Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Revenant

Okay, here's my second short story. It is, thankfully, shorter than the first. Enjoy :)

THE REVENANT
By
Tonya Bryan

The events that led up to my suicide seem pretty unimpressive in retrospect.  Predictably enough, there had been a breakup.  I have to think hard to even remember the girl’s name now…Jillian?  Yes, Jillian.  The one detail that remains very clear to me after all of these years is her hair; long and golden like molten metal pouring down her back.  I still remember breathing in the scent of her, feeling the silky blanket of her hair draped across my chest.

Foolishly I’d been waiting for the perfect time to propose, but she left me before I had the chance.  The absence of her affection, the utter emptiness of my life without her had left only one path open to me.  Of course I had heard all of the warnings about suicide, but what tortures could purgatory possibly hold that could compare to the agony of never seeing her again?  When I put the gun in my mouth I had expected the burning retribution of Hell, but hoped for the quiet blackness of oblivion.  After pulling the trigger I experienced neither.

My prey picks up the tempo of her steps, breaking me out of my memories. I know she can feel me near and my jaw starts to grind maniacally as I perceive her terror.  The warm smell of her blood fills my nose.  Something feels poetic about my quarry today, perhaps it is the fact that my intended victim has lush, golden blond hair just like Jillian’s.  I feel anticipation building up as I watch the indecision play across her face. I can tell she feels foolish for venturing down this dark alley and doesn’t want to embarrass herself further by taking flight with the busy sidewalk just a few feet away.  She glances over her shoulder often and picks up her pace again.

In a few seconds she will leave the shadows and the closeness of the ally behind.  I reach my hand out towards her but she jumps ahead one little skip of a step and my fingers curl around empty air.  A vexed sigh hisses out from between my teeth as I spring straight up, landing lightly on my feet on the roof of a five story building.  I watch as the girl turns back towards the alley, her eyes wide with terror, only to shudder delicately and then merge into the crowded sidewalk traffic.

I notice a pigeon sitting on the roof ledge a few feet away from me and spring forward, snatching it up before it can even think about flying away.  I tear at the still living bird with my teeth, ravenous and impatient to feel its warm blood filling my cold empty veins.  After the initial relief associated with feeding fades I feel unsatisfied and angry.  I have run into others of my kind over the hundred or so years I’ve lived as a revenant.  I grunt with disgust, subsisted seems like a better word.  Those others had been bloated with the blood of their victims, smugly well fed while I remain desiccated and raw with hunger.

I hurl the emptied remains of the unsatisfying bird down towards the street and mentally smirk when I hear a woman screech below.  Now that I’m up on top of this stupid building the sun seems to scorch at me with avid intensity.  I shield my eyes, not caring that my hands are covered in blood and gore from the bird, and consider my options.  I should keep hunting.  I haven’t tasted human blood in over ten years and the pain of my hunger is excruciating.  Just then the wind picks up, whisking away the few scanty clouds that were partially blocking the wretched sunlight.  The brightness assaults my sensitive eyes and aggravates my aching.

Pulling the hood of my sweatshirt tightly around my face, I duck my head and jump down into the dim ally way.  Running comes easily to me, but I decide to take things slow just in case I find a new opportunity to hunt.  I slide along walls and creep down allies like a specter.  When I do pass by humans, they flinch away and their faces go tight.  For all of my thirst and pain, I can’t bring myself to attack any of them.  I wasn’t even capable of bringing down a helpless girl.

I hiss to myself again as I climb over the wreckage that is my front door.  I have taken up residence in an abandoned building on the south side of the city.  Other than painting the windows black and hauling in as many kerosene heaters as I could salvage from the junk yard down the street, I haven’t done anything to clean the place up or protect myself from outsiders.  Stacks of refuse tower precariously here and there and I weave though them effortlessly as I consider my inadequacy as a monster.

This building seems to scream “Please squat in me!”  to the vagrants of the city.  And what easy prey they would be!  And yet here I sit, feeling relief over the fact that so far no one has wandered into my lair.  I scoff at myself, even if a blind beggar stumbled in here I probably wouldn’t be able to kill him.

As I move further into the cool dark confines of the building I detect something faint and appetizing in the air.  I stop, close my eyes and breathe in deeply.  The scent is warm and moist, I take a few more steps forward and it fully assaults my nose accentuating the burning ache in my dry veins.

“Hold it right there asshole.” A distinctly female voice commands me.

My eyes pop open and I see a woman standing a few feet in front of me propped up on a pile of garbage, wielding what appears to be a modified harpoon launcher.  The woman isn’t pretty in any conventional sense.  She’s wearing men’s clothes and her body looks bulky underneath.  Her hair is the wildest shade of red I’ve ever seen and it’s sticking out every which way in a big frizzy mess.  A generous smattering of freckles cover her cheeks and nose and her eyes are a wolf like yellow color that I’ve never seen in a human before.

One leap would take me to the top of that pile.  In just one move I could take the woman down and her warm blood could fill my veins.  I feel my muscles contract, preparing to spring.  But at the very last second I find myself unwilling to harm her.  I duck my head and pull the sleeve of my sweatshirt over my hand, running it over my face in an attempt to clean away the bird mess.  There is something endearing about this wild looking woman standing fearlessly before me.  My lips twitch, the closest thing to a smile I have experienced in over a hundred years, and I raise my hands slowly.

“The last time I checked, this was my house.  Why don’t you explain what you’re doing in here, asshole.”  I grimace at the sound of my own voice.  I can’t remember the last time I tried to speak, my throat is so parched the words barely come out as a whisper.

“I’ve been following you for about a week.  I’ve been studying your…kind for most of my life.”  She snickers at me and lowers her weapon slightly so she can get a better look at me.  “I gotta say, you’re the most incompetent vampire I’ve ever met.”

Keeping my hands in plain sight so she won’t feel threatened, I move off to the right stopping in front of one of the several kerosene heaters I have scattered around the room.  I’m pretty confident that the weapon she’s holding can’t hurt me, but I know if she attacks I won’t be able to hold back the instinct to defend.  I mess with the wick on the heater for a second, wondering why I care.

