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The Anomaly R.B. Winters


The Anomaly Š 2010 by R.B. Winters. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publishers, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper, magazine or journal. First printing

ISBN: 144998309X PUBLISHED BY CREATESPACE wwwrobertbrianwinters.com New York Printed in the United States of America

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R.B. Winters

For my Aunt Leesa We’re waiting under the apple tree

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The Anomaly

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Table of contents 1. Sisters of the Black Circle 2. Megnificent Plans 3. Orbs & Prophecy 4. The Loop 5. Starting over yet again 6. The truth inside 7. The council house 8. Terrable times 9. The places you’ll go 10. New faces, old places 11. Letting your guard down 12.dirty little secret 13. Foreign applications 14. The summoning 15. See what I see 16. Deadland realms 17. fate 18. accadia 19. Three times three 20. Melissa’s revenge 21. endings 5


22. The real me

The Anomaly

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1. Sisters of the Black Circle

C

andles flickered dimly about the stale room, clinging to the ancient black holders that curled out from the

roughly forged walls. Several poorly formed pillars of gray stone supported the ceiling that stretched beyond the glow of the orange candlelight. The center of the room was occupied by five cloaked figures. They moved in a synchronized fashion around an enormous mound of gray; lowly chanting a haunting spell. “The universe unwind, planets collide, threads combine. Linear time, demon design, threat to rewind. Form of gray, light of day, hidden away,� speaking in perfect harmony through their exhaustion. Unwavering in their form, the figures 7


The Anomaly followed one another in hypnotic fashion. Their robes billowed behind, sweeping along the silent floor, trying to keep up. The Sisters’ steps shuffling along with the chant, their small bare feet leaving prints on the damp floor; a ruckus coming from somewhere beyond the walls. The low humming continued as the doors began to shake. Violent pounding came from the other side; forcefully rattling the worn black bolts that cemented the twin doors to their feigning frame. The Sisters did not break from the pattern of their ritual, moving a bit more quickly around the dripping mass at their center. “The universe unwind, planets collide, threads combine. Linear time, demon design, threat to rewind. Form of gray, light of day, hidden away.� A silver spark appeared as a singular drip from the unpleasantness that was the gray, hitting the terracotta colored floor that was made momentarily visible beneath it. Like a dragon licking ice with its fire8


R.B. Winters drenched tongue, the spark sizzled into nonexistence. Another followed, the Sisters hastening their steps. “The universe unwind, planets collide, threads combine. Linear time, demon design, threat to rewind. Form of gray, light of day, hidden away.” The door throbbed, holding back those that were furiously attacking the outer façade. Chanting through the cries of compliance to ‘open the door’, the Sisters did not give into the temptation their attackers were so tastelessly offering. The pulsating gray in the midst of the cloaked witches dripped, shrinking at a steady pace, a shower of sparks dancing about the floor below. The faces of the witches were illuminated beneath their tattered black hoods. Their pale flesh stood without a glint of emotion. Black hair framing all five faces from smooth forehead to sunken chin, pink lips of each moving at the same steady, disturbing pace, “The universe unwind, planets collide, 9


The Anomaly threads combine. Linear time, demon design, threat to rewind. Form of gray, light of day, hidden away.” Their eyes were nothing more than hollow pits that reflected the darkness of the room as if to mirror it. The Sisters stopped, the pounding on the door continuing to echo within the room, nearly drown out by the sound of the silver and white sparks that drummed upon the now charring floor. The Sisters’ heads turned in unison to face the sparking mess. They threw their hands into the air, the sleeves of their cloaks pulling back to reveal ten ghastly pale and bony arms. Dimly though the room was lit, the darkened veins that decorated the arms of their decaying bodies were a hideous site; topped off by nails that were yellow and flaking. Time had not been a friend, fueled by the deplorable state in which the Sisters of the Black Circle had been forced to live, cut off from the magical community by order of the Council. “The universe unwind, planets collide, threads combine. Linear time, demon design, 10


R.B. Winters threat to rewind. Form of gray, light of day, hidden away,� their chant becoming louder, nearly hysterical. Rising into the air, the lump continued spewing fantastic sparks. The oversized, poorly crafted door exploded from its frame; having given way to the persistence that came from the orbs being thrown at the grainy wood, scattering in splinters upon the floor. A group of wizards stood on the other side of the exposed exit with palms outstretched before them, orbs of red pulsating, ready to attack. It was unnecessary for any of the Sisters to pay mind to those entering the doorway. They had more than anticipated the arrival of Anneliese and her Council of forced followers. The Council had spent a considerable amount of time trying to locate the legendary Primary, informed it was hidden within the Sisters’ Castle. Though there was no proof to support or deny this theory, Anneliese had found every infraction of wizard law that would allow her to raid the 11


The Anomaly castle. Dragging the entire Council to the castle upon rumor of ill-obtained charms that turned out to be nothing more than mortal necklaces, properly purchased and imported with the permission of the Department of Mortal Relics. Alex recalled the second time Anneliese had drug he and three other casters of the Council to the castle. A rumor of ritual sacrifice that turned out, as Alex and presumed, to be perfectly legal. The Sisters were sacrificing Watts. Terrible little creatures with razor sharp wings, sticky legs, and plump round bodies; coming from the depths of the Terra-Accadia Forest. If anything, it was a blessing to rid the magical world of a few. Flares of green burst from the illuminated lump, lashing out like whips. The Sisters continued in a fearless fashion, not to be deterred in their task. The unwanted wizards rushed in, orbs pummeling the nonreactive Sisters; all except one collapsing upon the dank floor. The single witch continued, 12


R.B. Winters “The universe unwind, planets collide, threads combine. Linear time, demon design, threat to rewind. Form of gray, light of day, hidden away.” “Alexander, stop her!” roared Anneliese, firing off another round of crimson orbs. It was Anneliese that had forced the Council members here tonight on another ‘tip’. It seemed her sole purpose (of the time) to bring about the downfall of the Sisters of the Black Circle. Not even Alex could understand the reason she felt them to be such a threat, but there was no option other than to obey; no matter how he detested the orders. Coming within a foot of the hollering Sister that appeared undisturbed by the attack, she turned her empty eyes to Alex. In a split second her hand fell from the air, grabbing hold of Alex by the wrist. The two connected, Alex able to feel the power that was coursing through the witch and the furious monster at her helm. 13


The Anomaly “Keep it safe. Keep it secret. Keep it hidden,” spoke the Sister. Alex hearing the words somewhere inside his head as she vocalized, “The universe unwind, planets collide, threads combine. Linear time, demon design, threat to rewind. Form of gray, light of day, hidden away.” Whips of green continued to beat out into the dark corners of the room, combining they spun around the now radiant orb. Unannounced winds circled the room, attacking the lingering sources of light, the flames hissing as they were vanquished. The vicious swirl of green retreated furiously into the terrifying mass; something like water down a drain, allowing the room to fall back into dark silence. Extinguished candles still neatly in their iron holders, hung wearily as amber dots, gray tails rising from them. A rush of heat and blinding white exploded from the hovering point of fixation, leaving everyone on the floor in 14


R.B. Winters its wake. The Sister’s hand continued holding tightly to Alex, his watering eyes glazing over. Alex couldn’t hold a proper thought, his mind spinning feverishly, and the grip on his arm unexpectedly releasing.

Opening his eyes, Alex sat in darkness. Running his hands over the smooth surface of the chilled floor, bumping something solid just as solid. Carefully examining the object through touch, he climbed to his feet. A bit dazed and unclear on what had happened, Alex glanced around. It was impossible to see, but he knew he was in the Council Hall. With memorized steps he walked the distance around the large judge-like stand that stood silently in the darkness. Without touch the door to Alex’s personal chamber opened. Alex had recently inherited this particular chamber. It had belonged to Anneliese until she recently felt the Council was in need of a new home. With the completion of her current Council Palace, as Alex referred to it, there was plenty of empty space left behind. Though 15


The Anomaly the immense hall just beyond the door of his chamber was left to collect dust, it would eventually be home to a Council of Alex’s control. Alex’s chamber was a brilliant white that was impossible to look upon without squinting. Visitors often had watering eyes as they spoke with Alex in this place of oppressive light, a sight that gave him an inappropriate rush of pleasure and power. Silvery-gray doors of a newly made cabinet that stood against the adjacent wall were slightly open as if closed in such a rush that no one had checked to make sure they were properly secured. As if in a dream, Alex moved through the light that hung in the room like a fog. Arriving at the cabinet that stretched several heads above him, there was something to be seen. The doors silently swung outward, pulled by an unseen hand, allowing Alex’s brown eyes to peer inside. A large glass orb sat upon a shelf, a gray haze swirling around inside like a summer thunderstorm. 16


R.B. Winters

Pressure was again being put on Alex’s forearm, looking down, the Sister was again there. Her face distant, eyelids beginning to droop over the vacant holes she had for eyes, and her flesh nearly translucent now. The fog was sucked from the room, replaced by a heavy darkness that collapsed upon Alex with such force that he was unable to keep his knees from buckling. He laid on the ground, the Sister at his side, a storm of noise rushing at his ears. The sight was not what Alex remembered. Two head-sized orbs hung above, emitting a dim glow that was just enough to outline the room and its many occupiers. The gray lump the Sisters had been chanting around was gone; the terracotta floor scorched where sparks had danced down. “ALEXANDER!” cried Anneliese. Alex slowly turned his head to face the witch that had shouted his name with such rage. Her pinched, pale, and pointed face was furious even through the darkness. Her 17


