The Long Shadow of Memory
A Tale of Love in the Time of Shub-Niggurath
A Short Story by Paul Martinez
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters and events portrayed in this story are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. THE LONG SHADOW OF MEMORY ©2014 by Paul Martinez All rights reserved.
He stood in the rain on this chilly October evening much as he had done on this date for the last ten years: staring down at the headstone and holding the revolver loosely in his left coat pocket. Every Halloween he stood and waited for midnight to come and pass, his revolver loaded and ready. Ready for what, he could not say. On the one hand, he felt a complete fool. After ten long years nothing had come to pass of that dreadful prophecy written in defiance of all that was right and sane in the world. On the other, if his former lover were coming back as he said he would, someone had to be there. He could not definitively say what someone had to be there for, but there was the revolver in his coat pocket.
He examined the headstone more closely. It had endured the previous decade nicely. Carved into its cold gray surface were the words, “Juan Alejandro Sevilla. Beloved Son and Brother. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.” Beneath this two fat little cherubs flew, one holding a bouquet of flowers, the other a bible. Thomas Moreland smiled a wry grin at that, knowing his friend and former lover would return if he could for no other reason than to rail at the religious symbolism which marked his empty grave. Though Juan had shed his native Catholicism, a relic of his Mexican heritage, his parents’ beliefs were so deeply ingrained they had refused to accept both his rejection of their faith and the root cause of it. The priest responsible had been accused and convicted of molesting fifty young men and boys over the course of thirty years, but they could not understand how he could hold God responsible for the crimes of man.
He had gone to confession on his thirteenth birthday and admitted to the priest he wasn’t attracted to girls like all the other boys his age. He wanted to know how God had made him like this even though it was an abomination. He wanted to know how to be a good Catholic and to please God if he was gay. The priest told him he was possessed by a spirit of homosexuality, took him to his quarters in the rectory, and, in Juan’s words to Thomas ten years later, “tried to rape the gay away while whispering Bible verses at me.” Eventually the disgraced priest lost his freedom. Juan lost his faith, his innocence, and his belief that the universe generally wanted good things for him.
They had met at university; Thomas was pursuing a liberal arts degree while Juan, never one to settle for one when he could have two, was double majoring in both molecular biology and quantum physics. It was love at first sight. Thomas was tall and well built with piercing blue eyes and medium length light brown hair. Juan was smaller, just a few inches over five and half feet tall, with deep brown almond-shaped eyes and short jet black hair. His frame was small and delicate. Thomas was gregarious where Juan was reserved and studious. Juan always shone between the beginning of October and Thanksgiving, though. That stretch of autumn was his favorite time of the year. He loved the crisp, cool air, the fact that almost everything was pumpkin-spiced, carving pumpkins, and watching his beloved Green Bay Packers while enjoying a hearty dark stout beer or a bottle of Moscato. Thomas, being a Bears fan himself, liked to joke that a house divided was doomed to fall. Juan would laugh and pull Thomas’s protective arm tighter around him as they sat together watching a football game with their friends.
The trouble began while Juan was working toward his doctorate in theoretical physics. He was focusing heavily on a relatively new branch of superstring theory called M-theory, which was an attempt to explain the universe in eleven dimensions. Juan called it the theory of everything. Some nights while he, Thomas, and a small group of their friends were sitting around the fire pit in their backyard getting high Juan would attempt to explain the fundamental problem he kept running into where the math was concerned: he kept running into what he called extra-dimensional pockets that he could not account for no matter how hard he tried. According to his calculations, these so-called pockets were entirely separate universes unto themselves, but were so near to ours they would actually meet in places and could even be breached if one knew how. The possibilities were absolutely tantalizing. Here was an opportunity for mankind to interact with entirely different universes! It might actually be possible to prove the many worlds theory! He had approached the department chair with his findings and was laughed out of the man’s office. Humiliated, he left in an uproar and vanished in the midst of a raging thunderstorm for a week.
Thomas kneeled down to place a single yellow tulip on the stone. Tulips had always been Juan’s favorite flower. They were expensive to get during autumn, but he had never failed to leave one for his lost love. He wasn’t usually given to sentimentality but he had never gotten over losing Juan the way he did. He had never been able to let go the image of that…thing…and what it had done to the man he loved. Over the course of the intervening years he sometimes wondered if he were somehow responsible, but he also knew Juan was always dogged in his pursuit of his goals. He had the innate arrogance of all brilliant minds. Juan knew he was right about the interdimensional gaps he had found in space-time, knew they were physically close to the boundaries of the universe he had been born into, and knew they could be breached with currently available technology. After he had found that first one and breached it, Thomas also knew it was just a matter of time. He closed his eyes as he felt a wash of memory seize him in its cruel grasp.
