's as solid as a fresh dream."
The man inspecting his clipboard.
The captain walked out at a brisk pace - urgent.
She took out a golden pocket watch from her breast pocket, Then inspected it briefly before neatly tucking it away
"The number 132, it's on our left."
"Come now, we need to hurry: you'll slip back soon if you don't move."
Martha asked as she stepped in line slightly behind the captain.
The man with the clipboard gave a slight cough and spoke up
The captain raised her hand, and the man fell silent
"She means back to your dream - you're still dreaming...
More like we're dreaming for you...
Martha turned to the man with the clipboard
"Details like that aren't important - where we are, where this ship is...
Isn't your concern.
Don't try to find us, we'll find you."
He pushed his glasses back up to his nose
"What's your name?"
He shook her hand.
Abruptly the captain stopped, and faced to her left
Below her was a golden placard inlaid into the floor, reading CXXXII
"Gerald Whitewater, nice to meet you."
She stepped to the side and Martha got a good look
It was near sunset through the portal.
It showed a picture of a single moment.
Monks were about - some in the middle of gardening - some walking.
One was stacking hay next to a tower.
The color emanating from the portal was a deep orange, it matched the sunset
"Here it is."
A kind of heat radiated from the portal, it prickled her skin.
She could feel it in exacting detail - this dream was more than surreal.
It felt like she was just about there
"We'll be watching - and pull you out if things go south...
More south than they should, that is."
The captain said as she pushed Martha through the portal.
Martha stumbled at the edge falling in face first
The rush of heat was overwhelming.
And then: there she was and time moved normally.
The monks did not notice her:
One stepped through her as she stood up
She felt nothing, surprised - but nothing
She looked around at the idyllic scene.
The tower stretching up to her left.
Heavy double doors stuck partially open by a small wooden block
She moved toward it and pressed her hand against it
It was solid to her touch
She pushed them open and entered the monastery's tower
The stairs hugged the inside of the tower, made of stone.
The winding ceiling above her was nothing but the stairway of stone.
Braced by wooden lintels and posts
She passed a set of double doors each floor every full rotation as she made her way up
"In you go, before you slip."
And for a moment she paused
'They said it would be at the top...'
A sudden jerk of startling awake crashed into her
She fell back, slamming her elbow into the wall
She grabbed it where she scraped it against the rough stone surface
Her fingers moist with the wet of blood
'What was I doing here?'
She said quietly to herself
"I'm in a dream, nothing can hurt me..."
Was it her's still or had what those people on the ship said been true?
'But whose dream?'
She wondered how much danger she was actually in
'Was she in the dream of someone else?'
'If things go south...'
There was a faint odor in the air now.
It stung her nose - an acrid smell, faint but detectable...
Her throat was dry
She continued up the stairs at a hurried pace
Trying and failing to outrun the smell of smoke.
She reached the top.
A set of closed double doors lay in front of her and a slit opening of a window on her left.
Bits of black smoke covered the view of the countryside.
A small village in the distance
She pulled the handle of the left, then the other direction.
Then pushed on both
It was locked
She banged on the doors
Maybe someone would hear her - or they would break...
She inspected them: they were solid
And she slammed her shoulder into the center
She succeeded in injuring her shoulder, but failed at opening the door
She fell back against the door, looking down the stairs
Something caught her eye to the left, a flicker of light.
It came from the slit of the window
She turned her head and there it was again, off in the distance.
She pressed her face on the window slit to get a better view
She could see a countryside, down below was a fire - the smoke rising in earnest now
Monks were trying to put out the fire below with a line of buckets
And there in the distance, another flicker of light.
A blade caught the setting sun and reflected it to her - just by chance.
The figure was hard to make out in the distance, but it was getting closer
It moved at a comfortable jog
It looked like it had a white skull through the smoke.
As the figure drew closer - she saw it was in fact, a hockey mask
'More south than they should - what did they mean by that.'
Kent stood in the media room.
He was overlooking the shoulder of their tech - who was scrolling through the footage
Tom walked in, handing Kent coffee
Tom nodded and turned to watch the footage also, sipping at his own coffee
Kent saw the people in the cell get up and stand at the bars,
The tech did so
"Stop there, play it back."
The people in the cell block turned and faced the wall
"And turn it up."
The tech obliged, rewound the tape and hit play.
He knocked over some pens in the process and bent underneath the desk to pick them up
The tape played from a few moments prior.
Kent heard that language again.
He recognized it, he thought so at least.
Though he couldn't remember how it sounded moments seconds later
The tech returned the pens to the table cup they were in
The footage played out, and she began speaking.
A half conversation to herself that didn't make much sense.