The Anomaly tightly twisted blonde hair glimmered somehow in this unremarkable lighting. Anneliese was never a fan of Alex. Had it not been for his remarkable talents, she would have never allowed him anywhere near her Council. Though, the way things were moving with Trejun’s death and Amen’s continued resistance of Council law, it seemed a good idea to keep him at hand. “Grab her!” Alex turned his head back to the Sister in the same slow, almost sinister, fashion. Her lips didn’t move, but her voice was clear, “Keep it safe. Keep it secret. Keep it hidden.” Something like a mirage in the desert at midnight, the Sister vanished as dust on the wind. Alex’s attention was refocused with the forceful, cold slap of Anneliese’s hand against his cheek. “You let her escape?” “How would you have liked me to stop 18


R.B. Winters her?” snapped Alex, his cheek turning red, heightened by his anger. “I didn’t lead my best casters down here to have my time wasted. I want these witches brought to justice.” Anneliese turned to leave, her casters following, their black robes scaling across the stones of the floor. “What justice is there in persecuting the innocent?” Anneliese stopped with a jolt. She was well known for maintaining a dignified appearance at all times, even on news that innocent wizards and mortals were being slaughtered. With no one around other than Council members, sworn to secrecy, her rage was evident. The pale cheeks she wore with such a high-and-mighty snarl had fallen to a furious shade of pink. “You are on thin ice, Alexander,” her voice heavy. “Your job is to do as I say.” “Unlike the rest of this Council, I will not follow you blindly.” 19


The Anomaly “Perhaps you should not be a part of my Council,� hissed Anneliese, leaning close enough for Alex to feel the warmth of her snake like breath. This seemed enough for Alex to bite his tongue, though it nearly crippled him to do so. Anneliese stormed off, the dwindling casters following at her heel. Alex remained in the room that was full even when no one was there. It grew dark as the abandoned attack orbs conjured by the other casters diluted into the air. Alex ignited the smoldering candles overhead with a flick of his wrist. The room was as tall as it was long, even with some light in the space there was no way to see the ceiling. Crates covered nearly every inch of the outlining walls, some opened in such a way that the tan boards were left in shreds upon the ground. Alex had been here several times before Anneliese started her witch-hunt. There was a time when the Sisters had been trusted allies of the Council. They had served under 20


R.B. Winters Trejun, with his unexpected death and Amen’s uprising, Anneliese saw the Sisters as a threat. To date, the Sisters of the Black Circle had done nothing to show allegiance with Amen; though they had not made a point of proving to Anneliese that their interests were in her favor. Anneliese was more inclined to believe the Sisters were conspiring against her when they refused to vacate Trejun’s castle, claiming it as their own. Of course, Anneliese was the only one that felt they needed to leave. Members of the Council, other than Alex, would never speak up, but they all felt the Sisters to be entitled to the castle in mark of their faithful servitude to Trejun. The Sisters were aware that their actions would lead to banishment, if not worse. Alex’s last visit, outside the ongoing raids, to this room was when he was presented with a life altering decision. It was almost possible to see the characters of his past standing in front of him. 21


The Anomaly The room was filled with a burning sunset that draped over every corner and façade of the castle. Alex and Meg stood at a balcony that overlooked an incredible landscape. Beyond the carved limestone railing was a hundred foot drop into a valley of green. Trees as tall as skyscrapers, animals of unknown origin and flowers blooming in a multitude of vibrant colors. “I’m sorry to have kept you waiting.” A man appeared in the room looking the way Alex would always remember him. Trejun was wrinkled in the face with the glow of a grandfather. His hair was long and white, as it was with many of the more traditional and elderly wizards. His purple robe was made of a fine silk that looked dangerous to touch, as if perhaps a hand would shred the finally woven threads. “I brought you both here to make you an offer.” Meg slipped her hand into Alex’s, giving him a gentle squeeze. 22


R.B. Winters “You are both aware that of all my pupils there are none more capable. The two of you are an incredible duo with powers that will someday, I believe, change the wizarding world. What I would like to offer you is the chance to embrace your powers.” Meg gave a short smile, her brown eyes glistening as she listened to Trejun’s hypnotic and intoxicating words. Alex’s face didn’t have the same enthused look. He remained still and unaffected. “What are you offering?” asked Alex, not entirely prepared to know. “This is the time to take advantage of your strengths. This is the time to make your mark on the world.” “What are you offering?” Alex was never patient enough to make it through Trejun’s ramblings. Though he had spent what felt like a lifetime listening to the well-respected professor. Magical training was reserved for those born of wizard cities, something Alex had always 23


The Anomaly thought to be a ridiculous practice. Those that were born of the Mortal Realm were forced to wait upon trainers finding and nurturing them. Something Alex had no idea he would someday be doing. “Gods.” “What?” replied Alex, Meg gripping his hand more tightly. “I’ve convened with the Demon Council and they are interested in adding the two of you to their circle. You would be endowed with unimaginable powers beyond that of your own.” There was a hint of lustful want in Trejun’s voice. Alex was afraid his old professor and friend had become more interested in the connections he would obtain, than the well-being and growth of he or Meg. “We would be Demon Gods?” Trejun nodded graciously. “So, we would be going against all of our beliefs?” 24


R.B. Winters “Alexander, you know that names are not always as they sound. You would take on the title, there would be no obligation to do anything you would be unwilling to do now.” “Alex, this is an incredible opportunity,” encouraged Meg, breaking apart their clasped hands, her voice drowning in enthusiasm. Meg was always quick to accept whatever was presented to her, as long as it was done so in a way that clearly benefited her. Though she was perfect in appearance, this was her fatal drawback. “How can you say that?” Though it wasn’t immediately apparent, this was the moment that Alex disconnected from Meg. Alex would later come to regret this moment time and time again. Having spent so much of their lives together already, it was common thought that they would be together forever. Some saw Alex and Meg leading the Council and wizarding world into a new future, hand-in-hand. 25


The Anomaly “There is no need to make a decision now. Take your time to think it over.” “I want it,” blurted Meg, mostly to defy Alex. “I don’t,” retorted Alex. There was an immediate eruption of tension between the two. Their eyes locked in a vicious stare of combat. Trejun looked upon his prize pupils, fearing that perhaps he had made a mistake in presenting the opportunity to them in this fashion. Meg was not the desired party here; the Demon Gods were seeking Alex. Using Meg was a ploy they had unwittingly suggested upon Trejun in hopes of making their will a reality. “Megnificent, are you sure?” Trejun asked, hoping he could convince her otherwise. “Absolutely.” Meg’s response seemed to cut Alex, his face twitching a bit. “Alexander?” 26


R.B. Winters “No,� Alex muttered, looking properly defeated. Trejun took Meg by the hand, the two of them walking towards the door. Alex remained on the balcony, the sunset standing behind him, watching as he and Meg settled upon the decision that would forever put them on parallel paths, only marked to cross one another when ill was to come.

Alex stared at the place where he and Meg had once stood together. The balcony was gone, the opening closed up with rigged gray bricks. Before the Black Circle had moved into the once prestigious castle, it had been home to Trejun and his trusted advisors. When Trejun removed himself from the public eye, a move many thought due to illness, his advisors vanished. Through some coaxing, Trejun was able to move the Sisters into his Castle. He was well aware of their impressive powers, also he knew them to be the gypsies of the magical community. With no real home, the 27


The Anomaly Sisters of the Black Circle were convinced to take up residence in Trejun’s castle with the promise that they would no longer be forced to seek out shelter on a regular basis. This castle was haunted with memories that would never die. Alex had been admitted into the Council, met and lost Meg, and learned of Trejun’s death in this place. Alex’s steps erupted through the room like small cries from his past. Crossing the threshold into a dim corridor the light vanished as Alex’s shadow followed him out of the room.

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2. Megnificent Plans

M

oments exist that are often regretted; things that cannot be changed. Sometimes it is the

change we make within these moments that causes us such distress. Alec had been an accidental creation of Alex’s. Returning to a memory through the Pharaoh’s Eye, a rather shabby and haggard block of wood that had been forged into the head of a long dead pharaoh, Alex had managed to cross directly through himself. Though details were not fact, a rip in time split their threads apart. Alec was born of memory, fortunate only for Meg. With the accidental creation of Alec, Meg had found a vicious companion where she had been lacking one. Alec had Alex’s face, 29


The Anomaly body, and even snippets of his genius. He was a far sight better to look at than her two servants. Their rotting flesh, looking as though it were ready to part from their bodies; hair that was nothing more than small tuffs of lanky black; and those soulless eyes. All traits quite common in Ritifs, though it was rare to find these creatures outside the bowels of the hell realms. Meg, a creature of darkness herself, had a soft spot for the eyes of Ritifs. After what had become a lifetime of murderous endeavors, it was a relief to look upon something that didn’t truly look back. Meg stared almost longingly at Alec with her distant brown eyes, recounting their first encounter. Meg vanished from Alex’s sight, reappearing in the shadows of the trees. Moonlight weaving it’s way through the heavy branches above, defined Alex’s silhouette. Alex picked up an unconscious Jen, carrying her away from what he knew to be lurking beyond his sight. Alex’s pace was much slower exiting the forest than it had been upon entering. He 30


