Journey of 1000 Miles

The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1) Cover Reveal

A friend of mine is approaching the birth of her first book baby. This is as close to a gender surprise most authors will experience, BUT cover reveals are sacred and I am glad to be a part of it! Please go have a look and let her know how many copies you plan on purchasing.


Author Kate M. Colby is thrilled to reveal the cover for her debut novel, The Cogsmith’s Daughter (Desertera #1). Add the novel to your “to-read” list on Goodreads today, and check back on Kate’s website, http://www.KateMColby.com, for more exciting news later this week!

Daughter -C2

WHEN THE STEAM-POWERED WORLD DRIES UP…

Two-hundred years ago, the steam-powered world experienced an apocalyptic flood. When the waters dried up, the survivors settled around their steamship in a wasteland they named Desertera. Believing the flood and drought were caused by a scorned goddess, the monarchs demanded execution for anyone who commits the unforgivable sin—adultery.

ONE KING RULES WITH ABSOLUTE POWER AND UNQUENCHABLE LUST…

Today, King Archon entraps his wives in the crime of adultery, executing each boring bride to pursue his next infatuation. Most nobles overlook King Archon’s behavior, but when Lord Varick’s daughter falls victim to the king’s schemes, he vows revenge.

UNTIL THE COGSMITH’S DAUGHTER RISKS EVERYTHING FOR VENGEANCE.

When Aya Cogsmith is thirteen, King Archon has her father executed for treason. Orphaned and forced to turn to prostitution for survival, Aya dreams of avenging her father’s death. When Lord Varick approaches Aya with plans for vengeance, she agrees to play the king’s seductress—even though it puts her at risk for execution.

Packed with high-society intrigue, dappled with seduction, and driven by revenge, The Cogsmith’s Daughter is a steampunk dystopian novel with the perfect mixture of conspiracy and romance.



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YouTube

Interview with KT Munson

This last weekend, I was fortunate enough to sit down with Katherine (KT) Munson. She is the author of adventure / fantasy novels and truly a wonderful person. We talk about the nature of getting out there as an Indie, the roads of advice we learn from mistakes and Alaska. Google or the Internet has a vendetta against me it seems because around the 27th minute it takes my internet away. But, we have some great convo beforehand, so please come and check us out!

Then go and look at her newest work:

And her previous:



Into the Dawn

Into the Dawn (teaser)

Into the Dawn

 

A year doesn’t seem like a long amount of time. It sounds as if it were a simple, passing thing. But a year is how long one man waited in order to start his son out on a journey of epic proportions. As most fathers do, they hope that their children will become the improved versions that they had hoped to aspire, to live a life fuller and more rewarding life than they once had. In most circumstances, pain and strife are catalysts that change a boy into a man, wiping clean the innocence of daily life and replacing it with a harsher reality. To combat those faults, a spiritual journey is needed, one that tests the soul and forces a man to find himself. Young Jack Calloway’s journey began with a knock on his door.

ΩΩΩ

Knock-knock

Jack peeked up from reading his newspaper, put down the spoonful of rice flakes and began making his way to the front door. Curiosity, with a trace amount of fear, began pacing through him. Nowadays, nobody knocked on the door unless it was a kid selling magazine subscriptions for their local school, a missionary wanting to convert you, or like last year, a sheriff bringing bad news like the one who arrived telling Jack that his father had died in an accident.

Knock-knock

Jack rarely if ever left his late father’s cabin. After his car wreck, Jack Calloway Sr. left everything to the sole heir of the family, which was Jack Calloway Jr. The cabin and some various personal artifacts were all that he kept. The two other homes belonging to his family were sold at estate auctions along with vehicles and furniture that were no longer personal to him. The cabin held memories though; times growing up as a child, Christmases and get-togethers with family or friends. It was roughly a 30 minute drive from anything civilized. It originally started off as a simple two-room shack with a kitchen. As the family prospered, two rooms became four and shortly from there, four rooms became two floors and two floors moved on to two houses.

A few people had cabins on the other side of the hills or far down the road, but the long generations of Calloways had bedded down there for the past hundred years and owned the habitable part of 250 acres of National Forest. Jack was an aspiring writer. Being independently wealthy from the land investments his family made over the years and having no want of public attention since the funeral, something had to keep his mind from going completely insane. Writing was therapy for him. It was his way of escaping, creating and draining himself of the emotions he desperately wanted to bury. He had been spending the last few months transcribing some of his father’s written journals onto an electronic format.

