Lead the Dance: Chapter 1

Title: Lead the Dance
Chapter: 1 of 8
Author: Sheryl
Rating: PG-13

Other Info: Sequel to A Change of Grace
Excerpt: The thing about time, the thing that gets into peoples heads and makes them twitch, the thing that boggles the mind and defies imagination, is that it’s not really there.
Oh time as a concept is a great idea, but that’s really all it is. A concept.
A human concept, brought into existence by a species with a limited capacity for comprehension.
Oh I suppose they needed something, something to help them explain away the disappearance of things, the passage of their own selves through the universe. Aging. Aging is the thing that really gets them.
So, they created an concept, a concept of flowing, linear time.

Chapter 1

The thing about time, the thing that gets into peoples heads and makes them twitch, the thing that boggles the mind and defies imagination, is that it’s not really there.
Oh time as a concept is a great idea, but that’s really all it is. A concept.
A human concept, brought into existence by a species with a limited capacity for comprehension.
Oh I suppose they needed something, something to help them explain away the disappearance of things, the passage of their own selves through the universe. Aging. Aging is the thing that really gets them.
So, they created an concept, a concept of flowing, linear time.
A river, in the words of the late great Jack Finney. A river we all flow along, the past becoming lost in the bends behind us, until we can’t see it anymore, and a future still hidden by the twists and turns before us. A past and a future we could reach, could we but step out of the river and onto the shore, cut the threads that bind us to our own times, and go where we will.

Time travel.
He was so close. He missed it by inches.

Because you see, time doesn’t move. How can it? It’s not there! It’s a concept. WE move, you see. People move, people act. We build, we tear down, we give birth, we age, we die… but time remains static.
Time is simply what we choose to call our own passage… so, not being, it cannot be linear. It cannot move in any fashion. Time simply is NOT.
Not so easy to grasp.

If time must BE, and it seems that in most minds it must, better to think of it as simultaneous. All of time is now, everything is happening at once. We simply choose to PERCEIVE it as linear. Cause followed by effect, young before old, birth before death. It’s the only way most of us have been taught to see it, and to try to look at it any other way makes brains fry. We, by some sort of mutual consent, choose only to focus on our passage through the universe in this limited way.

Now… imagine what could happen, what could BE, if humans learned to look at time (the concept) as it really is. If people could learn to see things the way they really are.

Chaos? Probably.
Wonder? Without a doubt.

But… There are people who can. People who DO see that way. Amazing beings, not quite human, not anymore.
Mortal sensibilities demand that they be called something, so, we’ll call them   Keepers. “Time” Keepers if you absolutely must. They keep straight the web, the warp and weft of the strands that weave your concept together. That weave your entire existence together, and the existence of all mankind and everything that exists beyond, in and around it.

There aren’t many of them, and if you saw one you probably wouldn’t realize it. Unless you were like me, of course, or the other people like me.
Me? I’m not a Keeper. Not by a longshot, and I wouldn’t want to be.
But I know them, I have… dealings with them.
My name is Nick, and I guess you would call me a traveler. Or even a “time” traveler if you insist. But this isn’t really my story. Oh, I’m in it. But it’s not mine.

This is the story of a new (depending on your point of view) Keeper, and his journey into ultimate reality.
His name is Zac, and I almost didn’t meet him.
When I woke up that morning, the morning I learned about Zac,  just getting through the day was the only thing on my mind.
Getting past all the little obstacles you people seem to take in stride. I was not in the mood, or for that matter, the physical condition, to deal with any problems. Just being conscious was problem enough.
But, Deity knows, I had to BE somewhere.

I own a little tattoo parlor, down in the village. It doesn’t do much, clears a profit once in a while, but mostly I keep it for the social aspect.
Lots of unique and interesting people come into a tattoo parlor, don’t doubt it for a moment. We do the odd piercing, nothing too elaborate, nothing that requires nudity, although Jake was talking about that two days from now. I think he harbors dreams of tattooing some lovely stretch of unmentionable skin.

Jake’s an artist, and he’s known. Keeps us pretty busy.

I don’t have a good hand with the gun, not lately anyways, I have this alarming
twitch going on. Jake told me one morning that he wasn’t going to let me put needle to skin until I lost the shakes. Can’t really lose them though. Could my friend Jack Daniels have something to do with that? I just bet he does.

Now I’m wandering.

That morning, yeah,  that morning there wasn’t much unique or interesting about anything.

The answering machine woke me from dead flat, Jake’s voice yelling at me that he was locked out on the sidewalk, in February, in the cold, and would I please drag my sorry ass out of bed and go unlock the shop.
Once I’d figured out what the hell was going on, and why this voice was screaming profanity at me, I snapped to an realized I had an issue. I was late. Late. As in, not on time. I couldn’t believe I was late, I’m never late. A person who doesn’t exist in time CAN’T be late.

