“Just hit him back, Cletus,” Brian said.
We stood in the dim school hallway where we all worked as janitors after class. I faced Trey with my fists raised defensively with Brian off to our side. Despite being four years younger than him, I was a head taller than Trey and probably outweighed him by close to fifty pounds. Trey’s gaudy class ring bashed into the bones of my forearm as I blocked another punch from him.
“I’m not going to fight you,” I said.
“Yes, you are,” Trey said as he threw more easily deflected punches.
“No, I’m not.”
“Why don’t you just beat his ass and get it over with?” Brian asked.
“Because he’s scared,” Trey said, “and weak. Just like his mom.”
I parried the next punch, stepped in, and drilled my right fist into the side of Trey’s chin. He tumbled across the ground backwards. As he sat on the floor blinking erratically, I said, “Don’t talk about my mother.”
“You knocked my contact out of my eye,” Trey said.
Brian doubled over, whooping in laughter. “You punched his contact out. Oh my god.”
I offered to help Trey up and to find his contact. “Fuck you,” Trey said.
“Just go dude,” Brian said. “I’ll help this kid.”
I sighed and stormed through the hallways to the main exit. I passed our boss, Floyd on my way out. “I didn’t see shit,” Floyd said.
“Thanks, Mr. Downs.”
Damp grass soaked through my sneakers as I walked through our tiny town to the single, nameless grocery store. A mint green Dodge Shadow sat in the far back corner of the parking lot. The hub caps didn’t match. There were no windshield wipers, and the hood was a faded red with a black dragon painted on it. I couldn’t park my car at school because I didn’t have a driver’s license. I threw my backpack into the passenger’s seat, and crammed myself behind the wheel. Turning the key in the ignition, the Mint Mobile roared to life, mostly because of the hole in the muffler. I gently eased the car onto the main road that ran through the only four-way intersection in the entire town.
I pulled into my driveway and found Uncle David’s white pickup hitched to a trailer loaded with junk. David Clemens next to the truck, glaring at me with a queer look as I got out of my car. Uncle David stood two or three inches taller than me. We had the same thick, curly hair, but his mane was a fiery scarlet like autumn leaves accompanied by a matching beard. He folded his thick arms across his chest, and muscle bulged beneath his freckled skin like taut, coiled rope. “Why you home early?” David asked in his thick, Southern drawl.
“Got in a fight,” I said.
“Am I gonna hear from the school?”
“Good. What about the cops?”
“Even better,” Uncle David said. “Well, since you’re here, you gimme a hand.”
“What’re we doing?”
“Taking all this out to Uncle Alvis.”
David drove from our house out to my great uncle’s house. Alvis had the dark skin typical of a half Chickasaw Native. His mostly bald head grow meager patches of short, white hair. Alvis was a living gelatinous blob. He easily weighed four hundred pounds with a gut that hung into the knees of his overalls. Watching him waddle on his cane filled me with immense unease. David and I unloaded the scrap from the trailer while Alvis sat in a lawn chair and silently watched us with his one good eye and the glazed white bad one stared into space. After an hour of work in the autumn air, sweat drench my shirt and heat poured off my skin. I stood anxiously under Alvis’s uneasy gaze while he inspected the bits of metal and random appliances. Finally, Alvis said, “Giv’a ‘bout two-fiddy fo’ all of it. ‘Nudda hunnit fo’ the trailer.”
“You can’t have my damn trailer, Alvis,” David said as he took the money from his uncle’s hand.
Back in the pick up, Uncle David handed me a fifty and stuffed the rest into his wallet. He packed his lip with a wad of tobacco and drove us home.
I holed up in my bedroom the rest of the afternoon. I tore through algebra and biology homework. I sat at my desk, using my computer with a ruined, rainbow-colored monitor from a large magnetic I had left too close for too long. I instant messaged my only friends, Brian Vukoja and Ashley Skelton while researching for an English paper. Around midnight, I grabbed my compound bow and a few arrows from my closet. I climbed out my bedroom window into the night air.
