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The Temporal Chapter Three by CJ Martin (Right click to download)
(If this is the first section you’ve heard, start with the Prologue Podcast)
Looking around, Sam thought he had to be in the States. The buildings up and down the street were American style with English lettering. But something was wrong. There was smoke, confusion, and a teary-eyed mother searching frantically for her child. An explosion. Screams. Some horn was blasting, building in volume and depth. Sam arched his neck in the direction of the sound. A creeping darkness encroached upon the periphery of his field of vision like an old-time photograph.
Something was terribly wrong.
Another explosion. More screams. A gaggle of people ran down the street toward him. In the distance, there was a ball of fire consuming everything in its path—as high as the sky, as wide as the buildings containing it. It grew larger heading—no, aiming—directly for Sam. His legs defied the command to move. He threw up his arms in a futile attempt to fire-proof his face.
Sam awoke with a gasp of air and labored breathing. He was in a hospital room, and through the half-curtained window, he could see it was a moonless night. A bathroom mirror light gave the room a subtle illumination—the kind that make shadows seem to be more than shadows.
He noticed there was an ancient night drawer opposite of the bathroom. The large sliding door to the room was closed. A thin, translucent bag in the trash can near the door twitched ever so slightly. There must be a draft, he thought. But then his eyes and ears made out a fan on the floor quietly circulating the air.
As his breathing returned to normal, he heard a voice to his left. A woman’s voice was speaking quickly and softly. He could only recognize scattered words here and there.
“Ikanakereba naranai—I must go…”
He turned but saw nothing.
Another voice, this time of an older man, came from the direction of the window. Sam jerked his head quickly, adjusting his eyes to the darkness. He heard one word:
Just then, the door cracked open, and he heard a third voice say, “Shitsurei shimasu.” The door slid open fully. A man very much visible walked in. The bathroom mixed its dim light with the bright hall and Sam could see it was a doctor.
“Ah, you are awake. We were very worried.”
The doctor flipped the light switch, illuminating the room and causing Sam to squint his eyes slightly.
“Doctor, wh… what’s going on? Where am I?”
“You were very lucky. Do you remember earthquake?”
Sam was unclear what happened at the beach, but, yes he nodded, it must have been an earthquake.
“It was shindo six—in the Richter scale, I don’t know, but it was big. We found you the next day. In fact, how do you say, the center of the earthquake was close where you were, maybe exactly where you were. A small hole opened under you and things fell over you. We had dogs and one of them found you. There was some fear of tsunami but it’s okay now.”
The doctor smiled quite a bit. He was very pleased that his English was being put to such good use. It was fairly rare for the doctor to have a patient with whom he could practice his English. It was a small village and the tourists were usually healthy.
“Ah, pardon me. I am Doctor Watanabe. And more importantly, you seem to be in good shape. You have some bruised ribs and mild dehydration, but considering, you are in excellent health. I’m not sure why you were out so long—I didn’t find any evidence of head trauma. Just be sure to drink plenty of water.”
Next to a pitcher on the side table was an upside-down cup. The doctor flipped it over and poured Sam a drink.
Sam took the small cup and drained it in one gulp. For a few moments, he just looked at the empty cup unable to process what had happened.
“Are you all right?” The doctor’s smile changed to a concerned frown. “Do you have any pain?”
Sam shook his head and focused his eyes and mind on the current situation. The earthquake made sense; the voices did not.
“No. Arigatou. I’m fine. Doctor, are… are there other people in this room?”
Dr. Watanabe seemed puzzled at first, but quickly stooped under the bed and obligingly peeked in the closet.
“Nope. I believe we are alone.”
“I know this sounds crazy, but I heard a woman over there and an older man at the window just before you came in.”
The doctor’s big smile returned.
“I’m sure you heard a patient in the next room. This is an old hospital. The walls are quite thin. We Japanese have a saying, ‘The walls have ears and the paper walls have eyes.’ Better not tell any secrets here!”
