Remembered Kisses: Chapter 1: The Brewing Storm
For you. Because I love you. Yes you. Sure. Group Hug!
And now, without further shameless self promotion, She Begins.
“Something like it,” said Marcus, Sam’s new graduate student. Marcus tossed his head and pushed some of his jet black curls out of the dark eyes that made him a favorite of many of the young women at New Tamsbridge Community College. He was a talented student, too; his skill with carving and magical tools had earned him a rare full scholarship to one of the most maligned and exceptionally underfunded departments at the college. “I didn’t realize you actually did this. Isn’t this something `like… well, I don’t know. Something out of a comic book?”
“Brooding over the city on a stormy night?” Sam asked, his own dark eyes glinting as his eyes studied the cityscape. He nodded. “Yeah. But there are so many things to watch out for on nights like these, especially since…” His voice trailed off. He was distracted, his senses partly tuned to the Otherworld. There were storms there, too, echoes of the tempest here - no less powerful, distant but still present. He could feel them raging, could feel their waiting, twisting fury, and it all sat in a knotted pressure at the back of his head. It was building, and there was something odd.
“Especially since what, Professor?” Marcus asked, turning towards Sam. “That… stuff, back in May?”
“That 'stuff,'” Sam said, shooting his assistant an arch look. “That 'stuff' was an excursion of the nightmare children through a weak point between the worlds. That 'stuff' was a student of our own college, and a personal friend, being kidnapped by goblins for no perceivable reason. That 'stuff' nearly killed me.”
“So. That stuff.”
Sam grumped, and then a smile forced its way across his face. “Yeah. That stuff,” he agreed. “Since then, things have gotten hairier. You know it. You’ve seen it. The faculty look more and more harried every day. It’s the nightmares. They’re starting to come through. More than before.”
“What does that mean?” Marcus asked.
There was a flash of lightning in the sky, and a chill walked up Sam’s arm even as the pressure in his head disappeared. “It means we have work to do.”
“Hey, professor?” Marcus asked, following along. “What are we looking for?”
“I don’t know,” Sam said. “We’re following.”
“That feeling you get, when someone walks across your grave, or an imp steals your name. The sort of thing that happens when ripples in the Otherworld reach you… because something just came through.” Sam’s gut twisted and sank as he spoke, and he had to fight back sudden rising nausea. He stopped and held up a hand. “It’s close,” he muttered.
“Too close?” Marcus supplied.
Sam shot him a dirty look. “Don’t ever sa-”
And there it was. Something with too many eyes and too many legs was sweeping through the park right at them, large yellow teeth gnashing as it came.
Sam cursed and stepped back, drawing down power from the sky, tapping into the storms that rippled through the other side. There was a smell of ozone, and then a flash, and a triple-fork of lightning crashed into the strange beast. His teeth slammed together as backlashes tore into him, his vision flickering and flashing while he fought to hold on. Power. So much power, right there.
The blast threw the creature backwards and Sam’s head spun. He smelled flesh burning; it wasn’t all the monster's. He tried to focus. It started to move again. Sam stared at it, trying to remember what it was, trying to remember anything, but he couldn’t think. There was too much power: the storms should have been barely present on the other side. But the walls between worlds were too thin: the storms were wild and roiling and intense and overwhelming. He could barely think through the buzzing in his brain. He had been too reckless, too quick to pull: it had been almost too much power.
The creature writhed again, hauling itself to its feet. Then it was coming again, those chitinous legs almost, but not quite stumbling over each other as it hurried to get at him.
And there was Marcus, stepping up beside Sam, brandishing his long wand of ash. He muttered an incantation and a stream of fire poured out from it, sweeping over the monster and engulfing it. It screamed as it burned, its voice a burbling, keening horror that ripped through the night.
Sam ground his teeth together, and as his vision came into focus, he saw the thing starting to advance again even as it burned, its legs skittering against the paved path through the park. “No,” Sam muttered. “No.” He reached out and dug back into the Otherworld, felt the park as it was across the boundary. His eyes flickered from dark brown to garnet, his face lit by the flickering flames the rain couldn’t put out. He found what he needed, tightened his fists, and ripped.
The creature exploded into a thousand flaming gobbets that showered the area, each twisting and writhing on its own for a few moments before evaporating under the falling rain. The wound between worlds, the small rift Sam had torn in reality through the creature’s center, slowly began to scab over. Sam took another deep, ragged breath, his head still spinning a little, and abruptly slumped against a tree.
Marcus turned to look at Sam, his eyes wide. “You did… you… you ripped the boundary!”
“I did,” Sam said. “Flame and lightning weren’t working. I have an issue with teeth tearing into me, so I solved it.”
Marcus stared. “But Professor Hamble says that’s dangerous.”
“It is. Very dangerous. But small tears heal quickly, especially in the rain. It has an almost universally restorative effect, even in torrents. Although storms can have other consequences.” Sam took another deep breath. “The fire. It was good.”