Most people I knew considered me at least a little strange. I gave off a vibe less than creepy but stranger than eccentric. Some found me intimidating due to my large size at such a young age. My Uncle David thought I struggled to adapt to normal life. My mother saw me as a freak, but her opinion didn’t matter much to me anymore. A few medical professionals said I may be autistic. One psychologist even told David that because of my IQ and lack of social aptitude, I’d most likely become a serial killer out of sheer boredom. School teachers thought me a genius. I would think most of those people were partially right, but I’d also been described as fairly narcissistic.
After midnight on a cool, October night most people would probably be sleeping, especially other high school freshmen. I, on the other hand, roamed my backyard that night, alternating my time between pacing in the dew-moist grass and target practice with my bow. The darkness dampened my visibility, but what better time to practice? There was zero wind, plenty of moonlight, and crickets filled the crisp air with a slow chorus to work to. Seemed pretty normal to me.
Despite being half-blind, I could hit a nail on the head from two hundred yards even without my glasses. Other times I missed by a mile. That night happened to be another time. My good arrows cost a ton, and I only owned five of the good ones. I should have practiced with the cheaper arrows, but to hell with that. Practice how you play. I waded through trees and briar thickets looking for my arrow. I heard a deer running around the underbrush with me. It pissed me off that I couldn’t find my arrow to kill whatever it was.
While searching, I saw a beautiful shooting star. The meteorite blazed blue in the sky as it flew. It grew larger, heading toward me. I watched in awe as an arrow of baby blue flames crashed into the trees maybe one hundred yards from me. Lightning immediately struck the port where the star had fallen.
I sprinted through the woods. Thorns tore at my skin and clothes. Branches whipped my face. I didn’t care. I stumbled into the burning crater face first. Pulling myself from the dirt, I found the most incredible thing, a rock, but not just any rock. This rock glowed with electric blue light. I picked the stone up, and it electrocuted me. Blue light blinded me. The rock spun me in violent circles and threw me to the ground.
I dropped the meteorite and retched in the grass. I whirled around and retched again when I realized I was no long in the crater. I stood somewhere in the middle of the woods. I found my arrow though, buried in the earth near me. Thank God for small victories. I heard something moving in the trees nearby. I grabbed the arrow and the rock. I started walking home until I noticed myself wandering the woods. I didn’t understand how, but a few feet away, I watched another version of me walk between the trees. He stopped and looked in my direction. I ran away from my other self. I ran and ran. I slid to a halt as the blue rock blazed in the sky overhead. Before the meteorite landed, I bounced through the blinding wall of blue light again.
The rocked dumped me back into the crater, probably only seconds after I’d left. Cobwebs dusted out of my mind, and the gears started turning. A glowing rock fell from the sky and not only teleported me to a different place but also to a point in time where I could see myself. This rock could put the name Cletus Clemens on even ground with Newton and Einstein, maybe even higher.
I rushed home to my lab, which was actually just a section of our dusty old basement filled with my junk. I had done a lot of work in that lab like build a gun out of a microwave and a hand receiver that picked up satellite television signals. Somehow I just knew things without having to learn about them. I didn’t understand what tachyons, Hawking radiation, or chronotites were, but I knew the rock produced them and what I could do with the rock.
I named my meteorite cletonium. I discovered a completely unknown element, and I had every right to name it after myself. I spent months experimenting with the cletonium. The softball-sized mineral produced enough energy that it could have easily powered my house for centuries. With the right stimuli, cletonium could teleport or travel through time. It was most likely giving me cancer, but that meant nothing to me in the face of time travel.
I wasted little time before building the device. The machine cost a small fortune to build, but Uncle David had the money. Most of the cash had been buried in the backyard, and I dug it up without permission. David would be pissed, but he’d understand once I finished. I hoped. I mostly salvaged parts from scrap and junk yards. Countless home appliances, car and tractor parts, and even an old OTIS elevator went into the machine. I spent forever tinkering, adjusting, and testing my rudimentary contraption. I finally finished the machine almost six months after initially discovering the cletonium.