“You’ve met others like me?  How is it that you are still alive then?”  I cock one eyebrow at her and move to the next heater.

Her chin lifts with overblown bravado and she pats the crosspiece of her weapon.  “This baby packs quite a punch.”  She smirks at me dryly and lifts the weapon back up to her face, lining up her shot.  “Over the years I’ve figured out the best way to kill a vampire is to plug him straight in the chest.  But you’ve gotta get a lot of velocity behind the shot, enough to break through the chest cavity and puncture the heart.  And you can’t stop there.  That’ll only slow the bastard down.”

She somehow manages to hold the harpoon gun in one hand and reach down to a concealed holster strapped around her thigh with her free hand to bring a massive hunting knife to bare.  The blade on the thing is at least ten inches long and it has a nasty serrated edge.  “No, if you leave him like that the only thing you’ll manage to do is piss him off.  If you really want to kill a vampire you have to cut his head right off his shoulders and tear the brain out of his skull.  Then he’s dead for good.”

In a lightning quick motion she drives the knife into an exposed wooden beam beside her and raises her ranged weapon again.  I move to the last heater in the room and light the wick.  The room is bright with the warm glow of their fire now, but this light doesn’t bother my eyes as much as the burning sun.  I lay my bare hands against the top of the heater.  Within a few seconds the metal is hot enough to scorch my flesh but I don’t feel any pain.

We stand in silence for a moment.  I notice her hands start to shake and wonder why she should be suddenly afraid.  Another moment passes and I start to feel annoyed.  “Well if you’re going to shoot me and rip my brains out, would you please just do it and get it over with?”

She smirks at me as she lowers her weapon, seemingly more interested in continuing our banter than killing me.  “You realize it’s the middle of the summer right?  It’s absolutely stifling in here as it is.  What’s your deal anyway?  You’re the weirdest vamp I’ve ever come across.”

I close my eyes and take in another deep breath.  The warmth of her blood calls to me, so much more satisfying than the warmth a thousand heaters could produce; definitely more appetizing than the rodents I usually live off.  My instincts tell me to take her.  I could be on top of her before she could ever get her cumbersome weapon leveled against me.  I would do it quickly, cleanly so she would feel as little pain as possible.

Some tiny part of me, perhaps what is left of my humanity, continues to struggle against my longing to kill her.  My eyes open and my lips twitch in a half smile again.  “I get cold.  And I’m not a vampire, not that I’m certain there is such a thing as a normal vampire anyway.  I am a revenant.”

She flops herself down on top of the trash heap crossing her legs and laying her harpoon gun across her lap.  I balk at her in shock.  I haven’t had a conversation with anyone since…before I died.  Human emotions that I haven’t felt in over a century overrule my desire to sink my teeth into her warm living flesh.  I turn around and dig through a pile of scraps until I find an old coat and wrap it around myself as I sit down.  I would be just as comfortable standing indefinitely, but I can tell the woman is more at ease this way so I mimic her position.

“What the Hell is a revenant?”  I can see the wheels turning in her head and it makes me almost smile again.

“The damned and twisted soul of one who has committed the ultimate sin.  The reanimated corpse of a person who has taken their own life.”  I shrug and feel the corners of my mouth twitching again.  “I don’t really know the best way for you to kill me.  But I guess we could try the heart piercing, brain ripping technique and see if it works.”

“So this happened because you killed yourself?  You weren’t bitten?”  Her voice and expression are incredulous and I notice her fingering the trigger of her weapon.

“Nope.  It was 1902 and I was twenty years old.  A girl broke my heart and I couldn’t see any way to live without her.   It all seems pretty ridiculous now.  I barely even remember her.  What I really remember is the taste of the metal in my mouth when I stuck the barrel of my father’s gun between my teeth.  I couldn’t imagine Hell being any worse than my life.  I was young and stupid, and very wrong.”

I look her over again.  It must be very hot in here because a thin sheen of sweat is dewing up on her forehead.  Now that she isn’t brandishing a weapon I discover that my initial analysis of her was way off the mark.  She is attractive in an odd sort of way.  She could definitely run a brush through her hair, but the shade of it reminds me of a flame.  Everything about her seems soft and inviting.  For a split second I long to touch her, yearn to lay my cold hand against her warm cheek.

“Well love is a bitch.”  She mutters.  “I wonder if vampires actually exist or if I’ve been chasing down revenants all this time.”  She shrugs her shoulders and pats her weapon.  “Either way, still needs to be done.”

“And how exactly does one get into the practice of vampire hunting?”  I ask and I’m surprised by the tinge of amusement in my voice, it’s been a very long time since I’ve found anything funny.

Pain suddenly twists her features and for a second it looks like she’s going to cry before she shakes her head briskly and shrugs her shoulders.  “I watched a vampire murder my father when I was a girl.  I didn’t have any other family so I ended up in a Catholic orphanage.  The church knows all about monsters like you, and they’re very good at spotting people who are cut out for hunting them.

I’ve killed about fifty undead, but the beasts I’ve come across look different from you.  They’re big and bloated, their faces are covered in blood and gore.  You look so skinny and dried out.”  She crinkles her nose up at me.  “That must be the difference between your kind and vampires.”

“No, those ones you saw before are just better fed than I am.  It has been over a decade since I’ve had a proper…meal.”  She shudders in revulsion and I shrug apologetically.

“Why didn’t you take the girl in the ally today?  I watched you stalk her, all you needed to do was reach out a second sooner and she would have been yours.”  Her voice sounds surprisingly accusatory.

“I don’t know why.”  I snap back at her.  “Why are you still alive?  I just can’t do it anymore.  I did something wrong, something horrible, but I can’t continue to punish innocent people for my actions.  So please harpoon me, cut me open, burn me.  Whatever it takes.”  I close my eyes and wait for the massacre to begin.  I hear her pull the knife out of the beam and move off the pile of garbage. As her footsteps move closer I brace myself against her scent, her warmth, and force myself to remain very still.  No matter what I will not fight back.  I will hold myself in the fire if need be.

Then the most shocking thing that could possibly happen, happens.  Instead of dicing me into a thousand pieces or decapitating me, she kneels down before me and lays her warm hand on my cheek.