Knock-knock-knock

Persistence is an admirable quality for lovers, but in Jack’s mind, a rather annoying quality when one simply wanted to be left alone. Jack peered out through the living room shutters and didn’t notice a car visible in the gravel driveway. It was an awfully long way for anyone to walk up the mile-long drive past the gates at the mouth of the road, which were always locked anyhow. A call box led straight up to the cabin from the entry off of the road for any deliveries or emergencies. Curiosity and anxiety began mixing an unfavorable stew in Jack’s stomach as he approached the door. He looked through the eyepiece in the door slowly, but the sun at that time of day cast only a shining prism of sunlight through the hole. He reached for the door to open it. KNOCK-KNOCK pounded from the other side and now Jack was getting pissed that someone would disrupt his sanctum at such an early hour. No sooner than the sound reached his ears that he unlocked and whipped open the door, ready to give some poor sap a verbal lashing. The cool fall morning air rushed over his skin, but the breeze was all that greeted him in his doorway.

Could it have been the iron door knocker being tussled about violently? The wind didn’t sound or feel that strong. It was nothing more than enough to scuttle some leaves along the pavement. He shuffled outside past his threshold and down the cobblestone path toward the gravel driveway. Once down to the edge of the drive, he could see around the bend that went all the way down the hill to the main entrance. Yet, nothing was there. All that accompanied him were the sounds of the woods and the breeze blowing tunes through their dry leaves and pine bristles. No puffs of dust or crunching twigs eluded to the retreat of anyone that was once there. Perhaps the lack of companionship over the last few months had taken its toll on Jack’s sanity. As he thought, it was time once again to travel out and get some more supplies or maybe head down and pick up a couple more books and talk to the lovely Violet. She was a friend during his late teens and tried to be there for the most recent family tragedy when Jack would let her.

Jack re-entered his house and shut the door locking it once again; laughing to himself as he thought of old suspense movies that usually involved a young woman who had strange frights happen shortly before a killer appeared. I’m the damsel, he chuckled inwardly. He stopped after locking the door waiting for that pinnacle moment when a knock would come back now that he felt safe once again. Silence echoed to him with nothing more to offer. He walked from the foyer and toward the kitchen again to resume what was no doubt now a soggy bowl of rice flakes.

Ding-dong

“That sure isn’t the wind…” he said to himself, now feeling a little more uneasy about the solitude in his world.

He walked quickly to the door and waited in hushed breaths for the restrained laughter of high school boys, out to kill time while skipping their history class. Still no noise except for the little breeze creating a dance for the dry leaves on the walkway.

Ding-dong

Now, Jack thought, the games were getting old. He went for the fireplace and grabbed a poker. He made his way to the front door along with an announcement. “If you’ve had your fun now, I’d like to be left alone. Don’t make me involve the police in this matter.”

Ding-dong

“I have a weapon and it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to use the term self-defense when the ambulance comes to take any of you away.”

Ding-dong

Jack crept slowly to the door, talking away from its direction in order to give the illusion that he wasn’t standing right there, ready to scare the shit out of the little bastards turning his morning ritual into a chore.

Ding-dong

“I’m going to dial now so you’ll have about 5, maybe 10, minutes to get out of here.” He placed his hand on the knob, after quietly releasing the lock and waited for the next ring to start so that he could give a proper fright to whoever wasn’t expecting it.

Ding-

Jack swung the door open with a viciousness that any policeman would appreciate. His display showed he could storm into a drug raid with ease. He jumped out with poker in hand ready to snarl and yell at the young punks he imagined standing there. By the time the dong had chimed, he was out the door and in full force giving his best and most masculine roar. But again, no one was there to witness the spectacle. For a brief second or two, Jack was convinced that he was starting to get the traditional cabin fever and should immediately head toward civilized company. That was until he noticed an irregularity on his walkway which made him feel better about his state of mind, but worse about the physics of what just took place.

Lying flat on the base of the steps leading to his doorway was a suitcase. It looked as if it were made out of wood, a deep mahogany with light maple wood trim. Part of him wanted to retreat quickly into the house and try to forget that he had seen anything on his porch. Another side of him was insatiably curious and wanted to snatch the case and drag it back inside like some wild animal living in a cave. Like most creatures of wonder, Jack followed his curiosity and left his common sense back at the breakfast table.

He locked the door behind him and proceeded to the living room, cleared off the coffee table of its over-sized art books and the small statuette of Venus de Milo, and placed the case on top. He sat on the leather-bound sofa and took in the architecture of the case. It was wood indeed, sanded smooth as glass and emitted the smell of cedar. There were no metal clasps on the front, just copper colored hinges in the back. A small wooden dowel was inserted through an eyelet and provided the only latch that kept the case from falling open. If there was any wear to the object, Jack would’ve sworn it was an antique from colonial times. But it appeared to have been crafted recently judging by the state of its condition.

