by Rob Steiner
Taran Abraeu knew he was dreaming, but the horror he felt was quite real.
He stood in the middle of a wide stone bridge above a black, fast-moving river. A gray mist covered the banks. Above him, the sky swirled with every color imaginable, making him dizzy just looking at it.
On the bridge in front of him were three stone boxes. One black, one red, and one white. Strange black engravings covered all three, words from a language Taran did not know, but was sure he once had.
The lid of the black box jumped, landing slightly ajar on top of the box. It jumped again, and this time it fell onto the bridge’s red-brick road.
Taran peered inside.
White mists swirled in the box, and a black lightning flickered. The face of a beautiful woman with red hair materialized. Taran was unable to look away. The corners of her mouth lifted in a smile.
Jagged, yellow encrusted teeth leered at him. Her eyes turned as black as a shark’s.
Taran awoke to the chiming of the wiretype receiver on the nightstand beside his bed. The little bell rang twice, paused, rang twice again. Taran took a moment to calm his shaking body from the dream, then flipped the lever next to the chime. The wiretype keys in his office downstairs start tapping the message.
Taran lay his head back down on his sweat-soaked pillow. The street lamps outside illuminated the fine cracks in the ceiling’s plaster, and he wondered how long before the cracks leaked water. And then wondered how he’d pay for the repairs with his reduced university salary and Mara’s ever increasing doctor fees.
Accepting that sleep was futile, Taran rose from the bed, put on his round spectacles, and went to his office to see about the wiretype.
He passed Mara’s room, the door slightly open. He peeked inside, saw that his daughter’s eyes were closed and that she was sleeping in the same position in which he had placed her last night—on her back, with her head tilted slightly toward the window on the other side of the room. After Mara’s six years with the Blood, he did not know why this disturbed him every morning. Adhera would tell him that it was because he still expected Mara to bound out of bed one morning like she had before she caught the Blood. It would never happen again, she would say angrily.
Well, Adhera was wrong about that, and it was a disagreement that had driven them to separate rooms. Taran glanced at the door across from Mara’s, saw Adhera’s sleeping form in the street light seeping through her windows.
Taran closed Mara’s door and continued to his office, down the narrow stairs and past the small living room. The wiretype continued to tap at the paper tape emerging from the unstained wood case. He read the sender number at the beginning of the tape and frowned. It was from the Office of the Dean of Continental Antiquities. Taran wondered what was so important that old Arie Seazell would wiretype him at an hour when even Calaman University groundskeepers still slept. The message read:
“Dr. Abraeu, be at my office in one hour for a conference with officials from the Speaker’s office. Look to the sky if you want the reason.”
“Speaker’s office?” Taran wondered out loud. The Speaker? What could officials from the Speaker of the Recindian Compact possibly have to say to him?
Taran was an expert in a field that had long ago become the stuff of ridicule among universities across the Compact, and even most other nations on the continent. His classes on the ancient Mystics were popular among students looking for a diversion from their “real” studies of history, science, and Pathism. Taran had given up a lucrative and prestigious career in Recindian history six years ago, just after the Blood struck Mara, to pursue the Mystics. Legends of their healing powers were enough to drive Taran’s decision, though he had always had a passing interest in their mythology all his life. “Mythology” had become his last hope to save his daughter. For if he could find them, or at least find out how they had healed their sick, perhaps he could avoid the only prescription the Compact’s Pathist society had for his daughter’s condition…
So why would the Speaker’s office want to talk to him, a man whose Pathist orthodoxy was suspect at best, heretical at worst?
And what was the last line “look to the sky” about?
Taran walked to the window in the living room of his small townhouse. As always in a city of Calaman’s size, people were up and about at all hours, walking along the sidewalks or riding in horse-drawn carriages, hooves clomping on the cobblestone street. A steam trolley filled with a dozen people huffed and sputtered past his window, belching black coal smoke from the stack on its roof. Its blue uniformed driver rang the bell to warn off two men in black suits and tri-corner hats standing in the trolley’s path and staring at the sky. A lampman was extinguishing the gas lamps across the street with a long pole that had a small soot-caked hood at the end. The lampman looked up into the sky with a nervous frown, and then hurried on to the next gas lamp.
Taran looked up at the violet sky—
The wiretype fell from his hand.
© 2012 Rob Steiner