EPISODE 1 – Thunderstorm
Sweat trickled from underneath Ciska’s helmet, slid down her back and soaked her shirt. The chronometer strapped to her handlebars reported that she’d ridden 37 kilometers since she started out, at an average speed of 15 kph, and the time was 5:27pm PDT. Like all her equipment the timepiece was precision tooled and multi-functional. Not that such measurements had any great meaning for her anymore, but it was a way of keeping score.
She crested a slight hill, pulled over onto the parched grass at the side of the dilapidated backroad and hitched her bike up on it’s stand.
Her spine cracked as she stretched and surveyed the mountain range she’d ridden out of. Towering thunderclouds tumbled down their wildfire scarred flanks. Booming thunder, still hungry, echoed across the empty plains as it chased her eastwards. It would catch up with her sooner rather than later, but she decided to make a run for the next town anyway. She had no desire to spend another night in her tent surrounded by these determined storm clouds.
Ciska eyeballed her bike and trailer for any signs of deterioration. With a satisfied nod she snapped the chinstrap on her helmet closed, and set off.
The long hot Summer had brutalized the Interior. Even now, with Fall looming close, the surrounding hills shimmered and baked in the heat, thirsting for the coming storm.
Most of the fields she rode past had already been harvested and only opportunistic hunters patrolled them. Ciska flinched as a flurry of wings flashed across her path.
“Silly bugger!” She yelled. “I hope it was worth it.” The bird veered back across the road with a writhing victim in its claws. “I guess it was.” The bird ignored her and flew into the hills. “Thanks for dropping by.”
A tailwind buffeted her bike. The smell of impending rain pestered her senses. Oppressive yellow-tinged shadows hurtled along the road, overtaking her and stealing the harsh sunlight.
The quiet fields finally gave way to a loose row of tired old houses strung out along the road. Each one huddled into itself as though to caution unwelcome strangers.
If she’d taken the main highway, a shorter distance into the next town, rather than this looping scenic route, she’d be riding through a ghetto of car yards, fast food joints, and mini strip malls by now. In spite of her grim surroundings she remained content with her decision.
A buckshot shredded sign announced twenty five more kilometers to a well deserved shower in her pre-booked motel room.
Storm driven gusts rocked her bike and jerked her out of a hot water daydream. Heavy ice-cold slugs of rain splatted against her helmet, heralding the downpour. Thunder cracked. A lightning strike crashed into the road behind her.
A house loomed up on her left, closer to the road, a little more welcoming than the others. Its veranda looked deep enough to shelter under. No light shone through the closed curtains. She’d apologize for dripping on the veranda if she needed to.
She unhitched the trailer, dragged it up the shallow steps and across the weathered timber boards, then staggered out into the pouring rain for her bike. High and dry, she hurriedly changed out of her wet things into what she called her ‘shlumping clothes’ and dried her hair as best she could.
She knocked on the front door of her temporary refuge as the storm broke overhead.
Meg dropped her car keys on the kitchen table and slid into a hardbacked chair. Static electricity generated by the storm spun her dark hair around her head like an Escher spiderweb. She waited for the wave of nausea that would confirm, as if she needed any reminding, that she really didn’t like thunderstorms.
Several generations of women had sat at this very table and as she’d been frequently reminded throughout her childhood, not one of them had ever thrown up because of something as ordinary as a thunderstorm. Their shades were probably snickering while they danced like dervishes in the rain.
Swallowing hard, she began to make a cup of tea. A loud knock startled her so much the kettle clattered into the sink.
Ciska’s contemplation of the storm came to an abrupt end when she heard a noise inside the house. She glanced at the front door then along the rain-lashed road.
Should she run for her life in case an axe murderer had just broken into the house and was gunning for her – she knew she was mixing her serial killer choice of weapon, but at that moment she didn’t care – or, knock on the door again and offer help just in case someone had hurt themselves?
Before she could decide the door cracked open. “Hello. Can I help you?”
Ciska spoke in a rush … about riding in the rain, and stopping to wait out the storm, and thinking no-one lived here, and the crash startling her, and staying until the rain eased, and … eventually wound down as she realized babbling might not be in her best interests.
The door opened wider and a woman looked at Ciska, her bicycle, and trailer. Satisfied no more babblers lurked in the rain soaked corners of the veranda, she opened the door completely and stepped aside.
“You’d better come in then. I’m Meg.”
“Ciska. Good to meet you. I’ve got some fairly expensive equipment out here and call me paranoid, especially with this storm, but I’m not comfortable letting it out of my sight.”
“Oh,” Meg said, nonplussed. “Just bring it in then. It can stay in the front room. I hardly ever use it anyway. Would you like some tea? I just put the kettle on.”
“Love some,” Ciska said, and bustled her rig through the door before Meg changed her mind about either offer.
Meg walked into her silent dark kitchen. She flicked a light switch.
“No power?” Ciska said.
“I’ve got a back-up system and … I’m… not feeling so good.” Meg melted back into the chair she’d recently vacated.
“That’s OK. Where is it, and what do I have to do?”
“Along there. Near the back door.” Meg pointed. “Just flip the switch.”
Ciska followed the directions and returned to a well lit country kitchen.
“Nice,” she said, surveying the beautifully appointed room. “Everything handy and in its place.”
Meg refrained from nodding in agreement. She didn’t know if her head could take it. “Glad you approve. ‘Tidy kitchen, tidy mind’, my mum would say. Would you mind?” She gestured to the kettle.
“Sure.” Ciska bustled around the kitchen, making educated guesses about which cupboard held what. “Is something wrong? You’re looking a little green around the gills.” She set a steaming cup of tea in front of Meg.
“Not really. I have a storm headache. I just drove up from Vancouver.”
“I suppose so. I come up here just about every weekend. I’m used to it.”
“There you go. Mystery solved.” Ciska tossed off a rakish bow that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Sun King’s court, except that she was tall, tanned, female, and not exactly dressed for the part. Her ‘schlumping clothes’ consisted of a pair of cut-off track pants and a sleeveless sloppy joe.
Meg inclined her head with delicate formality, and sipped her tea. “How did you know?”
“About your tea? Lucky guess. You look like a top-of-the-pot-black-tea kinda gal.”
“And you?” Meg asked, peering into Ciska’s now empty cup.
Ciska refilled her cup. “Middle-of-the-pot-with-several-dashes-of-milk.”
They made small talk until Ciska drained her third cup of tea and set the cup down in its saucer with an air of decisiveness.
“The worst of the rain seems to have passed.”
“Had enough of my scintillating company, I see.”
“Afraid so. How’s your head?”
“Fragile, but I’ll be OK. Could you help me with my bags though?”
“I usually bring them in with me, but I must’ve left them in the car.”
“Sure,” Ciska said, and smiled. “It’s a fair exchange for a dry roof and a cuppa.”
“That you made,” Meg said, as she hooked her keys from the table and explained that she kept the garage locked at all times, just in case. “I keep my old paintings out there. They’re not valuable, but …”
Ciska nodded. “I understand. That’s why my bike’s in your front room.”
Meg led the way out the back and unlocked the garage door. Ciska, trying to see the artwork, bumped into her.
“Where’s my car?”
Ciska peered over her shoulder. “What?”
“My car. It’s not here.” Meg hit a red button on the wall with the ball of her hand. A flurry of raindrops blew in as the garage door rolled up into the ceiling.
The road outside looked as deserted as it had when Ciska arrived.
“Yes, I’m fine. … No nothing else appears to be missing, just my car … No. I’m fine. A bit hung over from the storm. I know, some things don’t change … I will. Yes, there’s someone here with me. Don’t worry. No, you don’t need to send someone tonight. I won’t touch anything … alright then. Thanks Tamsin…um…Corporal Lightsmith.”
Meg hung up the phone. Tamsin worried about her now more than she ever did when they were together … well, not together exactly.
“Nice that she worries about you,” Ciska deadpanned from the kitchen.
“Moved in, have you?” Meg commented, equally bland.
“Making myself useful in a crisis.” Ciska lifted a lid from a pot on the stove and slid a pile of freshly chopped veggies in. “I’m hungry, and so are you. I’m going to spend the night, in your spare bedroom, because you look like a weekend of wet washing, and need a bit of fussing over.”