R.B. Winters did his best not to rattle Jen too much; aware that she could wake at any moment, but unaware what damage had been done to her. Meg orbed herself out of the forest, waiting for Alex to appear. The minutes of waiting felt like hours of anxious anticipation. Meg was relieved to see a figure breaking through the black of the thick trees. Much to her surprise Alex was no longer carrying Jen. A light flashed in the distance, forcing Meg to turn. What must have been the opening of a door allowed light to flood from Alex’s house and into the forest like someone signaling for help. The light relinquished, but Meg was left standing before an empty handed Alex. “Who are you?” “Did you hit your head?” “Alex?” Meg asked. The attitude was there, but something wasn’t right. It was as if looking at Alex through the back end of a mirror, he just seemed… different. “Yes,” replied Alex, sounding very much 31


The Anomaly like himself. “Where’s the witch?” Though Meg had come from humble beginnings, she loved to remind anyone when she got the chance, that she was a god, not just another witch in the crowd. “Alex carried her to the house.” “But… you’re Alex?” “Yes.” Meg’s growing frustration was apparent even in the fading moonlight. Her flesh was a pale blue in the night air, but it was clear that her eyes were pointing like daggers at this possible impostor. Before Meg had the chance to ask another question the ground beneath her began to shift. Her feet were sinking into the dirt, the entire landscape turning on its side. Like a page being turned over in a storybook, the trees were bending towards the ground; the sky was falling, the moon coming drastically close. The tall grass at their feet bent as if a wind had kicked up. 32


R.B. Winters Falling into Alex, he embraced Meg as the world continued to turn over. Meg pressed her face into his chest, feeling a slow rhythmic heart beat against her cheek, the air was screaming like paper being shredded furiously; rapidly the two of them sank into the damp ground. With a jolt they dropped through the floor of the Earth, landing in a pile in the same spot they had just left. Meg jumped to her feet, adjusting her dress, “What the hell realm was that?” she shrieked, sunlight beaming on her pale flesh. “We’ve moved into the present.” Alex was speaking as if this were a perfectly natural act, like Meg should know what had happened. “What are you talking about?” Alex smiled, his white teeth appearing in a villainous fashion. “Alex went back in time. Unintentionally… I ran into myself.” 33


The Anomaly “So… you’re not Alex?” Meg felt like her head had been put in a vise. This made no sense. “I’m the Alex you fought in the forest… but I’m not the Alex that carried Jen out. I’m the past brought into the present by a ripple,” Alex explained. “We’re going to have to change your name if I’m going to pretend to understand any of what you just said.” “What would you call me?” Meg stared at the non-Alex for a moment, the wheels in her head cranking away. His characteristics were all those that she had become familiar with: The short messy brown hair, the dark eyes. They were trademarks of a backfired jinx Meg had once used on Alex, hiding his dirty blonde hair and pale blue eyes. Never had she regretted the accident; transforming Alex, even in the slightest sense, gave her the ability to distance herself from him. “Alec,” she spat. 34


R.B. Winters “It’s nearly the same name.” Alec wasn’t pleased. Though he was a duplicate of Alex, he felt the strangest loathing for him. Sharing even a partial name seemed a cruel punishment, especially coming from Meg. “Exactly. You’re almost the same wizard,” grinned Meg. “Why are you staring at me?” “Wha- what?” stuttered Meg, coming from her daze. “What are you staring at me for?” asked Alec, once again. “Don’t question me.” Meg felt starting a fight was her best defense. It was either that or admit she had been thinking about someone other than herself, even if the memory involved her. “Whatever… let’s get this over with.” It was good fortune for Meg that she had met Alec. He was the only wizard outside of Alex and the Sisters of the Black Circle 35


The Anomaly that knew of the Anomaly. There were currently two things working in Meg’s favor: Alec had retained most of Alex’s memories, even if only in fragmented form; Alex was quickly losing memories having been stripped of his own powers by Meg’s extraction orb. This was perhaps Meg’s greatest triumph to date. She would never forget standing in front of Alex, plunging the dazzling orb of white into his chest and watching him collapse. For a single moment, a twinge of something appeared in Meg’s chest. Something that told her she regretted what she was doing. However, not interested in falling victim to conscious, she suppressed the feeling, extracting the orb. The story was somewhat of an embarrassment to Meg, considering Alex had managed to escape her enchantment, meant to hold him until death arrived. Alex had never told anyone about the incident outside of Jen and Melissa. Alec knew only because he assisted Meg in creating the enchantment through his memories of Alex’s home; no one else had a clue as to where Alex had gone 36


R.B. Winters for the eight mortal-month period. Alex had never been able to reach out to the Council, forcing them to assume he was dead, then sidestepping questions after his abrupt return. Meg assumed Alex had informed Anna, knowing how much wasted trust he placed in her. The Primary, a powerful energy created from bits of each realm, was hidden not so much inside Melissa; as Melissa was more a shell created to hide it. Meg had taken Alex hostage in hopes of discovering the whereabouts of her desperately desired Primary. When she finally discovered in what form it now existed, the window of opportunity had closed. The amount of time and power it would take to transform Melissa out of her current form would take more power than Meg had access to. Time was running out for Meg to open the barrier between she and the hell realm that was home. The Anomaly however was still in its pure form, hidden within Alex’s chamber of the Council Hall. Without invitation from a Council 37


The Anomaly member it was impossible for Meg to visit the Council Hall, but with Alec’s help there was nothing to stop her. Though she had separated them by a single letter, the realms still felt Alex and Alec to be the same wizard, having come from the same thread. There were very few recorded cases of wizards having their threads accidentally split in two. Many of those that had done so on purpose managed to disfigure themselves horribly; some even managing death by mistake. No, Alex and Alec were a very rare case. Meg assumed it must have only been possible to divide them in two due entirely to the incredible amount of power that resided within Alex. Though it was clear Alec had not taken the better portion of these powers. Alec drew a circle in the air with his finger several times, a spark of blue finally igniting on the tip of his index finger. The buzzing spark followed Alec’s lead until a circle was formed, withdrawing his hand, the portal grew to an appropriate size, Meg pushing her way through, Alec 38


R.B. Winters following close behind. The corridor leading to the Council Hall was empty. It was no secret that Alex was to face trial by the First Council today. His arrival was imminent, meaning that Alec had to get Meg into Alex’s personal chamber before anyone arrived. Their shoes pounded against the black and white tiles of the floor, the sound bouncing furiously off the white doors that lined the corridor from end to end. Meg had been here a thousand times before. Previously she had needed no invitation to enter, but her decision to take residence within the confines of a hell realm changed that. Demons of any sort were not permitted into the Council Corridor, or any of its many doors, without written permission of the Council Head. Reaching the enormous wooden doors that concealed the Council Chamber, Alec pressed a hand lightly to one of the carved doors. Meg had forgotten how impressive they were, her eyes catching on the story that had been carefully crafted upon the wood. The story 39


The Anomaly of Trejun, whom she felt much sorrow for; tales of Terra and Accadia, the wizarding cities; battles of wizards that were long forgotten, and even a small mention of the hell realms near the bottom of the doors. The dark wood slowly retreated, allowing the duo into the quiet black ahead of them, the closing doors swallowing the light of the corridor. “I can’t see anything,” grunted Meg, as if this weren’t obvious, Alec reaching through the dark for her hand. Alec led her through the dense blanket of black. Passing between the six wooden pews that Meg was unable to see, and around the massive stand where Alex and his Head Council members perched. All of Alec’s steps were memorized and precise even in the darkness. He didn’t have to search for the handle to Alex’s personal chamber; he knew just where to reach within the darkness. With a push their eyes were attacked with a vibrant light that pressed desperately at the darkness behind them. Meg allowed herself ahead of Alec into the room. 40


R.B. Winters “So… this is where he spends his time,” muttered Meg, her eyes examining the white room. The large wooden desk, another mortalcrafted trinket of Alex’s, was cluttered with books and piles of paper; many spilling onto the surrounding floor. The bookshelves that lined the walls were cluttered with books of every sort; an assortment of dark colors making up the leather bindings. The only comfort in the room was Alex’s winged chair behind his desk. It looked old, the black suede wearing in many places. There were no chairs for visitors, not that anyone would ever be allowed in long enough to sit. “It’s in there… I think,” said Alec, bringing Meg’s attention to the tall double door cabinet; like Alex’s chair, looking as if imported from the Mortal Realm. “Shouldn’t you know where he put it?” hissed Meg, her patience tested. “Anything he’s done after we split isn’t in my memory. For all I know, he moved the thing.” 41


The Anomaly Meg ran her slender fingers over the smooth silver finish of the cabinet. “Just a door between myself… and everything I’ve been fighting for.” “What are you fighting for?” asked Alec. Meg rolled her pouting brown eyes, wishing that Alec wasn’t beside her. “I want to go home.” “I know that… but what’s the point? Why not just find a new realm?” “That’s the point! I clawed my way to the top. I built an empire and then Alex and his Council stole it away from me.” Meg placed a hand around Alec’s neck, her pointed red claws digging into his flesh. The fury she was feeling for Alex bit at the back of her throat; perhaps sacrificing Alec would be enough to trick her mind into ease. “How would you like if I threw you back into the time loop and you lost the 42


R.B. Winters independence you’ve gained from Alex? How would you like if I stole the life that was yours?” Alec whisked Meg’s hand from his neck, the mark of her hand remaining as a vivid pink outline. “I think you have forgotten that I’m on your side,” he growled, thrusting her hand away from his own. “You’re still Alex somewhere in there. If there is anything I learned from him… from you… everything is a lie,” Meg’s words biting at Alec. “Just open the cabinet, drama god.” Meg scowled, wrapping her fingers over the dull silver knob of the cabinet door. Applying some force, the door opened with a terrible screech. Meg’s reaction was instantaneous, a vicious grin ripped across her face. “Finally,” she uttered, relieved. Alec checked over his shoulder. He swore he heard someone step up to the door. A moment’s silence allowed him to shrug off 43