*

I have no idea why I’m doing this.  What I should be doing is driving my knife through this thing’s chest and then stomping its brains out.  Instead I’m kneeling in front of it like an idiot.  My hand moves of its own volition and rests lightly against its cold cheek.  Every muscle in my body is tense. Every instinct is screaming at me to attack, but I can’t.

As soon as I touch him a shiver runs through his body and he turns his face into my hand.  When he opens his eyes they are bright with excitement, excitement to tear my throat open and drink my blood.  I watch as his jaw begins grinding and his fingers twitch, but I still can’t bring myself to harm him.  A tense moment passes and he seems to regain control.  The light leaves his eyes and he appears to be holding his breath.

He pins me with his gaze and I find myself drowning in the black depths of his eyes.  Pure black.  No white, no discernable pupil.  His flesh has a sickening purplish cast to it, similar to a corpse that has been decomposing for quite awhile.  His hair is also black and hangs dankly around his shoulders.  Despite my revulsion, I feel pity.  The hard frozen lump in my chest that has been serving as my heart for all of these years begins to thaw.

“What is…what was your name?”  I whisper.  I wish I could get up and run for it since I obviously don’t have the guts to do my job anymore.  I have spent my entire adult life chasing down and killing monsters like him, everything about this situation just seems downright wrong.  Despite all of that I am captivated by his tortured soul.

His eyebrows knit together and another moment passes before he answers.  “Declan.”  He whispers back.  “I’d almost forgotten that.  Thank you for reminding me.”  Both sides of his mouth pull up and he finally manages to smile.  “What’s your name?”

“Sheila.”  The word comes out in a rush of breath and I struggle to keep my composure as fifteen years of anger and questing for revenge war with compassion inside of me.  A traitor tear escapes my eye and begins rolling down my cheek.  Very slowly, Declan lifts one finger and wipes it away.

Every fiber of my being screams at me to stop, but I raise my other hand to cup his face.  His body begins shaking but he makes no move to attack me and after a moment he goes still again.  As my face moves closer to his I feel his jaw lock under my fingers.  Despite all logic I continue to move slowly, but inevitably towards him until I press my lips against his icy mouth.  I pull back slightly leaving my lips close enough to brush against his as I speak.

“Declan?”

“Yes?”  His voice trembles and he begins shaking more violently than before.

“I forgive you.”  I slide my knife as smoothly as possible into his chest, ramping up the pressure as my blade slides through his rib cage and finally hits its mark, his dead heart.

Suddenly a searing blast of white light fills the room blinding me and sending me sprawling backwards.  I hear Declan gasp in pain, but my mind is too overwhelmed by the light to respond in any way.  What could be an eternity or a few moments pass and I feel my consciousness slipping away as my brain shuts down in self defense against the overwhelming, ripping, agony produced by the other worldly.  Then everything goes black.

When I open my eyes again the room is still bright but not in an uncomfortable way.  I’m laying down and immediately start struggling to get up but a cool hand presses against my arm.  I turn my head around and see Declan kneeling beside me.  Everything about him is different.  His eyes are a warm brown now and they are full of concern and love as he looks down at me.  His skin is pale, but a normal human kind of pale.

“Don’t try to sit up Sheila.  You fell and hit your head.  Just lie there for a minute.  I’m sorry I can’t stay, but I wanted to say thank you before I go.”

“Where are you going?”  I demand.  I feel my heart splitting in two inside my chest at the thought of him leaving me.  The pain seems all wrong to me, but I  feel it deeply regardless.

He smiles at me and the expression lights up his now handsome features.  “I really don’t know.  But I feel like I’m heading somewhere good.  I have a lot to make up for, but thanks to you I’ve finally forgiven myself.  I’m ready to move on now.  And it’s time for you to move on as well Sheila.  Life is too beautiful and too brief to waste on hate and revenge.”

Voices fill up the room and Declan stands up, turning towards them.  The sound is so beautiful it hurts my ears.  I want to follow him, but the light intensifies again and the singing voices continue to amplify until I’m forced to cover my ears with my hands and squeeze my eyes shut to keep from passing out again.

When the light finally subsides and I open my eyes, Declan is gone.  I stand up shakily and look around. His empty, rotting corpse is laying on the floor in front of me.

“I guess that’s what you would call killing them with kindness.”  I mutter, trying to laugh through my tears as I methodically dismember his corpse, cutting it down into manageable pieces and wrapping it in the coat he was wearing.

I make my way quickly through the streets back to the church and burst through the door to the private chamber of the archbishop of the diocese.  The man leaps up from behind his desk in surprise, then crinkles up his nose in disgust when he smells the contents of my makeshift bag.

“What is the meaning of this my child?  Surely your visit could have waited for the morning.”  He demands angrily.

I roll my eyes and storm across the room, dumping the macabre contents of the bag out onto his desk.  “Actually, it couldn’t your holiness.  I need to bury this body properly.  Now.  Do you guys keep a shovel in this joint?”

And so finally Declan’s remains are laid to rest along with his soul.  I visit his grave often, always going under the comforting light of the moon rather than the harsh glare of the sun to remember him.  I tell myself that I’m there to pray for him and thank him for ending my path of vengeance, but mostly I want to make sure he stays dead.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

An Odd Proposal

Okay here's the first short story I dare to submit to the glaring eye of my public for examination.  It isn't the story I like the best, but it was the closest to being fully proof read and intelligible so....here it be!

 An Odd Proposal
By Tonya Bryan


As engrossed as Taryn was with the analysis of her research, she couldn’t keep the corner of her mouth from turning up in wry amusement as she listened with half an ear to her best friend/assistant, Cooper, laying the groundwork with a rather strapping, rather straight, young research assistant they had met earlier in the day at the base of the Hingan mountain range.  Of course Cooper was devilishly handsome, and he gave off a sort of rugged, manly aura that didn’t lend itself to his otherwise blatant homosexuality.

That was part of his allure, straight men could converse with him easily, feel comfortable around him, never suspecting his ultimate agenda.  Then after a few hours and a few drinks they were inexorably drawn in by him and found themselves wondering what a little experimentation could hurt, especially here in Deli or Tibet or Shang Hi, where no one back home would ever find out?

