(Jacques-Louis David, 'Mars Desarme par Venus.)
Tim Norton woke with a start. Staring wildly around the room, nothing was familiar.
It was happening again. An unknown woman stirred beside him, mumbling in her sleep. A trickle of drool came out of her mouth. The pillow looked wet beside her face, and Tim was in a whole heap of trouble because he had a funny feeling this wasn’t nineteen-ninety-eight any more.
He eased out of bed, with his heart beating hard in his chest.
No clothes! Nowhere could he see anything that resembled his clothes, or the clothes of any other male.
A younger woman, sleeping on a couch at the other side of the room, sat up, yawned, looked at the shutters, and then she looked at Tim.
Tim stood there in a total funk as the servant screamed bloody murder, and while he couldn’t really blame her, considering he was a naked man in a private bed chamber, it didn’t seem fair
because it really wasn’t his fault.
“I would like to know how he did that!” Doctor Panjay Sumalamalon was understandably upset. “People don’t just disappear into thin air!”
Nurse May Dowlings huddled beside the doctor. Her head was hanging, but why should she feel guilty? She wasn’t the one who let him out.
“He was right here ten minutes ago.” She wasted no time seizing the moral high ground. “And that damned door was locked, as you yourself can testify.”
The doctor, on Nurse Dowlings insistence, had in fact checked the lock upon seeing the picture in the monitor—an empty bed, some disheveled sheets and no one in the adjoining bathroom. With their swiveling camera, snug behind its plastic bubble in the ceiling, there was no way for Tim to hide around the corner.
Reality mocked him, and he sure didn’t like it very much.
“There has to be some explanation. Check the corridor cameras and the security log.”
It sounded like a warning, or an accusation, and she wasn’t going to put up with that, not even from the great Panjay Sumalamalon.
“Good. We'll do that. And then you can sit down at your little desk and give me a written apology.”
“Guards! Seize him!” The husband shouted, red-faced and feeling at his side for a stiletto or a poniard or something.
“Oh, J-J-Jesus.” Tim stammered in dismay.
Two colorfully-garbed and rather beefy young men strode forward, and when Tim saw the tip of the spear coming down to face level he just naturally bolted.
There was nowhere to go. Except for the bed, the couch, a window, a door and a lot of tapestries and curtains and wall hangings, there wasn’t too much in there to hide behind. The maid was shrieking, the husband was hollering and cursing, and the guards were threatening and poking with their weapons. The second guard had a wavy-looking sword and seemed to have a pretty good idea of how to use it as he jabbed and swiped at Tim.
Tim tripped and went down, and the guard with the spear went right over him, falling heavily. There was a terrifying moment when he thought the second guard was going to chop his head off. He rolled away with alacrity, with a sudden shriek ringing in his ears.
The guards stood there, gazing in terror as the master of the house died horribly, staring up at them from a half-sideways position on the floor with the butt end of about a six foot long spear sticking out of his chest.
Tim grabbed the sword from the second guard’s limp hand and stepped in close.
“This is over right now, buster.” He drove the thing into the man’s guts just below the lower ribcage on his right side.
Gurgling and screeching, the man fell at Tim’s feet.
The other guard ran from the room.
"I have to stay alive until I get so tired…that I just fall asleep.” It was his only way out of this place. "Hopefully, I will have some kind of a crazy dream.”
Tim stepped in close and she tipped her head back for one final kiss.
“Thank you, thank you, oh, golden stranger.” She moaned as if in despair. ‘Whatever happens, it was worth it. And these guys were just pigs anyway.”
“Yeah, whatever.” Tim spun on one heel, and dove out the window.
Luckily for the impulsive Tim, they had a moat or something down there.
Three doctors, four security men, two lawyers, eight cops and eleven other staff members watched the recording in ultra slow-motion.
“Well. The man actually disappears on screen.” Stone was the night janitor.
He was a well-read college boy who could be pressed into service in an emergency.
“Interesting. I’d like to meet him if you ever get him back.”
Stone was leaning on his mop. About forty eyes turned and stared at him and he blushed.
“So, um, I’ll just get back to work then.” He slowly began to back and nudge his way out of the press.
“You have to admit, it’s a pretty darned good trick.” Sanjay sighed, rubbing his left hand around in small circles in the area of his mouth and chin. "And here we all thought poor Tim was crazy."
For the fiftieth time, they watched as Tim’s body just sort of faded from the bed, where he was peacefully sleeping by any standard of judgment. The bedclothes dropped and Tim wasn’t there anymore. He was just gone.
“This is not happening.” Constable Brewster was adamant, tired as he was at this hour of the night.
Everyone called him ‘Buff’ for some reason.
“Who wants to write this report?” Constable Willikens, a new officer, gave the same sort of initial impression as a side of beef hanging there on a hook, all big and hard and cold.
“I’ll do yours if you do mine.” Doctor Sumalamalon blurted it out in disbelief, and the group broke up in nervous laughter.
They were past the panic stage.
“Jesus, Christ.” Brewster was at a loss. “All we can really do, Doctor, is to take a report. I’m not even sure we can classify this as a ‘complaint.’ I guess you would call it an incident. We’ll do an incident report.”
“The tabloids will never believe this.” Panjay didn't like this at all. “They’ll think we’re putting them on. Honestly, all I can do is to document everything, and give it to you guys. This is going to drive my malpractice insurance guy buggy!”
They all made several copies of the file, wrote their own reports and notified the next of kin.
There was nothing more they could do for Tim.