Meg couldn’t argue that. “What I don’t understand,” she said. “Is how this happened. The garage was locked. As though I never drove in. Maybe I didn’t. Maybe I just …”
Ciska finished cleaning the counter and dried her hands as she hung up her apron. Meg smiled at the image. If anyone looked more incongruous in an apron than Ciska, she had yet to meet them.
“Nothing,” Meg said, hiding her smile.
“Hm-m. Anyway. Lets reverse engineer the chain of events and see what you remember.”
“Well, I certainly remember everything that’s happened since you walked in my front door.”
“Thanks, I think. Before that? Go backwards. Wait a minute, let’s eat first.”
“Your soup is so good it’ll help me remember?”
Meg chewed on a last mouthful of crusty bread, pushed her empty bowl to one side and revisited her day.
Visiting her mother went as she’d expected and she left the building feeling as though she’d barely escaped from a bad Bette Davis movie.. The storm headache was already gnawing away at the base of her skull like a zombified gerbil. She debated whether to drive home or stay in her Vancouver apartment. Home, in the Nicola River Valley won out, simply by virtue of being as far away from her mother as she could get.
“…I stopped for coffee at Tims in Hope, and halfway up the Coke I spilled it on my top, while I gawped at the storm. Here, see?”
Ciska saw. “And then …?”
“The next thing I remember, I’m putting my keys down on the kitchen table just like I always do.”
“What time was that?”
Meg glanced at the old cuckoo clock above the sink and did some fast calculations. “It must’ve been ten to six, maybe.”
Ciska nodded, as though she too calculated the passage of time. “So, you zoned out for about an hour. That happens, especially if you’re familiar with the road. Maybe you parked out on the street, maybe forgot to lock your car, and someone took advantage of the opportunity.” Ciska’s expression changed. “That sounded just as insulting in my head. Sorry.”
“It’s about as rational as anything I can come up with,” Meg said with a shrug.
The shrill ring of the phone startled them both.
Meg recognised the number. “It’s the RCMP. Maybe they found my car.”
“I’ll clean up. Give you some privacy?” Ciska offered.
“Hello? Tamsin, hi … you did? Where? … Oh … Oh my god!” Meg looked at Ciska. “They found my car. In a ravine off the Coquihalla Highway. There was a woman inside. Dead!”
Glossary and links for Episode 1:
The Interior – Any part of British Columbia away from the west coast
Tims – Tim Hortons
The Coke/ Coquihalla Highway
The Sun King – Louis the XIV of France
Episode 2 – “Everyone Has Secrets”
Storm clouds rumbled above Meg’s cottage until they ran out of steam and slunk off to hide out in the horizon. Inside, Ciska tossed and turned, unable to fall asleep even though she knew none of them were coming for her. Disgusted with her lack of discipline, she stomped into the kitchen in search of a cuppa.
Tea in hand she ventured into the back yard and stood under the deep roof overhang. She raised her cup to the silent flares of lightning still strobing inside the cloud cover to the east. “You missed again, you bastards.”
“You talk to storms a lot?”
Ciska spilled her tea and cussed under her breath. She must be getting old.
“As often as I can. “Birds as well. You couldn’t sleep either?”
“I keep thinking about that woman in my car.” Meg tucked her hands inside her sweater sleeves. “Tamsin sounded spooked. More than just another dead body would account for.”
“It couldn’t have been easy finding someone dead in your car.”
Ciska watched the sun tip over the horizon and shoot rays of light through the breaking clouds. She reluctantly emptied the dregs of her tea onto the grass and followed Meg back into the house.
“Thanks for the ride,” Meg closed the passenger door of Mrs. Connelly’s tricked out truck.
Mary Connelly had shown up on her doorstep and offered to drive her into town. Good news travels fast. Meg did feel grateful for Mary’s offer though, no matter what prompted it.
“Nasty business it is, dead people stealing cars!” Mary Connelly said by way of farewell.
Meg nodded. The logic was impeccable. “I’ll let you know how it goes,” she said.
Mary gunned the gas and pulled out from the curb in a screech of tires. Meg winced in sympathy for the pain Mrs. Connelly’s grandson would feel when he heard the sound from his repair shop across the road.
She took a deep breath and strode up the old stone steps into the RCMP detachment.
“Thanks for bringing these in,” Tamsin said. She took the bag containing Meg’s clothes from the previous day and passed it to another officer who hurried out of the interview room.
“I still don’t understand why you need them,” Meg said, leaning out of her chair to watch the constable disappear down the hall.
“It’s just part of the investigation. You know how these things go,” Tamsin said matter-of-factly, Meg didn’t buy it, but saved her misgivings for another time. “Your car’s been towed to Philby’s Yard. As soon as the investigation’s done you can pick it up there. It’s not as damaged as we thought.”
Tamsin picked up a notepad covered in scribblings that looked as though they’d been written with a thumbnail dipped in tar. Although Meg recognized the handwriting, she’d never been able to decipher Tamsin’s ‘secret code’.
“I do have a couple more questions for you though,” Tamsin said, and flipped the pad open to a clean page.
Ciska waited with Meg until the redoubtable Mrs Connelly arrived, then set off on her own to ride into town with the first breeze of a late arriving Autumn at her back. Those storms did something useful.
Her muscles felt stiff and sore. Definitely getting old. She snorked at the thought, and gritted her teeth until she loosened up and the road slowly began it’s winding descent into town.
Although motel receptionists sometimes balked when Ciska asked for a ground-floor room she got her way most of the time. Her bike and trailer looked so incongruous parked between the single and double beds though. She stripped naked and stepped into a hot shower.
As was her habit whenever she decided to stay in one place for a while, Ciska carried out a thorough inventory of her worldly possessions.
Her clothes lay in a crumpled pile on the bed. Soon it would be time to swap summer outfits for heavier clothing, which cost more money than she had. Time to go to work.
She sat back on her heels for a moment, staring beyond the motel walls. Something seemed out of kilter. More so than usual, if that was possible.
Perhaps it was this town. Perhaps it was Meg. Vulnerable and steel strong at the same time. A conundrum that teased her to solve. Not a good idea. Keep moving, keep ahead of the storms.
Her lithe fingers teased apart the complicated knot-work that held her toolkit closed. Small leather wrapped bundles contained hooks and picks, files and tempered steel saws. Neat rows of pockets held all manner of tiny pieces of metal that would’ve made a locksmith, clockmaker, or an old-time bank robber, drool. Tiny brass cogs, levers, and springs, tinkled against each other as she shook their bags and assessed their quantity. She removed her visor and lens case from their soft cotton wrapping and laid them on the open kit. These were the tools of her trade, her survival.
She hefted a small knife. Not the first one she ever made, but the first one she remembered. If memory defined a person, then this knife was where she began. Where her journey began. She turned it over in the palm of her hand and tested the edge with her thumb. It remained sharp and true.
A memory of carving the bone handle smacked against the harsh barriers in her mind.
She forced her emotions away from such dangerous territory and repacked the trailer. After ironing her least crumpled pants and shirt, she dressed to meet Meg for lunch at Silvan Joe’s.
As Ciska ambled along the sidewalk between her motel and the cafe she looked for nuances that might distinguish this small town from others.
It had a wide main street that probably connected the town to faraway places before a freeway isolated it. Two and three storey commercial buildings shoehorned themselves between the last crumbling residential holdouts, and a couple of lonesome fast food chains struggled against the long established eateries that parents and grandparents still patronized.
What would it be that set this town apart? Perhaps only her passing through it? It wouldn’t be that simple, it never was.
What was wrong with her today?
She banged through the wooden doors of the cafe that occupied one corner of the only intersection in town with traffic lights.
Ciska walked up to the order counter constructed from a single slab of wood reminiscent of the golden era of the logging industry. She rested her elbows on the polished surface, and chose her lunch selection from the blackboard menu hanging precariously above the head of a tattooed woman with a gap-toothed smile. Her name-tag said ‘Silv’.
“That’s ‘Joe’ in the kitchen,” Silv said, answering Ciska’s unasked question with an even broader grin that won Ciska over completely.
