Ephemerene

An essay by Roberta, as provided by Chris Walker
Art by Errow Collins


1.

I am holding her close, whispering, when she disappears. The warm pressure of her embrace is gone, and my arms squeeze inward on the sudden emptiness. My words trail away into silence. The faint, familiar scent of her is already fading; I am left with only my yearning.

I wonder how long she will be gone this time. The waiting is what takes the toll. Waiting and not knowing. Of course, it is the same for her when I vanish, but she is better at dealing with it. She has always been the stronger of us.

The clattering of footsteps, like marbles rattling in an urn, echoes in the corridor outside. The fear of it jerks me into stillness, although my heart thrashes in its bone cage. We haven’t been gone long enough for our absence to be noticed yet. I think.

We are careful with our stolen moments, because a single mistake could cost us all our future times together. It is strange that we must measure the minutes like a miser coveting his gold coins, here in this place of no time. The days pass and pass but reach no end; we mark them against those who never come back.

I puff out a long breath as the footsteps recede and step away from the cold wall against which I am pressed. I am still in the same room, so I cannot have gone and reappeared myself. All who return do so in the Entrance Hall, although the Great Doors never open. No one has ever seen them do so. Old Maikula claims he knows what lies behind them, but he is mad and we do not believe him.

“Clarissa,” I whisper to myself, as if that will make her reappear. It never does.

It is time to go. I need to be at my station soon, or the Overseer will notice and punish me. It seems to enjoy that, as far as we can tell. The opaque mesh that serves as its face never changes, but the groaning noise it makes when it lashes us gets faster and louder.

Carefully, carefully, I pull the door open. The corridor is empty, quiet. I hurry along the drab passages that worm their way through the Castle and make it to my station just seconds before the Overseer appears. A few people sneak glances at me.

“You cut that too close,” Rasui hisses at me. “You’ll get caught again.”

“It’s fine,” I snap, but I know he’s right. Although he can’t see the sick feeling in my stomach or the bile that burns my throat, my shaking hands give me away.

The metronomic whirring and popping of the machinery helps to cover our hushed words as we speak, but we keep a wary eye on the bulbous frame of the Overseer as it floats around the long belts and glowing engines. Rasui and I are sorting wotjas and flippits today, easy enough work that doesn’t demand full concentration.

“Where’s Clarissa?” he mouths.

I shake my head slightly. “Gone again,” I whisper.

“Just now?”

I nod.

Art for "Ephemerene"

“Yes. These are mutable, adaptable things. A genius creation of the Slumber-Mage, I have to admit.”


To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Summer 2018 collection.


Roberta’s past remains unknown to her, despite the aching hours she has spent trying to remember where she came from. Hours … or days, or years? She is not sure, for these concepts don’t feel appropriate. Her wife, Clarissa, does not worry about such things and laughingly reminds her that the present moment is all they need. On occasion, the image of an old man flashes in Roberta’s mind; more than a dream and less than a memory. She knows, without understanding how, that he is from a place unimaginably far away, just on the other side of yesterday.


Chris Walker is a professional byte-wrangler and sometime astrodynamicist. He enjoys writing stories of other worlds and days that might be. Or will been going to had being, if it wasn’t for that pesky malfunctioning Time Drive. Yes, the one he swears he will read the manual for at some point. Chris lives in the UK and loves the liquid phase of what you humans call coffee.


Errow is a comic artist and illustrator with a predilection towards mashing the surreal with the familiar. They pay their time to developing worlds not quite like our own with their fiancee and pushing the queer agenda. They probably left a candle burning somewhere. More of their work can be found at errowcollins.wix.com/portfolio.


“Ephemerene” is Copyright 2018 Chris Walker
Art accompanying story is Copyright 2018 Errow Collins

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