Taryn grimaced to herself when she heard Cooper let out a little knowing chuckle.  He had a taker.  This could only mean one thing, he would come shambling into the little room they shared at three in the morning and climb into bed next to her wreaking of cheap whiskey, and the musk of sweaty man on man sex.  After a second she adjusted her attitude and tried to return her full focus back to the papers in front of her.  At least one of them should be getting laid after all, she hadn’t been with a man in almost ten years and had no immediate plans to change that status.  She cut the wistful sigh that was playing in the back of her throat short before it could even get started and forcefully turned her mind back to her work.

After just a few moments the whole bar, more of a shanty than a legitimate structure, rattled and a blast of arctic air blew through the place as someone opened the door.  She knew that Cooper would look up to ascertain whether or not the newcomer was in some way more attractive than his current prospect and she assumed that he was by the way Cooper’s body suddenly went tight on the bar stool beside her.

“Taryn, my darling, my love.  I want you to remain calm.”

Something about the tone of his voice set off an internal alarm within Taryn, she felt her stomach bunch up into a tight knot.  Despite his gayness, Cooper was not prone to flights of fancy and they both knew that there was only one thing in the entire world that could throw her into an absolute panic, one person actually.  She could only imagine what her face looked like because Cooper’s large hand clamped firmly down on her shoulder, shaking her gently. 

“Taryn, you need to breathe.  Dominick is just a man, nothing more.  He’s not even that good looking for God’s sake.  Now I want you to sit up straight, shoulders back, boobs out, and pull yourself together.  He saw me, he’s heading our way.”  He leaned in closer to her and whispered, “You can do this Taryn, you aren’t a college girl anymore.  You are a respected, successful, published archeologist.  Taryn?”  He shook her shoulders again, this time a bit more roughly, “Taryn, BREATHE.”  He hissed in obvious annoyance before muttering “Freaking heteros.”  Under his breath as if it were a dirty word.

Taryn’s breath rushed out of her aching lungs in a massive heave as she finally exhaled.  Her heart felt as if it would thunder out of her chest at any moment and its beating only intensified as she isolated Dominick’s footsteps moving towards her from the general din and noise of the small tavern.  Cooper pinched her arm hard and she exhaled again in another gusty rush.

“Well hello there Dom.”  He intoned with obviously false courtesy.  “I haven’t seen you in awhile, what brings you to China?”

Taryn kept her face down, pretending to focus on the papers spread out on the bar in front of her while she struggled to modulate her breathing. 

She could feel Dominick’s eyes boring into the back of her head as he responded.  “Hey Coop, I was looking for you actually.  The two of you are surprisingly hard to track down these days.”

Cooper’s voice became arrogant, “Well you know how it is.  We received our first grant from Ithaca College and things just snowballed from there.  Taryn’s research is so sought after now, we’re constantly traveling from one spot to another.  Just last month her paper on Cro-Magnon man was published in Archeological Digest.”  Taryn roller her eyes and inwardly groaned.  Cooper had always been her biggest cheerleader but now wasn’t exactly the time.

“I know,”  Dominick replied steadily, bearing Cooper’s bragging with uncharacteristic grace.  “I read it.  I also read her paper on the Sasquatch  phenomenon in the pacific north west.  But my particular favorite was her collaborative work with Doctor Mark Lehner in Egypt.”

Taryn felt a wave of anxiety rushing through her.  Dominick read her work?  She had never imagined that he even spared her a passing thought let alone followed her career.  She had seen him from time to time over the years, usually at functions for the college but sometimes out in the trenches at whatever dig she was working on.  He had never so much as spoken a word to her in ten years, even on the few occasions she was sure he had seen her. 

Three years ago she had literally run into him while wandering through an open market on the streets of Nairobi.  Their eyes had locked for exactly twenty two seconds before he had turned around and walked the other way as if he didn’t know her.  Now he was suddenly, inexplicably, here in the tiny province of Hailar, China searching for her? 

The flow of her anxiety rapidly changed direction.  Other than rinsing off in the frigid waters of the Yangtze, she hadn’t had a proper bath in over a month.  Her clothes were stained and ratty and she was sure that the tangled mass on her head bore more resemblance to a mutilated animal than human hair.

An awkward silence had fallen between the two men.  Cooper had been prepared to champion her, defend her against any criticism or mockery that Dominick might have thrown her way, but Dominick’s open acceptance of her brilliance had taken all of the wind out of Cooper’s sails.  Taryn sucked in a deep breath and spun around on her squeaky bar stool.

She funneled every ounce of her energy and strength into keeping her voice even.  “Hello Dom.”

“Taryn.”  He replied just as evenly.  Something about his face seemed off to her, though it had been ten years since she had spent any significant amount of time studying his features.  Despite the passage of a decade, she had to admit that every inch of him was permanently embedded in her memory, every gesture, every expression, every touch.  His usually warm chocolate brown eyes sparkled now in a way she had never seen before, his expression seemed oddly focused, almost frighteningly intense.

“May I buy you a drink?”  She asked, trying to keep her voice light.  “You have two choices, yellow rice wine or some kind of home brewed beer concoction that smells and looks disturbingly similar to anti freeze.”
Dominick smirked and ordered himself a beer in perfect Mongolian before sitting down on an empty bars stool beside Taryn, opposite from Cooper.

“So Dom, I must admit my curiosity is perked.  What reason could you possibly have for tracking us down?”  The derision in Cooper’s voice was so poorly disguised Taryn expected the whole situation to devolve into a fight at any second.  Dominick and Cooper had always had a low tolerance for one another.  Again, Dominick’s complimentary answer took them both off guard.

“Taryn is the smartest person I know, so when I discovered a riddle I couldn’t unravel on my own I figured it was time to find her.”

A flash of incredulity flitted quickly across Cooper’s face and he dropped his gaze to the bar, carefully outlining the rim of his glass with one finger while he absorbed the unexpected compliment.  After a moment he looked up and smiled at Dominick wryly, “It’s about time you realized that.  I gotta say Dom, you are the stupidest smart person I’ve ever met.”