Looking over Silv’s shoulder into the open kitchen area, she saw that Silv and Joe had kept the tattoo parlor across the road in business for a good many years. “Pleased to meet’cha,” Ciska replied, letting a hint of an Aussie drawl escape into her voice.
Silv shook her hand. “Nice to meet people with interesting pasts.”
“You have no idea.”
Meg buried herself in one of the dog-eared thrillers she always carried to while away the time, whether it be in a queue or in a cafe waiting for someone who was, she checked her watch, late. She looked up and did a double-take as a tall brunette walked over to her table.
“Ciska,” she said, and stuffed the book in her bag. “You look … um …”
“I scrub up fairly well, eh?” Ciska sat across from her but Meg noted she’d made sure she had a clear line of sight through the plate glass window and out into the street.
“Have you ordered?” Ciska asked, then nodded toward the RCMP detachment that stood kitty-corner to the tattoo parlor, gas station, and the cafe. “How’d that go?”
Meg, still flummoxed by her realization of how drop dead gorgeous Ciska looked, tried to gather her thoughts by hiding in the bottom of her empty coffee cup, looking out the window, anywhere else but at Ciska.
Silv arrived with a pot of hot coffee, inadvertently rescuing her before the potentially embarrassing silence grew any longer.
“Lunch’ll be about twenty minutes. Joe’s making it from scratch ‘cos Meg’s a regular, and that makes you family too,” Silv said to Ciska, as she returned to the bar.
Meg cleared her throat. “I’m not sure how it went. Tamsin wouldn’t tell me why she wanted my clothes. And she asked me a lot of questions about my childhood, my family history.”
“If I had any close women relatives about my age. A half-sister, first cousins. Someone who maybe looked like me.” Meg shrugged in denial. “I’m an only child of only children. She knows that. If I had a half-sister surely I’d know. My parents, my mother, would’ve told me.”
“Maybe, maybe not. Everyone has secrets.”
“Not my mother. She’s exploited every skeleton in every closet she’s ever come across.”
A shadow blocked the light from the window. Meg looked up and smiled. Her lunch date was turning out to be full of surprises.
“What’s this about skeletons?” Tamsin asked as she pulled a chair from a nearby empty table, straddled it, and folded her arms across the back.
Meg gazed at the two women. Ciska had ten years and a few more grey hairs than Tamsin, but otherwise, they’d been cast from the same mold. She refrained from mentioning her discovery. They’d never believe her.
Silv returned with their food and the tableau broke apart. Ciska introduced herself and Meg explained how she and Ciska met. Tamsin turned her chair the right way around and flouted regulations to reveal why she’d joined them. She slid a thin stack of pictures out of an envelope and laid the first one on the table.
“This is a photograph of the clothes you were wearing yesterday.”
Meg lowered her sandwich and studied the image. “Yep. There’s the coffee stain, which has now permanently ruined my favorite blouse because you refused to let me wash it”
Tamsin’s somber expression didn’t change. “And this,” Tamsin placed a second 8×12 on the table. “Is what the deceased was wearing at the time of the accident.”
“You’ve got them mixed up,” Ciska said.
“No, I haven’t. Here’s another shot. Same clothes, different angle.”
Meg’s hand shook as she touched the third photograph. “Are you sure these aren’t my clothes?”
Ciska slid the photos from underneath Meg’s hand and leaned over them. “The same clothes,” she said. “The same coffee stain.” Her voice fell to a whisper. “It’s not possible.”
“What going on, Tam?” Meg asked, her voice no louder than Ciska’s but sharp with fear. “Is someone impersonating me?” She shoved the pictures back across the table. “Or is this someone’s idea of a joke?”
“It is most definitely not a joke,” Tamsin said. “Why would anyone go to all the trouble of impersonating you then drive off the road in your car, that you don’t remember losing, and end up dead in a ditch?”
“I told you before. I don’t know!” Meg had finally found her anger. “Who is this woman?”
Tamsin pulled a fourth picture out of the envelope. She laid it on top of the others and pointed to the cadaver’s face. “She’s your twin.”
Glossary and links for Episode 2:
Identical Ep 3 – Sideways
Meg stared at the face on the photo. Even in death it was hers.
“She can’t be my twin. I don’t have any female relatives. Only child, remember?” She said, refusing to accept the evidence right in front of her.
Tamsin reached across the table, grabbed her hands and turned them over. “What about these then?”
Meg refused to look at the tiny white lines on her wrists. Fifteen years had faded neither scars nor memories.
Ciska leaned in. “What about them?”
Tamsin frowned and ran her thumb across the scar on Meg’s left arm. “These are different.”
Meg pulled her hands out of Tamsin’s grasp. “ You just haven’t seen them in a while.”
“That’s not what I meant. Our friend in the photo has scars in exactly the same place, but …”
“But they’re different.” Ciska finished.
Meg rubbed the white marks Tamsin’s grip left on her arms, as thankfully, the conversation turned away from her.
“How could you possibly know that?” Tamsin said to Ciska. “Don’t tell me it was just a lucky guess.”
Ciska paused before answering. “I’d like to be sure before I answer, even then you won’t like what I’ve got to say.”
“Let me see the car.”
“Not possible,” Tamsin said.
Meg watched Tamisn lean back with a familiar arrogance she displayed when she thought she’d scored points in an argument. Meg doubted whether Ciska would even bother playing.
“It’s against regulations.”
Meg rolled her eyes.
Ciska gathered the scattered photos, slid them into the envelope and handed it back to Tamsin.
“That’s different,” Tamisn muttered. “Meg’s family.”
“And I’m an outsider who spent the night with your ex, who you still have rather confused feelings for, and, you want proof my intent is pure.” Ciska pulled a soft leather bag out of her pocket and spilled the contents onto the table.
Meg smiled to herself. Game, set, and match to Ciska. She picked up a few of the small objects. They felt warm, from Ciska’s body heat she supposed. Some of the pieces looked like a child’s alphabet block set in miniature. Some were weird asymmetric shapes, others were carved into runic letters. “They’re beautiful.” She handed them back to Ciska. “What are they made of?”
“Those ones are all sorts of different metals,” Ciska said, sorting the pieces into separate piles. “And these are wood, this one’s amber, not sure what these are, probably just river rocks. These two are bone. The rest are magnets.” She started placing them in her hand, creating a three dimensional shape. “The trick is, to use the magnets to hold the whole thing together.” She opened her hand and the shape fell apart.
“This is your proof?” Tamsin taunted.
Meg shushed her.
Ciska ignored them both. “I see things. This helps me concentrate.” She placed a few pieces in her hand again.
Meg glared at Tamsin’s scowl then watched as Ciska built another, different shape out of the pieces. “You mean you can see forward, into the future?”
“More like sideways. Into the ‘now’. I see things as they are, but someplace else.”
Meg laughed thinking she’d solved a riddle. “That’s how you knew where everything was in my kitchen.”
“I’d love that to be true, but no. Kitchens are laid out depending on the quirks of the main cook and bottle-washer, and whether they’re right or left handed. I’m also good at reading people.” Ciska picked up the magnetic pieces and clicked them into place. She placed the strange shape on the table and gently let it stand on its tiny base. It looked like something a 3D printer would create from an Escher blueprint. “You got a pen?”
Meg rummaged around in her bag until Tamsin flipped one out of her uniform pocket, clicked it and handed it to her.
Ciska stared at the shape. “Write these numbers down. 357 … 604 … a 5 or a 6 … or an 8 or 9, maybe 0. You got that?”
“Yes,” Meg hastily scribbled the numbers down on the pad Tamsin also supplied. “Anything else?”
“All these numbers all have something to do with the car.” Ciska closed her eyes briefly. “And … 6:13.” She flicked a fingernail against the shape. The pieces clinked against each other and cascaded onto the table.
“These numbers prove nothing.” Tamsin said, but Meg knew her heart wasn’t in the denial. She touched Tamsin’s arm lightly.
“I think we should go see my car.”
Tamsin paid her bill and walked with Ciska and Meg across the street to Philby Connelly’s wrecking and impound yard, gas station and repair shop.
She signed for the car keys and backed out of Philby’s tiny office leaving Meg to commiserate with Philby about his grandmothers propensity for burning out perfectly good tires in a matter of weeks.