I wore blue jeans and a black t-shirt, pretty standard uniform for me. I rolled out of bed just after six like every other morning. I took a morning piss and ate a light breakfast of cereal. I walked down to the back corner of the basement to my underground laboratory. A massive concrete cube stood against the wall. The side of the cube had silver sliding doors like that of an elevator and a panel with two flashing buttons on it. The cement box was the crowning achievement of my entire life. Pressing one of the buttons, the doors slid open to reveal an interior that also looked much like the elevator the machine I had built the machine from. I snapped on the metallic wristband that tethered me to the temporal displacement system before stepping into the elevator.
My maiden voyage. I’d bounced ten or fifteen minutes into the future, but had never traveled multiple years or to different places. Theoretically it would work. If not, I’d probably die. I closed the door and input my coordinates into the panel on the wall. A column of electric blue light bathed over me from the top of the tiny room. The next moment, I slammed into invisible barriers all around me. I pounded into an unseen wall, blue light spinning around me and burning patches of my clothes. I spun uncontrollably until I felt nauseous. Then, I stood on a dirt path beside a small stream.
Dense forest surrounded the path. I may have messed up. I had no clue where I was standing. My breath misted in the cool air. Crimson and amber trees lined one side of the path. I spun in circles having a mental orgasm. The time machine had worked.
A small group of children ran by and nearly knocked me over. All the children wore masks and carried strange, glowing turnips. A boy wearing a crude costume that vaguely resembled a crow ran away as the rest of the group chased him.
As I watched the children, a quartet of young men around my age passed by. All the young men carried swords and wore white robes. One of them covered his face with a veil while another wore a demonic mask. The other had simply painted with faces black with dark mud. The boys ignored me in solemn silence as they walked the path.
I started to follow the people down the path when a small, chimp-like creature pounced on me from the trees. It had a face like a dog and mangled tree branches for hands. The monster tackled me, dragging me to the ground and viciously clawing at my face and chest.
“Get off him!”
A teenaged girl ran to my aid, swinging one of the strange turnip lanterns around as she charged at the animal. The creature screamed and ran away into the trees as the girl approached. The girl wore a white gown and a veil over her face. She helped me to my feet. The girl stood a head shorter than me and had long, dark hair.
“You were asking to be attacked, you know,” she said as she pointed in the direction the creature had run off. “I mean, you’re wearing such a strange costume. Black is only going to provoke the spirits. Plus, your face isn’t even covered. It’s Samhain. Why are you not carrying any sort of protection from the spirits with you?”
“I,” I said. I had no idea how I understood what she said. “I’m not from around here. I’m just a traveler. I’m not really aware of your customs.”
“You talk oddly too,” the girl said.
“Yeah, like I said, I’m not from around here.” I held my hand out to the girl. “I’m Cletus Clemens.”
“They call me Teasidh,” the girl said.
I pulled my hand back from the failed handshake and awkwardly wrapped it around my left wrist. My heart sank. The blue jewel that should have been embedded in my wristband was missing. Without it, the chronometer would not work at all. I’d be trapped without a way home. I had to find the creature that stole it.
“What was that thing that attacked me?” I asked.
“It was a spirit,” Teasidh said as if that should be common knowledge. “It is Samhain. What else would it be?”
“Where’d it go?”
“Back beyond the veils between the worlds one might think.”
“Worlds?” I asked as my heart imploded in my chest. “As in another world?”
“Are you alright?” Teasidh asked.
“I’m not sure,” I said. How would I get home?
“You should probably rest,” Teasidh said. “Spirits drain the life from men they assault. Why do you not come back to my village? You can sleep at my home.”
I sluggishly followed Teasidh down the path. I didn’t care about sleeping. I needed to get my cletonium crystal.
“What is Samhain?” I asked.
“You really are a traveler,” Teasidh said as she laughed at me. “Samhain is the final large harvest of the year. Summer ends. Everyone takes stock of crops and animals to decide what needs to be kept and what should be disposed of. It is the time when we show respect for the dead. The veils between our world and the world of spirits grow thin. Evil things easily make their way over to the living world.”
“What’s the deal with the costumes?”
“To defend against the spirits, we wear clothing to scare the spirits or hide from them. Folk carve lanterns from turnips in the shape of family faces to bring the good spirits back to gain power against the evil.”