The Anomaly the suspicions, turning back to Meg. Alec, not nearly as clever as Alex, failed to realize that Jen was fading in and out of a vision with Philip beyond the cracked door. It was her wheezing breaths that he had thought to be imagined. Jen peeked through the crack of space between the door and its frame; her vision more blurred than she would later remember. Something purple was pulled from the cabinet, a small corkscrew; Jen’s attention faded momentarily as she refocused on her attacker. Meg held the castduv in her hand. It was the key to unlocking the power of the Anomaly. “You never told me he had this… I thought Philip…” Meg examined the castduv in her hand, “Where’d Philip find it? I’ve searched like mad?” “Trejun hid it in the depths of the Forest. He assumed no one would desire it enough to search.” 44


R.B. Winters “I’ve been to the Terran Forest a thousand times. Where was it?” Meg was annoyed at her own ineptitude. “One of the caves… who knows what he did to get it. You know how Philip can be.” Alec reached into the cabinet, extracting a large gray orb, the purpose of their visit. Meg’s trademark grin flashed once more. Gently taking the Anomaly from Alec’s hands, Meg held the thing in front of her. The storm of gray spun slowly inside like thick puffs of smoke. “Let’s go,” instructed Meg, unable to control her smile. Alec closed the doors of the cabinet, in no rush to draw attention to the now stolen objects. They hurried out of Alex’s chamber and into the darkness of the Council Hall. “Wait.” Meg stopped, pulling from her pocket a small orb of metallic. It seemed to capture a trace of light that wasn’t there. “What is it?” 45


The Anomaly “A little gift for Alex,” replied Meg, holding the silver orb in the palm of her hand, she pressed her lips together. A gentle wisp and it was gone. Alec waited… the room remained dark. “Was that it?” Meg didn’t respond, her lips turning up in a grin darker than that of the Council Hall.

Melissa, who had not been in the corridor on Meg’s entrance; sat in the wobbly wooden chair that had been provided for her; strumming her fingers along the bottom of her seat, rocking in bored anticipation. Melissa waited for the massive wooden doors to open and for Jen to step out. She anticipated Anna taking her inside the Council Chamber for the first time. Melissa was rocked from her daze, as the doors were forced open. “Finally,” she snapped, jumping to her feet. 46


R.B. Winters A woman came from within the Council Chamber. “What the hell-“ Melissa didn’t have time to finish, Meg slamming her against the wall. Melissa fell to the floor in a heap, her head-lulling forward; face hidden beneath a mop of tussled brown. “Let’s get out of here,” cried Alec, pulling at Meg’s free arm; terrified Alex would discover them and instruct the Council to eliminate him. Meg shot Melissa a hate filled smile, giving in to Alec’s pleas. They hurried down the still empty corridor, an explosion of red opening and consuming them. Exiting the portal, Meg couldn’t have been more pleased with herself, showing no gratitude towards Alec for his efforts. There was a burning in Alec’s chest, a feeling Alex had often experienced when he thought of Meg. “What?” snapped Meg, noticing the pathetic look on Alec’s pale face. “Shall I 47


The Anomaly reward you? Perhaps‌ free time to play with the servants.� Shaking his head, Alec left Meg with her new objects of affection; doing his best to ignore her cruel insults.

48


R.B. Winters

3. Orbs & Prophecy

A

lex lifted himself from the ground, rubbing his hands against heavy eyelids; his head weighing greatly on

his shoulders. Blinking his eyes awake, Alex glanced about the room. His memory foggy‌ to say the least; he remembered the silver orb that had appeared, coming to rest beside his foot. That had happened in the chamber of the First Council, but this was not that place. Alex had somehow arrived home. The glass doors at the rear of the house were closed, the wooden slats tightly pushed together to hold off the light. Alex nudged his head out the door; the sky was an unusual shade of red. Clouds were pulled across the murky sky as if being drug along by the nails of an angry hand; the sight was 49


The Anomaly rather unnerving. Red and orange covered the landscape as far as Alex could see, but there was no sun in sight. It suddenly occurred to him that there was no wind, as if the world were holding its breath. “HELLO!” Alex cried loudly, his voice echoing over the smooth grass of the field. The air rippling as his words somehow became an invisible solid. No response was returned, the wrinkling of the air a disruptive sight. Alex was very much alone in this place. It was like the world had stopped turning while he had slept. A dense and heavy heat was coming from somewhere in the distance, hot enough that Alex felt the need to shield his face. Running a hand through his hair, Alex realized it had grown long again, long enough that it almost touched his eyebrows. Was he in a memory? Rounding the corner of the house, the hollow thud of Alex’s footsteps against the dark stained planks that made up the walkway were all that could be heard. The landscape 50


R.B. Winters below the house was picture perfect, blanketed by the red of the sky. The winding little river that wove its pattern across the valley looked as though it had stopped. The trees held their leaves still, the grass holding in a desire to sway. No birds overhead, no cars on the distant expressway. Whatever this was, it wasn’t home. The sporty red car that Alex had stolen in a previous moment of desperation was no longer parked in the driveway. However, like a hungry mouth, the door of the garage hung slightly open; daring Alex to look inside. Bending to gaze in at the eerie darkness, his stomach tightened. A strange and sickening fear arose, forcing Alex to run. Alex sprinted down the road that connected the house to the main street; gravel scattering in all directions. Running as forcefully as possible, Alex made his way towards town. Though his steps were blistering, Alex’s feet made little sound as they beat against the black road that lagged behind. Passing hand painted meadows, parked cars, an empty church, and several tiny 51


The Anomaly houses, not a single person was to be found. Sweating and out of breath, Alex slowed to a heavy walk as he arrived at Fifth Street. Pausing for a moment, he looked at the street sign. A tall silver pole, dented in several places, paint marks from car bumpers and dirt around the bottom. The sign itself hung very proper, green with white lettering: Fifth Street. The naming had always perplexed Alex. There were no other main roads in the town, though this particular sign suggested there might be. Passing the first few houses on the street, having left the overgrown fields of brittle grass and wheat behind, Alex approached a window. There was no one to be seen. The love seats of the first house were empty, the kitchen of the second quite vacant, and the front door to the third tightly bolted. Alex didn’t call out; it seemed as though there was no point. If his voice was doomed to echo into nothingness he preferred to save his breathe. Arriving at the steps of Practical 52


R.B. Winters Magic, Alex stopped. He examined the lettering, noting the cracked and peeling red and gold that was once so smooth. Atticus, Alex’s most trusted friend, had been scrupulous when it came to painting the sign on the doors. Having done it several times before getting it ‘just right’, Atticus had declined magic in his efforts. Alex pushed against the tarnished handle of the door; it trembled, the door staying firmly in place. Though the door remained stationary, it was as if it feared denying Alex entrance. Unexpectedly, the handle ripped from Alex’s hand, the door thrusting open, slamming forcefully against the interior and swinging back. Shards of glass ripped from the door, raining over Alex. Shielding his eyes out of instinct, a terrible rumbling came from overhead. As the stoop beneath his worn feet began to shutter, a significant piece of the building’s wooden molding came crashing down from the third story narrowly missing Alex. The aged molding splintered into pieces as it met the steps that led to the door of the 53


The Anomaly shop, the white paint that was crusted over the wood scattered like snow across the searing ground. With a jerk and a shift the entire building shook more forcefully, Alex, leapt from the steps, rolling into the street as an eruption of flames tore through the building. The rumbling continued, like an earthquake in the distance; bricks dislodged themselves, shattering as dust against the sidewalk. Pock marks of white appeared as more bricks flew forwards, several more windows shattering in a chorus of shrill shrieks. Like a hiccup from deep within; the building sunk down a foot, the brick face leaning back a considerable distance. Alex, helplessly confused and terrified witnessed a massive ball of orange erupt into the bloody sky, black smoking forming a wake. Splintered wood and bits of brick rained down over Alex, who quickly covered his head and coiled his body tightly in to avoid injury. As the scene began to settle Alex lifted himself from the rubble, the dust beginning to settle. 54


R.B. Winters “ALEX!” Surprised and thoroughly relieved, Alex spotted Jen standing at the corner. “Where have you been?” Running up to Jen, Alex gripped her by the shoulders. “Are you ok?” “Alex… where have you been?” demanded Jen. “What?” “I need your help.” “I need your help. We have to help-” Alex glanced around at the place where Atticus’ shop had self destructed. “Alex, what’s wrong with you?” Alex didn’t reply, staring blankly at the sight. The boards that had engulfed him as the fireball shot into the air were missing. Everything was remarkably clean, the street and sidewalk all but bare. There was no shattered glass, damaged merchandise, 55


The Anomaly or even scars of charring left on the brick walls of the buildings that now stood only to hold open the space where the magic shop had been. Jen seemed blissfully unaware of this. She watched as Alex ran a hand over the tightly packed dirt of the vacant lot. “It was just here.” Jen glanced around as if expecting something to make itself known. Alex remained on his knees, knuckles upon the ground. Clearly frustrated, she was hesitant to speak. “Where’s Atticus?” Alex asked, a somber note on his tongue. “He died… you know that.” Alex looked about the lot where he knelt; thick grass was overtaking large areas, tall flowering weeds appearing. “Let’s go,” snipped Jen, gripping Alex by the wrist. In that moment Alex noticed that Jen was different, as different as the lot had suddenly become. 56