He weighed his next move. He listened closely for any moving parts, ticking or animal sounds. It was safe for him to say after 15 minutes that he was bound to open it one way or another and whatever the consequences, he would try to act rapidly when they occurred.

Jack removed the linchpin and opened the case, expecting to find either something horrifying or something astonishing. Yet to his lack of enthusiasm, all that was before him appeared to be common, but historic-looking objects. The inside of the case was lined with a royal violet satin and each object seemed to have been placed in a silhouette of its own shape to secure it from slipping. There was a pocket watch that was missing the hands, making it the most useless item, a monocle with a polished silver lining, a detailed stamp accompanied by a stick of wax. The stamp bore an impression of a single feather. There was a coin that had the face of a man on one side, like an old statue from the time of Greek mythology and the head of a bull on the other. And lastly, there was the most peculiar looking key. It was in the shape of a lower-cased t, or possibly a crucifix, yet every point had a key’s edging on it. In his mind, it reminded him of four elaborate skeleton keys linked together. The shafts were black as pitch and cylindrical. The heads and teeth to each point were bright silver in color and bled into the blackness. What could this go to? was the constant question running through Jack’s mind.

The whole situation was surreal at best, but at the same time comforting for him. He didn’t recognize anything that appeared to belong to his father, but each object felt as if it might have. It was like catching the scent of his dad on an old coat, like an empty shell that remained filled with the memory of him at the same time.

The question beyond the key, was now deciding where these objects had come from and what purpose they had showing up at his doorstep? The most logical thought he could muster was to take one of the objects into town and stop by Seamus’ antique parlor. It was more like a storage area for all of the things the old adventurer had collected over the years. Seamus was an old family friend and Jack Sr.’s childhood pal. Uncle Seamus was what Jack Jr. always used to call him and still did at times. He might have some answers to where the trinkets could have originated from or how far they might date back. Then, perhaps, he would have to swing by and possibly find an old reference book from Violet’s store. Some excuse to visit her would do, now if there was an amusing or intriguing story to go along with his visit to peak her interest… that would be just aces.

The most intriguing piece would have to be the key. He had never seen anything quite like it, but Seamus might have some insight from his travels to Europe, or down throughout Northern Africa, across the Asian continent or diving in and out of islands in the Pacific. He was quite the well rounded traveler, and loved collecting the most unique objects along the way. They were things that Mrs. Seamus got tired of seeing as well as Mr. Seamus’ company. She left him over six years ago. Sometimes, there are just no explanations when you aren’t living in the situation. One year they were fine and laughing and joking around the family barbeques that Jack’s family used to hold in the summer time. The next year, she barely looked at him and was claiming that his travels had tarnished their marriage and she couldn’t stand to be with him. Afterwards, Seamus rooted down and stopped his travels and opened up his Antique Emporium, right off of Main St. The key would definitely perk up his interests and hopefully help him recall some bits of wisdom he had acquired over the years. So there it was; Jack was set to go off to the Emporium and visit with Seamus.


Please help me out. Give me some feedback.

 

 

A Time to Reap

Ch. 2: These are the Names…

 

two

The next morning, I’m still reciting the mantra the countdown created in my mind. One week, five days, and a handful of hours remain, according to the timetable laid out in the note. I am still no closer to figuring out who left it for me or to what purpose.

Prepare yourself. Yeah, that’s super. I’ll just download the latest version of Time Traveler Safety Guides. Who in the hell am I going to find willing to be my Obi-Wan Kenobi for this scenario of impending doom? It’s not like there’s a directory I can go to.

The closest thing to it is a compiled list of people who have my condition in the database at the Center for Disease Control. Indeed, my condition is filed with the CDC, as if I have some plague. The list represents the collective of individuals who registered or have been recognized over the years. It’s not publicized though.

The countdown to my demise on the slip of paper stares up from my desk. Part of me is ready to throw it away, while another wants to analyze every curve to see if I recognize the penmanship—like I could tell one scribble from another.

My cell phone chirps from across the room, and the holographic projection of my mom’s picture is hovering above the glow of my screen. Mom phoning this early tells me I had better get over and take the call. She hasn’t heard from me for the past few days, being out of town on business, but I’m sure the DCD has notified her of my leap, since I am still considered a minor.

