If you've read Zelazny's "Nine Princes in Amber" this will be a little familiar. WC: 2000
his is as far as I go. You gotta get out here,” the man with the shock of red hair says, waving at the door next to me.
For a moment, I don’t move, then I reluctantly comply.
“That bag in the back seat is yours, take it. Er … brother. I’d go that way,” he gestured down a narrow lane winding between trees.
I open the back door, find a carpet bag, grab it and shut the door.
“Be careful, trust no one. Except me, of course,” he smiles, then cryptically adds, before driving off. “When you get there, head down.”
The automobile silently drives down the road we’d been on and is out of sight in a few moments. I turn and look down the narrow graveled lane. It had been well used in the past but not recently. Trees line both sides and there are orange, brown and yellow leaves scattered across the lane. It looks familiar but I can’t say why.
Gripping my bag I start down the lane. The air is crisp and clean, it feels like a typical Fall mid-day. My stomach growls, reminding me that I haven’t eaten since I woke up in the hotel room this morning.
“Wake up! You’ve got to leave!”
I opened one eye and this short, red-haired man was standing by my bed. I found it difficult to focus at first, then I heard the gunfire. That registered, got both eyes open and me sitting bolt upright. I looked down at myself and saw I was fully dressed. I’d been lying on the bed-covers.
I stood, weaved a bit as a dizzy spell washed over me.
“Good. Here is your jacket,” the man handed me a leather, bomber style jacket.
I tugged it on as we headed for the door. I didn’t give the room a glance as we left, somehow I knew it wasn’t important.
“Where are we ...” I started to ask, only to be interrupted.
“Shh. If they hear, we’ll be in a world of hurt. This way.”
He led us down a long hallway to an emergency door. He didn’t hesitate opening it. If an alarm sounded we couldn’t hear it. The door led out on to a landing with stairs going up and down. We took the one going down. We went down six flights of stairs and stopped in front of a steel door. My companion put his hand on the door for a moment, and said, “Damn it! Something is blocking me. We must do it the old-fashioned way.”
He grabbed the handle braced one foot on the wall and pulled. There was a plunk sound, and the door swung open. He hesitated for a moment, then stuck his head out to look. He immediately pulled back at the sound of close gunfire.
He looked at me, then said, “They are moving fast. They must know I am helping you.”
He stepped past me to the blank wall on the left. He pulled something out of his pocket and stared at it, intently for a moment, shrugged and put it back.
“How are they blocking me? Flora must be working with Brand. The two-faced bitch.”
Something tells me I can trust this guy but there is a feeling about the name Brand that I can’t quite put my finger on. The name Flora causes an intense dislike in me for her.
“OK, we gotta do this the Corwin way,”
That name caused a variety of feelings in me: jealousy, envy, and respect.
He pulled a stick of common, colored chalk, dark blue, out of his pocket and began to draw on the wall. The door next to me is pushed open by a man with aviation-style goggles and a black helmet. Without hesitation, I hit him in the nose. His head snaps back, and he collapses on the floor, dropping a pistol. I crouched down, picked up the gun and dropped it in my pocket. I peered out and down the hallway; there is no one else. I quickly searched the downed man and found two more clips of bullets. They went into my pocket with the pistol.
“Let’s go,” my companion said.
He had drawn a door on the wall. It was detailed and complete with hinges and a door nob. I stood up but before I could say anything, he opened the door he just drew. It opened into a corridor with a slate-gray tile floor and wood-paneled walls. My companion waved me through, following right behind. He turned back and locked the door and then dropped a bar across it into a steel holder.
“I’d erase it if I could but that’s not how this works,” he said as he passed me and headed down the corridor.
We hurried down the corridor, passing several doors with inset glass. There were words written on them but I couldn’t understand them. We reached a stairway and headed down that. At the bottom, he pushed through a door into a busy foyer. People milled about, a mix of men and women. The women all wore long dresses with hats and see-through veils hanging across their eyes. The men all wore neat suits and had full beards without mustaches. We passed through them and out a pair of double doors on to a busy street.
We turned to the left and walked about half a block stopping at a blue, four-door sedan. The fenders were rounded as was the hood and trunk.
“It’s a beauty. 1954 Packard 8. In-line 8, smoothest damn ride. Get in.”