With that he gave a big chuckle. He told Sam to get some rest and that he would be around in the morning. A nurse would be on hand if needed. Her English wasn’t great, he said, but better than the day nurse’s.
Sam, slightly reassured, smiled back. The doctor turned off the light, and as he slipped out, he pulled the door shut. “Shitsurei shimasu,” Sam heard muffled from the hallway.
Sam closed his eyes, half expecting to hear the previous conversation continue. It didn’t, and Sam soon drifted off into a deep and pleasant sleep.
The Temporal Chapter Two by CJ Martin (Right click to download)
(If this is the first section you’ve heard, See the Prologue Podcast)
Sam’s new job would begin later in the month. This gave him time to find an apartment and, of course, time to explore Japan. The hotel concierge helped him order shinkansen—bullet train—tickets to Osaka, Kyoto, and Hiroshima. The return trip would be a scenic route back through the Hokuriku area in central Japan.
It was August, the time of the Obon festival when everyone traveled, the concierge warned. Sam was fine with that. He wasn’t in a particular hurry and thought it therapeutic to be around crowds of unfamiliar distractions.
The next morning at the station, with a little help from a kind and elderly gentleman and a kid eager to practice his English, he found the correct train and waited in a line that led him directly to his seat.
In the train, his mind wandered aimlessly in search of an anchor. At times it seemed he didn’t have the strength to stop it from latching on to his wife—his ex-wife. (He had a hard time accepting that simple change of title.)
The announcement music began, snapping him back to reality. A tinny, speaker-tainted voice announced the next stop in Japanese.
Two elementary school girls giggled at seeing “Fuji-san” for the first time. Sam closed his eyes and was back in his childhood. He and his classmates had climbed that active volcano several times.
Living in Shizuoka prefecture, it was his school’s yearly summer field trip. Well, the bus would drive them up to level four and they would hike to level five. This is how they “climbed” Mt. Fuji. Still, even this short hike was enough to exhaust the young Sam. The air was thin and with every step, it became thinner.
Thoughts of his classmate’s laughter and the tossing of volcanic rock at the crows gave way to fleeting images of recent events mixed with absurd abstract notions that seem so sensible to a half-asleep mind. This continued until the announcement music brought him back to the train and Osaka was just ahead.
He got off and did the touristy stuff, not really sure about his direction. He came across and boarded an English tour bus. He heard all about Osaka Castle and that big crab in mid-town Osaka. But his mind kept wandering Stateside. Self-pity engulfed his thoughts. Nothing could penetrate this shroud of darkness it seemed—not even the sharp pincers of that giant crab.
A day or two later, he boarded a train to get to Kyoto and found a hotel for the night. After that, it was Hiroshima, but it was no matter. His mind was ever sinking, and his spirit was crushed under the weight of failure and betrayal. No change of scenery reciprocated a change of mind. But onward he went.
Hokuriku was different. He took local trains stopping at every minor town. A business man in his forties sat next to him all the way through Fukui prefecture. Unusually bubbly and eager to strike up a conversation with a foreigner, the man provided a welcomed distraction from Sam’s melancholy. The man had been on a week-long business trip; a week away from his family. The businessman stepped off at Eiheiji in northern Fukui leaving Sam to contemplate the meaning of the word, “family.”
In short order, Sam got off the train at Kanazawa in Ishikawa prefecture. It was a typical August morning in Japan: humid with no healing breeze. He found an information desk at the station and asked for an English guide to the sights around Ishikawa.
He had been here once before. His parents took him to Kenrokuen—one of the three great gardens of Japan, he was told. As a child he glossed over the controlled natural beauty of the garden. At thirty-five, he would have another look.
