Tami Parker Other Duties as Assigned

Finish the Story – Careful

F

New week? New prompt!

As always, beware the comments section if you plan on writing something, so as to avoid being influenced.

I look forward to seeing your responses!

“How did you know?” I asked, not sure I wanted the answer. I thought I had been careful. I thought she ….”

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  • "How did you know?" I asked, not sure I wanted the answer.

    I thought I had been careful. I thought she had been too busy at work — she was always too busy. Clean this, scrub that, wash the other thing.

    It was demeaning. Our family had once been as affluent, if not better than the blonde, blue-eyed warriors who had conquered us decades ago.

    My mother should have been draped in rich furs and dining on the finest mutton, not polishing silverware.

    She sighed, face fading from anger to a deep-seated tiredness that never seemed to go away. "Perrith, I'm your mother. Did you really think I wouldn't notice you sneaking out at night? Notice all the new patched holes in your tunics? The burn marks on your shoes?"

    I blushed. I'd tried to remedy most of the tears on my own, but my skills with a needle and thread were severely lacking.

    That, and I genuinely did think she wouldn't notice the sneaking.

    "What they're doing here isn't right," I said. "You know it and so do the rest of the lowlanders. We deserve better than this."

    "And this is your answer?" she responded. "Perrith, you could be killed. What has gotten into you?"

    "I listened to the stories YOU told me," I snapped back. "Olgar the Hero, Brisig the Rider, Toroth the Mighty … all of them start the same way. You go into the mountains and they find you. Not the other way around."

    "Children's stories!"

    "They're true!" I stood up. "They're true and I know they are. If you go deep enough into the mountains, you'll find entire acres burned to the ground. Bones from cattle too big to have fallen to pumas or bears. I'm close, I just know I am …"

    "Perrith, you have to stop. We need you here! If you're old enough to sneak off into the forests, you're old enough to get a job at the stables with your brother. You like horses, it will be good for you."

    She paused and my heart squeezed at the pain in her face. "Dragons aren't real. You aren't going to find one out there on the slopes, just waiting to bond with you. Life isn't a story."

    I bit off a response. She was wrong, I knew she was. I'd seen proof.

    But she'd given up on stories a long time ago. I couldn't make her see. Couldn't force her to imagine the life she should have had.

    One by one, my friends and family grew too old for the stories. I watched the light fade from their eyes, the spring fall from their steps as they swallowed the Truth fed to them by foreign hands.

    Of course our "Lords" didn't believe in dragons.

    The dragons didn't belong to them.

    They belonged to the lowlanders, and it was past time for one of us to remind them of our pact. This land was ours, those mountains were theirs, and death to all who dared take it from us.

    My people had mostly forgotten. Clearly, the dragons had forgotten.

    I would remind them ALL.

  • 1/2

    "How did you know?" I asked, not sure I wanted the answer. I thought I had been careful. I thought she could never break free of the web of paradox I'd wrapped around her.

    Around us.

    "You really think that this is some sort of fairy tale, don't you?" She asked, shaking her head. "Captured and in their darkest hour, the hero finds out the details of the villain's evil plan and escapes at the last second to enact a miraculous victory." She paused, eyeing me up and down. "Well, I suppose heroine in this case would be the more accurate term, wouldn't it?"

    "You weren't supposed to find out," I said. I sounded like a broken record, and I hated that I sounded like a broken record, but I didn't know what else I could say in the face of what was happening. "You weren't ever supposed to find out the truth."

    "How does it feel?" She asked me, a gloating tone creeping into her voice. It was the tone of a child who'd gotten away with stealing the last slice of cake from the fridge in the middle of the night. "God, to think that I could ever be as naive as you. It burns you up inside, doesn't it? To know that I've won?"

    Rage flooded through me, burning through the tangled skein of emotion that had wrapped around my head. "It's not about winning, you stupid bitch!" I spat out at her. "Did you ever think that there might have been a reason for what I'd done? Did you? Or were you so obsessed with 'winning' that you didn't stop to consider I might have had a good reason for risking reality to-"

    Bright lights flooded my vision. The sound came an instant after that, followed shortly by the blinding pain.