“Are you reading me now?” Tamsin said to Ciska as the two of them strode past the gas pumps.
“I can’t read minds, just physical objects. It’s not as handy as you might think. Anything I do see needs context otherwise it won’t make sense.” Ciska shaded her eyes against the brazen glare of the afternoon sun as it reflected off dozens of windshields stacked against a chain-link fence. “Imagine if I saw just that sunglint and nothing else. What would it mean?”
“I suppose.” Tamsin admitted as she unlocked the battered chain-wire impound gates.
Meg rejoined them as they peered through the side windows of her car.
“How old is this thing?” Ciska asked incredulously.
“It belonged to my grandmother. Mother hated it so I inherited it. It’s been rebuilt from end to end, but it’s in perfect working order. Was. We’ll need the keys.” Meg pulled her set out of her jeans pocket. Tamisn did the same with the set they’d taken out of the ignition when the body was discovered.
“Don’t bother checking if they’re they match,” Ciska said to break the tableau, then sniffed the air. ‘The weather’s changing.”
“It usually does about this time of day,” Tamsin said and gently ushered Meg back from the car. She broke the evidence seal and tried Meg’s keys then her own. They both opened the drivers door. She leaned in, careful not to disturb anything, and looked at the control panel.
She straightened up and gently closed the door. “The odometer reading has three hundred and fifty seven thousand, six hundred and four, point nine…miles, I suppose it was back then, on it. It really is an old car!” She winked at Meg then turned to Ciska standing a few paces away looking west. “The crash occurred a little after 6pm last night. I’d really like to hear your story now.”
“Thirteen minutes after six. I checked the clock on my bike right at that moment. Now I know why.” Ciska frowned at the sky. The sun grew dim and a chilly breeze raised a dust devil in the middle of the yard.
“I want those answers,” Tamsin said. “Now.”
“Then you better be able to listen and run at the same time! There’s another storm coming and I have to get back to my motel room before it hits.”
Tamsin watched open-mouthed as Ciska bolted through the impound yard gates and ran down the street toward her motel. She hauled Meg across the road to her car and caught up with Ciska at the next intersection.
“Get in.” Meg shouted.
Ciska jumped in to the back seat of the moving vehicle and pounded on the back of Tamsin’s seat. “Go. Go. Go!”
Tamsin cast a critical eye at the sky. The storm would race through the countryside but it would be a while before it hit town. “What’s your hurry?” She glanced at the rearview mirror. Ciska leaned from one side of the car to the other, trying to see her motel. “It’s just a storm.”
Ciska stopped moving. “Yes, you’re right, of course. I’m sorry. I have some delicate instruments in my room and they don’t take well to sudden changes in atmospheric pressure.”
Tamsin didn’t buy that for a minute, but she obligingly sped up and arrived at Ciska’s motel in record time.
As Tamsin undid her seatbelt, Ciska leaned forward. “Look, I know I haven’t given you any good reasons to believe anything I say, but please don’t follow me. If I’m … when the storm is over I give you my word that I’ll tell you everything I can about what’s going on.”
Before Tamsin could think of any kind of response, Meg nodded slightly. Cursing at herself under her breath, Tamsin let Ciska out of the car and watched her cross the motel parking lot and let herself into her room.
“I must be crazy.” Tamsin muttered.
“You’re crazy?” Meg said. “You do remember what’s happened to me in the last twenty four hours?”
Tamsin looked at her for a moment then burst out laughing. “You win. You’re crazier.” She pulled away from the curb. “You want a ride home?”
“I need a vehicle. Take me back to Philby’s. I’ll use his courtesy car.”
“That heap of junk? It’s older that your car.”
Tamsin left Meg to do a walk-around of Philby’s rust-bucket and did a quick patrol of the town. She wondered about Ciska’s reaction to the storm and how she probably wasn’t going to like any explanations Ciska might offer.
Ciska locked her motel door and leaned against it. Way to impress the locals! What next? A case of the swooning vapours? She touched the handlebar of her bike, seeking comfort, then set up her instruments and waited for the storm.
Tamsin checked the time. She smiled evilly and slid naked between the cool sheets of her bed. She set her phone to speaker, and speed-dialed a familiar number.
“Hello? This is Jane Lightsmith.”
“Hello Daughter. why are you calling me at six-thirty in the morning?”
“Well, if you could tear yourself away from that tousle-haired cherub that’s got it’s limbs wrapped around you, we need to talk.”
“You’re right. He is very pretty. It’s amazing how deeply the very young sleep.”
“A ‘he’ eh? What caught your attention with this one?”
“The usual. Spice. Life. Give me a minute, darling … no, go back to sleep … he’s pouting now … well, close the door behind you then.”
“I suppose I should’ve set the alarm, but they’re such annoying little mechanical monsters. His fishing boat has to catch the morning tide, or some such thing.”
“There’s been an incident.”
“That’s an all-purpose police euphemism if ever I heard one.”
“Can you come over?”
“It will take me at least week just to get to Heathrow. What’s happening in your strange little town now?”
“There are two Megs here, and one of them is dead.”
GLOSSARY AND LINKS
About 3D printers– fascinating stuff!
Official M.C. Escher Website
This might give you an idea of what the object Ciska created could look like – but then again, maybe not! heh, heh.
Episode 4 – Not Your Mother’s Science Project.
Screams bounced around Ciska as though they’d escaped from some demented nightmare. She tried to block the sound but her arms, bound to her sides so tight she could hardly breathe, refused to move. In that moment she realized the screams were hers.
She sat up and banged her head on something hard. Her eyes flew open but a darkness ignored her feeble attempts to peer through it. She flopped back onto the thin padding inside her storm chamber.
Damn nightmares. She’d fallen asleep waiting for the storm to pass. Again. I must be getting used to this. Which was about as depressing a thought as it was exciting.
She ignored her shaking hand and fumbled for the latch. Erie light from a cloud smothered dawn flooded the coffin sized chamber. The cover clattered to the scuffed slate floor. Who uses slate in a motel? She winced at the sound. Not that she overly cared if she woke her neighbors, if there were any, but the metal lid and indeed the whole chamber was impossible to replace.
Ciska checked her instruments as she reassembled the chamber into her bike trailer. Most of her possessions were multi-functional, which made it easy, and sometimes complicated, to travel as light as she did.
The readouts confirmed much of what her senses already told her. Thunder from the storm registered a few points under 100 Hz, and the storm itself certainly came close enough to affect her, but the third reading from the dial attached to the inhibitor sheets on the side of the chamber, now her trailer, took her breath away. It showed zero. Nothing. The world around her remained the same as it had been before the storm.
Her chest hurt until she started breathing again.
She sat on the single thinly padded chair in her drab little motel room and gazed right through the faded green walls.
From a corner of her minds eye fragments of what her life might now become flickered into the realm of possibility. She could live and not be afraid of dying. She could die and not be afraid that the first peal of thunder to crash above her final resting place, would resurrect her, reset her biological clock, and abandon her in a world that held no proof of her existence.
Once upon a time, she spent an entire summer creating a detailed system of logic based on her own experiences and stories she’d heard from others like herself, that explained what happened to her. During that time thunderstorms came and went but none close enough to switch her. She shied away from counting the years since that idyll. Some things were best left to fade into the background noise of her memories. She recalled details when she needed them.
She remembered that it was a time of laughter and love. Drinking local champagne out of red wine glasses, dining on provincial cuisine, writing in her journal until the sun came up and her lover drew her away to pursue other passions. What was her name?
Her lover had been the town silversmith’s wife. She convinced him to refine the strange metal nodules she found in the area, and craft them into thin sheets that she rolled up and safely tucked away. Many summers later she used one of the metal sheets to shield her from yet another storm, and realized their true worth.
She scrubbed her hands across her eyes and leaned back in the chair. Gods of the Mother, she’d grown so tired of outliving her memories, of the constant travel and not daring to put down roots.
What would’ve been the point? A cold front clashing with a warm air current would switch her into another layer, another pentiment, where almost everything that had gone before remained the same. Not quite the same, but not different, until she passed through enough layers and nothing remained the same. The sides of her chamber were proof enough of that. They were made from a metal that didn’t exist in this pentiment, and never had.