And then - she looked at the camera - and...
"Rewind a few seconds."
He was sure of that, but he couldn't make out the words.
He tried to make out something.
He tried to make out anything - but he could not.
The screen went dark
Kent saw the tech's hand waiting for the tape to eject
'It was not Russian...'
The tech ignored him
He took the tape in both hands and violently smashed it into the counter.
Kent watched in mute horror
The tech was pulling out the magnetic film strip and tearing it apart.
Kent grabbed for it - but the tech ran away - leaving the remains behind.
The Tech pushed past Tom who just stood there
"Hey, what are you doing?"
Tom tilted his head, Kent moved past him and ran to the tech
He never did learn his name, and it was years working with him
"Why are you just standing there?"
The tech was at a desk - Kent's desk
He rummaged in the folder drawer.
He pulled out one folder and held a lighter to it.
When it caught he dropped it in the trash bin.
Kent reached him, as he spinning tech away from his desk
'Too late to ask now...'
The tech shook out of his grip - tackling him - knocking him to the ground.
He stepped over Kent's crumpled form towards the media room.
Kent got up, rubbing at his head
He was a bit dazed.
Someone helped him to his feet, as someone else put out the fire in the trash bin
Kent shook them off and ran back to the media room
It was locked.
Through the glass pane on the side he saw Tom
Tom took tapes, along with the tech, setting them into a pile
"What are you doing?!"
Kent banged on the glass.
Tom looked up at him, he had a glassy stare
'What was he doing?'
The station was abuzz like a hive, shouts and some hustling later keys made their way into his hand
Inside they had lit a pile of papers.
The tapes on top: a bonfire.
Tom on the edge of the desk and covering the emergency sprinklers with his jacket
Kent put the keys in to the door
"Someone get a key!"
The tech rushed at the door, pushing back on it
Kent struggled against the extra weight.
Tom stepped down from the chair and helped brace the door as well
Kent couldn't get a good purchase with his feet.
They however had the desk to brace against
"I'm too fucking tired for this shit!"
Smoke started to fill the room, the tapes melting
The fire spread on the desk
Part of it was on the wall
Water trickled down in the center of the room: blocked by Tom's jacket
"Someone give me a hand."
Kent pounded on the window
He saw them coughing
He pushed harder.
The door gave way a little and smoke flowed out
It burned Kent's eyes, and the toxic smoke burned his lungs.
He coughed and gave way for others to try
The smoke triggered the station's main room's sprinklers
Shouts of commotions as those in the back covered their heads with their jackets, others moved outside.
Kent didn't bother with any of that.
He just stared through the glass window on the side of the door.
They had fallen in the room - now ablaze - blocking the door with their limp bodies
Kent shielded his hair with his jacket from the sprinklers above him
"Open the goddamn door, Tom!"
To his horror - he watched part of the tech's shirt catch fire
The flame quickly spread.
Tom's pants as well
Someone skinny narrowed their way through the door
Holding a fire extinguisher that could not fit though the door
'What had they done?'
A voice in the crowd next to the door shouted
"Someone get the fire department here...
He shouted into the crowd of officers
Two people he noticed in the back did as instructed
He turned back to the room
Both Tom and the tech were being pulled out.
They were covered in the white foam from the extinguisher.
Tom had burn marks on his leg and most of his torso.
A charred black against red skin
Kent dry heaved a little seeing the blistered skin
"Open the door some more!"
He was glad he didn't have any real food in his system.
There was just the taste of stomach acid and coffee was in his mouth
He ran to the washroom.
Cupping his hands under the faucet - he continued to splash bits of water on his face
He was repressing the urge to dry heave, trying not to think of the burnt flesh
'Was that bone?'
He didn't know about Tom.
He continued splashing water on his face
A bit in his mouth and some swishing removed the taste of bile.
In the distance he heard the sound of sirens growing closer
'Pretty sure the tech is dead...'
Martha pounded on the door, shoved it - nothing
She could hear rummaging in the room beyond.
But she couldn't get their attention to unlock the door.
She heard footsteps racing up the stairwell
Around the bend, a figure ran up the stairs: a monk.
He moved through Martha and pounded on the door.
He mouthed words as he banged
But she couldn't hear him, but she still understood
Down below another figure approached
The machete caught the glint of the window's light.
Just around the winding of the staircase she heard heavy footsteps.
Behind her she heard the key clunked in place
Martha stumbled as the door opened, she slipped inside.
She passed through the monk that opened the door - straight through him.
The monk quickly closed the door again and locked it, still inside the room
There was banging on the door behind her - from the monk locked out
The monk next to her in the room shouted back
She couldn't make out the words, couldn't hear them.