“Hi, Mom.”

“Hey.” She sounds unhappy. “Anything you want to tell me?” Yup, definitely unhappy. There are a few key sentences a teenager of any caliber doesn’t want to hear from their parents, and this particular one sparks a DEFCON 4 alert to my senses. It incites panic about all the things I’ve done, as well as anything I ever considered doing. My mind is doing a quick recount of possible misdeeds from the last few months.

“Um… I don’t think it’ll be anything you won’t tell me about soon anyhow?” A snarky response is probably not in my favor, but I’m still flipping through mental records of possible sin or delinquency she may be directing me to admit.

“Carter James. You know what I’m talking about.”

First and middle name—it’s like a warning shot. Still, this is a psychological war of attrition. I’m certainly not going to admit anything she doesn’t hint to me first. My best bet is to remain idle, and let her feel the need to completely explain.

“I do?” I play stupid.

“You leaped, and I have to hear about it a day later from Dr. Phillips? I don’t care if I’m five time zones away. What was the last thing I told you?”

I feel relieved to not have a guessing game going on inside my brain box. Thinking back to her departure to Germany, it’s all slowly starting to take shape in my mind. Unfortunately, my mouth and brain are not relaying their findings correctly.

“Yeah, um, you said that I… should… probably…”

“I said if anything happens, to call me as soon as you can.” Mercifully, she ends my suffering by answering for me. “And I think you knew leaping to be included within the category of anything.”

I will later wonder if I should have said anything, but for the moment I remain vague. “Sorry, Mom. Between the leaping and the note, I have just been a little busy.”

“Note? What note?”

And thus, the flashing-red warning lights go off. “The one I left in the curio cabinet.” As ridiculous as it sounds, curio cabinet is a code word we use to let the other person know the topic should not be discussed over the phone.

The government continuously satisfies its curiosity with people like my mother and me. There have been enough “coincidences” where we’ve run into them after talking on the phone. In some cases, they even paid a visit to our home. So, we developed a system of writing out conversations on toilet paper whenever it was a topic they might want to stick their noses into. Hell, I don’t even know if we own a curio cabinet.

“Well, I should be home tonight, and we can go over things then. For now, get dressed and get to school. You have about fifteen minutes before you should leave, and I’m fairly certain you haven’t made it past the threshold of your bedroom yet.”

My mom always has a weird way of knowing what I’m not doing. It’s more eerie to me than my ability to jump through time. I am, in fact, still sitting in my bed for no particular reason. I’ve been up for the past hour staring off into nothing—I boost myself into thinking its meditation. “I’ll get there.”

“On time, Carter.”

“Yes, on time, Mother.”

“Okay, until tonight then,” says my mom.

“Until tonight. Safe flight, Mom.”

With that, she’s gone. Mom and I don’t favor saying goodbyes every time we end a conversation or leave on an errand. With us, me in particular, we could disappear at any given moment, and if it’s the one day we don’t say goodbye, it will haunt us both. So, once a year, we have a goodbye celebration. Basically, it’s like an anniversary, showing we’ve made it through another year. We usually go out for dinner, just the two of us, at our favorite restaurant, Windows. It’s this luxury place on the twentieth story of a building downtown that rotates while looking out over the city. It’s better than a birthday or Christmas, in my opinion. It’s a time we feel obligated to do nothing except recognize we are still together.

The rest of my day swirls by like a mix of Kool-Aid in water. I speed wash, grab a handful of breakfast bars and head to the depot station with rapid footsteps. I make the last car on the express, which gets me to school on time. The private school I attend, Pemberton Academy, has an assortment of classmates with my condition and a handful of other behavioral nuances. They aren’t bad or violent kids, but some have a hard time grasping the new scientific definition of reality.

Most of the “normal” kids that go to school with me have a family member who has vanished in front of them and hasn’t returned, or has returned but is unable to cope. As ludicrous as it sounds, putting them in school with kids that have my condition is a proven method of helping them adjust to society.

It’s hardest on the younger grade levels. My age group is pretty comfortable with how life is laid out for us. We stay because there’s no need to go anywhere else. I’ve heard that lots of graduates go on to work for the government. I hope the benefits are good, since I have no other idea of what I’ll do after school is over.

There is an even smaller group than the Leapers, in the world, and they are known by most as Eventuals. The government refers to them as Neurologically Impaired. Their researchers learned about Eventuals while trying to test and treat our kind. Most Eventuals show such a low-level ability that it’s difficult to spot, but about one out of fifty show small spikes of prominent telepathy or telekinesis. They can pick up on random thoughts or push chairs across the room. It’s nothing quite like what’s seen in the movies, but what is? I have personally never encountered an Eventual with any remotely interesting powers beyond what could be guessing.