“Sounds a lot like Halloween.”
As Teasidh and I walked into town, a disgusting, hunchbacked woman hobbled up to me.
“YOU!” the old hag shouted with a snarl. “You’re the traveler. Not from around here. Not from around now are you?”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“Come with me,” the hag yelled as she grabbed my wrist and pulled me into a nearby hut. The old hag pushed me into a seat near a crude fireplace. She set a wooden bowl of water on the table next to me. The hag cracked three, grey-speckled eggs into the water. She watched the milky film swirl about the bowl.
“You are from far away,” the hag said. “You come from a world that does not yet exist. You worry about something lost to an evil spirit. Fear not, boy. You will find your parcel soon. You will travel from this world Beyond. Travel the spirit world down the river of souls.”
“How?” I asked.
“You cannot yet! Your heart and soul are shattered to countless pieces. You cannot use your own power. Fix the pieces with the purifying flames. With the burn of fire you will pass to the Nether while still living. Cross where the veil is weak and find Grandmother.”
The old had disappeared in a burst of smoke. I stepped outside, but there was no hut I had just left. Teasidh continued our conversation as if we’d never been interrupted. I said nothing and followed her home. I slept on Teasidh’s floor.
Teasidh woke me in the afternoon and dragged me into her village for the festival. I wandered through the attractions in bewilderment. I watched costumed children perform displays of talent for adults in exchange for anything people would part with. Villagers slaughtered animals in preparation for a massive feast. As people cleaned the animals they tossed bones and unusable remains into massive piles of logs in the village center. As night fell, the village slowly gathered around the mountains of wood. Far in the distance, a brilliant fire sprang to life. With the signal from afar, the villagers set their two pyres ablaze.
“For luck,” Teasidh said, “people walk between the two fires. It brings hope and prosperity by cleansing the soul so we can start anew.”
People cleansed their souls with fire. I walked toward the bonfires. Look for the purifying flame, flames that cleanse the soul. Taking a deep breath, I slowly marched between the pyres. Heat from the massive flames dried my skin, stretching it tight against my flesh. Fire licked at me from every side as burning embers erupted from the cracking wood into my face. Before my eyes flashed a vision of thousands of lives I had somehow lived before and just as many deaths. Faces peered at me through the darkness. Images of myself reflected in their eyes. I watched versions of me fight and die so many times. Something deep within me snapped into place like the snapping of a guitar string. I understood. I didn’t know how, but I was not merely Cletus Clemens. More than I filled my mind and body. Countless Cleti compiled to form the single Cletus. A single faced left the darkness as another Cleti stepped into the orange glow. I walked between the fires of Samhain, through the shadow of myself, and finally felt complete.
I thought I came out of the other side holding myself differently, calm and understanding filling my eyes. Teasidh came running to my side with a torch in hand. “Cletus?” she said, but I placed my hand over her mouth and stopped her from saying more.
“I think I’d like to be called Cleti now,” I said. “We should go.” I grabbed Teasidh by the hand and led her back to her hut.
The next night, a nearby lord hosted another massive celebration. People traveled from all the neighboring villages with food and drink to fill the banquet hall of the dingey castle. Everyone made merry, drank, ate, and laughed together.
At one point in the night, the lord of the castle brought out an elegant sword with a beautiful golden hilt.
“To any man!” shouted the drunken lord, “I will give this magnificent blade as a gift. Three days hence, I hanged three men for stealing horses from my stable. To any man courageous or ignorant to go to the gallows where their bodies hang during the harvest moon, I will give this sword.”
Countless men cheered and claimed they would brave the Veils and go to the gallows. All of them joined into a large group to march there together.
“No!” the drunken lord shouted. “One must go alone and tie a twig to the ankle of the dead men to prove you went.”
“No one would do this alone,” some old lady said. “The Veil is too thin. A man could slip right through.”
That was just too convenient. “I’ll go,” I said as I jumped to my feet.