R.B. Winters The two of them were swallowed from head to toe by a slender ring of blue. Alex felt his stomach churn as he squirmed in Jen’s clammy hand. He couldn’t feel the ground; the only things to be seen were the rear of his eyelids. As a bitter cold beat against their faces, tears formed in the corners of Alex’s tightly clenched eyes. With a hollow thud they met the ground, Jen on her feet, Alex on the street. “Where are we?” Alex questioned, gazing about frantically. A massive wall of fire raged in the distance; touching the mountains on both sides of the city. The heat Alex had felt before was greatly intensified. It felt as if he was getting a sunburn, but there was still no sun to be seen through the mass of red clouds that covered the whole of the landscape. The storm, or whatever it was, grew in the distance. It was expanding in all directions, the intensity of the heat growing with it. At the base of the fire: homes, trees, 57


The Anomaly and lawns were bursting into flames before even making contact with the red giant. As they passed inside the cyclone of red the fires were extinguished and all that was left behind were black twigs and burnt out structures. “What is that?” Alex cried, in shock, his legs feeling weak. Jen turned her head slowly, as if Alex were out of his mind. Alex stared back at her; Jen’s face was strong, there was no sign of the timid witch he had first met. Strands of long blonde hair whipped around her face, adding to the intensity she was already presenting. “That’s Meg’s mess,” she replied, shouting to be heard. Alex had no idea what Jen was saying. “Are you ready?” “What?” “Are you ready?” roared Jen, irritated. Alex didn’t know what to do, his mind 58


R.B. Winters spinning. Jen held out her hands “Start the incantation!” Jen saw the blank stare on Alex’s face. “What’s wrong with you?” she cried, her arms dropping to her sides. “Did you forget the incantation? It’s Sambra. Lucen. Octan. Haun.” “I shouldn’t be here,” yelled Alex, the heat of the flaming storm becoming unbearable. “Alex, I can’t do this alone!” “I don’t know what you want me to do, Jen!” “You have… to do… it!” Jen’s words became muttered, coming out of her in a deep slow voice that wasn’t her own. Jen’s mouth continued to move, though no other words passed over her lips. Beneath Alex’s feet the ground jumped, ripples tearing through the air similar to the effect he had witnessed outside the house when this nightmare began. Alex ran; he turned from Jen, running with desperate speed. He had to get away from her, from 59


The Anomaly this place. Alex felt more confused now than he ever had. He suddenly wondered where Melissa had been in all of this. Why wasn’t she with Jen? Alex could feel his heart pounding, his breaths shallow, sweat forming on his brow. Stopping for air, he couldn’t escape the glare of the red beast in the distance. Leaning against a building for support, he glanced around what had been downtown. The city had been completely deserted. Empty buildings and abandoned cars were the only figures to be found on the streets. The pavement was soft from the intense heat that was approaching, pulling at Alex’s shoes as he began to sink into the blacktop. Clenching his eyes shut, Alex searched for a moment of solitude. Trying desperately to escape the scene of destruction that was set around him. Opening his eyes, Alex was shocked to see Melissa sitting at the dining room table; spoon in hand, shoveling down what appeared to be oatmeal. Blue decorated the 60


R.B. Winters sky beyond the window, a bulky bird resting on the back of a colorful lawn chair. There was no sign of red anywhere on the horizon, the grass of the field beyond the house dancing in the summer breeze. Alex was confused. Was any of that real?

61


The Anomaly

4. The Loop

I

t was clear to Melissa that something was wrong with Alex. Aside from his gaping mouth, his face was pale, almost sickly.

What little hair Alex had was tousled, his blue eyes trapped within a sleepless red. “You ok?” “Where’s Jen?” Alex asked, his words apprehensive, eyes sifting over the room. Alex was unable to distinguish if this was reality. Had he stood before a flaming cyclone with Jen just moments before? There was also the dilemma of not knowing whether or not the present moment was real. Perhaps both were dreams and he was unconscious somewhere. “No clue. She wasn’t in bed when I got 62


R.B. Winters up this morning.� Jen and Melissa had been sharing a bed since Melissa had moved in two years prior. Not to say there weren’t many nights with one of them on the couch, but Melissa always ended up back in their shared room, the couch had too many lumps to allow for comfortable sleep. Neither had ever thought of converting the second living room into a bedroom. Rather it sat at the front of the house with a worn out piano and cherry wood tables collecting dust, Jen visiting once a month to wind the grandfather clock that watched over the space from the corner. The room itself was out of place in relation to the rest of the house. With the intricate wall hangings about the massive single-pane window, immense gold leaf mirror above the piano, and the tangerine paint on the walls, this looked to be a parlor for entertaining extravagant guests. Meanwhile, the rest of the house looked like an overused motel that had been poorly cared for over the years. Not that Jen 63


The Anomaly didn’t do her best to keep things clean, but you can only blow out walls and windows, burn holes in the floor with potions, and put it all back together so many times. Melissa had pondered the untouched room on several occasions. She had always stayed out for fear that there would be some sort of hell to pay if she were to be caught inside. Alex stared at Melissa; desperately searching for something that would tell him this was real. Melissa felt her face flush, the uncomfortable sensation of being stared at without reason. “What are you looking at?” Alex continued to stare, silently examining. “Seriously, what?” “Can you hear me?” Melissa looked at Alex as if he had lost his mind, spoon in her mouth she replied, “Um… yeah.” 64


R.B. Winters “No. I mean… can you hear my thoughts?” Alex asked. “I’m not a psychic.” Alex shook his head, knowing now he wasn’t in a dream. “Are you sure you’re ok?” “I don’t know what I am,” he replied. “Can you tell me something?” Melissa shrugged, her typical response. Her natural instinct was to be difficult with Alex. Though it generally caused an argument, there was a small thrill to be found. “Has anything happened lately that you can remember, maybe something in a dream? Like… a dream of me dying, or something about Jen… or Meg?” Melissa rolled the question around for a short second. “Nope. I’ve pretty much just been having the same old dreams I always have. You know, things like demons and vampires 65


The Anomaly attacking in the middle of the night. No big deal,” she smiled shrewdly. “Something’s wrong, but I don’t know what. I feel like I’m in a daze… or a spell maybe.” Melissa’s interest was firmly peaked for the first time during their conversation. Alex noted the gleam in her eye that came from the change in topic. There were traits in Melissa that leaned toward the darker side of magic. Her knack for absorbing information from books, something most wizards were unable to do even after proper training; a small thing Alex was afraid could easily fly out of control. “What kind of spell?” Alex hesitated, “I woke yesterday… maybe it was today. I woke and I was here, alone. I woke up and the sky was red and Atticus’ shop… had vanished… and Jen. Jen was someone else.” “Alex… you should drink less,” Melissa 66


R.B. Winters suggested, quickly becoming less interested at the mention of Jen’s name. “I’m not crazy, or drunk.” Melissa gave a half-hearted grin that reeked of skepticism. “Maybe I am crazy,” Alex sighed. Then it occurred; Atticus’ shop. If he were dreaming all of this the shop would still be standing. “We have to go see Atticus!” Grabbing Melissa by the hand, Alex yanked her from the table and her breakfast. The bowl of cereal jolting from it’s stationary position, crashing upon the floor with a loud slop sound that someone was going to be forced to clean up later. Melissa was drug behind Alex, barley staying on her feet. Stripped pajama bottoms, not the best match for running as they slipped beneath Melissa’s fumbling feet. Alex stopped, the car, the red car he had stolen was still parked in the driveway. 67


The Anomaly “Get in.� Melissa threw her hair back to free her face, climbing into the passenger side of the car; fastening her seat belt as Alex peeled out of the driveway. The car bounced wildly as they came down the driveway, well above the suggested speed limit. Skidding into a turn, the car hurdled towards Practical Magic. Keeping his fingers crossed as they came upon the beginning of Fifth Street, the same green sign with the bruised silver pole beckoning. Alex slowed the car, creeping along the street slowly, glancing at the houses to his left. Someone shuffled past a window; another woman was on her knees in a colorful floral outfit pulling at weeds in her flowerbed. Coming to the block of brick buildings that were like something from another century, Alex was dumbfounded to find the building that housed the magic shop still standing just as he had remembered it. Coming to a stop in front of the shop, Alex and Melissa exited the car. 68


R.B. Winters “But… it was gone,” he cried lowly. “Looks like it’s here to me.” “Mel, don’t taunt me right now.” Alex walked up the cracking concrete steps, grasping the handle of the door. The tarnished handle was cold to the touch. Pushing it open the rusted bell above the door rang as if nothing had ever happened. Stepping into the shop, Alex felt his heart stop beating as he saw who stood behind the counter. Melissa came up the steps behind him, “Move, please!” she hissed, pushing her way into the store. Alex didn’t understand her non-reaction to the man that stood before them. “You’re… dead,” groaned Alex. Alex looked at what he thought to be his deceased friend. Atticus looked the same as he always had. His face carved with craters from his days of vampire hunting, a table leg with an unpleasant clawed paw 69