The few Eventuals at my school don’t really socialize or make themselves known. Apparently, there is some kind of lab test that lands them in my lame school for mutants. Only, there’s no cool patriarch like Professor X leading us, or training facilities, or combat simulators like the X-Men had. Nope, just a bunch of teenagers more confused than normal about their bodies. There’s a rumor that something happens to a majority of students in the last semester of senior year, but I have yet to see any proof.

After school, I autopilot back to my house. My mom always reminds me to pick up my feet when I walk, and I notice my shuffling as I lazily round the corner, and the quiet of fall envelops me. Every now and again, there are brief moments of silence within a city. They’re not complete, but the majorly close sound of people talking to one another or traffic whizzing by fades, and the soft white noise of the inner city is all you can detect. If you pay attention, it’s quite terrifying—that break from normalcy.

I would have noticed earlier, but my mind is elsewhere. The soles of my shoes dragging on the pavement snap me out of my daze, and before I have the time to realize it has grown quiet. Dead quiet.

When I was younger, I played baseball. One day, a ball was coming directly toward me. As a good third baseman, I planted my stance, and with every fiber of my being, I prepared to stop the ball from getting by me. Before I could react, the ball hit a tuft of grass and propelled upward into my face. The world went quiet just before the collision. That same feeling is happening to me as I approach the walk leading up to my house.

The world goes quiet. I feel my consciousness rattle and vision blur slightly. By the time I blink the feeling away, I’m terrified to learn I somehow arrived indoors. Not inside my house, but into an unfamiliar room. The walls and ceiling are dark. No windows line the room, and the only light is coming from the floor, or maybe beneath it.

A part of me wants to scream, but I can’t imagine it will help. Plus, the darkness of the walls and ceiling looks like some kind of sound-absorbing material, and I’m not sure if there’s a door. I can’t see any sign of a doorframe, let alone a handle.

A compressed puff of air resounds at my left. Shortly thereafter, a panel pushes into the area and slides along the wall. A man enters, and by the look of him, he should be on a poster for some kind of resistance. All he’s missing is a beret, along with his pant legs needing to be tucked into those military-style boots.

My heart flutters to the beat of a snare drum on a battlefield. The spit within my mouth curdles up as I struggle to swallow. I breathe as normally as possible and try to not let the muscles in my face reveal how disoriented I am inside.

“Mr. Gabel. Sorry for the scare, I just wanted to get in touch with you before your mother returns this evening.”

Great, he knows my name, my mother’s schedule, and how to abduct me without a trace. This is one of those moments in the movie where the hero would say some quip to get under the villain’s skin, but I am not that confident or that stupid.

“So, what can I do for you?” Hell, might as well be civil while I can.

“My name is Raymond Lord. Most people have nicknamed me Lord Ray. You can just call me Ray. I insist.”

Now, I’m extra nervous. Within my circle of people, Lord Ray is a name we’ve all heard of before. He has been blamed for varying degrees of theft, murder, and disappearances while leaping. Granted, no one I know can prove anything, just general speculations attached to his name. One thing is certain: his name is constantly plastered around news hubs, at the train station, and any public site. He is wanted for questioning by the DCD. I didn’t even recognize him from the photos until he introduced himself.

“Carter,” I manage to utter without squeaking in fear. “I insist.”

“Great. Well, now that formalities are behind us, let’s get down to why you are here today, Carter.” His smile seems pleasant, but his eyes refuse to mirror that same recognizable emotion. Those eyes look like happiness has been absent from them for quite some time.

“Okay.” Yeah, real confident, dumbass. I’m giving myself a sarcastic thumbs-up, in my mind.

“I sent you those notes you’ve been finding after your leaps.”

Now I’m all sorts of confused. If my understanding were a puppy, it has broken off its leash, and my mind races to catch it. On top of that, I feel nauseated. “Why?”

“Well, I’m sure you’ve heard stories of my actions in one form or another. To sum those up, there’s 40 percent truth to most of them, like any story. I have refused to abide by the government’s need to ‘cure’ our kind.” Ugh, he uses air quotes. I subtract from his cool points.

That sick feeling is growing, but I soon realize it’s not that my lunch is trying to come up, but that my body is trying to go back. The normal tingle has intensified far beyond what I’m used to.