A young girl, surely on her first summer job, took his money and handed him his ticket. It had a full color photo of the park in the winter just as he had remembered it. The snow covered rock gardens, stone bridge, and roped trees he saw as a child instructed him how beauty—and by extension, love—needed to be restrained and cultivated. But it was now a hot, eternal summer and the trees were left naked and free. This led his thoughts back to his wife; was he too controlling or not enough? He knew the trees were trying to teach him something, but he wasn’t sure what it was.
Following the instructions on the tourist guide, he took a bus to Noto Peninsula. Noto boldly sticks out the top of Ishikawa prefecture into the Sea of Japan. Sam wanted to be bold.
They stopped at a small building that served as a bus stop. The sounds and smell of an unseen beach were strong and nearby.
The Japanese characters on a paper pinned to a board caught his eye. He started to ask someone what it meant, but thought it better to leave the mystery intact for now. He began jotting down a rough representation of the kanji to look up later.
He only copied a single character when a clock chimed and distracted him. He heard it ring one, two, three… He knew it had to be ten o’clock, but he continued counting anyway… six, seven, eight…
Somewhere between nine and ten, time stopped. The earth, a hungry lion, groaned. There seemed to be a pause, a preamble to the inevitable, like the moment after an orchestra tunes the strings but before the performance begins—an overwhelming silence.
In a moment seemingly outside time, he relived his birth. He didn’t have time to think of the oddity of it. In fact, it seemed there was no time involved. It was more of a holistic feeling; not a thought or memory, but something he just understood instinctively. He experienced his mother’s mixture of extreme pain and joy, seemingly opposite feelings in perfect harmony.
Then the rubber band snapped.
All the pent-up energy imploded inside him. Time had no hold on him. Sam, for that one moment, seemed to float outside his body; see all things, hear all things. His senses were heightened and time slowed if it existed at all. A terrible sound; of trumpets; a thousand percussion; brass instruments; simultaneously striking a crescendo of vastly discorded notes. The sound waves were even visible to Sam’s eyes as they blasted him with extraordinary force into a newly formed cavity. The building next to him collapsed and showered him with debris and large chunks of earth.
The Temporal Chapter One by CJ Martin (Right click to download)
Sam left the building feeling great—better than he had in weeks. His new boss was suitably impressed with his résumé and apparent work ethic. His soon-to-be coworkers—most younger than he by a decade—were pleasant and the office coffee was good and strong. He was now officially an English teacher in Japan.
Sam Williams had landed at Narita airport the previous day. He had time to shave, shower, and slip into a fitful night’s rest after the long flight. But he had made it to Tokyo.
In his mid-thirties and bookish, he could turn a banal conversation about sports into a philosophical brawl. Recently divorced, his wife left him for a friend, a friend he had introduced to her. His other friends, spineless as they were, tried to play Switzerland. In a crushing moment, Sam came to realize that he had no true friends or anchors back home. With the choice of trying to hang on to the past or create a new future, he decided to let go, get out of the country, and start over.
He wasn’t the adventurous type, preferring instead the quiet—where evenings were spent with a glass of wine and an old novel to intoxicate. Yet here he was sober and on the outset of what many would call a bold adventure: moving to live in a foreign country without so much as an acquaintance.
He had applied for teaching positions at a dozen English conversation schools throughout Asia. His first bite was in Japan. He had the urge to accept it immediately. But he researched the school online and even contacted a teacher who had previously worked there. After a few questions by email with the school secretary, he felt confident in his decision. Japan was, after all, a logical choice; his parents were military and he had lived there as a child. His Japanese was far from fluent, but he knew his tofu from his miso.
When he had entered the building earlier to meet his new boss, it had been sunny, hot, and humid; but opening the door to leave, there was an avalanche of water plunging to the earth from a sunless sky. The erratic weather perfectly matched his recent manic change of moods.
A cool, wet mist slapped his face waking him from any possible remnant of slumber or jet lag. He dropped the smile and pulled his arms up into his chest.
