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“In my experience, most people think of time as a kind of ocean that the entire universe swims in -- something that pours (pores?) over and envelops everything, no exceptions. It would be easier if that were actually the case, but it's not.

“Think of everything that happens in your life as being written down on one long strip of paper. I like to think of it as an ornate kind of scroll; my father describes it as an unfurling roll of toilet paper because he thinks that's funny. Now, let’s take this interminably long strip of lightweight paper and stick a strip of duct tape to the back of it for the entire length. In theory, it will help the whole thing hold together better, but it doesn't always work that way. There will be places where you get too much tape and it bends and bubbles out away from the paper, there will be places where you don't use enough tape, and the paper will be doubled up instead. The tape will twist and spindle and stick to both the paper and itself in places where it shouldn't, and it will tear the scroll whenever you try to correct the mistakes, which will leave places where only the tape itself is holding the whole mess together, and other places where a perfectly clear and legible section of the scroll is make hopelessly unreadable.

“That's how time works. In fact, that's how time works when things are going ''well'.

“Things are not going well.

“Time is coming unstuck and pieces of the scroll -- torn and floating -- are readhering to that strip of sticky gray as they please; higgely piggedly, catty-corner, and sideways. When has gotten loose and wandered off; all we have left is what.”


Fat Mac is standing outside the back entrance to the diner. He's just spoken to the Jinn. The butcher-wrapped paper labeled "Twin's Left Hand" is sitting in his freezer, but neither dusky Cruickshank nor pale Oberst has shown up at the store in forty-seven days, so how can that be? The Seed hasn’t yet fallen, the Tree is coming in a few minutes, and Athena has been within site of the Trucker's Paradise for twenty-three days but still hasn't reached it; Coyote's a trickster indeed and he's giving Zeus a splitting headache for running him down in the road.

Things fall apart; the center -- The Midway -- cannot hold.


In the diner, Fat Mac drew in a breath and charged toward Frank, but he was sliding away at

the same

Time.


“Russel Mc Intyre.” The woman in the amethyst dress (blocking the back door that leads into the diner) stares up and up and up at Fat Mac; without her heels on, she’s only about five foot three. “Mc Intyre. Scottish. ‘Son of the carpenter’.” Her too-light eyes search his mahogany, sweat-shining face, flicking back and forth as though reading a wickedly funny telegram. “You don’t look Scottish.”

Fat Mac is still coming in from his visit with the Jinn. That is Where and When he is/ has been, but he didn’t take a cleaver with him on that drifting search, and he has one in his hand now – the one he was/ is/ will be/ trying to use on Frank. Paradox, but a small one, and it’s left to stand. Fat Mac glances over his shoulder, but the woman is alone. Her father is still sitting in the booth, with her, in the diner; he’s forgotten which Time it is.

The big man turns back, looking down at the woman. “I took a new name when I came here.” His voice is a low rumble. “My employer thought it would be best.”

"Interesting." She’s nearly purring. “You wouldn’t happen to know where he is, would you?”

Fat Mac’s eyes go unfocused for a moment. His head shakes. “No. I only know when.”


Twenty feet past them, inside the diner and elsewhen, the woman in the amethyst dress shouts something about the Tree, and her companion and father pushes himself out of the booth where he’s been sitting, races across the room and flings the door off its hinges. He is moving Back to the point where the Seed is falling and, if he reaches it in Time, it will never find purchase in the rich soil beneath the asphalt.

But his daughter and Fat Mac block the way. The shadowed man growls and pushes them both into When he expects them to be, but even that small delay means he misses his chance.


Fat Mac struggles up the slope and takes a swing at Frank, but the strange little man with the feather dangling from his ear is too quick; in that moment, he will always be too quick, no matter how many chances Fat Mac gets. It isn’t his time.

Not yet. Not quite yet.


Frank takes the cleaver from Elder Thomas, smiles to himself, and brings it down through the Sacrifice’s neck. Blood sprays; gouts of it, carrying bits of bone from the shattered fifth vertebrae into the air, wetting the growing roots that are pushing up out of the crack in the floor that ends Hekate...

And nothing.

Nothing.


In the closest thing to Now, it is raining outside. The old man is gone (having run out of Time), along with the woman he was talking to; the diner is, in fact, practically empty. Leilani watches the water strike the pavement outside, coming down so hard that the spray of shattering droplets makes the ground almost invisible. Against that formless backdrop, her mind’s eye sees what might happen in the diner – sees it and understands, without knowing even what she knows.

The drops race to the Seed, and the Tear reaches it before the Blood.

“The murderer is the wrong Sacrifice,” Leilani says to no one at all. Her voice is strong and sure and certain.

She has no idea what the words mean.


-- Doyce Testerman

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Page last modified on April 24, 2006, at 05:21 PM by DoyceTesterman

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