Taryn held her breath, waiting for the retort that would turn playful banter into an argument, but it never came.  “I can’t say I disagree with you on that point Coop.”  To her surprise both of them laughed.

Cooper wrapped one arm around Taryn’s shoulders, pulling her tight against his chest.  “Well I’ve always said that you are the brains and I am the beauty my love, so  I will leave you to unravel the mystery of Dominick’s riddle.”  He pressed his lips against her cheek lightly, very close to her ear and whispered, “Are you okay for me to leave?  I’ll stay if you want me to.”

Taryn smiled up at him, “Have fun Cooper.  If I’m asleep when you come back to the room, I’ll see you in the morning.”

He nodded in quick understanding and turned back to his nearly forgotten conquest.  “Evan, I think I’m going to go outside for a bit of fresh air, would you care to join me?”

“Um, actually, my name is Edward.”  The man replied awkwardly. 

“Oh right.”  Cooper smiled apologetically, “I’m sorry, of course it’s Edward.”  He stood up and slung on his heavy jacket and poor Edward followed him out of the bar like a lost puppy.

“I see Cooper hasn’t lost his touch.”  Dominick smiled dryly at Taryn as he watched the scene unfold.

“Absolutely not.”  She smiled back at him tentatively and took a sip of her wine before carefully setting the glass down on the bar with trembling fingers.  They watched each other in pensive silence for a moment until Taryn couldn't handle the building pressure anymore.  She folded her hands on her lap and stared down at them intently,  “Okay Dom, spill it.  What’s the matter?  It must be something big for you to resort to speaking to me.”  She managed to look up, even attempted to smile but the expression seemed to mangle on her lips.

“What is that supposed to mean?”  The hurt in his voice took her off guard.

“Well since our break up you haven’t exactly made any attempt to keep the lines of communication open, nor have you had any compunctions about publicly criticizing and maligning my field of study.”

“You seem to be forgetting the fact that you left me holding an engagement ring Taryn.  And as far as crypto archeology is concerned you have to admit that it is basically comprised of lunatics and fanatics.  Of course, I concede that your research has afforded the field a certain measure of credibility.”

Taryn could feel her ire rising with every word that came out of his smug, ridiculously gorgeous mouth.  She couldn’t see herself, but she was confident that her face was turning bright red with rage.  Dominick noticed too and patted his hands in the air to calm her down. 

“Look Taryn, I didn’t come here to argue with you.  Like I said, I need your help.”  His expression turned pleading and her anger simmered down into annoyance. 

“Why me Dominick?  And don’t you dare say you came looking for me because I’m the smartest person you know.”

A glint of anger flashed in his dark eyes, “I wasn’t trying to butter you up earlier, I was telling the truth.  But I see that you are ready to twist anything I say around into some kind of insult.”  He raked his hands through his hair and then looked back up at her with the same fiery intensity she had initially noticed.  “If you discovered something Taryn, something that could potentially put the entire human race in imminent danger, who would you want to tell first?  Who would you want to warn before anyone else?”

“Cooper.”  She replied automatically.

He scrubbed his hands across his face in frustration, “I should have known you would say that.  Who would you want to warn after Cooper?”  His voice was full of anxiety.

Taryn dropped her gaze back down to her hands. When she was finally able to answer, her voice was barely a whisper.  “You.”

He grabbed her hand but she didn’t look up.  “Why Taryn?  Why would you want me to know first, well second?  Is it because you still love me?”

She glared up at him, all of the pain and anger she had ever felt because of him coming to a sudden head.  “It’s one of my more annoying personality flaws, but yes.”  She snapped back sharply.

“Don’t you see Taryn?  That’s exactly why I’m here.  This whole stinking world could come crashing down around my ears, I could die a thousand deaths and it wouldn’t matter.  The only thing that could ever hurt me is loosing you.”  He took a long pull off his beer and slammed the mug down on the bar, drawing a disparaging glance from the bartender.

Taryn felt her eyes go wide with shock and her body twitched slightly as her heart skipped a beat.  But ten years of bitterness wasn’t going to be dispelled that easily.  “Dom, why don’t you just tell me what you’ve found and get it over with?  There’s really no need for all of this foreplay.  I’ll help you if your discovery has any scientific merit.”

He rolled his eyes and let out a frustrated sigh as he pulled his pack off his back and reverently pulled out two items.  She could tell that he was still angry, but he handled the objects with great care.  He set them down on the bar and she studied them carefully.  They seemed to be identical, both bowl shaped with a system of rudimentary chimes built into the basin.

“Do you know what these are?”  He asked in a rough voice.

“They appear to be some kind of bell or chime.  I’ve seen similar items in Giza.  If I had to make a very preliminary guess I would date these objects in the same time period, around 2560 BC.”

“Very good.”  He encouraged, indicating the bell closest to her.  “You are absolutely correct about this particular bell.  I found it about two years ago in Giza, but can you guess where I found this nearly identical bell?”  He pointed to the second object.

She shook her head no as she examined the object more closely.  The items didn’t appear to have weathered any differently.  The color of the ancient stone seemed exactly the same in both examples to the naked eye.

“I found it in Baigong, a tiny city about forty kilometers south east of Delingha.”

Taryn looked up at him in startled amazement, “I know it, it’s about an hour outside of Tibet.  But what the Hell was this doing in China?  Of course there was trade between Egypt and China, but not until much later after the Arabic invasion of Egypt.  I guess this artifact may have traveled along that trade route, but why?  As far as I know there has never been a large market for Egyptian antiquities in China like there was in England and the rest of Europe.”
 
He rapidly changed the subject, making her head spin in confusion.  “What do you think aliens look like Taryn?  What has pop culture taught you to think about them?”

She rolled her eyes at him.  “Look Dominick, I know all about your warped views on pop culture and the damage it does to the collective psyche of the western world.  Remember, I did the research for the paper you wrote on the topic and then you took all the credit when it got published.”  She took another swig of her wine and motioned for the bartender to bring her another.