“Crap, I’m going to leap,” I warn. “I don’t know where I am, but you may need to take me somewhere close to home.” Clutching my stomach, as if that has any bearing on slowing it down, is all I can do. When I leap, there will be people surrounding my location within a couple of hours, and I won’t know how to answer any questions about why I ended up wherever Ray’s henchmen will have taken me.

For whatever reason, Ray isn’t too alarmed or accommodating. He’s just sitting there, staring at me as if I’m a kid throwing a fit in the grocery store.

“Carter, despite the preemptive, uncontrolled feeling you are experiencing, you will not be leaping, at least not from this room.”

“How?” It’s one word I hope translates into the pages of questions his statement just sparked.

“There are a lot of things out there you are going to learn about soon; the trick is being able to convince yourself.” He’s smiling, while I feel like a dropped soda bottle that is building up fizz. “You are going to learn how to control your leaps, first. Then you are going to learn the details of how to use your… condition. But you will have to decide if you want my help.”

The normal tingle I feel before jumping is building up some sort of pressure within me. I feel it resting behind my sinuses and within my chest. It’s like my entire body needs to sneeze but can’t. This room must stifle it somehow. It gets harder to maintain focus, visually. The buildup is putting enough stress on my body to exhaust me completely.

I think I’m on the floor. It’s much brighter now, closer to the lights, and someone is tickling my arm.

“Carter… Please, make your decision soon. That countdown is still going on for you. If you want my help, do this: Take out a coin and flick it into the air. Someone will be along shortly after and will help get you started.”

He’s saying something else, but I can’t hear him as my mind goes blank and the room gets brighter, much brighter. Then I realize I’m not in the room anymore. The brightness is daylight. I’m back in front of my place, poised on my steps, ready to walk in to my house.

Jesus, did I just hallucinate? I look down at my watch. I just got off the train fifteen minutes ago. As I shake my head, I wonder what in the hell just took place. The dampness under my arms and trailing down my back tells me the fear was real.

After shaking off the feeling, I treat the incident like a surreal encounter, like sharing the same dream with someone. It’s peculiar and unexplainable but is easily shrugged off.

While catching up on some reading in my room, I hear the garage door open outside and the familiar hum of my mom’s car traveling into the port. And, of course, as I turn to get off the bed to go downstairs, I spill the glass of soda I was keeping next to me all down the side of my red-hooded sweatshirt. At least I save it from soaking into my pillow, I guess.

I strip out of the wet, sticky shell and equally soaked T-shirt beneath. As I pull a semi-clean shirt off the top of a pile of clothes on the floor, something is off. For a second, I think I have soda still running down my arm. As it turns out, it’s much messier than that. The episode before getting home was most definitely real, and proof is written on my forearm in a familiar handwriting.

 

Don’t trust your mom. Remember the coin.

1 week: 5 days: 11 hours: 18 minutes

 

To be continued … 


A Time to Reap

Ch. 1: In the Beginning…

 

one

I’m standing outside a familiar house on Ainslie Street, in Lincoln Square. It’s the red brick house my mother was raised in. I can tell by my grandma’s flower garden off to the side with roses still in full, vibrant colors. After my mother inherited the house, she let most of the garden go but kept one rose bush as an homage to Grandma Gabel. I feel the chill of the morning air on my naked body while the dusky sunlight of the morning creeps over the lawn.

My heart pumps wildly. It must be very early, as I can see the slightest hint of sun starting to bounce from clouds to the east. The panic of being caught in my birthday suit is still unnerving, and I quickly survey the streets. The house lights are off, and I hear no motors of any kind nearby.

I was studying for a calculus test in my kitchen just moments ago, except it was in the future. How far into the future is still uncertain. One thing I’ve learned since I began time traveling is to do my studying as soon as possible, in case of any sudden departures. Teachers in my time are alert to students who are Chronologically Displaced Persons. The chunky title is a fancy way of saying time traveler. People with my affliction first referred to each other as Chrono-Leapers and, eventually, just Leapers.

I look around and try to gather clues, like my mother taught me. The best way to pinpoint “where or when” I am in the world is to look at a newspaper or a parked car. Newspapers will give me dates and information on when I have traveled to. A car will give me a state and a year from the registration sticker. I already know the house, so the where tip is irrelevant. I discover the when as I approach the house. At the driveway, a newspaper lies in a thin plastic sleeve. The date is Saturday, April 25, 2009—more than thirty years in the past.

I’ve only been traveling for the last four years, but I’ve known about my condition for almost all my life. At the age of twelve, I was considered a late bloomer, since most start developing symptoms before their eighth birthday.