This lifetime could be different. Within this lifetime she could … no, within this lifetime two Megs existed: One who switched and lived, and one who didn’t switch, and died. Then there was Tamsin, whose casual arrogance and jealousy prompted her to reveal too much of herself.
A plague on both their houses. She deserved a life of her own. She owed them nothing. She did however, owe herself a decent breakfast.
As she stepped into the hazy morning sunshine, she realized she did owe someone else something. Dead Meg ought to have someone to speak for her, And, Ciska grudgingly acknowledged, Tamisn and live Meg, she really had to think of another way to differentiate the two, deserved an explanation as well.
But would they believe her? She dodged around a cluster of young women, all with babies in strollers. Breeding season in full swing! She chided herself for the Politically-un-Correct lapse. Her centuries must be showing. But as she walked along the street with a smile on her face and spring in her step she didn’t feel a single one of them.
It didn’t matter in the long run if Meg and Tamsin believed her or not. This was the right time, place, and pentiment. Beyond all else, dead Meg proved that.
She called the two women from SilvanJoes, then calmly partook of her scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, maple-cured bacon, fresh-baked sourdough toast, and a pot of tea, feeling lighter in her spirit than she had for many long years.
Tamsin thumped her phone down on top of the box on her desk, refocused on her computer screen, and cussed as her log-in timed out. Damn Ciska. Damn Meg. And dead Meg as well.
And damn her mother and her imperious commands. If Tamsin didn’t feel so mad at Jane she’d be even more awed at the clout her mother wielded to officially bury this whole investigation.
She could almost see the files disappearing before her eyes. In a few hours ‘dead Meg’ would be reduced to, ‘stoned chick steals car–chick runs car off the road–chick hits head and dies of injuries–chick is buried–case closed’.
The box underneath her cellphone contained the last physical evidence of ‘dead Meg’s’ existence. If this ever got out she could kiss her career goodbye, but her mother would probably offer her suitable employment within the family business as compensation. She shuddered at the thought, picked up the box and walked out of her office, wondering if she’d ever be back.
Meg hung up the phone. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to hear what Ciska had to say. The events of the last two days overwhelmed her and not even her half-hearted housecleaning efforts helped. She gave up on both, and called in sick for the rest of the week. There was no way she was going back down the Coke, and she doubted if Philby’s old jalopy would make it to Vancouver and back, through the Fraser Canyon.
She walked into her study and stared at the huge whiteboard hung on one wall. Its blank spaces invited her to fill it with her thoughts, a habit she’d started as a child and still used when she needed to work through complex issues. She chose different colored markers to represent herself, Ciska, and Tamsin, and began.
After an hour all she had were more questions. Maybe she did need to hear Ciska’s explanations. Working with the whiteboard soothed her frayed edges, and on an impulse she decided to haul her painting gear out of the garage.
She blew away an impressive coat of dust from the paint smeared old wooden case she’d built when she first decided to be a ‘painter’, and realized ‘painters’ needed elegant wooden boxes to hold their paints and brushes and other arcane equipment. She must’ve been all of nine years old. She never became the ‘painter’ of her childhood dreams, but she sure knew how to use a screwdriver. The old box was as solid as … she ran her fingers across the dried paint stains and felt a cold sweat chill her skin.
This can’t be happening. She dropped the case onto a bench as though it had stung her, and tore the plastic coverings from the few paintings she kept as mementos of her failed ambitions. She looked at each one and threw it behind her. They banged and cracked on the harsh concrete, but she couldn’t hear through the wails that forced themselves through her terror-locked throat.
Acrylics! All of them. She backed away and ran from the garage. Inside her house she dared not look at anything too closely because she was either going mad or she didn’t belong in her life.
Horridly bright sunshine failed to warm her as she sat on her front stoop and waited for Ciska and Tamsin. She hoped they’d tell her she was mad.
GLOSSARY AND LINKS
The Coke/ Coquihalla Highway
Season 2 – Episode 1 – Pentimento
The summer of 1816 was fair on its way to be the coldest in living memory, and Franciska Maeside knew why. For the last four years volcanoes in the Far East had sent an ash cloud into the air that circled the globe, blocking the warmth of the sun from most of the northern hemisphere. Not that Franciska minded. Her current home, a tiny seaside town planted somewhere near the border between France and Spain, usually sweltered during the brief summer months, but this year, this blissful passionate summer, balmy days and cool crisp nights became the norm. The ash-laden skies sent the town’s small émigré artists community, who fled the chaos of Napoleon’s defeat, into a swoon.
She paused a moment to watch the setting sun turn the few clouds scudding across the Bay of Biscay into gold. As breathtakingly magnificent as it was, it couldn’t compare to what she now had in her possession. She hitched the heavy satchel she’d picked up from the printers a little higher onto her shoulder and resumed her plod up the steep cobbled street toward her rooms in the Inn at the top of the hill.
Various matrons waved cheery greetings at her along the way. Her androgyny confused them when she’d first arrived from London, but after twelve years of brutal wars and deprivation across Europe, nothing seemed out of the ordinary anymore. They treated her as they would any handsome single young man of independent means – with flirtatious caution. Franciska had wisely ignored their covert and not-so-covert invitations, but all her resolve fled the moment she laid eyes on the silversmith’s wife.
She switch her satchel to her other shoulder. The two leather-bound volumes inside contained all her research, all her theories, predictions, outcomes and solutions to the oddness of her life. She knew Helena would laugh at her folly. Printed words meant nothing to her, she only concerned herself with sating her other senses. She did demand discretion though. No affair, however passionate, would be allowed to threaten the veneer of respectability she’d married her way into. Franciska respected her wishes and, valuing her own privacy, established a home and routine of her own. Everyone knew of their affair, but so long as nothing was spoken, it remained invisible.
The smith himself, welcomed Franciska into his shop as he worked the strange metal nuggets she gave him into thin malleable sheets. In a peculiar way, they both found comfort discussing in a roundabout fashion, the foibles of the woman they both loved.
Ciska jerked awake as Silv gently patted her shoulder, refilled her coffee and walked away as though she hadn’t caught her dozing in her chair.
Ciska scrubbed her face and chased away her dream-fueled memories . That’ll teach me not to expect to function efficiently after spending the night in a tin coffin. She opened her eyes just as Mary Donnelly plumped her generous derriere into the seat opposite her.
“How is your bicycle and yourself?” Mary asked as she moved Ciska’s plate to one side.
“Rather well, if a bit tired,” she said, guessing Mary had observed Silv’s wake up nudge.
“Thank you, dear,” Mary said as Silv deposited a breakfast special in the empty space now in front of her. “I know,” she agreed. “It’s those nasty storms. Never saw so many in my younger days. Did you get under cover yesterday before it struck?”
Ciska mentally groaned. The woman missed nothing. “Yes. Thank you. I …”
“A bit skittish around them are you?” Mary interrupted.
The brief dip into a part of her history she’d rather forget reduced Ciska’s tolerance for small talk. “What can I do for you this morning, Mrs. Donnelly?”
“Call me Mary.”
“Oh-em, well. I see you met our baby brigade on your way here.”
Ciska gave up. “Is there anything going on in this town that you don’t know about?”
“A great many things,” Mary said, as serious as if Ciska had asked for the weekend death toll. “Some of which pose questions I’m fairly certain you can answer, and a few that will astound you.”
“I’m pretty much unastoundable,” Ciska said and waited for Mary to finish off her breakfast special. “What about the baby brigade?”
Mary dabbed at the corners of her mouth with a paper serviette and pushed her empty plate away with a sated sigh.
“You outdid yourself, Joe,” she yelled in the general direction of the kitchen and grinned at the subterranean shout-back from its depths.
Ciska poured the last cup of tea from her pot and waited some more.
“This is a funny little town,” Mary said as she settled in with her coffee. “Always teetering on the edge of becoming a ghost, but somehow pulling back from the brink. I don’t know exactly why, or who, or what is responsible, but ‘tain’t natural.” Mary studied her coffee pot for a moment. “The more people who move here, the smaller the town gets.”
“I beg your pardon?” Ciska said.