Thomas was sleeping when the sound of the garage door opening jolted him awake. He reached for the baseball bat he kept by the bed and waited. The intruder was making an ungodly amount of noise. Then he heard a chair get kicked and a familiar voice utter a mild curse which stopped his heart for a moment. He was out of bed in an instant and running for the kitchen. “Juan? Christ on a cornflake, where in the hell have you been? Everyone’s been worried out of their minds! I called the police! Your parents are going insane!”
“What are you talking about?” he asked, stifling a yawn. Dark circles were under his eyes and he looked rumpled, like he had been sleeping in his clothes. “You act like I vanished without a trace and have been missing for ages!”
Thomas pulled Juan into a bear hug as he replied, “What are you talking about? You have been! It’s been seven days today!”
Juan broke the hug and stared Thomas in the eyes. “Are you serious? I’ve been missing an entire week?”
“Haven’t you checked your phone? Seen a newspaper? Have you been hiding under a freaking rock or sleeping on a bench somewhere?”
“My phone is fried. I hoped it was just a dead battery but the damned thing is a total loss. Besides, I came straight home. I didn’t even stop to get anything to eat, I’m so tired. It’s a wonder my car wasn’t towed if I’ve been gone for a week. Can we talk in the morning? I feel like I could curl up in my sock drawer and sleep for days.”
Thomas assented to Juan’s request and followed him back to the bedroom. As they lay together in the bed they had shared for years, Thomas wondered about this man he had fallen in love with so long before. He remembered a joke one of his friends had cracked some time ago about the line between genius and madness being a thin one and that Juan danced on it quite freely. Thomas had punched the man in the eye for that comment. Now he found himself asking whether that statement had more truth in it than he had cared to believe before. Juan lay with his back to him, Thomas’s arm pulled protectively around him. As he felt himself drifting off, Juan spoke.
“You don’t think I’m crazy, do you?”
“Of course not. I think you’re brilliant. And I think we’ve all had a long week. Get some sleep, babe. We’ll talk about it in the morning. I’ll make you a big breakfast and we’ll talk about where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing. Ok?”
“Ok. I love you. I’m sorry that I scared you.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’m just happy to have you home safely. I love you too. Good night.”
Juan was already asleep.
The following morning was cool and cloudy. The autumnal breeze blew through the open kitchen window, heavy laden with moisture. Thomas was chopping green onions, slicing mushrooms for omelets, and brewing coffee when Juan stumbled into the kitchen, his short black hair poking out in corkscrews and at jaunty angles. Thomas looked at him and smiled, their familiar routine quickly reestablished.
“Good morning, sunshine.”
“Ugh. Don’t talk to me. Is there coffee?”
Thomas grinned and handed Juan a mug of the freshly ground and brewed nectar, no cream, three sugars, and waited for permission to speak. Juan had never been a morning person. He had, in fact, been the type of person to whom one never spoke until after his first cup of coffee. He absolutely hated being called sunshine in the mornings and only barely tolerated it from Thomas. Thomas waited in silence for him to finish his first cup, the smell of cooking eggs and the promise of rain wafting through the kitchen air. Juan drank the coffee, his eyes closed in obvious relish. Thomas only bought the best beans and brewed their coffee by hand. He argued hand-brewed coffee was infinitely better than that done via machine and Juan had been forced to admit he was right. It took far more effort, of course, but Thomas always said anything worth taking the time to do was worth taking the time to do right.
“So?” Thomas asked when he saw Juan finish the first cup and reach for the pot.
“So, what?” Juan replied tersely.
“So where the hell have you been for the last week?”
“I’m sorry, Thomas, I have a hard time believing I’ve actually been gone a week.”
Thomas threw the morning newspaper at Juan. “You don’t believe that? Check the date! Your parents are worried out of their minds! I called the police! I filed a report and organized a search party! Hell, I thought you were dead and they were going to find you in a ditch!”
Juan was visibly shaken as he scanned over the newspaper, the date in the upper right hand corner glaring at him. “Okay,” he said. “This is what I’ve been up to.”
Thomas paled in horror at the story Juan relayed to him. He was almost certain the man he loved had gone completely insane. There was no way he could have been responsible for the freak thunderstorm a week ago when, as he claimed, he opened a portal between the universe they knew and an entirely different one governed by similar laws of physics that lay approximately ten meters to the left in relative three-dimensional space. He told of a planet similar to Earth but covered in ruins and strange flora which he had discovered. There had obviously been an advanced civilization living on the planet at some point, but it had been completely extirpated along with any native animal life which he could detect. Not even insects remained.
“There was evidence of some kind of external force which wiped out everything on the planet. I saw what looked like burn scars everywhere. There were what looked like huge footprints and other marks I couldn’t make out. I’m a physicist, not a paleontologist or xeno-biologist or whatever they call themselves. Apparently there was some kind of time-dilation effect too, because I thought I was only gone for a day and a half.”
“How is any of this even possible?” Thomas asked, absolutely bewildered and more than half confused.