I didn’t wait for an answer from the lord. I stormed toward the exit. Everyone silently watched me march to my supposed doom. A young man stopped me at the door to offer me his sword. I took the blade. The weight of the weapon felt right in my hand. As I pushed onward, Teasidh blocked the doorway. “You can’t do this,” she said.
“You couldn’t understand,” I said. “I have to do this. If I don’t, I’ll never go home.”
“At least take this,” Teasidh said as she handed me a massive vegetable.
“It’s a turnip.”
“A turnip lantern I grew and carved myself in the face of my father. I will protect you from evil spirits.”
“Thanks, Teasidh,” I said as I stepped around her into the darkness.
At some point, I realized I had no clue where the local gallows actually were in relation to the castle. I wandered around the grounds in the rain for an hour before I found them. I peeled small branches off trees. Taking great care to avoid eye contact with the corpses, I bent the green sticks around the ankles of the dead men. Satisfied with proving I had been to the gallows, I paced back and forth in the square. I hoped that I would slip through the Veil just as easily as everyone had said I would, but after ten minutes I was still firmly on Earth.
“To hell with this,” I said as I turned to leave. “This is” — I glanced around at the grey and purple fog surrounding my ankles — “apparently working.”
The fog created a corridor with a small, cobblestone path in front of me. The cobblestone ended at a tiny hut surrounded by trees. The hut appeared to be an ordinary cottage other than it stood upon a single bird’s leg, spinning in place. As I approached, the house stopped turning and nestled in the underbrush between the cluster of trees. The door facing me slowly opened inward. Teasidh stood in the doorway, bathed in an orange glow from a fire somewhere inside the hut. “Don’t just stand there,” she said. “Get inside. There’s much to be done.”
“How did you get here?” I asked as I entered.
The hut contained a single room much larger than the exterior. A bed stood opposite the door. A table and chairs occupied the corner to the right of the entrance with a wood-burning stove on the left. A massive golden rug with orange roosters sewn into it covered the entire floor. Shelves filled with oddities lined the walls. Cleaning supplies along with a giant mortar and pestle rested in the far corner across from the bed.
“Come in,” Teasidh said. “Hurry, you’re wasting precious time.”
“This is my home, but that is not my name.” She hopped on top of the wood stove and sprawled across the searing metal without a care. “I am Baba Yaga,” she said. “I knew you would be a bad hero. You don’t have the russky smell to you. You weren’t even curious how you spoke with people who couldn’t possibly know your tongue.”
“I actually wondered about that,” I said.
“Bah. I translate for you. In your head. You’re a dumb one too. All these coincidences fall in your lap; you don’t question it. You ignore signs and calls to action. But like any good fool, being told not to do something made you want to do it. Being tempted by a pretty girl helped too.”
I sat down at the table. What the hell had I gotten myself into?
“Who told you that you could sit?” Baba Yaga asked. “So rude! Get up. You have work to do.”
I awkwardly stood from the chair. “What do I have to do?”
“You had visions in the flames of Samhain, no? Do you recall seeing yourself throw balls of light?”
“Yes,” I said. In fact, in almost all variations of my life flashing before me, I had that power.
“Good. You must remember how to do this.”
Baba Yaga slunk off the stove and walked over to me. Her finger glowed white as she pushed it into my chest. “Feel your power and remember.”
I could feel that power inside me, some energy I vaguely knew had always been hiding beneath the surface.
“Draw from it,” Baba Yaga commanded.
I pulled the energy from the depths of myself to the surface.
I pushed the power through my body to my right hand. A tiny cloud of blue light formed in my palm.
“It is useless like that. Give shape to your power.”
I focused on the light and formed it into a ball.
“Seal the construct. Create a shell to hold it together.”
Another layer of blue light pushed out of my hand. The shell enveloped the blue mist to form a perfect sphere of pure light.
“Good,” Baba Yaga said as she passed a hand through my energy ball, dissipating it into a fine, blue mist. “Now, you may leave.”
“Leave?” I asked. “To go where?”
“You have a sword. You have energy manipulation. You have turnip lantern. That is everything you need. Go find your crystal.”
“Follow the path. It will guide you for now.”