The English conversation school happened to share an awning with a corner convenience store. As Sam entered, a blast of cold air from a vent made him shiver. There was a display of a dozen or so umbrellas on sale for 500 yen. He indiscriminately grabbed one and walked directly to the clerk. It was a cheap umbrella; one of the tips of the ribs had already broken off. He noticed that fact just as he was handing the clerk a big 500 yen coin. Had he been in the States, he probably would have demanded a replacement, but his mood was affected by the rain and his new surroundings.
“Arigatou,” he said and left the store in search of a taxi.
Tokyo seemed quieter and smaller than his memory or media shaped imagination had led him to believe. But it was the rain keeping people inside or hurrying them by on the sidewalks. The rain made things seem small and distant, he thought.
With the umbrella hoisted above his head, he stepped into the downpour and hailed a cab. Confirming his theory, he instantly felt smaller and… wet. The umbrella was barely wide enough for his broad shoulders; the far ends of Sam’s suit coat were soaked before even getting to the taxi.
Rushing to avoid the rain, he forgot that Japanese cabs have automatic doors. Even though his leg was smarting from the impact, he profusely apologized to the cab driver making stunted, quick bows. The driver just nodded and held up his right hand for a few seconds never looking back or even making eye contact in the mirror.
“Hotel Washington made onegaishimasu.” Without a word audible to Sam, the robot-like driver turned the wheel and the cab was swallowed by the stream of traffic.
The windshield wipers whooshing back and forth, up and down were like a great maestro passionately conducting a symphony in perfect time. Occasionally, the orchestra seemed to lag behind the unflappable conductor—even still, it was a melodious sound.
The rain pelting the roof was the percussion; the engine, only audible during acceleration, was the string section building up to a crescendo and then quiet again as a supportive element in the background; there were of course horns and other street noises adding to the sound. The wipers continued whooshing with a constant rhythm.
It had been just a few months ago in April, he reminisced, when he took his wife to New York City. A few days of vacation leave and a long weekend made for nearly a week of first class flights and first class sights.
It had been their third wedding anniversary and he had especially surprised her with tickets for the opera at the Met with orchestra premium seating. The opera was Madama Butterfly—the one opera she had told him on their first date that she had always wanted to see—and was a complete surprise. At the time, he had congratulated himself for pulling it off so flawlessly.
There was one moment in particular that came to mind. On stage, the young geisha Chocho-san renounced all for the American Pinkerton’s love and, as a result, was renounced by all as well. Pinkerton deceitfully comforted her tears with “sweetheart, sweetheart, do not weep” even as his thoughts were on his return to America to marry another.
It was at that moment that Sam noticed her right hand wiping a tear from her cheek. He had been startled to see his stoic wife so moved. Perhaps it was the music—he had thought—or the underlying emotions bubbling to the surface that are always inherent to anniversaries.
But she was seeing him then…
It ended as quickly as it had started. There was no applause. The windshield wipers took one last bow before retiring off stage. The rain was over.
Moments later, the driver stopped at the hotel, mumbled something in Japanese, and crooked his meter so Sam could see the fare. He paid the automaton and entered the hotel.
He spent the rest of the evening drying in the hotel’s restaurant, bar, and later in his room watching Japanese television. There was a slap-stick do anything for fame show on that made him laugh despite the melancholy and the language gap.
Sam didn’t sleep well that night. He chalked it up to jet lag—had to be the jet lag.
The Temporal Prologue by CJ Martin (Right click to download)
Four Months Ago…
With his right hand, Fakhr al Din reached for a large chunk of white cheese. He had lost his little finger, but was blessed by Allah to still have retained the full function of the other three and his thumb. The explosion had been greater than anticipated. In the end, however, the mission was successful. He allowed his hand to momentarily hover over the cheese, giving him a chance to admire its marred form: his small sacrifice for the cause.
The lighting in the room was dim and set primarily above the food on the table. His periphery was completely in shadow, but that shadow was not void of eyes watching and fingers gripping weapons. There were two guards ready to give their lives to protect the great imam of the Bushehr Province in Southern Iran.