He stared at her, incredulous and speechless for a full minute before responding.  “Taryn that happened twelve years ago.  And at the time you told me you didn’t want credit for the research.  Good lord woman, I’m trying to tell you that the entire world is in danger and you’re bringing up things I did wrong over a decade ago?  Are you really that bitter?”

“I told you I didn’t want credit to be polite.  I never dreamed you would actually listen to me!”  She hissed back at him vehemently.  “Never mind that you supposedly loved me at the time, what ever happened to professional courtesy?”

“Well I suppose my inability to read your mind was always our biggest problem.”  He replied acidly.

“Yes there was that and the constant infidelity and betrayal.”

“I’m sorry Taryn.  I know it’s impossible for someone of your high moral standards to understand this, but you have no idea how depressing it is to realize that you’ve met your soul mate in your first class of the first semester of your freshman year in college.  I apologize for not being ready to totally  commit to you for the rest of my life before I was even old enough to drink.  I realize that makes me a worthless bastard.”  His voice dripped with sarcasm and Taryn’s face twisted with unabated rage.

The bartender sat a full glass down in front of each of them and cleared his throat significantly.  Both of them realized at the same time that they were leaning towards each other menacingly with their hands balled into fists and sat back, relaxing their postures slightly.

“Anyway, back to the reason I’m here.  What do you imagine aliens look like, if of course we were to assume you  believed in their existence.”

“I guess I would imagine them with big heads, over sized black eyes.  Basically humanoid in shape but with spindly limbs, gray skin.  But what do aliens from cheesy fifties movies have to do with these bells?”

Instead of answering her question he asked another.  “Have you heard of the theory that there actually are no aliens?  That people from the future may have learned how to travel through time and that we have mistaken them for extraterrestrial visitors?”

“Yes, I’ve heard of that theory.”  She answered hesitantly.

“Okay, tell me about what you found in and around Seattle.  Tell me about the Sasquatch.”

“I found the remains of a bipedal animal.  It was very similar to Asiatic gorillas.  I found hair and DNA samples along with fossilized dung.  None of it matched any known gene types.  The laboratory at Cambridge is still studying the samples I brought back.”

“Exactly, now tell me about the hieroglyphics you found in Egypt.”

“Well Doctor Lehner and I found quite a few odd hieroglyphics amongst the general writings.  We also found several strange sculptures.  Doctor Lehner believed they were depictions of the Gods and the lotus, but they looked sort of similar to men in space suites to me.  Some of them even appeared to be wearing breathing apparatus.  Honestly Dominick, what does that have to do with Sasquatch?  You’re really starting to confuse me.”

“Just let me ask you a few more questions and then I swear I will explain myself.”  He smirked at her but something about his expression seemed desolate, as if she had just confirmed something he had been hoping was a mistake.

“Okay, shoot.”

“What did you find here Taryn?  Up in the Hingan Mountains and also in the Himalayas?”

“Evidence that Yeti really exist.”  She replied in a hushed voice.  “Nobody is supposed to know about this yet because I haven’t conclusively proven anything.  The last thing Ithaca wants is to be at the center of a scientific shit storm.”

“But what exactly did you find?”

“Bodies Dominick.  Not just fossils or fecal remains but actual bodies and signs of current habitation in some of the mountain caves.  More importantly, I found evidence that they bury their dead and care for their young Dom.”  She eyed him significantly over the rim of her wine glass.

“But you didn’t see a living Yeti?”  He asked, his eyes full of burning curiosity.

“No, I suspect that they are highly intelligent.  Smart enough to avoid being seen when they don’t want to be at least.  That’s why Cooper and I are here.  We were going to rest tonight and then head to Tibet in the morning to catch a flight back to the states.  If I’m going to set up a long term camp around the mountain caves I’m going to need a lot more supplies, a lot more funding.”

“And have you ever wondered why you, a relatively inexperienced, poorly funded archeologist has discovered all of these groundbreaking pieces of evidence?  Why they have fallen into your lap in places where other, preeminent archeologists have already gone before you and found nothing?”

Her first instinct was to be angered and insulted by the question, but one look at his earnest face assured her he wasn’t trying to be a jerk.

“I have wondered that honestly.  Cooper always assured me it was because I was an exceptionally good archeologist.  The question has also been brought up in scientific circles, people thinking I am manufacturing evidence.  I can assure you my work has been quite thoroughly scrutinized.”

“What else did you see up in the mountains?”  He pressed, totally ignoring her last statement.

She thought hard for a moment, trying to guess what he was after and where this seemingly pointless conversation was heading.  “We found a tooth.  A huge tooth.  At first I actually thought it was a tusk from a juvenile mammoth, but upon further inspection I am convinced it’s a tooth.  The problem is that it doesn’t look like a fossil, it doesn’t look old at all actually.  The people in Hailar have been reporting sightings of a large cat.  They showed me a carcass, one of the local scientists had already identified it as a mange infested lynx, but it didn’t look like any lynx I had ever seen.”  She shrugged her shoulders noncommittally.

He pinched his nose between his thumb and forefinger, when he looked up at her again he seemed tired, as if he hadn’t slept for weeks.  “What if I told you it’s all connected Taryn?  The Sasquatch, the bells, the Egyptians, your discoveries, all of it.”

“How?”

“Assume for a moment that the “future humans as aliens” theory is correct and then think of it in context of folklore.  Native American cave drawings for example.”  He lifted his eyebrows at her, prompting her to continue the thought.

“Many Native American cave drawings portray Sasquatch type creatures side by side with animals we know of today.  The problem is that until recently no fossil remains have been found to support an extinct creature of those dimensions in that ecosystem.”

He held up one finger to stop her.  “Humans are at the top of this world’s food chain, correct?”

She nodded her head once.

“But not because we’re the strongest or the fastest, not because our teeth are the sharpest.  We are at the top because we are the smartest.  Now lets go back to folklore, to all of the creatures that exist in the verbal history of cultures around the globe but somehow do not physically exist.  Imagine what the landscape of this world would look like if humans were not at the top of the food chain.”

“Dominick, I really don’t understand what you’re getting at and you’re starting to scare me.  Maybe it’s time you head back to the states and take a vacation.  Do you want me to call your mother for you?”

