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December 13, 2000
The sun had set on us an hour ago, and with it most of the energy I had been feeling earlier.
I could now barely make out the flatness of the pathway I was trying to traverse in the dimness of the spotty starlight. The wind had whipped up once again, forcing me to walk against it…adding to my effort. I was constantly altering my course whenever I thought it felt like I may be veering off of the roadway, but even then I was never really sure where the path was.
It was a crap shoot at best.
I hadn’t heard a peep from Preacher in awhile, but I dared not check on him for fear of what I might find. I had no way of helping him out here anyway; my only real hope was to get him to civilization as fast as possible.
So I pressed on with all of the determination I could muster. My legs ached like crazy and were starting to feel like rubber from the exertion, which was an improvement over the rest of my body which had lost all feeling hours before.
Cresting a small rise, I was about to take another step when I caught sight of a deep ravine in front of me. Catching myself with only inches to spare, I barely got the suddenly accelerating sled stopped before it too went into the crevice.
Falling to my knees, near-total exhaustion overtook me as I stared at the dark expanse ahead. The sky was clouding up even more, blocking the stars and shielding me from their light as well as any hope of directional support.
It seemed hopeless.
Saying a quick prayer to bolster my outlook, I then rocked back in an effort to right myself. As I gained my feet however, my left foot suddenly slipped out from under me. I suddenly found myself tumbling head over heels into the deep ravine off the side of the path
As I tumbled deeper into the frigid darkness, I remember thinking that I was glad that I had let go of the strap to Preacher’s sled when I had fallen to my knees.
There was no reason for him to make this trip.
It seemed like a long time before I finally quit rolling, and I had no idea how far I had actually gone when my head struck something hard.
In those last moments, I couldn’t even be sure if I was facing up or down, at sky or snow. It really didn’t matter, as I knew my fading vision was looking on the last thing I would ever see in this world.
My final thoughts were of my family and friends…the ones that I had been trying to get back to…and the one I had been trying to save.
That…and that I had never failed so miserably…
A moment ago, Abby had been giddy with the possibility of rescue. Wide awake after hearing the word Timepiece on the radio, she had joyously listened to the whole ad numerous times ever since.
McGruder had apparently put down a bundle of money to make sure that his message had gotten to her, as it had repeated every ten minutes for the whole of the bus ride.
She also hoped that she was the only one he was looking for.
Now she wasn’t sure as a jolt of searing energy slid down her spine, followed by a surge of sadness that filled her being with heartache.
She sat back in her seat slowly, confused and overwhelmed with the overpowering feelings.
Looking around, she made sure that no one around her was in distress, or that anyone was watching her. Everyone else on the bus seemed unfazed however, most smiling and looking ahead in anticipation of finally arriving at the Saami village.
What’s going on? She thought while wrapping her arms around herself.
Tears involuntarily started flowing down her cheek as she held back a sob, the strong facade that Abby prided herself on was melting away before her eyes and she didn’t know why.
The bus pulled off the highway as the plump woman stood up once again and started talking.
Abby didn’t hear a word of the canned speech however…she was busy sobbing quietly into her knees as she pulled herself into a fetal position…
The man’s long dark hair fluttered back with the breeze, his kind blue eyes taking in the scene before him.
Dressed in jeans, a white dress shirt and a vest, what he liked to call a waistcoat, it would appear to anyone that saw him that he was underdressed for the environment that he now found himself in.
But he knew there was no one observing him then…there wasn’t anyone around for miles.
Sighing with a sadness unimaginable to most humans, he kneeled next to the sled and looked down on Preacher’s face.
“You have had a rough decade my friend,” he started, his voice flowing like honey, “Yet you have retained your faith through all of it.”
Pulling away, he smiled down at the body, “A most unusual take on faith, I might add.”
A moment later, he was standing beside the familiar body.
“You do seem to get yourself into some wild predicaments old friend,” he smiled as he kneeled down next to the body. “You have earned your rest many times over…and yet your will to live continues to push you ever foreword.”
Shaking his head in wonderment, he drew his fingers along Gabe’s exposed chin, a loving gesture that Gabe would normally find very uncomfortable.
Smiling at the thought, the man withdrew his hand.
“We have been through so much together, you and me. You surely realize by now that it is your exuberance for this life that keeps you at the top of His list for the most demanding of missions.”
Standing again, he clasped his hands behind his back and started pacing. “You do not yet know of the evil that lays ahead of you my friend. Maggot-infested souls that strive to rule the earth through deception and power…”
His pacing stopped as he turned back to face the body. “What’s that you say?”
Kneeling again, he smiled at Gabe’s face. “You’d like nothing better than a rousing brawl with evil again?”
The man filled the ravine with laughter. “He told me you would say that!”
He stopped laughing when he heard a noise approaching the location…a motor.
It was something he had set in motion before he had arrived.
“It appears our time together on this plane is coming to an end again dear friend,” he whispered while placing his hand on Gabe’s forehead. “Last chance…I can take you with me if you want.”
Shaking his head, “Ah well…I had to ask.”
I awoke with a start, fighting at a heavy weight on top of me, my body drenched in sweat.