He took a generous bite into the cheese while enjoying the heavy aroma of garlic in the air. The garlic paired surprisingly well with the hint of fragrant mint and thyme flowing from a gift basket in front of him. He had received many such gifts since an anonymous spokesman from his Warriors of the Sword had, through Al Jazeera, publicly taken credit for the latest bombing in Sderot, Israel. Of course, on CNN International and in English, Fakhr al Din himself had categorically denied any involvement in the “atrocious and unfortunate event.”
Even with the local popular support and the current pleasant refreshments, the imam hated to be kept waiting. Hamim, his head of security, was due for a report on local threats and was twenty minutes late.
Last week, the imam had ordered the killing of an innocent boy to remind the locals of the holy mission with which they were all entrusted: to protect Fakhr al Din. The boy’s parents had been quite cooperative. It was amusing to him how quickly planted evidence persuaded the father to disown his son, the infidel. As the child was dragged away to sentencing, his father led the frenzied chants of condemnation. The whole matter, of course, had not been the imam’s personal desire. But he had to periodically remind the neighborhood of their sacred duties.
Where is Hamim?
The Americans had taken an increased interest in him. He, however, felt sure his current safe house was secure. Two dozen loyal guards were on the grounds. The latest surveillance equipment continuously monitored every inch of the compound. A tunnel that exited into the kitchen of a nearby house was an escape route of last resort. In addition to all this, he had the oldest security system stationed at the three entrances and trained to discover explosives, his Belgian Malinois dogs. These precautions would afford him the precious minutes needed to facilitate an escape if necessary.
Fakhr al Din grabbed his pita filled with lamb shawarma, but before he could bite, the door flung open.
“Hamim, where have you been?”
But it wasn’t Hamim.
Two strange men—Westerners wearing sunglasses and dark suits—stood in the doorway. He could see another shadowy figure in the distance beyond the men. A woman?
Two of the imam’s men, unseen and hidden by the shadows, stepped into the light. Brandishing their AK-47s, they let off a few rounds before they were silenced no more than two seconds later.
Fakhr al Din was left with his mouth open and without comprehension of what just happened. He had heard the rat-tat-tat of the weapons to his left and right, but what he saw straight in front of him defied understanding. Instead of blood and flesh ripped by bullets, he saw, for the briefest of moments, the two dark men’s hands go from their sides to at level with the incoming bullets. The motion—if it could be called motion—was quicker than his brain could process. It was as if the arm was in one position and then the next moment up to meet the bullets.
He heard the sounds of a dozen rounds ripping into and ricocheting off of the walls, furniture, and glassware around the room—but not into flesh.
In the next instant, the cleric, still looking forward, saw only the figure that had been behind the two men. The two black suited men had vanished, leaving what he could now confirm to be a woman. Her fiery-red hair was free and not held back by the traditional hijab head-covering. She was beautiful and terrifying.
Where are my men?
He turned left and then right to see his men held by the throat and off the ground, struggling to breathe.
Fakhr al Din looked at the table. His SIG P226 was laying next to the cheese. With the quickest of motions, he jerked his hand out, slapping it on the hard wooden surface where the gun had been a second ago. The woman had closed the two dozen feet within that timeframe and now held his weapon; its muzzle was directed at him.
He heard the sound of bodies pounding into the floor and turned to his left and then right. His guards were on the ground. Their throats were still tightly held by the intruders who were now down on one knee and had their heads turned toward the center of the room. Although the dark sunglasses hid their eyes, they both were clearly looking to the woman, waiting for her command.
“What—what do you want?”
“A chat. A private chat,” she said with a smile, causing the Iranian man to shudder. “Tell your men not to disturb us.”