    She'd punched me. The stupid cow had punched me in the face. Warmth slid down my upper lip from a bloody nose.

    "That's enough." Her voice was flat, cold. "You have no idea how long I've waited to turn this back around on you."

    "You have to listen to me," I began.

    "No, I don't," she spat back. "I'm done having you try to control my life. You really think that this is like all the other times? That you'll be able to fix it and make things go back to the way they were?"

    "Other times…?" I whispered. Horror flooded through me. She knew. I don't know how the lock had broken, but she knew.

    "Yes," she sneered. "The other times. All three hundred fifteen of them. All of the other times you've tried to make me live my life the way you wanted me to and all of the times that it failed. All of the times that you fucked it up and went back to try again. The way you time-locked all of the past attempts away when you thought you'd finally found the solution? The trigger to fix things the way you wanted them to be? Well, unraveling the paradox revealed it all to me."

    "You couldn't have done it on your own," I said, still trying to puzzle it out.

    "No, I didn't. I met someone who had a bone to pick with you," she said, turning back to face the darkest part of the shadows.

    The third woman stepped out then. Hunched over, wrinkled and scarred, but I knew that face. I'd know it anywhere.

    "You," I whispered. I couldn't help but whisper. I wanted to rage. I wanted to scream and shout that this was unfair, but time marches on. It was inexorable, unstoppable. It was a force of the universe and I knew that it was hubris, in the extreme, to imagine that I might be able to bend it to my will.

    "Yes, me," she croaked. Her voice was as dry as the desert sands, but I knew that voice.

  • 2/2

    "But why?" I asked. I felt tears burning in my eyes as the world blurred. "You're from downstream, you know why I did it. You must know. And yet you still came back? You came back to stop it?" Rage. Anger. "I'd fixed it!" I shouted, voice cracking. "I'd solved the puzzle! The paradox web, I unraveled it and I fucking fixed it! Why would you do this? You know what I was trying to do! You know what I was trying to stop from happening! Why would you want it to happen? My daughter! Our daughter! We can save her!"

    The old woman waited until I'd fallen silent. Her voice was but a whisper when she spoke, creaking and dry as the tenebrous branches of a winter bare tree.

    "Yes," she whispered. "You did finally find the solution, after what? Three hundred years of trying? I must applaud your dedication, I never thought you'd make it."

    "Then why?" I whispered.

    "Because if you'd succeeded, if you managed to time lock the past and prevent her from dying, I would cease to exist." She shrugged then. It was a small gesture, but it held within it the eloquence that words couldn't express, not if we had all of eternity to try. "Paradox, you see."

    "Daughter…save her?" The younger Nicole looked confused. I looked at her face and my heart broke to think that I had ever been so young. She didn't know what was coming, even now.

    "Yes," the crone said without turning around. "Our daughter."

    Then she shot her.

    The gunshot was deafening in the closed space. The younger Nicole reached down with confused hands, patting absently at the spreading bloodstain on her chest before falling backward.

    She still didn't know what she'd done to us.

    She would die confused.

    "Just tying up loose ends," the older Nicole spoke in her rasping voice. The gun swung my way, aimed directly at my forehead where I sat tied to my chair.

    "We could have fixed it," I whispered, brokenly. "We could have finally saved her. After so many years of trying, we had the answer."

    "One day, if you live long enough, you'll understand why," she whispered as her finger slipped into the trigger guard.

    "Never," I spat the word at her with as much venom as I could muster. "Not in a million years. I will never understand why you're doing what you did today. I'll die not knowing why you're doing this, and I'm glad."

    She smiled. It was a sad, cryptic smile, but I recognized it. I had seen a version of it in the mirror almost every morning, hadn't I?