Trying to open my eyes, the sting from a heavy smoke that filled the dark, acridly musky area forced them closed again.
Had I ended up in hell after all?
Forcing my eyes open, I found myself lying in a small room with a smoky fire off to my left. Glancing down, I then realized that I was weighted down by a pile of some kind of pelts…and that I was naked!
Embarrassed, I raised my head and glanced around the room, quickly spotting Preacher a few feet away, also covered in a pile of skins.
He looked great!
He seemed to be sleeping comfortably, and he had a healthy color to his skin.
Pushing away at my covers in an effort to get up, I was stopped by the creak of a door across the room. Glancing that way, my eyes were met by a large woman covered head to toe in deer skin. Smiling at me when she saw I was awake, I noticed her darkly stained teeth were worn down to nubs.
Shucking off her outer skin, she started jabbering in what sounded like a mixture of languages…none of which I could understand. While she talked, she moved toward the fire and pulled down a large bowl off of the mantle before filling it with something from a cast-iron pot on the fire. Holding it gingerly in front of her, she scooted across the floor with short, careful steps before offering the bowl to me.
Surprised by the delicious aroma and suddenly famished, I reached for the bowl, nodding my head in thanks. Since there was no spoon, I tipped the bowl greedily into my mouth. Having lost all sense of decency days ago, I sat up and let the blankets fall to my waist as I slurped at the delicious stew.
I have to say that although the meat was a bit chewy, it was the best stew I have ever eaten in my entire life.
Finishing my serving, I was wondering if it was proper to ask for more when the door creaked again. Looking up, I glimpsed a man enter the room, also covered in deer skin, thinner and a little shorter than the woman.
A grin crossed his face when he saw that I was awake. Removing his outer skin, he moved toward me hurriedly, dropping to his knees beside my bed.
“Hell-o!” he got out with a proud smile.
“Hello,” I replied, surprised at how scratchy my voice was. I wasn’t sure how long it’d been since I had actually spoken aloud.
“Yes!” I smiled, pointing to myself, “English.”
“Goood!” he smiled, glancing at the woman before speaking to me again. “Eng-lish I good.”
Nodding at him, I smiled,
“We find…you,” he continued then, “…on tropa…errr…trail! We-find-you-on-trail!”
Offering my hand to him, he took it in his. “Thank you!”
He nodded excitedly, turning towards the woman before releasing a litany of words that I didn’t understand.
“I tell Zhena,” he started in explanation, pointing to the woman, “We find you is chudo…”
Shaking my head in confusion, I stopped him.
Looking confused, he glanced at the woman and spoke to her again before turning once again to me.
“How you say…miracle?”
I nodded in understanding. “Yes…it was chudo that you found us.” I continued, sweeping my hand toward Preacher as I spoke.
“Thank you again!”
Nodding, the man glanced at his wife with a twinkle in his eye.
“I tells her I see you in mechtat’…in dreams.”
I wasn’t sure if I had heard him right, so I only smiled and nodded, hopefully prodding him to explain further.
“Man say go…nayti…errr…find! Man-say-go-find!”
“A man?” I questioned, trying to use simple English for my host’s sake. “Who is man?”
The leather-clad man beside me grinned, glancing at his wife happily before turning back to me.
December 13, 2000
As quickly as the devastating sadness had hit her, it had just as quickly disappeared.
It was as if suddenly, Abby felt much better…even happy!
“Crap,” she whispered to herself with confusion as the bus pulled up to their destination. She wondered if her breakdown had been some sort of postpartum episode.
Shaking her head in confusion, she stood by her seat and waited her turn to get off of the bus. She had never experienced any postpartum depression after the birth of Ya Su, so she couldn’t really be sure.
It actually felt like somebody had died, she thought to herself before putting it finally behind her. She already had enough to do for awhile, what with blending into her tour group and finding a phone she could use without anyone recognizing her.
She had of course memorized the number from the radio ad, and was extremely anxious to talk to someone she knew. More to the point…someone she could trust!
Moving down the steps to exit the bus, she concentrated on staying in the middle of the pack as best she could as they moved as one toward the visitor’s center. Most of those around her were smiling, anxious to get on with their excursion or just happy to finally get off of the bus.
Unlike those around her, Abby’s smile was tight…pasted on as a form of camouflage. Pushing her sunglasses down her nose a bit so she could look over them, she scanned the crowd ahead. Even though she didn’t know who would be after her, she knew what to look for.
Someone paying special attention to the group of course, not to mention one who is clumsily doing something that should be otherwise mundane…constantly turning the pages while reading a newspaper or not turning them at all.
Eyes constantly buried in the viewfinder of a camera would be another indicator. The photographer would appear to be so involved in the ruse of taking pictures that he or she would not look up…mostly in fear of eye contact when their eyes locked on their prey.
Abby’s back stiffened when she spied just such a person. Seated on a park bench across the street, the woman kept her lens trained on the group as they made their way down the sidewalk.
The thought of being captured again sent Abby’s heart to pounding in her chest as she glanced around for a means of escape. Spying an alley ahead, she was preparing to slide into it as the group passed when she chanced to glance back to the photographer.