For most, strong emotions trigger a leap. Inevitably, an uncontrollable instance occurs without warning, like a hiccup. My mother warned me at an early age about “the price of losing control.” She spoke from experience—I recall moments when she got extremely agitated and disappeared. She sometimes came back with bruises on her face.

I always try to prepare for when it’s my time to get tossed back and forth in the spectrum without warning. Mom said I would be able to control it better by the time I reached my twenties. I hope this turns out to be true, because a little spike of terror fills me each time it happens. I keep it bottled up, rely on breathing exercises, and hope that I never have to enact any of the moves I’ve learned in self-defense classes.

Cold and exposed, I make my way around back to my grandma’s gardening shed. First, I check in the closet where she used to keep her aprons and galoshes. On one shelf are an oversized pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt of equal proportions—a stash I can only assume was put there for my grandfather, who had the same condition. I put them on and begin to walk toward the back door of the house. Grandma kept a spare key under the mat, so I unlock the door and walk into the kitchen.

The only sound is from the heater in the basement. I walk over and look at the photo magnets on the refrigerator. Some show pictures of friends and family. I’ve never before traveled to a past where I wasn’t born yet. It’s like showing up to a surprise party early, where all of the decorations are out but no guests have arrived.

A rumble from my stomach reminds me how I skipped dinner, and I decide to quietly scavenge the cupboards for anything I can consume. As I do so, I think of where I should go. It isn’t a good idea to be caught and try to explain. I grab a few breakfast bars and a sealed package of beef jerky.

As I turn to go back out to the shed, I notice a sleepy-eyed young girl staring at me from the hallway. She’s wearing flannel pants and an oversized white T-shirt. I immediately recognize the young version of my mom I’ve seen in old photo albums.

A rekindled sense of longing fills my chest, and I’m reminded of how I miss being home already. I want to run over and hug her and tell her I’m her son. But I know I can’t act so presumptuous and endanger the timeline.

“Who are you?” she asks in a raspy voice.

“Someone like you.”

She takes a moment to process the information. “Do I know you?” She wipes the sleep out of one eye and squints at me through the other.

“No.” My mother has explained that if I encounter someone and don’t want to divulge any unneeded information, I should keep my comments brief, courteous, and to the point.

“Why are you here? What’s your name?” She appears to be waking up, but as she shuffles forward, her steps are heavy.

“My name is Carter. I used to visit this place from time to time when I was younger.” For obvious reasons, I leave out the part about living there in the future and doing my homework in this very kitchen.

She nods, scuttles over to one of the stools by the counter, and sits down with a thump. She braces her chin on the palm of her hand and promptly closes her eyes.

She exhales a few deep-throated sighs, letting me know she’s asleep. I am about to place the contents of cupboard rummage in my pockets when I feel the small tickle in my center that lets me know my time is almost up. The initial leap can be unexpected, but the return trip gives notice.

I grab a magnetized egg timer off the refrigerator and set it for two minutes. I kiss my young mother’s head and place the timer by her elbow. I then slip out the back door and go into Grandma’s shed to return the clothing and place them back in the closet. The feeling gets stronger, and I know it’s time.

The sensation rushes through me, and I feel myself going back to my place in time. It feels like little carbonated bubbles fizzing up inside my body until they race through my veins and up through the pores in my skin. There’s a split second where I see and hear nothing. It’s actually comforting, because it brings me utter peace and tranquility.

When I come to, I look at the clock above the sink and notice only an hour has passed. I think that’s a pretty amazing stroke of luck considering the first time I came back from traveling I found I had been gone for an entire day, and I wound up in the grape arbor behind my best friend’s house.

It was the most embarrassing moment in my life. Growing up, I knew the possibility existed, but until it actually happens, you are never ready. Since my friend lived a few miles away, I had to rely on his family’s help to get me home. I’ll never forget that shameful walk up to their door to ask for help, holding a soccer ball over my tiddly-bits.

In my kitchen, clothes are in a disheveled pile on the chair where I had been sitting. They look like a second skin I had shed. As I start to get dressed, the phone rings. I know exactly who it is, and I don’t feel like answering, but if I don’t, a black sedan will be pulling into the driveway. I don’t want my mom to go through that tonight, if it can be avoided.

I walk over and hold my hand up in front of the translucent phone screen to wave through the call. The display lights up, and Dr. Phillips’s face appears. “Good evening, Mr. White,” the gray-haired man announces.

