Oh, if only I could take back my actions last Saturday...
|My heart stops to see Alan, and I wonder how to steady my conscience without arousing his legendary ire. He waits at the table in his fantastic museum of a home. Alan, my dear friend, and my host, landlord, and mentor: how I have wronged you, taken foolish risks and done cowardly things. "Hey, Alan. Them Diamondbacks seem kind of off, don't they?"
Alan looked at me for a moment, then checked his watch and his phone. "I suppose," he said, unsatisfied with what his modern artifacts were telling him.
"Suppose?" I laughed, putting down coffee and a donut. "Hardly like you."
"Doesn't seem important." He shrugged.
Oh no, I thought. I wonder if he knows, about his son and daughter-- if he suspects my role in their death by misadventure? "Never does to me." I sipped my cappuccino--the self-serve, Seven Eleven kind, none of that Starbucks stuff for me--not after last week. I looked about the room, all the relics, including swords, spears and maces, each one enchanted, preternatural, deadly. Alan had forgotten more about their proper deployment than most men dare imagine.
"Both of them going dark at once?" Alan said. "Days since Claire and Richard called. Not normal, not at all."
I studied his face any hint of accusation. I didn't see it, not yet, but Alan always was so guarded. If I got away with this, I would be the first. "Well, you know. They're young, they have busy lives, adventures even..." I hoped I could convince Alan to think they went on their own. Surely, he expected them to find out about the portals eventually.
"One of them, yes, maybe. But, they always call me." Then he just fell silent, staring off into space.
I drank down my cappuccino, begging silently for him to say something, anything.
No matter the cost, I could not take it. I would get him to see reason, or take his punishment. In a low voice, I said, "I'm so sorry, Alan. It's my fault."
He looked at me, shock and confusion on his face. He had had no idea.
"I'm the one that talked them into going there, confronting it," I confessed. "I am the one that failed in the research, didn't understand. The Oneira beast was immune..."
"Nothing." I stared off, at the scythe.
"You're not going to get away with that." His eyes bored into me. I had stared down many a gun, but none of them had this power. "That's not the kind of a confession you can take back."
I grabbed my forehead in my hands, squeezing my temples in regret. "We did a treasure hunt," I said. "One of the portals of the Maze. It didn't go well."
"You took my children on a hunt in the Maze?" he stood up and threw the table aside. "You know what kind of danger there is in the other worlds."
"I- yes." I struggled not cry. "You’ve taken me on hundreds of expeditions.”
“I knew what I was doing,” he said. “I did more research than you did.”
My jaw dropped. I had done exhaustive research. Insane, exhaustive research.
“What was it, Jack? Did you need some money?” He said, pulling a wad of hundreds out of his pocket and throwing them at my feet. “I can practically print the stuff. You could have come to me.”
“I never saw anything like it." I thought of the Oneira. "So beautiful."
Alan grabbed the scythe from the statue to his right. "So you got my children killed. Where is this 'Oneira' anyhow?"
"It's in the thirty-seventh, no, thirty sixth portal," I said, counting on my fingers. "The one with the silver runes."
"You don't even know what door you went through?" He huffed, and stamped away, swinging the magic lance as he did. "What a clown. Never a thought for consequence."
"What happened, Alan? Not even sure they're dead. Happened so fast. I don't expect you to ever forgive me."
"Darn right I don't forgive you." Alan laughed, standing across the cavernous room, waving his scythe. "Not during your lifetime, anyhow. Kal edestern, mal Kolok."
Sickly yellow blobs of light flared over the weapon.
"Wh- what are you doing?" I stuttered, backing away. I eyed the statue that held Alan’s scythe, a bony, robed figure with his face covered by a sculpted hood.
"Some debts cannot be repaid," he said, pointing the weapon at me. There was a strange glint in his eyes, reflected from the shining scythe no doubt. "This one, however, I mean to collect."
It was my turn to be shocked and confused. "I don't understand."
"You abandoned them, kept the secret, denying me the right to help. Now, I intend to get their lives back." I noticed that the lance's blade now curved like a sickle. It dawned on me that was a reaper's scythe. The statue must be a depiction of 'Death' himself. Alan intended to trade my life for that of his slain children.
"No, Alan," I said, trying to hide behind the fallen table. "No matter what I've done, I don't deserve this."
"Hell you don't," Alan said, running up to me.
I dodged at the last second, jerking left. Alan turned left a second before, catching me on my right side. Just a nick.
Golden light dripped from my wounds. Alan gathered them with the scythe.
My grip tore the steel table. A hunk of it came off in my hand. "Please, Alan," I stumbled toward the rack of healing potions. "It's not too late. I can help. I can change!"
Alan laughed, a laugh that echoed terribly in the huge room. "Oh, yes, it is," he said, looking impossibly small and far away. "Far too late for you. But you will: you will help, and you will change--for the worse."
My hands aged, shriveled. As I flexed my fingers, the flesh fell away, leaving naked bone. I looked on in horror, my heart tightening in fear as I, too, began to lose touch.