“Strange but true.” Mary nodded. “How many kids you see running around here?”
“It’s a weekday. I suppose they’re all in school. Ah, no,” Ciska corrected herself. “Not until September.”
“Exactly,” Mary said, and folded her arms triumphantly across her tummy. Ciska outwaited her again. “Lots of folks only have one child. Occasionally there are two. Been going on for generations. After my Philby was born I never did conceive again. The population gets smaller, then new folks come to town and it starts all over again. The baby brigade is part of it. They’re from a home for unwed mothers.”
Ciska almost laughed at the indignation Mary managed to express in those last two words. “Really?” she said.
“Yes, really. Just opened up last spring. We’re about to have another population explosion.”
The pieces of the puzzle were all beginning to arrive on the table but no matter how she shuffled them, Ciska had no idea what they meant. “So, are you suggesting someone’s orchestrating this?”
Mary nodded, almost conspiratorially. “You ask young Tamsin to look into how the town council approved the home.”
“I don’t think ‘young’ Tamsin will be doing me any favours for a while.”
“Why wouldn’t I?” Tamsin asked.
Ciska mentally whacked herself upside her head. She’d forgotten to face the door. Must be that age thing again. “Hello Tamsin,” she said over her shoulder.
“Miss Lightsmith.” Mary said, and dropped the temperature in the cafe by a few degrees. She stood, tucked her chair neatly under the table, then leaned in close to Ciska, “Things are coming to a head and you know it just as well as I do. Why else are you here then, eh?”
Tamsin eyeballed Mary until she left then sat herself down in the still-warm chair. “What was all that about?”
“Another piece of a puzzle,” Ciska said. “Only I’m not sure which piece it is.”
“Ready to go then?” Tamsin said, dismissing Mary Donnelly as surely as Mary had dismissed her.
“We have to pick up some things from my room first.”
“Why didn’t you bring them with you?”
“Because I asked you to meet me there, an hour from now,” Ciska said as she glanced at the moose-shaped clock on the cafe wall behind Tamsin
“I saw you in here and wanted to know what you were up to.”
“Yes. Really. I don’t trust you.”
“Good. I wouldn’t trust me either. Let’s go.”
Tamsin cast a suspicious eye over the scruffy leather bag Ciska dumped on the back seat of her truck. “That isn’t going to explode, is it?” she asked as they banged across another pothole on the cracked tarmac that called itself a road.
Ciska smiled evilly then appeared to have a change of heart. “No. It won’t physically explode.”
Tamsin refocused on the road. Choosing this route might not have been the best idea. She pulled up in front of Meg’s house and gaped at the furniture, books and rugs, and other household items piled in the middle of the driveway. She smelled gasoline, shot out of her truck, and ran smack bang into Meg as she emerged from her garage with the last of her paintings in her arms.
“What the hell are you doing?” Tamsin surveyed the heap of household items they landed in. “These are your books, your old straw hat, you love that hat. Your paintings. What’s going on? Are you burning all your stuff?”
Ciska crunched along the gravel driveway and helped them both to their feet.
“It’s not my stuff, it’s hers. Dead Meg’s.” Meg answered as she flung the last of her paintings to the heap and picked up a rusty old can. “This is her life, not mine. I don’t belong here.” She turned on Ciska, “Do I? This isn’t my life, is it?”
“No. Its not,” Ciska said and gently pulled the can out of her hands.
“I’m not going crazy then.” Meg said and slumped back down onto the driveway.
“It’s the only life you’ve got though,” Ciska said. “Let’s put this stuff back in the garage, then I’ll tell you both what’s going on.”
“I think it started millennia ago when several species of hominids were jockeying for supremacy. A single species emerged the victor; our distant ancestors. But some of the traits which set those other species apart from us, still remained in our DNA.”
Ciska pulled an armchair round to face the couch where Meg and Tamsin sat, not quite touching.
“It wasn’t until the advent of modern genetics that I could really understand how it works, but here’s the gist of it. There’s a tiny piece of genetic material, that under the right circumstances produces people who can shift between … well, this is where it gets tricky … they can switch with copies of themselves from adjacent dimensions, or pentiments, I call ‘em.”
“What?” Tamsin asked. Ciska could see she’d lost her back at the prehistoric breeding bit.
“Pentimento is a painting term,” Meg said. “It’s when the artist layers one painting on top of another.”
“Exactly,” Ciska said, glad that Meg decided to break the silence she’d wrapped herself in since the three of them piled all ‘her’ belongings in the garage. “The layers of paint are different versions of this world that bleed into each other. They’re almost identical, only small things are different. But the more layers there are the more the differences increase.”
“Suppose what you say is true,” Tamsin said. “And I don’t actually believe for a minute it is, but just supposing.”
“Just supposing,” Ciska agreed.
“How come no-one’s ever heard of this before.”
“There aren’t a lot of people who can move from one pentiment to the next. For most of them the differences are so small they don’t even notice, or they create a rational explanation.”
“But something went wrong this time.” Meg said. “I switched, and she, the dead Meg, didn’t. How does that fit into your cockamamie theory?”
“I don’t know. I think someone’s changing the rules.”
Silv leaned back against the beat-up hood of her truck, idly picked at a scab on her forearm over her newest tattoo and dragged on a joint. It was the best way she knew to pass the time while she waited for the person who really paid the bills at SilvanJoes.
A small plane banked above her and landed with military precision on the grass field that in spite of recent rains, managed to raise a cloud of debris.
Jane Lightsmith strode through the dust and threw a travel bag into the back of Silv’s truck. “Get in,” she said, gesturing to the passenger seat. “Where’s my daughter?”
Silv knew better than to complain or make any sudden moves. She got in, buckled her seatbelt and stared straight ahead. “At Meg’s.”
Meg and Tamsin looked so much like moon-struck somethings Ciska just had to laugh in their faces. “I told you you wouldn’t believe me.”
Meg found her voice first. “How old are you? Really?”
“The storm on the day we met reset my biological clock, so I’m about forty, plus a couple of days.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“I know,” Ciska said, “Well, you asked,” she conceded. “The first few centuries are hazy – pure guesswork. I had no idea what was happening and I didn’t really have a frame of reference to measure myself against. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that I could make any reasonably accurate calculations, and I…”
Meg interrupted her. “Your best guess then.”
“Best guess? Somewhere between three and five thousand years.”
GLOSSARY AND LINKS
What is Pentimento?
The volcanic eruptions Franciska (Ciska) refers to are a series of explosions culminating in the eruption of Mount Tambora in the Dutch east Indies (Indonesia) in 1815, that lasted for 10 days.
Eruptions prior to that: 1812 – La Soufriere, on St Vincent Island, Caribbean, 1812 – Awu, on Sanghie Islands, Indonesia, 1813 – Suwanosejuma, Rykyu Islands, Japan, 1814 – Mayan, Phillipines.
Napoleonic Wars – 1803-1815 – 18th June 1815 – Napoleon finally defeated at Waterloo.
Contributing factors to the lower than average temperatures during this time period were the Dalton Minimum that lasted approximately from 1790-1830-ish, and a ‘mini ice-age’ that lasted from the 1300’s to the middle of the 19th century.
Season 2 – Episode 2 – New Friends, Old Enemies
Ciska’s legs gave way and she slid down the cold white tiles, ending up on the dark floor.
Terracotta. What is it with this town and terracotta floor tiles?
Meg huddled against a tiled column nearby, scrubbing at the blood on her hands with a futility born of horror.
Poor Meg. From the moment Jane knew her true nature she was always going to be the sacrificial lamb.
Meg raised her head as though she’d read Ciska’s thoughts and looked, not hopeful, there’d never been much hope since they started this quixotic mission, but determined.
Good for her. Time to finish the job.
Ciska rolled onto her hands and knees, ignoring the smears of blood that stained the tiles a darker red and launched to her feet. Meg batted away her helping hand, for which she was grateful. She probably didn’t have strength left to help anyone else.
“Where’d she go?” Meg asked after she’d splashed some cold water on her face and washed most of the blood off her hands.
“Deeper into the complex,” Ciska said. “Away from her equipment. There’s nowhere for her to go.”
Are you sure?”
“No. But then I never was, at least about her.”