Mr. White is my pseudonym. The doctors and officials like to distance themselves from too much knowledge of, or attachment to, Chrono-Leapers. That’s because there have been times they’ve had to “remove the threat,” due to a possible timeline adjustment—like someone making money off of future knowledge. If they knew real names and formed emotional ties, it would be harder to move on after a patient had been “removed.” They need to be able to think of us simply as livestock—expendable—and not as pets that have to be put down. But I’ll get to the Chrono-Hunters later.

“Doctor,” I reply, trying to convey by my impatience toget this over with and go to bed.

“Where did we go to tonight?”

We? That always makes me chuckle. He didn’t go anywhere and wind up naked and on a quick search for his dignity.

“My house, April 25th, 2009.” I know precisely what he is going to ask next; it’s the same thing he always asks after leaping: Who did I see? What did I see? What did I do? Did I affect anything outright or influence anybody otherwise? It’s protocol.

Since Chronologically Displaced Person Syndrome (CDPS) was fully introduced as a medical phenomenon in 2017, the government takes special interest in the scientific aspects of the field. My mother’s condition was explored when she was younger, but no scientific tests ever determined why it occurs, yielding only theoretical papers on the subject.

Naturally, the government began to intervene when they realized the severity of what could happen if a person played leapfrog through time without scrutiny. They asked the public to come forward voluntarily. In exchange, they agreed to pay test subjects for any research toward the “genetic mutation.” They initially rounded up six travelers—one of whom was my mother. She knew from experience what could happen, and didn’t want to wind up like my grandfather, stranded naked in a blizzard to die of hypothermia.

The volunteer program was a clever way of getting anybody who was a Leaper out of the woodwork so as to document and hopefully cure them. After some Senatorial debate, the government began to sanction time travel, as long as the activity was monitored. To keep tabs on our time-travel activities, Leapers are now given tracking wristbands, which fit snugly against the skin. If we disappear, handlers wait an hour and then call.

Failure to answer the call initiates the dispatch of a vehicle to stand guard and wait. In the meantime, the Department of Chronological Displacement (DCD) activates a Limbo Tank. The Tank is a capsule designed to withstand any fluctuation in the time/space ribbon or temporal disturbance. It basically acts as the waiting area for when Leapers return. No matter what they may have altered in time, the Hunters will have a perfect detailed record of how the world was before they left. After they are released from the Tank, Hunters compare and look for major changes in finances, world population and developments in technology.

Once the Leaper returns, the Hunter is removed from the Tank. If it is not opened from the outside, it remains dormant for up to six months. After that time, it will automatically open. The Hunter is awakened, and orders are initiated to find and assassinate the Leaper in question.

The longest time jump recorded was three months. When the Leaper returned, his body went into a state of shock. From what I’ve read, a long period of time spent outside a person’s natural timeline can cause uncontrollable hemorrhaging. After an autopsy and many tests, scientists deduced that any Leaper returning after a period of five months would not survive. So, the six-month mark is set for Hunters as an added precaution.

The shortest timeframe recorded is five minutes. Hunters are given a fifteen-minute window to get to a Tank, suit up, and prepare. Anything below that mark is deemed irrelevant. There have been a few circumstances when a Leaper has not returned. For the most part, it happens when Leapers find themselves in the elements when they jump.

Government agents always come off as smug, and Dr. Phillips is not much different. He is just like them, only he adds empathy after each question. I hate coming back a few hours or days after leaping to see them standing in my room before I can find something to put on over my birthday suit.

I chat with Dr. Phillips about the paper I looked at, to verify the date. When it comes to information, he always likes to ask me a few times. There are retinal cameras in the phone display to measure my pupils, which apparently show the degree to which I’m lying. It’s one of the things they tell us when we check in after our first few leaps. Asking repeatedly is a way of trying to throw us off guard, in case we learned how to fool the machine.

Another precaution is monitoring bank accounts. Anytime a person leaps, his or her bank account immediately gets audited back to the previous month, once the Hunter is released.

More troubling than the government, or Hunters, or even leaping itself is what has been happening to me recently. Someone is leaving me notes to find after I return from my leaps. I’ve received two notes so far in the past six weeks. The first was cryptic—it simply stated, “5 months: 14 days: 6 hours: 21 minutes.” The following note was more troubling, as it was starting to count down. I have not looked yet as I just returned, but I’m sure there’s a third. My debriefing is just wrapping up, and I plan to check my room for evidence.

As I enter the room, a half-folded piece of paper sits patiently on my desk, waiting for me to open it. This one is different. It seems ominous.

1 week: 6 days: 13 hours: 4 minutes

They will be coming for you.

Prepare yourself

 

To be continued …