The Anomaly attached to his right knee. His clothing the same worn and dusty rags he always toted. “Na tha’ I c’n t’ll,” replied Atticus, his harsh accent coming across thicker than ever. Alex had always had a difficult time understanding Atticus. His solution had been to put a charm on his ears that translated Atticus’ speech into something audible. A charm Alex had been rather proud of himself for concocting at the time. “No, I saw your body in the back. Amen killed you and left you for me to find. He came for the amulet.” “Al’x, ya ok?” “No. No, I’m not ok. I am far from ok.” “He’s been acting like this all morning,” piped Melissa. “Yar needin’ me t’ mix ya sumth’n up, Al’x?” Atticus asked, looking concerned, visible even through his worn face. “I might need you to put me in an 70


R.B. Winters asylum,” responded Alex, dropping on the stool that sat in front of Atticus’ sales counter. The counter itself was as worn out as Atticus. Green paint was poorly spread across brittle wood, chipping in several places around the edges, completely worn off the top; fraying wood exposed. Melissa was wandering about the aisles of tin shelves with their colorful assortment of bottles. A touch of this and that, several powerful mixing ingredients you’d be hard pressed to find even in the best shops of Terra. Alex often questioned how Atticus came by these rare and nearly illegal treasures. Atticus always had a fanciful story to back up his merchandise, Alex knew them to be lies, but there was no harm that would come from the shops selling of these ingredients. Mortals were only drawn to the specialty items Atticus had charmed and set in a back corner; preventing any of the real powders, potions, and elixirs from falling into untrained hands. 71


The Anomaly Alex shuffled out of the shop, back to the car, leaving Melissa to continue browsing a collection of antique amulets. Atticus kept a close watch, convinced she would help herself to something from his assortment of treasures. Alex sat in the driver’s seat, doors locked, cupping his face with nervous hands. “What’s happening to me?” Alex muttered, feeling he was plummeting into insanity. Alex felt inclined to peel the pale flesh back from his face in an effort to feel the present moment. Amen had murdered Atticus months earlier. Alex wasn’t sure of Amen’s true intentions, but it appeared he was trying to send a message regarding his new surge of power. Amen had left Atticus’ decaying body behind as a warning to Alex, this he remembered vividly. At least Alex thought he could remember seeing the body lying on the floor between the crates of Practical Magic’s storage room. Had that been a terrible dream, and nothing more? Lowering his hands Alex once again found 72


R.B. Winters himself out of breath. Nearly throwing himself from his seat, Alex’s body tightened from the shock. He was sitting in the living room on the green and white-checkered couch that Jen had replaced. Grasping the cushions below him for some kind of support, Alex burrowed his fingernails into flesh of the linen. “Hey, Alex,” piped Jen, sounding her jaunty self. Alex didn’t waste a moment, jolting from the couch. Terrifying Jen he clasped her shoulders tightly, knocking the stir stick she had been holding into the boiling cauldron on the table. Familiar flames of orange and blue licking the sides of the cauldron, leaving the wood of the table unharmed. Bubbles of black and yellow excitedly leapt over the scorched rim, sizzling into the air as they diffused. “Have you had any dreams lately?” “Like… what?” Jen asked, her face pale; how Alex knew her best. 73


The Anomaly “Dreams about me dying? Dreams about Atticus dying? Dreams about red skies… tornadoes… Meg?” Jen was terrified by Alex’s rant. Playing nervously with her hands, she answered cautiously, “No.” Alex dropped his head in frustration, squeezing Jen a bit harder in the vain hope that a real response would be issued. “Where’s Melissa?” Alex asked, needing to have dual confirmation of his madness. “Who?” “What?” Alex brought his eyes to meet Jen’s. “You don’t know Melissa?” Jen shook her head; afraid Alex would topple her roaring cauldron by way of rage. It wouldn’t have been the first time. Jen was surprised, even relieved, as Alex pulled away. Escaping to his bedroom, Alex locked the door behind him; fetching his prized 74


R.B. Winters possession from the rickety table that had been through its fair share of abuse. Solid, untarnished black leather flawlessly composed the cover of Alex’s book. This was no ordinary book of spells, but a compilation of everything Alex and all of his counterparts, a useful tool for any wizard or power hungry warlock. This was not how Alex remembered the book; white marks where the color had been stripped from the leather were missing, or the marks he may have dreamt were missing. Jen had once poured liquid life on the book in an effort to revive Alex; under the impression he had succumb to death. She quickly learned a valuable lesson about liquid life. Not only does the powerful silver liquid bring wizards back from the grave through their possessions, but it also brings along everyone else that has come in contact with the object and passed on. In this instance, Jen and Melissa had been overwhelmed with a swarm of colorful witches and wizards looking for answers. Alex could recall Jen telling him the story; he knew 75


The Anomaly this had happened. Had Jen found a way to mend the book? Pulling back the cover with caution, the pages were filled with spells, stories and directions. Thumbing through the pages, everything was in tact. Chapters on devilish poisons, helpful charms, and a few entertaining jinxes. Thousands of pages all decorated in curved letters, some dancing about, fading away, a few that even dripped from their places. Then something occurred to Alex, he had power. If this was the time before Melissa, then it was also the time before Meg had claimed his powers for her own. Alex looked into the back of his mind with nervous anticipation, picturing his book lifting from his lap and into the vacant air. It took only a second, the spell book of smooth black leather rose into the air, hanging above Alex’s head. Pulling it back to his knees, Alex again turned the pages, searching for something that might explain his predicament. This was one area where the book was obnoxiously helpful. Through an 76


R.B. Winters ingenious charm of Trejun’s doing, Alex’s book was able to match the reader’s thoughts to potential pages of use. The book furiously turned its aging yellow pages. Time Travel blared from in the heading, the letters rearranging themselves; the book’s initial reply to Alex’s unspoken thoughts. Alex ran his eyes down the page; unfortunately none of this seemed to fit what he was experiencing. Sitting the book on his unmade bed, Alex, glanced up. There, sitting upon the blue shelf that was built out of the wall was the Pharaoh’s Eye. “Come,” Alex commanded. The colorful wooden headed lifted itself from the shelf gliding gently down to Alex, coming to a rest within his open hands. “Meg,” he instructed, a flare behind his distant eyes. A pinhole of light came from the center of the forehead, the wood separating around the edges until a glowing ring encompassed 77


The Anomaly the head; the top lifting back. A misty blue rolled out in flares, Alex lowered his face into the fog. Something that was comparable to breathing beneath murky water enveloped his nostrils, a deep cold pressing at the bare flesh that had intruded. Opening his eyes, Alex could see Meg. This wasn’t the apartment she had made into her temporary home during her stay in the Mortal Realm. The room was constructed of gray-stone walls, and a wooden floor that looked as if it were moments away from collapsing into whatever was below. From the walls, lengthy tapestries of red had been positioned. They reached from the unseen ceiling, down to the decrepit floor. There were no windows, no self-portraits; if this really was Meg’s home then it was definitely temporary. Never before had she inhabited a place without infecting every corner and crack with her presence. Dark lived in the corners of this place, a figure emerging with hastened steps. A woman of incredible beauty stepped into the light. Long brown hair gave the 78


R.B. Winters illusion of kindness, a face that could kill with a single glance, and two blue eyes that were hard to pull away from. Meg paced around the room through her frustration. “WHY?” she screeched. “Why is it so hard to do this simple little task?” Alex hadn’t noticed before, but two servants crouched in the corner at the edge of the darkness. The twosome shook from their tremendous fear of their master. They had patches of long black hair, the rest missing, perhaps from Meg’s angry hand. The skin that remained on the faces of the two servants appeared to be badly burned. “All I ask is that you bring me the Primary, and you can’t even do that. What’s the point of keeping you if you can’t do anything for me?” The two servants apologized and pleaded at Meg’s feet in a tongue Alex couldn’t decipher. Clawing at their own flesh through fear and anxiety, drops of blood appearing on the already filth laden floor. 79


The Anomaly Alex pulled his head from the Pharaoh’s Eye, a blast of warmth attacking his face. Clearly he had traveled back in time. This was a point before Meg had come to the conclusion that the Primary was Melissa. Perhaps this was a second chance for Alex to save Melissa and himself from Meg’s wrath. All he had to do was stop jumping though time when he closed his eyes.

80


R.B. Winters

5. Starting Over Yet Again

A

n orb of polished silver stood in the middle of the vast gray room. Alex lay nearest it; inside his head a

short film seemed to be playing itself through interrupted distortion. Alex watched the orb appear out of thin air, rolling along the blank floor; coming to a stop with a gentle bump against his foot. He picked the object up, examining it closely; it was different from most orbs. This particular one seemed to be composed of something from the Mortal Realm. It was solid, and heavier than it looked to be, the outside was smooth: Alex could make out his bent reflection in it. Alex rolled the orb around in his hand looking for something to identify its 81


The Anomaly purpose. The tiny sphere began to shudder as if it were trying to distract Alex’s prying thoughts, a small rip forming in the outermost skin of the silver surface. A black glow radiated from within: Alex thrust the orb from his hand. The air rippling as the orb directed itself to the cold floor. The clink of a pin touching down was heard as the orb made contact, Alex’s eyes turned black as darkness consumed the room. Alex felt like he was treading through water, his body animated in slow motion. A shuttering of images flashed against his nearly closed eyes. It seemed the effects of the orb were taking a toll on everyone within the First’s chamber.