The imam was at a loss. He felt her cold fingers gently lift his chin. Her motion first closed his opened mouth and then raised his entire head to meet her eyes. With the other hand, she held up his gun. Depressing the magazine release, she let the clip fall with a clunk onto the table.
“Tell them to go.”
Before he realized it, she had the gun lifted directly above her head. A single shot expended the remaining round, ejecting the spent casing and filling the small room with an explosive sound. It somehow seemed louder to the imam than had the bursts of the AKs. Bits of clay and plaster rained on Fakhr al Din, covering the table and cheese.
“Tell them to go—now.” The woman, having moved to his side away from the debris, startled him. Her voice was soft, silky even. If it weren’t for those eyes that seemed to drill violently and deeply into his soul, she might appear peaceful and sublime, like an angel.
“D—don’t disturb us,” the imam said to the men, keeping his attention fixed on the woman’s face. As terrible as they were, he feared to wander too far from those dark, piercing eyes. “Tell the others to not disturb us!” Dirt and plaster dropped from his beard as he shouted the order.
She nodded. Her two men immediately released their prisoners and returned to a standing position. In an instant, the two dark suited men stood with their hands cupped in front like pall-bearers awaiting their duty. The guards on the floor rolled away from their captors, coughing.
“Go!” the woman shouted with a force beyond what seemed humanly possible.
The two men jumped to their feet and made for the door.
“Now,” she said as she walked casually to close the door, “I have a job for you. A job that I’m sure you will find to be mutually beneficial.”
The Present Day…
“Donata desu ka?—Who are you?”
Her hand darted up, grabbing air as if she could touch the visage of the man standing in front of her in her dream.
She only required five or ten minutes of sleep daily and yet this dream had continued for over half an hour. She had already kicked off the top futon and her head was far from the pillow. Sweat dripped from her brow.
“Do you not see me?”
She always remembered her dreams which seemed to begin immediately with her loss of consciousness and end when her body’s need for sleep was sated.
Particularly vivid were the dreams with him in it. His name was a mystery to her, but his face—she could recall it with exquisite detail and on command.
Her eyes fluttered, then opened with the full realization that she was not awake. Her mind projected the dream world onto the wooden ceiling above.
“Who are you?” she repeated.
The man stood two dozen feet or more away and was enveloped by an obscuring cloud—a first for a dream with him in it. Even still, her keen vision discerned a panic within his eyes.
How different this dream was. The man had always brought peace to her heart—not conflict and now… this horror. In previous dreams, the man recognized her. But now, she was invisible to him.
The man began to run. He was running from something and in her direction, but his position remained unchanged as if on a treadmill. He craned his neck over his shoulder in search of someone—his pursuer.
She sharpened her vision and dared to peer beyond the man to see the nightmare from which he was escaping. A moment later, he vanished. She realized she had moved ahead of his position and was seeing what he saw. She faced his nightmare directly.
As the scene gradually came into focus, she saw a street. It was in slow motion, but people were fleeing from some terror. She squinted her dream eyes hard until she saw what they saw. A fireball.
Then it all disappeared. There was nothing but white.
“Sam,” chanted some disembodied voices from the whiteness. It was a calm, sweet sound but with a multitude of voices singing in unison like a well-trained choir. It was as pleasant as the gentle whoosh of the ocean at eventide.
She answered, anticipating the voice. “Samuel Williams, the one at the hospital.”
She understood the meaning and allowed it all to slip away.
The white of the dream world gradually turned gray and then gave way to the dark brownish grain of the wood above her head.
George and the Elraton Gang by CJ Martin (Right click to download)
Here is the exciting conclusion of our four part podcast of George and the Elraton Gang by CJ Martin. This podcast is free, but you can also buy the ebook at Amazon or B&N for .99. (that ebook also includes another short story called “The Aliens of the Wild West.”
George and the Elraton Gang by CJ Martin (Right click to download)
Today, George’s plan begins to take shape. Slimey and Two-timer are prisoners and Two-timer spills the beans to George.