Ciska and Meg left the destroyed bathroom, dodged around a pile of fallen concrete and exposed bedrock and resumed their search. They’d find their target sooner or later.
Ciska’s thoughts slipped back to a time only a few days ago. From the moment she’d told Tamsin and Meg the truth, she knew a confrontation between her and Jane Lightsmith was inevitable …
… Ciska left Meg and Tamsin to their own devices and sat on Meg’s back stoop. She leaned her elbows on the step behind her, stretched out her legs and crossed them at the ankles. She watched the few clouds in the sky turn orange then deepen to indigo as another sultry autumn day drew to a close. Tamsin and Meg continued to argue, about what, precisely, she had no idea. Eventually they fell silent and she supposed they’d come to some sort of agreement.
Well, I kept my end of the bargain. What they do with it is up to them.
She’d give them time to come to terms with it, however time was limited. Far too many questions had been raised in this pentiment and she needed their help finding answers and more importantly, what to do with the answers they uncovered.
She sensed someone behind her and tossed a mental coin. A large mug of tea appeared over her shoulder and Meg slumped down onto the wooden step.
Meg leaned on Ciska’s shoulder and gazed in the same general direction as Ciska. “I think I could get to like you,” Meg said. “You always seem to be looking at far away horizons.”
“Some things are worth remembering. Looking at them for a long time helps me remember them after time has passed.”
“Personally, I don’t think you look a day over three thousand.”
“I told you that you wouldn’t believe me,” Ciska said.
“Oh, I believe you alright. I’m living proof of that.”
“That you are.”
“Are you sure you’re that old?”
Ciska’s laughed, almost bouncing Meg’s head off her shoulder. “You’re more concerned with me being significantly older than you assumed, rather than an endless number of parallel worlds existing all around you.”
Meg punched her lightly in the thigh as Tamsin joined them.
“Give her one for me while you’re at it,” Tamsin said. After Meg happily obliged, she continued. “I can’t begin to imagine the things you’ve seen.”
“The entire march of civilization.” Meg said with wonder as the weight of the concept descended on her.
“Where’s Jimmy Hoffa’s body?” Tamsin countered.
“What happened to the Marie Celeste?”
“Did Queen Victoria really think lesbians didn’t exist?”
“Who said to Genghis Kahn, ‘go west young man’?”
“What happened to Atlantis?”
“Did you meet Boudicca, Nefertiti? What were the Sumerians really like?”
Who drew the Nazca Lines?”
Ciska gave up trying to interject and waited until Meg and Tamsin finally ran out of questions, silly or not. She tried again.
“Now, it’s my turn. How do you know about these things? In general.”
“The news. Books,” Meg said.
“The internet. History books,” Tamsin said at the same time.
Ciska nodded. “The internet’s only been around for a very short time. So, most everything you’ve mentioned comes from ‘History’ books. And history can only be viewed retrospectively. If I didn’t know that Alexander was going to change the world, how could I witness it if, a, I didn’t know about it at the time, and b, I was on the other side of the world, at the time.”
“Were you?” Tamsin asked, not quite teasing her.
Ciska rolled her eyes, but before she could reply a vehicle engine died in front of the house.
“That’s Silv’s truck,” Meg said. “I’d know that sound anywhere. I don’t suppose this is just a coincidence?”
Ciska shrugged her innocence, and followed Meg and Tamisn into the house.
Meg seldom left her door unlocked let alone wide open but given recent events it didn’t surprise her that she’d done both. Two women stood in the middle of her kitchen.
“Hello Silv. What brings you all the way out …” Silv appeared to stagger slightly as she was nudged aside. “Jane!” Meg said. What an unpleasant surprise.”
Tamsin interrupted them before the civilities could proceed any further. “Mum! I didn’t think you’d be here ‘til next week.”
Meg watched as Jane Lightsmith ignored her daughter, just as she always had, until she needed her for something, which apparently, given that Tamsin was expecting her, she now did.
“Hello Meg,” Jane said. “Where is your guest of honor. I’ve come a very long and uncomfortable way to meet her.”
A gentle hand on her shoulder moved Meg aside. Ciska then moved Tamsin the other way. Meg’s blood ran cold. She’s getting us out of the firing line.
“I’m right here,” Ciska said. As she walked further into the room Meg saw her reach behind her back and slowly pull a knife from a sheath hidden in the waistband of her pants.
“I thought you’d turn up sooner or later,” Ciska said. “Aren’t you supposed to be dead?”
“Hello Franciska. You keep trying, but you keep missing. However, I really don’t think this is the time or the place to try again, do you?” She looked pointedly at Meg and Tamsin. “Isn’t anyone going to invite me to sit down?”
Meg ignored her and sat down herself. She watched Ciska slide the knife back into its sheath, and realized they’d all momentarily survived some sort of crisis point. Just when I didn’t think my life could get any weirder.
Jane sat opposite her and reached for the teapot, turned over a cup for herself from the tray and filled it. “Well, isn’t this civilized? Do sit down, all of you.”
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Silv said and rushed to the bathroom.
Jane sniffed. “Can’t take the heat,” she said dismissively, and watched Ciska as she and Tamsin sat across the table from her, on either side of Meg.
How predictable. Both of them. “Well,” she said. “Shall we begin our civilized conversation? I’m sure Franciska has told you all about these nasty ‘pentiments’, as she calls them, and how they could destroy all of existence as we know it.”
“Her name is Ciska,” Meg said.
“We hadn’t got to that part yet,” Tamsin said.
“Don’t look so surprised,” Jane said as Ciska tried to hide behind the scowl she’d worn since the moment she saw Jane. “I’ve had you followed for quite a while now. Yes, even as you travelled from one pentiment to the next. There’s so much you don’t know.”
She sipped from her tea and gathered her thoughts. What to tell and what to withhold? Enough bait to hook, but too much and Ciska would put all the pieces together before she was ready for them to be revealed. “As with all theories, there are always other theories.”
“Wait a minute,” Tamsin said, uncharacteristically interrupting her. “We haven’t even heard the first theory first. Perhaps Ciska could enlighten us.”
As Ciska answered, Jane tuned out her words, she knew the story be heart, and watched Ciska as she spoke, absorbing every detail, the way she moved her hands, the little quirk at the corner of her mouth, everything. She showed nothing of her emotions to the women in front of her. She was used to it, her feelings had been firmly under control since the time she betrayed the one person she’d ever truly loved. Seeing Ciska again was not going to change that.
GLOSSARY AND LINKS
Season 2 – Episode 3 – Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
Mary Connelly looked up from her book as Silv’s ratty old truck sped by her front gate spilling dust over her dried out patch of lawn and veranda.
Using her thumb as a bookmark she closed her book and watched the truck, or at least it’s plume, disappear behind a slight hill. A backfire announced that Silv had reached her destination, Megs house.
Now, what would Silv want to be doing with Meg’s house?
Mary settled her generous derriere back into the comfy old rocking chair Wilf had made for her years ago when they were newlyweds with a house full of dreams. She opened her book again and read the same sentence three times. Apart from not having seen Silv go anywhere near Meg’s house ever before, which was mysterious enough in itself, something else about the truck bothered her.
Mary gave up on her book, she’d figured out ‘who done it’ several chapters previously, and closed her eyes. In her mind’s eye she replayed the brief moment she had a clear line of sight into the truck cabin.
Silv wasn’t driving! She couldn’t drive that precisely to save her life, so, who else was …?
Mary wasn’t prone to moving fast unless she needed to, but she made it into her bedroom in record time and stopped in front of her dresser mirror. What she contemplated would show her hand but recognizing the second woman in Silv’s truck proved these were irrevocable times.
She felt behind one corner of the mirror, held down a switch and reached through the mirror with her other hand. The mirror represented technology not possible in this pentiment, and the contents of the small case she withdrew from the hidden cache behind it were equally impossible. The irony of using one of Jane’s own devices, that Jane herself recreated from one of Ciska’s early sketches, brought a grim smile to Mary’s lips.
She released the switch and her mirror became just a mirror again.
Mary hiked along the fence that ran from her back paddock to the rear of Meg’s property, all the while trying to convince herself that she’d been mistaken, that she wouldn’t have to take such drastic measures. She’d come to love her life in this little country town as the ‘village gossip,’ and was far from ready to give it up.