He stepped around to the driver’s side and slid behind the wheel. I got in on the passenger side, I barely had the door closed before he slid out into the traffic. He turned at the first corner and went straight for a couple of blocks. The buildings were mostly brick and commercial. As we drove the surroundings changed … oddly. The buildings would change style, then change back. The day would be twilight then back to midday. It rained for a brief time then snow then … something unidentifiable splattered against the windshield. Like bugs only, not bugs. The driver used the windshield wipers to remove that stuff. I was starting to get a headache.
“Sorry for the fast shadow run, but we needed to lose those guys. I don’t know what she is up to but those guys meant to kill us … well mostly you. I would have been bonus.”
Things kept changing as we drove, eventually, we were in the countryside. Then it slowed to only small changes. The season settled on autumn and the time to midday. As we neared the lane, he slowed then stopped the car at the beginning of the lane.
As I walked, I felt my mind clearing, but the clearing did not bring clarity. I can’t remember my name. I know I have siblings and that both my parents have passed away. I know I’m not Corwin but maybe I’m Brand? That doesn’t seem right.
As I walk, the trees halt and low stone walls appear on either side. Looking in the distance I can the see the roof of a building just over a swell in the ground. I stop, drop the bag and fish the gun out of my jacket pocket. It feels familiar in my hand. I check it and find there have been 3 of the possible 10 bullets fired. I put the safety on and put is in the waistband of my jeans in the small of my back. Not the most convenient places but a cursory search won’t find the weapon.
I pick up the bag and continue. The air is invigorating and bits and pieces of my memory are coming back. Nothing that helps me now but names (not mine) and places flash on and off. Like recovering from anesthesia, flashes where everything seems clear then it goes fuzzy again.
At the top of the swell I look down on to a large house with a circular driveway. There is a fountain in the center that is overgrown with vegetation. The house is three stories with Dormers in the roof. There is an entrance portico in the center of the building. The building sits just off center in a fenced in area. To the right of the building is a gravel road leading to the back.
I take a few minutes to walk into the compound. The surrounding fence is about 10 feet high and mostly wrought iron with brick and mortar pillars every 15 feet. The gate is open wide enough for me to pass through. The center used to be grass and topiaries surrounding the fountain, now it is just an overgrown mess. I have a memory flash of it looking clean and neat. The circular drive has leaves from the few trees growing around the sides scattered across it. I step into the shade of the portico and am confronted by a large set of doors.
The left door is slightly ajar so I push it open and step into a marble-floored foyer. There are double doors on either side and a wide hallway heading deeper into the house. A dozen feet in front of me, on the right, is a stairway going up.
I ignore the stairs and the doors and walk down the hallway to a cross corridor. I turn to the right and take two steps and halt. On my right is a half oval, marble-topped table pressed up against the wall. There is a mirror mounted behind it. I look in it and see a tall, well-built man with piercing blue eyes and hair so black it is almost blue. Something bids me to press my hand against the mirror.
The table and wall swing in revealing a short landing and stairway heading down. I step onto the landing and the wall swings closed behind me. Just before it closes I think I hear voices. I take the stairs quickly.
The stairs eventually end at a large room. Much larger than one would expect for a basement. In the center of the room, on the floor, is a pattern. It is at least 40 feet on a side. It has curves and straight lines and if I follow it I see it leads to a circular center area.
Something pushes me to find the starting point and I do. I start walking it. It is easy at first but gets progressively harder in a manner that is not obvious. I see nothing but I feel like I am walking through thick mud. I am about a quarter way around when I have a moment of self-doubt. Maybe I am not supposed to do this that is why it is getting harder. And at that moment a long flash of memory returns. I see this house filled with people, it’s a celebration. I see a man, tall, heavy-set with muscles, dressed in formal attire, smiling. I know he is my brother Gérard.
I press on. This must be a way to regain my memories. Sparks shoot up around my legs. They are low, reaching only my ankles and do not hurt. It gets easier for a dozen steps then harder. The sparks gradually rise to my knees then hips. As I progress around the design the times where it feels like I am pushing a mountain are fewer but more difficult. It is repeated over and over. At some point the sparks are above my head, I barely notice them. I press on by instinct. I know I must finish. The flashes of memories grow stronger and more often.
Suddenly it’s over and I am in the center. I stand panting like I’ve run a marathon. I have a great urge to sit down and rest. At that moment I hear a feminine voice call out.
“Who are you?”
I do not hesitate, because I know who I am. I reply, “I am Eric, son of Oberon and I used to be a king.”
She yells, "Liar!" as she raises a pistol.
I think of a place I used to love and I am there.