    "A million years is a long time," she whispered. "Eventually we'll get tired of trying to fix it and we'll understand that time is a god, a harsh one. One that isn't to be defied, but to be worshiped and adored. It knows best, for all of us."

    "Damn you," I whispered to my older self.

    "Yes," she mused as she began to squeeze the trigger. "I suppose I must be, at that."

    There was a loud noise.

    A bright light.

    Then darkness.

  • I lowered my head and charged straight at the lizard-man, hardening my skin as I went. When I collided with him my head and shoulders were solid metal, and he went flying.

    My name’s Jake. I’ve got super powers.

    The lizard-man didn’t seem too fazed by his fall, or by the fact that I’d already knocked out his buddy. He whipped his tail, flipping himself back upright and slashed down with wicked looking claws. They sparked as they glanced off my metal skin, but the force of the blow still bowled me over. I hit the parking lot pavement hard, and the lizard-man landed squarely on top of me.

    I tried to shove him off me, but I didn’t have super strength, and a full-size lizard man totally outweighs one scrawny twelve-year-old, even one with super powers. But I had to defeat him. I had to prove that I was good enough to be a Super Ranger.

    The lizard-man realized he wasn’t going to be able to injure me, not with my skin all slivered. But he could still make a clean getaway – he dashed off, away from the nearby shopping mall and toward the tree line. I tried to go after him but I’d had the wind knocked out of me – and superspeed isn’t one of my powers.

    But before the lizard vanished into the trees, he was struck by a bolt of blue lighting. I whipped around, just in time to see a woman in a bright blue jumpsuit with black stripes jump down from the hood of a car. Tiny bolts of blue electricity crackled along her arms.

    I pinched myself. Electra, here? She was the leader of the Super Rangers team, and she’d won ExtraOrdinary Magazine’s Superhero of the Year award for three years running. She was amazing.

    Electra glanced around the parking lot, noting the unconscious lizard-man by the shopping cart return. “Not bad, kiddo.”

    I flushed bright red, though Electra wouldn’t be able to see it under my mask. I hoped. “Do you really – uh, I mean, thanks!”

    “Will I see you at the tryouts next month?”

    “Definitely,” I said, with a confidence I didn’t feel. I’d have to come up with some excuse for my parents – an overnight field trip, maybe, or a fake sleepover if I could convince Cyrus to help me out.
    “Good.”

    The Super Rangers were the top superhero team in the country, and they only took the best of the best as members and apprentices. They had tryouts once a year. If Electra thought I was ready for tryouts…

    I tried to remember to breathe.

    “Um, do you think –“ I was interrupted by my watch beeping. Damn, damn, double-dog damn. “Sorry, gotta go, late for something,” I gasped out, turning and running for the mall entrance. I could change in one of the bathrooms and go out the back door, where my bike was leaned up against the wall.

    “Wait!” Electra called after me, but I ignored her.

    Mom was just coming up from the basement, a basket of laundry balanced on her hip, when I crashed through the front door.
    “You’re cutting it close,” she said, one eyebrow raised.

    “I know, I know, sorry.” I kicked off my sneakers into the pile of shoes by the door. I didn’t see Ellie’s flats yet – I’d gotten here before my tutor. You’d think saving the world would get me a break on algebra, but I was too scared to tell my parents about my, uh, new extracurricular activity. I could just imagine them freaking out about it being dangerous and grounding me forever, and then I’d never get to be a Super Ranger.

    “There’s yogurt in the fridge, and a new jar of peanut butter in the cabinet. Make yourself a good snack – you have to keep your strength up if you’re going to be ready for the Super Ranger tryouts.”

    “Uh huh,” I said, shuffling toward the fridge. “Wait, what?” I realized what she’d said and dashed back into the hallway.

    “How did you know?" I asked, not sure I wanted the answer. I thought I had been careful. I thought she wouldn’t realize. Please don’t ground me.

    Mom grinned, and pulled up her sleeve to reveal a formfitting jumpsuit: electric blue with a black stripe down the side.

Tami Parker Other Duties as Assigned