The woman had set aside her camera before standing with a surprised smile to greet a man that was approaching her. As they neared each other, they both reached out and pulled the other into their arms.
Relieved, Abby turned her eyes forward again. Love and affection were harder to fake, and she felt the informal reunion had been the real thing. Unfortunately the sight had also tugged at her heart as her mind conjured up a picture of Josh. The feel of his strong arms around her…the way his eyes lit up whenever he saw her…
Shaking her head angrily, she pushed the thoughts away. She had to get home first! There was little to gain by daydreaming, and her very freedom to lose if she were caught!
Following the herd, they entered the visitor center. Again Abby critically scanned her surroundings, the small yet open building appearing safe at the moment.
And…there was a phone booth!
December 13, 2000
“Da?” Noon Byrk growled into the phone, her frustration causing her to slip into Russian.
She hated the Russian language!
The voice on the line was smooth, irritatingly so. Noon stiffened when she heard the words, the heart in her chest doing battle with itself, fluctuating between hate and adoration.
“It has been too long,” the man continued silkily.
“Severus,” Noon responded somewhat coolly, her nervousness causing her hands to shake. “I am surprised to hear from you.”
“A tragedy,” he continued, “One that appears to be on the mend if rumors are true.”
A small smile crossed Noon’s lips, once again impressed at his abilities to ferret out secrets.
“It is not yet finished,” she gulped, “But soon…there has been…”
“Complications?” Severus questioned lightly. “Your hired man leaves much to be desired.”
Gulping back her nervousness, she realized that the man was offering her a chance to blame the failure on others.
“He is a Slavic idiot,” she started, “But…the failures we have encountered are mine alone to bear.”
Squaring her shoulders, she plowed onward. She was now committed to accepting her fate in the matter, whichever way it ended. But they would know of her commitment to the Brotherhood before she let them rule again on her destiny.
“We are not, however, done with this. Although generous, your stipend was barely adequate to launch a mission of this magnitude…yet I have done so.”
“I have given everything to recover the Hemlig Bok…”
“We are aware of your sacrifice Lilla,” Severus interrupted, “Even though it was your blatant theft of the book that precipitated your plunge in the first place.
Noon stiffened, “I have repeatedly apologized for this Severus, I had thought it was in danger from…”
The word was filled with hardness. “We have been through this enough!”
The line was silent for a time before Noon heard a sad sigh. “I apologize for my flare in anger Lilla, but what’s done is done. I believe our plight has once again been joined in the common cause of recovering Hemlig Bok, and in that vein we are all pleased with your efforts, and recognize your commitment to us.”
The phone was silent for a few moments before he continued.
“My heart fills with pride at your reacceptance into the order, righting the overzealous wrong that has been forced on you these last two years. I would hope you know that this was never my idea.”
Noon pulled the receiver away from her face and looked at it in shock. Pushing it quickly back to her ear, she spoke the next words with breathless excitement.
“I have been reinstated?”
“On a probationary status only,” Severus cautioned, “But as such, you now have the full backing of die Bruderschaft on this mission.”
Noon’s heart filled with an emotion she had little experience with…love.
Severus had taken her in when her parents had been killed in a Brotherhood operation. She was eleven at the time.
Although they had both been accidentally thrown into the situation, Severus had been a stern yet adoring father figure, teaching her the ways of the world…as well as those of the Brotherhood. Immediately calling her Lilla upon her arrival at his residence, the Swedish word for ‘little one’, he had continued to use that name whenever they talked privately.
Their relationship continued to change as the years progressed until, upon her fourteenth birthday, she had moved into his bedroom.
They had become lovers, and as such, he had taught her much more of life’s secrets.
“It is the second reason for my call,” Severus continued, interrupting her reverie. “We have some information for you. Our analysts have come across a suspicious radio ad transmitting in your area.”
“A radio ad?” Noon questioned, confused. “I don’t understand.”
“Perhaps you know of the word that triggered our involvement,” Severus continued, “Does the name Timepiece mean anything to you?”
“McGruder!” Noon shouted into the phone, “That’s his code name!”
“Precisely,” Severus continued, “It would appear that he is trying to reach out to the missing girl by blasting his phone number across
“I can have it tracked!” Noon sputtered excitedly.
“We are already on it Lilla, and we just got a hit. The girl has placed a call to McGruder not twenty minutes ago.”
“Tell me!” Noon insisted on the phone, “Tell me where to find the bitch.”
Severus laughed heartily into the phone. “That’s my Lilla, so full of spit and vinegar!”
“We have tracked the call to a village named Lovozero, one hundred miles southeast of
Murmansk,” Severus continued more seriously.
“I am on it Severus!” Noon exclaimed, “Thank you…from the bottom of my heart.”
“One more thing, Lilla?”
“If you work it right, you will be able to capture McGruder at the same time. According to the men monitoring the call, he is going there personally to pick her up.”
Noon sneered at his words.
“There will be no need to capture him Severus…if he has the book with him, this will be his last day on Russian soil…alive anyway…”
Copyright 2015 J.T. Lewis
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