Anneliese listened as Alex paraded he and Jen’s impressive wizard lineage before her Council. She could see Philip in the distance behind Alex with a hand in his pocket. A glint of silver caught her eye as Alex stepped back. Anneliese lost the sound of Alex’s voice, her interest becoming consumed by the object of Philip’s 82


R.B. Winters affection. The mouths of everyone in the room suddenly fell open at whatever it was Alex had said. Philip jumped to his feet, his face red, that earth-colored hair remaining firmly in place atop his head. Anneliese kept her sapphire eyes firmly attached to Philip’s hand that remained in his pocket, now tightly gripping whatever he was concealing. Anna grasped Jen by the shoulder smiling broadly, Anneliese focusing on Philip again, in time to witness his hand ripping from the pocket. Speed made the object nearly invisible as Philip tossed it before anyone could focus their attention on him properly. Silver flew through the air towards Alex. Anneliese and her fellow Council members all made to shout defense curses… it was too late. The room seemed to be liquefying. It was difficult to see, everything was beginning to run together. Sounds of those around Anneliese crying out for help; burst of furious light coming in black… red… black again. A crimson light overtook the chaos, beaming through the blinding air from 83


The Anomaly multiple directions, cut into pieces by the blur that was consuming their eyes. Anneliese was taken from her feet, a heavy force attacking the back of her knees. Cries faded out, replaced by a tingling in the back of her head; dropping to the floor Anneliese felt the searing pain of the circular gray podium as it cut into her forehead.

“Melissa.” Jen’s chest burned, rage bubbling inside her: Feelings of contempt and betrayal consuming her as Alex revealed his living relative. Jen made to stand up as a thin strip of light produced itself between she and Alex. The sight, silence sweeping over the room, distracted everyone. From it dropped an orb: A silver sphere that bounced a few times before rolling against Alex’s foot where it halted. The orb was cracked in several places as if it had been slammed against something 84


R.B. Winters with such force that no mortal could have been responsible. Jen’s emotions retreated momentarily back into her blonde head. Alex gazed down as a vision intruded upon Jen’s mind. Light burst from the top of the orb as Alex bent to retrieve it. Without hesitation the orb swallowed Alex and the others in a swirling mess. Not a scream for help, or fear-drenched eye was to be seen. Such a sudden and unexpected reaction on the orbs part was a surprise to say the least. Jen stood at the center of a vortex that pulled and stretched everything in the room until it was left blank with the gray light that came from nowhere. Jen was left alone in the First Council’s desolate chamber. Silence hovered around the freshly emptied room. Thoughts of Meg danced around Jen’s mind. The vision of Meg and Alec inside Alex’s personal chamber was all she could focus on. What was happening, what had just happened, it was connected to Meg in some way; Jen knew this. Jen’s mind clouded as the toxic light 85


The Anomaly that had swallowed the others returned, aiming itself in her direction. Jen fell to her knees, her mind filling with a static that was incomprehensible. There was a loud sucking sound as if a wind tunnel had suddenly sprouted about her ears. The silver orb taunted Jen from the center of the room: Light emanating from its round top, illuminating the fog colored room. Only the timer of a bomb could have been more sudden, the orb self destructed into a thousand razor sharp pieces; a symphony of rain as they crashed upon the floor in waves. The Council Chamber once again was the victim of forced silence.

Anneliese reached for the stand that had so brutally attacked her when she lost her footing. Gripping the edge of the semicircular stand with her pale fingers, her feet again standing proper to the floor. A thin red line covered the upper part of her forehead beneath that still tightly pulled blonde hair. Pieces of the twist Anneliese had formed her hair into had given way in 86


R.B. Winters all the commotion. Her overall appearance was in disarray jacket pulled back over her shoulders; not a site often seen with the amount of control Anneliese extracted over herself. Anneliese’s fellow Council members were in no better shape. Zara’s fall had been broken when she landed upon Som; unfortunately his nose took the better part of the impact. Mortal wounds were rare for wizards and the sight of this much blood made them all uneasy. Wizard battles usually resulted in death, not bloodshed; that was a mortal and demon attribute. Nastron looked better than the rest. He had fallen flat on his back, not allowing for anyone to slump over him. Ashlynn’s blonde hair had some how been caught beneath her hand in the descent to the floor, a large chunk of it remained there now that she was upright again. Anna felt semi refreshed from her catnap, having only slumped back in her chair. Vectoria was not so rested. Philip 87


The Anomaly had fallen against her, crumbling two of the legs on the small wooden chair beneath her. Philip was gouged in the chest as the splintered wood clawed at him. Vectoria could feel a large lump on the back of her head where she had impacted the floor. Through it all, Jen was the only one that appeared to be completely untouched. Other than the fact that her hair was wind blown about her face, she appeared unharmed. Jen sat upright in the rickety chair, not having fallen out of it to begin with, her knees still tingling from a fall that had only happened in what must have been her imagination; though it was still vividly present. The memory was clear, but it felt as though she hadn’t lost consciousness. “Is this one of your parlor tricks, Alexander?” Anneliese shouted, rage filling her crackling voice. Alex pulled himself from the floor. A flaming red imprint left on his back where he had cradled the silver orb that was now scattered about in pieces. 88


R.B. Winters “You think I did this?” Anneliese smoothed her untidy hair, “Ashlynn, Zara, take the girl and examine her thread,” she ordered. Jen’s eyes grew to twice their usual size as the two unnaturally similar blonde witches rushed upon her. “Som, Nastron, take Philip.” “Take me where?” Philip asked, suddenly fearing for his life. “To examine your thread,” Anneliese snapped, as if this hadn’t been obvious. “On what evidence do you have the right?” “I have the power to do as I wish as long as it is for the good of the Council.” “Come,” Zara instructed, her voice more monotone than the expression on her face. Jen rose to her feet, Ashlynn grabbing her by the arm. Jen was led into the gray depths of the chamber behind the wooden 89


The Anomaly chair she had been sitting in, glancing viciously over her shoulder until Alex was no longer in sight. “ALEXANDER!” roared Anneliese. Alex had somehow lost himself as they rushed Jen away, ignoring Anneliese’s first two pleas for his attention. Alex turned to face her just as an explosion of green light erupted behind him. Spinning around to see the cause, he found Nastron lying on the floor: His face black as ash, his hair and clothing singed. Philip thrust his fist forward once more as if making to hit Som from a considerable distance. Faster than a blinking eye, an orb of green formed around his clenched fist propelling itself through the air towards Som. Throwing himself aside, Som, toppled over Alex; the two landing in a heap on the floor. “I will not have my thread pulled by a second rate witch who would rather see a mortal heading the Council than a true bred wizard.” With those words a black portal tore 90


R.B. Winters into the room beside Philip. It dripped at the edges as if it were slowly melting, massive globs of black landing on the ground, sizzling as they did. Philip rushed head first into the ominous portal leaving behind only a tar colored puddle as it quickly closed behind him. “Do you know how long it took to get rid of the last mess that was left behind when a portal was conjured out of rage?” asked Anneliese, not wanting of an answer; rubbing her forehead out of frustration. “Alexander, your punishment still stands. If this girl is whom you say, as I assume she is, then I will expect you to help her on her way. You are however… banished to the Mortal Realm until another hearing can be scheduled to determine your future within the wizarding community.” Anneliese was harsh, but even she seemed to have a hard time administering the sentence. Feelings and personal thoughts were never to be placed before law; that was her belief. Alex turned to leave, expecting a portal to jump up behind him to allow for 91


The Anomaly a quick exit; none of the First would want to gaze upon a banished wizard. “One more thing.” Alex turned back. “I don’t want anyone finding out about Philip not taking over as the Head of Council. The upheaval in Terra is already nearing an uncontrollable point with radicals. I don’t need Accadia falling apart as well,” Anneliese wasn’t making a request, but a final order. She drew a circle in the air with two fingers a few times, opening a portal for Alex to exit through, taking some satisfaction in his disgrace. Alex was welcomed by silence upon exiting the portal; the Council Chamber was drenched in a mocking silence. The Council members that had been left behind during his hearing had all gone about tending to their own affairs, not one curious about the outcome of the trial. Alex was respected, but never had he been liked. A quick thinker and a harsh ruler, Alex traded the friend card in order to provide stability. 92


R.B. Winters Alex examined the rows of pews that lined the isle before him. He took in the mortal craftsmanship of the dark benches, their intricate grooves and smooth curves. Alex shifted to look upon the stand where he had formerly presided over the Council. He came to the realization that this may be the last time he would ever step foot in this place. There was no way to be sure he would recover the powers he lost to Meg, and scheduling retrials with the First seemed to take an eternity; Anneliese wasn’t interested in changing her mind, convinced it showed weakness. Truth be told, it was a possibility, even a probability, that Alex would age and eventually die in the Mortal Realm before his case was revisited by the First. Alex released a sigh weighted heavily with sadness and loss as he pushed against the great wooden doors that guarded the entrance of the Council Chamber. This was the first time that the doors had not responded to his presence and parted at his approached. The weight of the doors was more 93


The Anomaly than Alex had known, requiring all his mortal strength to pry them open enough to push through. The massive doors pulled shut behind Alex, a final shove out the door to complete his humiliation. Much to Alex’s surprise, slumped on the floor was an unconscious Melissa. Melissa could hear Alex’s voice coming from somewhere in the distance. Lips made of stone; unable to call back to him, left Melissa in silence. Something began to press at her sides, shrouded in darkness, Melissa’s neck lulled about. Pulling from a semi-lucid place like a fish emerging from water, Melissa clasped Alex’s arms, gasping for air. “What happened?” Melissa stared at Alex, confusion embracing her. The chair beside her was familiar, but where were they? Melissa’s mind furiously connected the pieces of the puzzle to restore her blurred memory. “Meg… was here.” Melissa recalled her twisted smile. 94