“Damn it Taryn, will you please listen to me!”  He grabbed her shoulders hard, squeezing them tighter when she tried to pull away.  “Humans from the future have been going back in time and eliminating creatures that out rank us in the food chain, including Cro-Magnon man, to advance our species.  But now they’ve decided that they made a wrong turn and they’re going back and undoing what they’ve done!  They’re trying to force humanity down a different evolutionary path by reintroducing predators to our ecosystem.”

“Are you suggesting that future humans are messing with history and leaving behind new artifacts in the process?”  Taryn tried to make the question sound ridiculous but she couldn’t deny that the same theory had crossed her mind when she had turned up previously undiscovered objects again and again.

“That’s exactly what I’m suggesting.  They aren’t making much of an effort to cover their tracks and as time passes the changes are going to become more noticeable.  You mentioned that some villagers are already reporting sightings of large cats, imagine what’s going to happen when saber tooth tigers are strolling the streets of Beijing.”

“None of this makes sense Dom, if the human race is so advanced in the future that we have mastered time travel why would we want to backtrack and mess with our evolutionary process?”

“Because it’s all true Taryn, the bulbous heads, the gray skin, the huge weird eyes, that is the future of our race, we must have had some sort of precognition, some instinct that bled out into our pop culture.  As our technology increases the use of our bodies decrease.  Our muscle mass deteriorates, our heads grow to accommodate our over sized brains.  In the future, humans are completely non functional without mechanized assistance.  So they’ve decided to take us back to our primal roots and see if we are tough enough to cut it without their intervention.”

“Well that certainly is a fucked up interpretation of survival of the fittest.”  Taryn muttered into her wine glass. “But I still don’t see what it has to do with me.  And what’s the big riddle here?  It seems like you have your theory pretty well fleshed out.  How do you know so much about this anyway?  I didn’t think you would touch any kind of research to do with crypto archeology with a ten foot pole.”

“Well Taryn…”  He was suddenly too fascinated by his beer to look her in the eye.  “I know this is going to sound crazy, but I was…well, I was abducted.  I spent the last two years with the future humans and I saw first hand what they’re planning.”

Taryn’s eyes went wide with shock, Dom held up one hand to stop her from interrupting.  “Like I said, I know this sounds crazy, but I can prove it.  Please just look at this.”  He rummaged through his bag again and pulled out a crumpled photograph.  It had obviously been folded and refolded several times and the paper was water stained around the edges.  He handed her a magnifying glass and shoved the picture across the bar towards her, almost overturning her wine glass.

The photo was black and white and at first it didn’t make any sense to her.  She studied it for a long moment, the figure in the picture was naked but the smooth skin pulled uniformly over the body with no apparent external reproductive organs.  It had a large head and an extremely thin frame with long arms that extended down past where the knees should have been and similarly stretched out looking legs that didn’t appear to be properly jointed.  All of the alien clich├ęs seemed present and accounted for.  Something small caught Taryn’s eye and she held the magnifying glass up to the photo, studying the object intently.  A startlingly familiar pendant hung around the supposed alien’s neck.

“Do you still have the necklace Taryn?  Do you still wear it?”

“No.  You gave me the stupid thing for our first anniversary, then a week later I walked in on you bending the dean of the university over her desk.  The piece of junk turned my neck green anyway.  I threw it in the garbage.”  She’d never had much of a poker face and lying to Dom in particular had always been impossible for her. 

“Come on Taryn, tell me the truth.”

“Fine.”  She muttered, yanking down the collar of her shirt to expose the pendent hanging there, right where he’d put it over ten years ago.  “I still don’t get the point Dom.  Are you implying that I’m some sort of whacked out future human who is intent on destroying the human race because you jilted me?”

“Actually Taryn that’s exactly what I’m implying.”  He stared into her eyes earnestly, as if he could will her to take him seriously.  “That’s how you know where to find the artifacts, precognition, just like our current human counterparts perceive the direction our species is heading in and come up with a spot on depiction of aliens for our cheese ball movies.

That is the mystery I need you to help me solve Taryn.  What can I do to make things up to you?  To make you happy?  To make you believe in the human race again?  Marry me Taryn, we’ll go back to the university together and settle down as professors, or I’ll travel with you and Cooper.  Whatever you want.”  The desperate pleading in his voice was hard to ignore, but the memory of his betrayals was planted too deeply for her to even consider the possibility that he was being sincere.

Taryn snorted loudly and threw enough togrog down on the bar to cover their tab plus leave a hefty tip for the bartender.  “You know Dom, after everything we’ve been through, all of the speeches you’ve given on what a ludicrous sham of a field crypto archeology is and how myself and  all of my colleagues are a bunch of hacks I can’t believe you would come all the way to the edge of the freaking earth just to get one more jab in, but I stand corrected.  Did you photo shop this yourself or was the whole archeological community in with you on this?”

He opened his mouth to argue but she cut him off, “Forget it, honestly I don’t want to know.  If you get the burning desire to play another practical joke on me ten years from now, do us both a favor and resist the urge.   Goodnight.”

He tried to grab her as she spun away, but Taryn’s drive to get away before the tears could start spilling over her cheeks gave her super human strength and she managed to wrest her arm away and make a fair demonstration of stomping furiously out of the bar before her shoulders started to heave with her sobs.

To her surprise, Cooper was present, awake, and alone when she stormed into the room they shared.  All the lights were off, but the moon shone brightly through the window and she could see him sitting up in the bed with the blanket pulled up around his waist.  She slammed the door closed against the biting wind and began rummaging through one of his bags, looking for a clean  shirt to wear to bed.

“It went that well huh?”  Cooper’s question was muffled as she pulled his ratty Ithaca Alumni t shirt over her head.

“I don’t really want to talk about it Coop.”  She mumbled, still trying to get her tears under control.

Even in the semi darkness she could tell he was rolling his eyes.  “Come here my love and tell me what happened.”

She grudgingly complied, crawling under the covers and snuggling into his chest.  One of the very best perks of having a gay best friend was unlimited cuddling with no expectations of sex.