The untended orchard in Meg’s yard allowed Mary to approach the back door of the house unnoticed. She ignored the old wooden stairs because even if they’d never ever squeaked before in their entire existence, of course they’d squeak the minute she stepped on them, and hoisted herself onto the veranda using the handrail closer to the house.
She ducked under the kitchen window and tiptoed inside through the open back door, thanking the weather for delivering yet another scorcher of a day.
After a quick glimpse into the kitchen to see where everyone sat, she pulled back into the shadow of the tiny hallway and waited for Ciska to finish explaining about the fall of the pentiments.
Ciska pulled her leather bag out of her pocket and scattered the disparate contents on the table. She assembled the eccentric sculpture and gathered her thoughts.
“Most thunderclaps vibrate at around one hundred megahertz,” she began. “If the vibration is a little lower then I switch. All I have to do is stay away from storms and I can live out my time as I choose. Sooner or later though, I’ll be caught, my biological clock will reset to my age the first time I switched, and I’ll be … elsewhere. A place that is, almost, exactly the same. Sometimes the differences will be on a scale that I can’t perceive, or crop up on the other side of the world. There was this one time I …”
Ciska stopped herself. Even if it was a great story, this wasn’t the time or the place. She glanced at Jane. Nor the audience I’d choose to tell it to.
“Anyway, every now and then I’d come across others who had this ability, but we’d avoid forming any of long term connections. What would be the point? After a switch, who knew what, and who, would remain the same and what would change? Some though, thought they were gods and set themselves up as such, according to the superstitions of the era. I must confess, I tried it once, but found godhood to be a rather bland existence after a while.” Not exactly one of her finer moments either. Although she did set some interesting precedents.
“About two centuries ago, I took refuge from the Napoleonic wars in a little seaside town on the border between France and Spain. In a fit of literary insanity I committed all my theories and experiments to paper. Not to publish them, who would believe me? But to clarify my thoughts, come to some conclusions.
“Then, as technology allowed, I constructed instruments to measure the switching phenomenon. The Age of Electronics baffled me for a time because I would fry any circuitry I came near, perhaps as a result of being close to lightning strikes far too often. But, with enough time, attention, and innovation I was able to enter the modern era the majority of pentiments close to this one currently exist in.
“One of the biggest mysteries I needed to solve was, ‘why me?’ Why me, and not the person standing next to me exposed to the exact same thunder? Was it luck? Clean living? Genetics? The Great Pumpkin?”
Everyone laughed or at least smiled at Ciska’s little joke. Everyone but Jane. Ciska wasn’t surprised. She and Jane had vastly differing theories about the conclusion of her story.
“As I said earlier this morning, the answer is genetics. The only child of only children, for generations, probably since the beginning, concentrated the ability, the anomaly, into a relatively few individuals who knowingly or unknowingly shifted.”
“I left France after …” Ciska saw a flash of, was it fear, in Jane’s eyes? “… after I completed my notes, and made my way steadily east. I started to notice ‘disturbances in the force’, subtle changes in each pentiment that couldn’t simply be attributed to switching from one to the next. Being a witness to one’s own transformations for thousands of years gives one a certain sensitivity to such things.
“I decided to seek out some of the others like me to see if they experienced anything similar. As soon as I made contact with them, they’d disappear. Only to turn up dead, in this pentiment and others. Worse still, they stayed dead. Which is an impossibility for switchers. Sooner or later a thunderstorm comes along and there we are, alive again.”
Tamsin held up a hand to stop Ciska, “Wait a minute. If you’re dead in one pentiment, why don’t you stay dead in all of them.”
“Suppose you were a switcher and I shot you. You’d be dead.” Ciska answered. “But if in another pentiment I missed, or you disarmed me, then you’d be alive, therefore you’d have to be alive in all pentiments, for all time.”
“Except me,” Meg said so quietly that only Ciska heard her. She gently squeezed Meg’s hand, then released it a heartbeat before Meg pulled away.
“It’s horrible,” Silv said, as she returned from the bathroom and slumped into the chair across from Ciska, although as far away from Jane as she could get. “Must’ve been something I ate.”
“Oh, I don’t know, you get used to it after a while,” Jane said, willfully misunderstanding Silv. “And immortality does have it’s advantages.”
The kitchen seemed to fall away from Ciska, and for a moment only she and Jane existed. “I do believe there is a way to make sure someone stays dead, everywhere. I just haven’t found it yet.”
Jane leaned in and spoke with the same intensity. “You just don’t have what it takes to do the job properly.”
Meg subtly nudged Ciska, enough to break the tableau between her and Jane, and laughed. “I understand the desire to kill Jane, she’s the most annoying person I know, but are you telling us that you’ve actually done it? Killed her?”
“On a couple of occasions,” Ciska said as she slowly released the sculpture. The pieces fell apart. She gathered them up and started again. She seemed distracted, for which Meg felt grateful. She didn’t want Jane and Ciska going head-to-head in her kitchen.
Tamsin turned pale at Ciska’s admission, except for two bright patches of color on her cheeks. Meg caught her eye and shook her head. There was too much happening that neither of them knew enough about for Tamsin to challenge Ciska now. Tamsin looked down and leaned back in her chair again. Meg sighed. Another confrontation averted.
“Why?” Meg asked, although it seemed like every answer she got only raised more questions, but she persevered anyway. Some questions needed answers whatever the cost.
“You’ve met her,” Ciska said. “She’s the most annoying person I’ve ever met too. At first it was because she did me a great wrong, and I was a vengeful person back then … and then, it became … a game? … a science experiment? … ” The pieces of sculpture clicked into place and Ciska placed it in the middle of the table. Meg cautiously picked it up, and a feeling of horror at the casual way Ciska talked about death threatened to overwhelm her.
“Sideways.” Ciska said obliquely.
Meg glanced across at Tamsin again and saw that she’d caught the inference. They’d both witnessed Ciska’s precognitive, or side-cognitive ability before. Something was happening, something else Meg was sure she didn’t want happening in her kitchen.
Jane Lightsmith looked steadily at the three women sitting across from her. She actually felt relieved that yet another inevitable confrontation between her and Ciska had been averted, they were getting tiresome. She ignored Silv.
“To cut a long boring story short,” Jane said. “Ciska believes the pentiments are getting closer together and they’ll eventually crush each other out of existence. I on the other hand …”
“How is that possible?” Meg asked Ciska.
Jane was almost sure the interruption was deliberate. She seethed. Meg was really starting to tick her off, but she supposed they did deserve an answer. She glanced down at her very expensive watch, that did a great deal more than tell time, and decided she could let things slide for a few more minutes.
“Picture it like this,” Ciska said. “You have a whole bunch of bubbles. The smaller ones join up and create bigger ones, that then merge with other bigger ones. The only problem is, whatever they’re made out of, soapy water for instance, gets stretched thinner with each merger. You’re left with one giant bubble that eventually pops.”
“Then what?” Tamsin asked in a small voice.
Jane knew her daughter wasn’t the most imaginative woman in the room, Silv didn’t count, but she saw that Ciska’s colorful imagery had spooked her. She huffed in mock exasperation and cut in.
“Apparently it’s the end of everything, the universe, time, every pentiment, all gone. I on the other hand, believe that there’s only so much energy available to drive the pentiments and what’s happening is … well I suppose you could call it ‘natural selection’. When a specific number of pentiments or ‘bubbles’ has been reached the whole system stabilizes. Remember, in the grand scheme of things switchers have only been jumping pentiments for a very short period of time. There was bound to be some adjustments. Unfortunately your counterpart,” Jane gestured to Meg. “The ‘dead Meg’ as Tamsin has dubbed it, was simply a casualty of the merger.”
Ciska looked up from contemplating her sculpture and smiled so coldly that Jane felt a frisson of fear lift the hairs on the back of her neck.
“Perhaps Mary could add something to the conversation at this point,” Ciska said maintaining her eye-lock with Jane.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Mary said, and moved swiftly into the room, aiming the device in her hands squarely at Jane.
Stay tuned for Season 2, Episode 4 of …