R.B. Winters “What are you talking about? Meg couldn’t have been here, she doesn’t have the authority; this is a protected realm.” Opening her mouth to dispute, she paused. “I dunno,” confessed Melissa. She remembered experiencing the shock of seeing Meg when she emerged from within the Council Chamber. Melissa tried to gather her thoughts, Alex noticing the similarities in how she was feeling and how he had felt after the silver orb had exploded during his hearing. Melissa appeared disoriented above all else. “Where’s Jen?” Melissa asked, trying to focus her thoughts. “The First has her.” “Why?” “They’re going to pull her thread,” replied Alex, pulling Melissa to her feet. Unintentionally holding on far longer than was necessary, an awkward silence occurring. 95


The Anomaly “Why?” Melissa squeaked, her eyes shifting to the ground. “They have to make sure I’m not lying… or wrong.” “Wrong about what?” Melissa asked, her mind searching for what Alex was really thinking. “I’ll let her explain when they release her,” said Alex, heading down the corridor to escape the tension that was building. Melissa followed a few steps behind, her arms folded as if trying to provide some sense of security. The white corridor was empty, except for the black tiles that were integrated into the floor. Echoes radiating from their steps as they pattered across the floor made the corridor feel endless. A tendril of gray light suddenly appeared in front of Melissa. Alex turned to see the portal unfold itself. He stepped around it to where Melissa stood. “Go ahead,” he said, motioning Melissa forward. 96


R.B. Winters She stepped into the portal; Alex following close behind her, afraid it would close before he could pass through. Alex exited the portal, pausing to look around. “Melissa?” he muttered, glancing around his bedroom. The doorknob clicked as someone turned it from the other side. Alex turned to face Melissa, knowing that Jen was most likely still busy with the First. Alex was nearly toppled by the shock that coursed through his body when he saw her standing in the doorway. “Meg?” “You were expecting someone else?” “Well… I wasn’t expecting you,” Alex confessed. “Then it must just be your lucky day.” Meg strutted into the room, a knee length green dress seductively draped around her slim figure. Alex suddenly realized that he had 97


The Anomaly jumped through time once again. Pulling at the collar of his white shirt he checked for the burn. Holding his eyes closed before peering: There it was, the red and black burn left when Meg had extracted his powers. Falling back onto the bed, Alex momentarily forgot Meg was in the room. ‘This has to be a spell,’ he thought. “I know this must be a bit of a shock for you, but it’s for the best.” “What?” Alex piped. “It’s for the best. Me taking your powers and you becoming my… captive.” “That’s not what you said.” Meg paced around the foot of the unmade bed. “What are you talking about?” Meg looked puzzled, even through her beauty. “This is you. YOU DID THIS!” Alex shouted, rising up. Meg shoved him back, sending Alex head 98


R.B. Winters over heels across the bed that ran diagonal, slicing the bedroom into uneven sections. “Watch yourself little man, or you might just wind up dead,” Meg growled, her nostrils flaring. She spun around in a huff, her dark hair trailing behind her as the door slammed itself shut. ‘This is wrong, this is all wrong,’ Alex screamed inside his head, his eyes darting around the room that wasn’t truly his. Meg had been more concerned about the love they had once shared above anything else when this had happened. This wasn’t the past, and if it was then there was something seriously wrong. Looking around the fabricated bedroom, Alex noticed that everything that had been missing when Meg had originally imprisoned him was still present. This appeared to be part of a memory that had been poorly reconstructed, perhaps even invented to make up for unknown gaps. 99


The Anomaly “I just need to get myself out.” Alex paced the room for a moment, needing a clear mind to devise an escape plan. Whenever his eyes were closed, or he was distracted for a split second, he found himself somewhere he hadn’t been. Clenching his eyes tightly together, Alex thought of where he needed to be, with the hope that it would persuade the charm he was under to release him. Opening his frustrated and fearful eyes, Alex was still in his imaginary room. Past the point of being rational, Alex firmly gripped the doorknob, giving it a sharp yank. Meg had been sure to lock the door in his original memory, but it was conveniently left open in this place; perhaps Alex had shifted through time once more. Cautiously he walked into the living room. There was a warm sensation coming from his lip, touching it Alex saw red. Blood dripped from his face, onto his already stained shirt. The living room looked as if a bomb had gone off. The 100


R.B. Winters furniture was on end and in pieces. He had only moved slightly farther ahead in time, to the point directly after his encounter with Meg. Running a hand over his face and back through his almost nonexistent blonde hair, Alex gave out a loud cry of frustration. He turned violently, throwing an irreverent fist into the wall. The pain that shot through his hand was very real, as was the blood that dripped from his knuckles. Alex wracked his brain trying to understand, then it clicked, the house was an enchantment. It was a very illustrious charm that prevented anyone from locating him. It was so strong that even in a memory it was able to partially block the charm that was tormenting him at this time. Originally, Alex had escaped the house by discovering the weak spot in the spell located within the window of the dining room. It was unavoidable that at some point the memory would be forced to extinguish itself in an effort to be historically accurate. This time Alex could be prepared 101


The Anomaly in the fact that he knew there was an end point, and it might just be possible to use it to his advantage. Rushing back into his pretend bedroom, Alex searched. Looking for the only thing he knew could trap and hold an immense amount of power. Knocking bottles from shelves and tossing books to the floor, he searched. The room was quickly becoming quiet the mess as boiling liquids of all colors spread across the floor, burning holes that created a lovely view of the basement through the long slats that made up the floor. “YES!” exclaimed Alex, holding in his hand a small black box. He had once held the same box in his hands, preparing for Meg’s attack, but now the box was next to useless in its defensive capabilities. The tiny box was home to a raging storm that would have been enough to temporarily distort Meg’s powers in an effort to attack her first. However, Alex had never managed to use the contents and he wasn’t sure exactly what would happen if it 102


R.B. Winters were opened in a memory. Crouching down on the floor, Alex sat the box on the bed as far away as he could place it and still be able to reach the silent monster. Nervously he pulled at the sides of the box; with ease it slid apart, tossing the black cube, Alex ducked beneath the bed in preparation for the onslaught of events. Clenching his eyes, he listened; there was silence. Slowly raising his eyes to the level of the box, Alex peered over the edge of the bed. The black cube was shaking and bouncing across the voluptuous comforter. Without warning a small puff of gray smoke erupted from the box, dispersing into the air; leaving the container empty. Alex was embarrassed by his fear of the box that apparently no longer housed any of its former power. The little box was a prison; Alex was hoping that it could absorb the power left behind after the charm that held the house together dispersed. Retrieving the object 103


The Anomaly that now held his hope, Alex placed it on the windowsill where he knew the house would begin to come apart. All that was left for Alex to do was wait. Hours passed, the sun seemed to sit in the same spot nestled near the mountaintops beyond the forest. The sky remained a beautiful shade of red with traces of pink and orange scattered about. Alex was growing weary. Tired of waiting for the house to destroy itself, it was time to take control of the situation. Alex ventured back to his bedroom, looking for the bamboo pole that had freed him from the prison in the original memory. Much to his surprise the pole was not where it should have been. If the pole wasn’t in the room, then there was no way for him to advance time as he had done before. Alex felt frustrated by his lack of control over what was happening to him. He hunched down beside the bed, nestling his face into his clammy palms. There was no way of knowing if the charm that had caused him 104


R.B. Winters to loop through time would leave him trapped inside the more powerful charm of the house. Blackness enveloped him as he closed his blue eyes, trying to clear his mind. Unable to stop the thoughts that were pouring over him, Alex pondered what the time loop might hold for him. Where would he end up? Would he be a powerful wizard again, or remain a mortal? Would he wind up in some godforsaken place, or back in his home? Alex’s mind spun faster than it had while his eyes were open. He couldn’t wait any longer, the seconds felt like days. Throwing his eyes open, Alex peered from between his fingers. This place was new. This was unlike any place he had ever been before. Walls were carved from jagged gray rocks. There was next to no light in this place; black was all that could be seen in the distance. Alex felt cold, lost, and alone. A pool of silver water sat in a corner. Crawling towards it, Alex felt as if something were pressing down on him with 105


The Anomaly such force that he could not stand up. The clothing that draped him was ragged and rotting. Seams were bursting and barely covering his pale, thinning body. Alex’s eyes faded in and out, draped by his matted hair. The ghostly figure was nothing of the wizard he had once been. Gazing into the pool a fog shifted, revealing Melissa. She cowered, trembling beside a man that Alex had never seen before. The two of them were covered in fresh scratches and dirt, as if they had gone through a long battle together. The two of them jumped, something crashing beside them. It was impossible to tell where they were, or what it was they were hiding beneath. The fog returned to cover the silver pool, blocking Melissa from sight. Alex meant to reach for her, but he was unable to raise his arm. The fog slowly retreated once more to reveal Jen. Not the Jen that Alex remembered, but a strong and confident witch. Her blonde hair had grown much longer than he had known, and there was a lively 106


R.B. Winters color in her face. Her eyes were a powerful blue that commanded attention. She was different in a way that only time could be responsible for. It appeared as if she were barking out orders. The place she was in had so much light radiating about that everything was drenched in yellow and unrecognizable. Alex pulled his fading blue eyes away from the pool. He slowly laid himself out on the rough stones beneath him, trying desperately to find comfort. There was no knowing where he was, but Alex knew in this moment he was lost to time.

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The Anomaly by R.B. Winters (Preview)