“How do I repay you for everything you’ve done?” I asked. “You opened my eyes and made me feel whole when I never knew I was incomplete. I have to do something for you.”
“Ah,” Baba Yaga said, “maybe not as dumb as you seem. In the Nether, a favor given always begets a favor returned.”
“So, what do I owe you?”
“Lay with me again,” she said. “Keep your eyes closed. I don’t want you to see me.”
Baba Yaga had given me the same command in the hut the night before. The first time, the hut had been pitch black, and closing my eyes had made no difference. I closed my eyes as instructed though. As a fourteen-year-old male, I would do basically anything for the chance to have sex even with a weird spirit woman. Baba Yaga pulled my shirt over my head. I felt her naked breasts press against my bare chest. She kissed my neck. I wrapped my arms around her to pull us tighter.
Without thinking, I opened my eyes. The beautiful brunette no longer stood before me. A grotesque old hag stood in place of the young beauty. Barely any hair covered her head. Wrinkles and blisters pocked her loose, ashen skin. Deflated breasts hung over the crone’s potbelly. Her arms and legs grew thin and preternaturally long from her trunk with several excess joints poking against her paper thin flesh. Her beak-like nose grazed my stomach as her black and yellow eyes pierced mine.
The door to the cottage flung open behind me. Baba Yaga cackled as she threw me from her hut. I slid across the cobblestones, friction tearing burns into my back and arms. The tiny cottage rose to its feet and hopped away into the purple fog.
I had slept with that disgusting thing, almost twice. I took a deep breath and considered the numerous atrocities such a creature could have done to me. Baba Yaga could have eaten, enslaved, or tortured me like a witch from a fairy tale. In comparison, I could live with regrettable sex.
I had a sword, oversized turnip lantern, and no shirt. The cobblestones that had brought me to Baba Yaga actually continued into the mists beyond the tiny grove where the chicken hut had stood. I did the only thing that made sense to me. I followed the path. The trail gradually turned from stone to mud and led to a small stream of silvery water. Here, the fog pushed in until I only had the option of walking through the water. I waded knee-deep into the stream and trekked against the current. I reached another path that cut through the fog off the water. In the distance, I could see a brilliant blue light that I recognized as the glow produced by cletonium. I followed the parted fog to a clearing.
Numerous monsters made from shadows and dirt filled the clearing. The monsters danced in a circle around a massive blue flame. At the center of the fire rested the clentonium crystal. The monsters stopped dancing to face a pumpkin plant that grew over an altar at the edge of the clearing with a single pumpkin sprouting from the vines. The shadows dropped to their knees and bowed to the pumpkin. The monsters chanted a disgusting gurgle to the plant as if they worshipped it. With the monsters distracted by their ritual, I rushed into the clearing. I slashed the sword in an upward arc, knocking the cletonium out of the fire and into the air. I caught the crystal in my open hand as it fell back to the ground.
“Shit! That’s hot,” I shouted as I threw the searing jewel to the ground.
The clearing fell silent. I slowly looked around and met the gaze of the monsters as they turned to me. Somehow, much like with the energy ball, I knew exactly what to do. Without hesitation, I unleashed a blood-chilling war cry and charged. The sword felt like an extension of my arm. I hacked and slashed at creatures as they came at me. The turnip lantern’s light seared the beasts’ flesh. The monsters burst into mud and black mist after a single blow from the sword. Within a few short minutes, I had leveled the clearing’s population to nothing more than a large paste of black, loamy muck.
I picked up the much cooler cletonium and stuffed it into my pocket. As I turned to leave, a voice came from nowhere and said, “Impressive, but I cannot allow a mortal to leave my demesne.”
I watched the pumpkin vines on the altar animate and twist into a strange, convulsing body. The pumpkin sitting atop the writhing mass turned to reveal a jack o’ lantern filled with sorrowing emptiness beyond its carved features. “I am the pumpkin king,” it said, “and you have disturbed my celebration.”
“Listen, I just want to get out of here and go back home,” I said. “How about you leave me alone, and I’ll leave you alone?”
“I cannot let you leave,” said the pumpkin king.
