Cars buzzed by on the busy arterial. An hour. I lost an hour. He pushed the panic down. How did I get here? There wasn’t any fog. I didn’t step through a mark. I didn’t call up my power at all.
He ran his hand through his hair and stared across the street. At first glance, the park looked just the same. But then, something edged into his awareness. He couldn’t put his finger on what was wrong with the place, but something was off kilter. He shook his head. He didn’t have the time or energy to analyze whatever it was. He had bigger fish to fry.
Like how did I get an hour away from my Mom’s house, and back into town? Absently, he turned away from the park and walked down the familiar street. He still found it difficult to believe that a year had passed. If he didn’t know any better, he’d think he was returning to work from lunch. The only sign of the passage of time came from the shop windows. And that he probably wouldn’t have noticed under normal circumstances.
Absently, he rubbed his chest. What am I going to tell my Mom? I had to have just walked out on her. I can’t believe this is still happening? I’m never going to get my life back, am I?
“Hey, you?” A deep, gravelly voice called out.
Ashton stopped and scanned the pedestrians. No one paid him any heed, so he shrugged, moving on.
“You. Unicorn bait. Look up.”
Ashton froze midstep. Do I even want to? Sighing, he obeyed the voice and tipped his head up. Perched atop the carved crenellations of one of the historic buildings, a stone gargoyle waved his wings at him. A sharp, toothy grin preceded the beast jumping off the roof. Ashton’s heart thumped, waiting for the crack of heavy rock hitting pavement. But somehow the creature’s wings let it gracefully fly to touch down, with a soft scrape of stone against stone in front of him.
Ashton took a step back.
“Hey, Kiddo. I haven’t seen you in a long time.” The beast settled back onto his haunches. Sitting, the gargoyle came eye to eye with him. His wing joints, folded neatly on his back, rose a foot above both their heads. Sunlight caught what must be flecks of mica and sparkled.
“Um, hello?” Ashton said.
“Hiya. I’m Tourmaline. But you can call me T for short.”
“Ashton.” He replied faintly.
“Good to finally meet you. I haven’t seen you for months. Had figured they musta gotten you, once the darkness started. So, what are ya doing back?”
“This has to be right up there as one of the strangest days, yet, for me. And I have stiff competition for that title. I have no idea what I’m doing here to tell you the truth. Last I knew, I was standing in my Mom’s kitchen an hour ago.”
“Ah. That explains the zombie shuffle you were doing down the street a few minutes ago.” T stood and held his arms out and slid a few steps moaning. “You just needed your arms out like that to complete the picture.”
He settled back down into a sitting position. “Seriously, if you hadn’t been out of phase you would have been pancaked by the moving van you shared the road with before you came back to yourself.”
Ashton swallowed. Pancaked? “Out of phase?”
“You know. Not in sync with this veil. It’s related to being able to shift to a different veil but isn’t quite the same thing. We’re not usually supposed to talk about this sort of thing with you humans. Heck, most of you don’t believe we exist if you do see us. But considering the company you had been keeping last year I figure you must know something? The majority of us Others can go out of phase, though we can’t travel to a different veil without a guide. It’s a defense mechanism.”
“I didn’t know I could do it. So I was just walking down the middle of the street?”
Ashton met the gargoyle’s silver-flecked eyes for a long moment. “Why did you stop me now?”
Tourmaline twitched his wings and stared down the road toward the park. “The energy around here is turning so dark. Something is feeding in the woods. There’s been more death there than the humans know.” The stone creature turned serious eyes back at him. “You are a bright light in the darkness. The faeries, the unicorn, all drew close to you. And now you are back; unaccompanied…”
The gargoyle froze midsentence, then swiveled to look over his shoulder. A grating growl rumbled out of him and he jumped in front, blocking Ash’s view.
Two loud cracks reverberated in the corridor of the street. Stone chips exploded, spraying Ashton. “What the hell.”
“Move. Get into that alley, kid.”
Hunching over to stay protected by Tourmaline’s body and spread wings; Ashton rushed into the enclosed space of the alley.
“Can this nightmare get any worse?” His mark started to heat and he groaned. “Not now.” Caging his wild power took some effort, but he got it under control.
Tourmaline hissed, but then straightened and stood back behind Ashton. “Here comes the cavalry kid.”
Boot steps thudded down the sidewalk. Their owner dashed around the corner to place his back against the wall. Ashton recognized Detective Bryce.
The Detective’s gun was drawn, and he looked Ashton over before turning his attention to the street. His free hand held his radio. He lifted it to his mouth. “I have him. Get the street clear, and get a car to me. Now. Over.”
Still studying the street, Bryce asked, “Are you Ok, Ashton?”
“I… I think so.”
“What are you doing here? I’m not sure how the shooter didn’t hit you. Whoever your friend was that got you in here, you should thank for your life if you see him again.”
Ashton looked up at T in surprise.
The gargoyle just grinned and shrugged. “I’m out of phase. You can see me, but he can’t.”
Another shot ricocheted, and brick dust fluttered to the ground. Bryce flinched. “Come on people. Get us out of here.” He sent over the radio.
Car tires squealed and screeched to a stop a couple of feet from the entrance to the alley. A back door flew open. Tourmaline pushed him forward and Bryce grabbed his wrist, yanking him under his chest. Bryce forced him into a run. The detective’s body hovered over the top of him then shoved him into the car diving in behind. The door slammed shut. A loud thump hit the roof and the car sagged down.
“What the hell was that?” Bryce said.
“No idea, sir.” The driver yelled back and stepped on the gas.
His mind whirled from the various events of the day. Ashton sat back and watched Detective Bryce regain his breath.
It didn’t take long. Bryce studied him, then said, “You obviously know more than you are letting on, if they want you dead.”
Ash shook his head.
“What’s our destination, sir?” The driver asked.
Bryce didn’t take his eyes off of him. “Take us to the first safe zone.”
“No.” Ashton leaned forward.
“They obviously want you dead, Ashton. And whether or not you tell me anything,doesn’t change their desire. I need to take you to a safe house.”
“Fine. But at least let me grab some things and say good bye to my Mom.”
The Detective chewed his lip for a moment, then turned to the driver and gave him his mother’s address before settling back into the seat for the drive. “What were you doing here today, Ashton?”
“The truth? I have no idea how I got there.”
“Uh huh? Do you remember anything from the last year yet?”
“Right. The last week. Well?”
Ashton shrugged his shoulders. They continued to stare at one another until Ash got tired of it and turned to watch the scenery go by.
After awhile, Bryce broke the silence softly, “you’re damn lucky that we had surveillance on your old lab, Ashton. Or we wouldn’t have been there to save you.”
Ashton turned away from the rolling countryside and met Bryce’s eyes. “Who’s to say that you did?”