“What happened to your new friend?”  Taryn asked in an attempt to divert the conversation from her disastrous meeting with Dom.

“Ugh, what a bore.  Sometimes I get so tired of the pretense.  All men have natural homosexual tendencies, I don’t understand why they all have to be so adverse to exploring them.  Anyway, I thought you might need me and apparently I was correct.  Now stop stalling and tell me what happened.”

“He’s such an asshole Coop, I don’t know what I ever saw in him.”

“Agreed, but what did he say?”

“He kept rambling on about my research, alluding to his great “mystery” but never spitting it out.  Then he told me he was suddenly interested in my work because he was abducted by future humans masquerading as aliens.”

“And you immediately jumped to the conclusion that he was mocking you?”  Cooper ran his fingers slowly through her hair, his proven technique for calming her nerves.

“Of course I did, and it gets better.  After that he proceeded to show me a picture of a future human that he claimed was me, and then asked me to marry him to prevent me from going on a murderous rampage.  What other explanation can there be?  Dom doesn’t believe in aliens, he certainly doesn’t give any credence to crypto archeology, and he definitely doesn’t want to marry me.  This was just his way of making a fool of me…again.”

“Or maybe it's his way of trying to get you back.  Have you considered that possibility Taryn?  Of course, it’s a rather odd way to go about it, but you breeders are a peculiar lot.”

“No, I’m sure he was just having a bit of fun at my expense.  It’s been ten years, I’m stupid enough to carry a torch that long, but we’ve both heard the stories about Dom’s conquests.  He hasn’t been pining for me.  Besides, I’d never go down that road again, being destroyed once is enough for me.”

“I have another option for you.”  Cooper stopped combing through her hair with his fingers and lifted her chin up towards his face.  He pressed his lips to hers gently and at first his kiss felt familiar and comforting, this was the same friendly kiss he would lay on her before leaving for an extended trip or after a few to many drinks on New Years Eve.  After a few seconds though, his manner became more intense, his tongue traced the outline of her lips and he wrapped his arm securely around her waist, pulling her closer to him.

“Coop, what are you doing?”  she whispered against his lips, confusion clear even in her muted tone.

“I’m asking you to marry me.”

“Cooper you’re gay.”  She laid one hand flat against his chest and pushed him back.

“Oh come on, my mom will be thrilled, we can settle down somewhere, have some kids.  I’m so tired of playing the game, bored to tears with the meaningless sex and the monotony of endless dating.  I love you and you love me, we probably have a better shot at making it work than any straight couple out there.”

“Except for the fact that you think vaginas are disgusting Coop.  Come on, you can’t just turn off being gay.  Sooner or later you’re going to want some man ass and our hypothetical children will be devastated by our divorce.”

“You have a point.”  He mused in the darkness.  “But I do love you enough to try to make you happy.  And your vagina doesn’t seem all that objectionable.  You could at least let me try before you make another one of your hasty assumptions.”  He traced his fingers down her bare thigh until he reached the back of her knee and then hitched her leg up around his hip.  His lips moved along her neck, his teeth lightly grazing her skin.  For a second she entertained the notion of giving him what he wanted, in a way he was right, they did love each other enough to make it work, but that love would never be enough to make either of them happy.

She stopped him again before his wandering hands could find their way to her breasts.  “Coop, I love you for asking, and I love you for trying, but this isn’t going to work.  You’re going to find some fabulous gay man to share your life with, and get an incredible apartment in Manhattan and thank your lucky stars everyday that I turned you down.”

“Are you turning me down because you don’t think I can really commit to this or are you rejecting me because you still love Dom?”

“A little bit of both.”  She sighed with resignation, Cooper knew her better than she knew herself and she got the feeling that this had all been a trick to get her to admit her true feelings.

“Then you should go to him, work this out.  Maybe he’s telling the truth, I hate to think of you running amuck, destroying humanity and all of that.”

“You’re right.”  She sighed again.  “I’m taking your jacket.”  She rolled out of bed and started rummaging around in the darkness again, tripping over her shoes and almost falling flat on her face.

“Fine, just don’t get your straight sex smell all over it.  I’ll see you in the morning.”

Taryn grimaced and made her way back out into the cold night.  After being snuggled up in the warm bed it seemed even more frigid than she remembered outside.  Thankfully Dom was still sitting at the bar when she stumbled in, realizing only then that she had actually pulled on Coopers pants rather than her own.  She blushed and considered turning back around and running out of the bar, but Dom looked up and spotted her when the cold air rushed through the open door behind her. 

He looked half crazed as he got up from the bar and ran towards her, slamming into her and wrapping his arms around her so tight she could barely breath.  “I love you"  He murmured fervently in her ear, "Sorry I should have opened with that.”

“You’re just saying that because you don’t want me to go all psycho scientist.”  She mumbled as she kissed every inch of his face, the part of her mind that was dedicated to self defense screamed for her to stop, warned of the pain and rejection this man was totally capable of raining down on her, but she couldn’t. 

“I’ve gotta be honest that’s part of it.”  She felt his lips turn up in a smile beneath hers.  “But being taken like that, never knowing if I would be able to come back to my own time again, it makes a man take stock of things.”

“You’re really serious about the whole abduction thing aren’t you?”  She leaned away from him and cocked one eyebrow, still doubting.

“Yes Taryn, I’m dead serious.  It was only when I noticed that the leader was wearing your necklace that I made the connection.  That’s when I knew I had to find a way back here and make things right with you.”

“How did you escape?”

“I didn’t really.  I just talked to them, talked to you actually, the future you anyway.  I explained how much I loved you and wanted to change things, prove them wrong about us.  After awhile they must have listened.  I woke up in a hotel room in Deli.  I’ve been trying to find you ever since.

“So basically the fate of mankind depends on you doing the right thing?”  Taryn asked with mock severity.

“Exactly, so I plan on doing everything right from now on.”  Dom reached into his pocket and pulled out a very familiar ring.  He had tried to give it to her once before, but she had thrown it in his face and told him to get out of her life.  This time she allowed him to slip it onto her finger.  He picked her up and carried her out of the bar, and the two of them lived happily ever after…we hope.