“I really don’t have time for this,” I said. I formed a small ball of blue light in my left hand with ease. “Eat hadouken, jackass.”
I threw the energy ball through the fire that still roared between me and the pumpkin king, setting the projectile ablaze. The ball tore into the stomach of the pumpkin king, turning its body of vines to an inferno almost instantly. The jack o’ lantern head plummeted to the ground and burst open, releasing thousands of screaming faces made of red mist into the air. As the ghasts filled the clearing, the fog closed in around me. I panicked and ran blindly through the purple mist. I tried to run in what I thought was the direction that I came from. I never found the stream again, but soon I came running through the courtyard where the gallows had stood the night before.
Back on mortal soil, I walked in the early morning light and dew to Teasidh’s house. I knew she wouldn’t be there, but I called for her as I entered. The only answer I received was the creak of wooden floors. I sat on the bed and reaffixed the cletonium crystal to the chronometer on my wrist. I definitely had to start working on mark II as soon as I got home.
The door slammed shut. I looked up at a girl in white robes with a gold-hilted sword on her hip. The girl had white, wavy hair and greenish eyes that pierced my soul. She drew the sword and leveled it at me. “Why are you in my home?” she asked.
“Listen” I said through gritted teeth, “you do not want to mess with me right now. I just got back from doing some serious shit and am not in the mood. I will destroy you.”
Undeterred by my threat, the girl sprinted across the room with inhuman speed and pressed her blade against my throat. “You cannot harm me,” she said, a disgusting sneer spreading across her cheeks. “They call me banshee, crow, and vulture. I have the strength of a horse and conjure thunderstorms. I shoot arrows of light from my fingers. Anything I want I will ruthlessly kill to obtain. In battle, I make blood fly through the air like rain. No man has ever touched my flesh because none are worthy. All that have tried have had their heads separated from their necks.”
She kept going, spewing a five-minute monologue on how badass she was. Until that point, I had thought that sort of thing never happened in real life.
“I just came to say goodbye to Teasidh,” I said, “and fix my time machine.”
“How do you know my mother’s name?”
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I am Mor, daughter of Teasidh.”
“No way Teasidh had a daughter as old as you are,” I said. “Where is she? Where is Teasidh?”
“My mother abandoned me when I was a child,” Mor said. “She and my father disappeared on Samhain. A year later, my mother returned with an infant she left with the villagers. That was fifteen years ago.”
“Bullshit,” I said as I rubbed my throat. “Teasidh was only Baba Yaga in disguise.” Which would probably explain the white hair and supposed super powers. Fuck. I grew paler than her hair. “What was your father’s name?”
“My father was the Traveler, a dark spirit. He came during the festival of Samhain. He wooed my mother, and I was conceived. Then, he disappeared into the spirit world through the gallows of three hanged men.”
I felt sick. I wasn’t even fifteen yet. I could not deal with having a child, let alone one that was clearly older than me. “No,” I said, “he isn’t in the spirit world, Mor. I think I am your father.”
Mor fell silent. No matter what I tried to do to get her to respond, the girl had gone completely comatose.
“Like you should be freaking out,” I said. “I’m only fourteen, and I’m already the father of some kind of demon warrior goddess in the middle of ancient Ireland. I think. I’m still not actually sure where I ended up.”
Mor cackled as her eyes changed to black with yellow pupils.
“Baba Yaga?” I asked.
“So easily fooled,” Baba Yaga said. “Stupid boy. Your story is not yet finished.”
Baba Yaga pointed at me. Lightning leaped from her finger to my chest. The lightning strike threw me through the wall and into the mud outside the house. I lay there panting. A horrible burning sensation filled my left arm. I initially thought I was having a heart attack, but the lightning had heated the metal chronometer enough that it burned my skin. Sparks sizzled from the fried circuitry. As I examined the extent of the damage, the chronometer made an unusual beeping noise. The cletonium crystal flashed rapidly to the rhythm of the beeping. Nothing in my designs or the machine’s programming should have allowed that to happen. I didn’t know what was happening.
“The fuck?” I asked right before disappearing in a burst of blue electricity.