“It’s actually not all that difficult,” Juan replied, growing excited. “It doesn’t take much energy to open a door between our universe and one that lies close to ours. However, the further one goes in any direction requires a directly proportional increase in the amount of energy applied. I found a thin spot between the worlds, though, which exponentially reduces the amount of energy I need to break the barriers and cross over! What I just did I did using four “D” batteries! Imagine what I could do with a car battery! Or even a power plant! I’ve singlehandedly created entire new fields of science! What?”
Thomas was looking at him with unabashed concern. “Juan… you realize all of this sounds completely insane, right?”
“You don’t believe me either, then. Go figure. You’re the one person I was sure would believe me. It’s alright, though. Give me a chance to rest and I’ll prove it to you tomorrow.”
“Juan, that’s not what I…”
He was already gone. Thomas winced as he heard the bedroom door slam.
An hour later Thomas tried the bedroom door and found it unlocked. Juan was sitting in bed writing furiously in a notebook filled with incomprehensible equations and figures. It was obviously math, but so far advanced beyond anything Thomas knew it may as well have been written in Swahili.
“What are you working on, babe?”
“My calculations for the trip tomorrow. Time obviously works differently between our world and that one, and I need to figure out how differently. I experienced a day and a half there while in this world an entire week passed. I wonder if I aged a week too? It’s not really time travel per se, so I’m not sure how it affects my physiology. If nothing else, I’ve confirmed the multiverse theory. I wonder what else I’ll discover. You need to pack a bag too, just in case my calculations are off.”
Thomas stared at Juan in shock. “What are you talking about? Why should I need to pack a bag? And… I’m sorry, but multi-what? You have to remember my degree is in English literature, not quantum mechanics.”
Juan sighed and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry. I’ve gotten so caught up in the moment I forgot you and I are in entirely different fields. As simply as I can explain it, the multiverse theory which I’m talking about posits that there are an infinite number of alternate universes out there. A new one is created every time a diversion of events occurs. For example, in our universe you and I are a couple and have been for years. In another, we never met and our lives went in completely different directions. The further back in time one goes, the more those changes are compounded. In one universe the United States never won its independence from England. In another, Hitler’s luck didn’t run out and he won World War II. In yet another, the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs never hit Earth. I’ve found a universe very close to ours which diverged pretty early in human history but it appears something else came along and wiped out all animal life on the planet.”
“How could you tell it diverged early?”
“The ruins I found were ancient and covered in plant growth. The landscape was recognizable as identical to where I crossed over, though. Whatever civilization developed in that area was obviously relatively advanced. They built pyramids, Thomas. Do you remember when we went to Mexico and saw the ruins there? I’d put them on par with that. You know Native Americans up here in our universe weren’t building structures like that out of stone. They did, though. But something wiped them out utterly.”
“And the bag?”
“You’re coming with me, Thomas. Remember? Just don’t bring any electronics with you. Opening the gateway obviously fries any advanced electronic circuitry that attempts to cross, so there’s no point. Luckily the device I built was solid-state, and that appears to be fine. I do want you to bring a notebook and several pens, though. We’ll be taking notes this time. I was extremely interested in the runes and glyphs I saw on some of the buildings, and if we’re lucky we may even find a library of sorts.”
Thomas could see there was no point attempting to drag anything further from him, so he resigned himself to packing an overnight bag.
There was a loud crack of thunder and an overwhelming sense of nausea and vertigo as the doorway slammed shut behind them. Thomas briefly wondered if his shoes were coming up along with his breakfast, but the wave of nausea passed before he had a chance to deposit either one on the alien soil he was kneeling on. He kept his eyes tightly shut until the vertigo passed, listening to Juan retching a few feet away. Apparently he wasn’t the only one with whom interdimensional travel disagreed with. After a few moments he felt it was finally safe to open his eyes and see exactly what Juan had gotten him into this time. What he saw took his breath away.
A faded yellow sun shone on a gently rolling windswept plain bordered to the north by a lively river. The ground was covered in a verdant blanket of springy grass. Thomas turned his face into the chill wind blowing from the west to see a range of snow-capped mountains in the distance. A few miles to the south he could see what looked like the ruins of a city, while the plains continued as far as the eye could see to the east. Here and there he could see craters and scars upon the earth, as if something huge had scooped up entire chunks of earth and flung them away.
“Impressive, isn’t it?” Thomas almost jumped out of his skin as Juan spoke up behind him. “This isn’t even the half of it. You should see the city. There are some things I saw that I know you would be fascinated with. We should get moving though. Time moves slower here and it looks like it’s getting close to midday. We’ve got a few miles to walk before we reach the gates of the city itself. Are you ready?”
This is the end of the excerpt. For the rest, you can find the ebook version on Amazon for the ridiculously low price of $0.99!
Also by Paul Martinez
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