Marcus smiled a little, almost embarrassed. “Well. The wand is helpful. Kind of surprising, really.” He glanced down at the little rod of ash, and slowly tucked it back into his jacket. “Maybe papa’s lessons were good for something.
“Maybe they were,” Sam confirmed with a nod, slowly putting a hand on his assistant’s shoulder. “You have a gift for tools. None of mine have ever worked so well.”
Marcus smiled, and this time it was clear and obvious pleasure. “Thank you, professor.” He turned back to look at the scene. There was no evidence of the creature other than the scars torn into the cement of the park's sidewalk. “The mess cleans up quick, doesn’t it?”
“The nightmares are not of this world. Once the creature's will to be here has been smashed, there’s not much to hold their remains here. They simply don’t belong in this reality. I learned that with the goblins.” Sam heaved himself off of the tree, found that his feet were steady enough, and he tapped Marcus on the shoulder. “Come on. I’ll buy you a drink down at the Day is Done.”
“Hi, Sam,” she said, and something in the sound of her voice made him stop. She met his gaze, her green eyes smoky, and her smile deepened. “It’s been a while. You look rough.”
“Yeah,” Sam said, coloring under the intensity of her gaze. He glanced away, studying the grain of the bar's red oak countertops and looking away. “It’s been a night. David’s out tonight?”
“He is. The lambing’s tomorrow, and he’s trying to get a good night’s rest. The usual? Beef stew, hunk of bread, frosty beer?”
“You should try your beer warm, Sam,” she said, her eyes amused as she teased. “Frosty kills the taste.”
Sam shrugged. “I like it that way. Have you met Marcus?”
Marcus waved, offering a small smile of his own.
“He’s a grad assistant the department assigned me. He’s good people.”
Eileen grinned. “I bet. Same for you?”
Marcus nodded. Sam tapped his shoulder and led him to his favorite corner booth, where he could see both the door and the way into the back. He settled into the wooden seat and onto its threadbare cushion and leaned back, quietly watchful.
“She’s pretty,” Marcus said as they sat. “When are you going to ask her out?”
“What?” Sam’s eyes widened.
“You heard me.” Marcus flashed a knowing grin. “I saw the way she looked at you. That’s Eileen, right? The one from the goblin stuff?”
“Yeah,” Sam said, blushing. “That’s her.”
“Well, she’s got it bad for you, old man. It’s in her eyes.” Marcus’s grin grew. “I’m serious. You should ask her out.”
Sam shook his head. “I’m… no. I’m not like that,” he said. “I don’t date. Not since... well, it’s been a while.” Not since Sofia. “I’ve been busy. Other things on my mind. And she’s young. Too young.”
“Well, you’re missing out,” Marcus said. “Women, man. They make life worth living. I mean, there has to be a reason for it all, right? Some reason to make sure you go home at night. I don’t know what I’d do without Kendra.”
Sam nodded, his eyes slightly out of focus as the smile ran away from his face. After the trouble in the park, thinking was hard. Thinking about her makes it worse. How long has it been? Two years? Three? It was before I took in Audrey. “How long?” He muttered to himself.
“Not too long,” Marcus answered. “Kendra and I have only been seeing each other for a few months. Still.” His grin changed a little, becoming far away and wistful. “It’s like I’ve known her all my life.”
Sam looked up, met Marcus’s eyes briefly and managed a small smile. “That’s nice. New love is a special thing. I’m glad for you.”
Eileen stopped by with the beer and stew, brushing Sam’s shoulder with her hand as she walked away.
Sam’s head turned, watching her go, trying not to think too hard about the way she looked in that dress. She’s so young. Is she really interested? I mean, I’m not that old, but… no, she couldn’t be. He shook his head again, trying to shake it off, and turned back to Marcus. He lifted his glass. “Here’s to you and Kendra,” he said, and drank deeply, closing his eyes as he savored the rich texture and crisp flavors of David’s brew.
“It’s just hard to find the time,” Sam repeated, opening his eyes back up, meeting Marcus's gaze. “And I have Audrey to look after. She needs my attention, too. She thrives on it.”
Marcus nodded. “Well and good, Professor. The Blackthorne girl is sweet, and it’s an honorable thing you’re doing, but…” He shrugged. “It’s not the same.”
“I don’t know. Parenting’s kind of both so much harder and so much more rewarding than I thought. She makes my heart swell, you know? Makes me want to do better. For her. Because she needs me.” He looked down into his beer. “This batch must be stronger than usual.”
Marcus sipped his drink, watching. The lantern light of the bar was reflected in his eyes, twin points of light that flickered back and forth. “I understand,” he said at last. “I feel the same way with Kendra. She makes me more, simply by existing. Does that make sense? It’s like she turns the best parts of me on and the rest of it off. All the dross and bad feelings and bitterness just kind of… they fall away when I’m with her.”
Sam smiled. “That’s amazing,” he said. “Sounds like love. What it should be.” He raised his cup in a second salute and finished it in one long draught. He stood, steadying himself on the table, and nodded. “See you tomorrow, Marcus.”
(The story continues in Chapter 2)