Walking around a strange land at night, buck naked and soaking wet, with nothing but a sword wasn’t much fun, but it could have been worse. Tim killed the first person he found who looked about the right size and at least then he had a cloak, some sort of leg-wrappings and sandals.
“You shouldn’t have laughed, you bastard."
The body was out of sight, and there wasn’t much blood. It was mostly on the grass. The rain would soon wash it away. Tim threw some dirt from the road around on the more visible splashes and then got out of there.
Thinking it through carefully, he kept the sword, hanging it awkwardly inside of his stolen cloak and down his left leg. In a stroke of genius, he walked with a limp and hunched over. Painful as it might be, it was better than getting hacked up with swords and hatchets and things.
Tim cut straight into the woods. Almost anything was better than the two-lane cow-path that passed for a major highway in this part of the world, and in this era. Tim figured his survival and even comfort and convenience depended upon chucking all the old rules out the window, and for some strange reason, he had never felt better in his life.
“As for why all this is happening…frankly, Scarlett, I don’t give a damn." Tim weaseled through a thick growth of hawthorns.
With enough of this stuff behind him, he would feel a lot better about evading any mounted pursuit.
Tim woke up feeling all soft and warm and cozy. He wiggled his toes in sheer bliss. What a wonderful feeling to wake up and feel safe.
Morning light streamed through flimsy curtains.
“No.” This was not his bedroom.
“Good morning.” Someone spoke and Tim’s heart almost shot out of his mouth.
He sat up in a heartbeat to regard a tall, spare figure dressed in a black suit, a white shirt and a bowstring tie. The man was seated at his bedside on what looked like an old wooden Shaker chair, all spindles and things.
“Good morning.” Tim confidently swung his legs out from under the covers, which looked like real linen and a quilted comforter with tiny white points, quills ticking out here and there.
“Please don’t kill me.”
Tim paused with his feet on the floor and his hands on the edge of the bed.
“All right.” Tim looked him over.
“You were all covered in blood. You had some awful clothes on and you were sort of clutching this big old sword to your chest. I mean you no harm. You can have your things back…”
His voice trailed off as Tim nodded.
“I found you sleeping the sleep of the damned, and you wouldn’t wake up.” The dark-haired, blue-eyed man explained, or tried to explain as best he could.
He looked to be about forty-five years old.
“Thank you.” Tim was noticing that he was wearing clean pajamas, although he still felt grubby.
“You need a bath. My housekeeper, Missus Lee, will draw you one. My name is John.”
The stranger waited patiently as Tim thought it all out.
“Your things are right over there.” He beckoned at a side table near the window. “I suppose if you must go, you should maybe sneak out of town the back way, or even wait until nightfall. People would talk.”
“What do you want?”
Tim drew a long breath and let it out again. He sagged on the edge of the bed.
“I would love to hear your story.” John face lit up with a grin.
“What year is this?”
“I knew it!” John’s face was overcome with a look of pure awe.
The gentleman put his hands on his knees and dragged himself to his feet.
“Rheumatism." He went out into the hallway. “I’ll get you a drink.”
Tim nodded. Tim heard his footsteps receding and then the voice lifted in query.
“Missus Lee! Missus Lee!”
Missus Lee found clothes that fit Tim, although they were a little big. To his delight, John had an old pair of boots that fit perfectly and there was even an old Stetson for him to wear.
The two men sat on the porch, looking out over the street, wide and dusty.
“And you have no idea how this happens to you?” John was filling up notebooks at a prodigious rate, and plying Tim with questions about his adventures.
John was not so much interested in Tim’s time travelling, which he couldn't explain anyway, as he was interested in the details of the cultures he had visited.
“All I know is that I went to sleep one day and woke up in the middle of a big plain, with a cloud of dust on the horizon.” So much had happened to him in such a short time. “It was the Chaldeans, or the Hittites, or somebody.”
John shook his head in envy.
“You may find this hard to accept, but I would switch places with you in a heartbeat, if I could.” John sipped a mint julep.
“You’re welcome to it.”
They came up with a plan. John slept for a few nights beside Tim’s bed on a cot, uncomfortable as it might be, with the two men hand-cuffed together. This seemed reasonable, as the sword and the clothing stayed with Tim when he ‘moved,’ as he put it.
But it was not to be.
Tim woke up in his own bed. It was really his bed. The handcuffs and John were gone. He lay there, afraid to move, afraid to think, afraid to do anything…but he had to pee. Tim’s heart leapt, for while it was surely temporary, it was also home.
Oh, God, this was his home.
The room was chilly, as he stiffly got up and lumbered to the bathroom, looking at all the familiar things, the stereo system, the big-screen TV, and the fish tank.
There was someone in the bathroom. The noise came again.
Tim stood in the hallway, and the bathroom door was closed but he could see a crack of bright yellow light along the bottom. His jaw dropped, as normally, if anything about Tim’s life was normal, normally he lived alone.
The door opened and the light went off, but he could see just fine.
“Ah, there you are, my darling.” It was a woman dressed like Cleopatra. “We’ve been looking all over.”
She clapped her hands and a whole bunch of weird flute music started up.
“Are you hungry, my love?”
“Yeah—yeah, I’m real hungry.”
Tim rolled his eyes around, taking it all in. He noted a strange air of unreality about the place.
There was no roof, no ceiling, nothing but blue sky above. Tim looked up at the sky, and the hair stood up on the back of his neck with a cold chill of indignation. It was an awful feeling.
There were times when he felt like some plaything of the Gods, and that they were all sitting around up there watching him and laughing at all of his misfortunes.
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