But she could understand.
The monk inside dismissed the warnings of fire.
He was intent on his search of the room
The room was round - and not much to look at.
To the right a small lantern hung from a hook in the wall.
It illuminated a small library.
The monk was rummaging through a chest between two bookshelves.
He looked through papers while the building burnt
She heard a sharp thwack on the door: the sound of chopping wood
It struck again, and again
A methodical, inevitable rhythm
The monk slammed the lid of the chest down
The noise startling Martha's attention to him again
He opened another chest
Papers flew out which joined those strewn across the floor
The smoke was plainly visible from the large windows to her left.
And a soft amber glow came from underneath the door she entered
As the sun slowly set, the fire took its place
'Okay Martha, just think.'
She scanned the room, looking for anything out of the ordinary
She ran up to the leftmost book shelf and scanned the titles
Each a thick leather-bound, with titles she couldn't really make out.
She looked at the next bookshelf and the next.
All with similar books
'She said it was a book - out of place, out of time.'
She looked around the room - looking for anything out of place.
She spotted a desk next to the door she entered from - papers in a haphazard mess
And ^ She spotted it.
On the edge of the desk was a small paperback romance novel.
It was a ridiculous cover with a handsome shirtless blonde man clutching a damsel
'They said it would stand out.'
Martha grabbed at the book.
She opened it and read through part of it
It was just text
She flipped to another page, and started reading
It was a story.
She flipped a few pages and she caught a glimpse of something
She turned back a few pages
She thought she had seen a giant symbol on one of the pages.
But no, she couldn't find it again
The thwacking continued and a small part of the door came off.
A hockey mask shown through, behind were flames.
The eyes were not human, but pools of black.
Deeper than mere shadows
She had to get out of here
She looked at the window - big enough to jump though - but she was high up.
She inspected the book again
She knew that symbol was what she was looking for, where was it
She started flipping the pages like a flip-book
And there it was.
But when she stopped and it was gone.
It wasn't on the pages, it was
She flipped again, going cover to cover
'Yep, that would be out of place enough.'
The symbol spread almost completely outside the pages of the book.
It seared into her mind - a pattern that twisted as the pages turned.
It told a story, in the shapes it made.
She didn't understand the story - couldn't understand it.
But it was burned in her brain all the same
The sound of the thwacks hit a crescendo
She turned and saw the door broke at the handle's latch.
It swung open
The masked Man was on fire.
A halo covering his clothes - which didn't blacken and burn like they should
'All of the pages?'
He walked in, the the monk threw himself against against him.
The masked figure looked down toward the old man.
He shoved the monk off on himself, who collapsed heavily on the floor and then raised his machete and hacked at the monk repeatedly.
The monk was on his back, sliding backwards.
Machete blows landed on his raised forearms
No one was focused on her
She grabbed a book and threw it at the window: it shattered.
She looked back at the creature wearing her childhood nightmare's skin, who turned those black pool eyes toward her.
He started toward her: but was held back by that old man.
The monk mouthed the words
"Get me the fuck out of here!"
He finished his work by casually slicing at the monk's neck.
The monk fell to his side in a silent gurgling gasping.
The masked man marched onward at a steady pace
Martha backed away, felt the window at her back.
She scrambled over and jumped out the tower.
As she fell she saw him look down out the window.
Winding back with his arm, he threw the machete towards her.
It streaked toward her as she fell through the earth
She never felt an impact.
Instead the dirt becoming translucent and grey twisted about her.
She saw purple lightning in the distance off.
A flash, then thunder in her ears.
The storm was deafening - and all of the sudden - it stopped.
A twisting film of translucent color filled her vision and there was silence.
The film barrier rushed away from as she fell.
A moment later she was on the deck of the ship.
Captain Alacira was standing over her
She said, holding out her hand.
Martha grabbed it - getting to her feet
Martha saw a post with a lever on top.
It was about midway height of the Captain.
The Captain: who still held out their hand - expectantly.
Martha had the book still - clutched under her arm
Hesitantly Martha handed the book to her.
The Captain inspected it and said
"Bloody Good job!"
The Captain pushed the lever forward.
A metal spatula swang up from the floor.
In a sudden loud thwap: it stopped just before hitting Martha in the face
Martha jumped back
And that sensation of jumping back, of suddenly moving back spread.
It spread though her body, into her back, her limbs.
It drew into her arms, into her clutched hands holding the covers.
The covers of the motel bed
She was panting
She realized she was on her back: staring at the popcorn ceiling.
Suddenly ejected from her dream
"We'll talk soon: don't die."