See, as a traveler, I lost your concept of time. All travelers do.
We see it all, all at once, all the time. Past, present, future, it’s all in one, it’s all happened, happening, about to happen. It makes conversations with me a little weird, and it takes an iron effort to phrase things so mortal views of order aren’t too badly
skewed. If I mess up, deal with it. I don’t always get it right.

But anyway, I’m never late. I don’t own a clock. I just seem to get where I’m supposed to be, when other people think I’m supposed to be there. Maybe I’ve been lucky? But this particular morning, my traveler senses failed me, and I woke up late. Wouldn’t have woken up at all if Jake hadn’t called.
The morning after the night before, as you linear sorts put it. I’ve been having alot of those mornings, it seems, leading to the aforementioned tremor.
Now, this is not a good sign for a traveler, when his own senses start skipping and missing. Misfires and no-fires can lead to very serious consequences. It’s usually a signal, for me a signal that means it’s time to go. Time to travel.
A signal that means my breaking point is fast approaching.

Although the late nineties is my “home time”, the pace of the world gets to me, and I have to leave from time to time. That’s what travelers do. We simply exist in a preferred time for however long it takes to get our stuff back together. I guess you’d call it a vacation, although we technically are never off duty. We never know when a Keeper will need us to do something, and since that’s why we’re here in the first place, to assist the Keepers, we really have to be available no matter how strung out we might feel.

I knew it was coming, the time I’d have to leave. The signs were all there.
I was cranky, irritable, drinking too much, and now… late for work! Me!
That just sucked. Deity help anyone who needed me.
I want to kick back for a while, enjoy some sun and heat, maybe in what you term the 50s. Love the time, the people were simpler, no big issues clouding up the terrain…   That’s something else… my thoughts are skipping all over, I’ve having trouble keeping on topic. Wandering again.

I thought about it, me being late,  while I was stumbling through a shower. That’s one good thing about this time… good water pressure.

I could just travel back, to the night before, buy an alarm clock and get up on time! But no, travelers aren’t allowed to manipulate the concept that way. Imagine if we could! Just think about the problems that could cause?

The world on revised replay!

But, the thought crossed my mind as I lit another smoke, and debated on making coffee. What’s the sense in being able to travel in “time”, if you can’t fix things as you go? Maybe it makes no sense, especially on miserable hungover mornings, but it’s the way it is.

So, we have to put up with things just like everyone else. Tired mornings, hangovers, it’s all part and parcel of life, those little miseries that most of you just live through. And because it is, and because I still had to BE somewhere, I found myself trudging and slipping through the sludge and slush, gray sludge and slush at that. Winter in New York isn’t white. It’s gray and black and yellow.
So there I was, black snow, freezing cold, tripping over drunks and bums, fighting for a seat on the subway, spilling my coffee all over my arm.
What glamour.

I was seriously thinking about sucking the coffee from the wool of my jacket, when I felt it. The tickle. The tickle in my head. Like an itch, but not quite as irritating.
Although, right now, any sensation not involved in a caffeine rush was irritating to me. I looked over my sleeve, maybe hoping to hide behind it, and spotted her.
Shit. And double damn.
Kay.

Kay is a Keeper. Kathryn, although to me she just looks like a Kay.
Seeing her, here in this time, which she hates, definitely wasn’t a good sign. Especially not when I was seriously thinking about heading out for a while.
But… there was no avoiding her. She knew I was here, and my traiter mind had already answered her.
“Don’t call me Kay, please, Nicholas.”  She sat down next to me, and gave me that look. That appraising, unapproving look she usually gave me.
I mentally sighed, “Kay, please, not today, not right now. Isn’t there someone else?”
“No.”
She sounded so damned amused. It really bugged me.
“Next stop, off we get, Nicholas. I’ll buy you another coffee, you look like you need it.”
Her voice, laughter tinged, spoke softly from my side. Yep, Kay, right there,
looking so very uptown, on the NY subway.

Have any of you ever heard the oriental curse? “May you live in interesting times.”?
Kay always signaled MY “interesting times”.
There was no refusing her, no option but to let her drag me off the subway and into a coffee shop. Being with Kay always makes me feel witless and ineffective, so I just stood there while she shoved more coffee into one hand, and snatched the cigarettes from the other.
She always says I smoke too much. Does it matter? I’m a traveler. It’d take a really long time to kill me. And there I was, sitting crammed into a booth, blowing on a new cup of coffee, forgetting all about Jake, freezing his butt off. I really hoped it was nothing, maybe a quick trip or even just some advice.
No such luck.
“Nicholas, we need an appraisal.”

It wasn’t any big thing, not at first. We do appraisals, talk to the Keepers to be, check out their vibes and their signals, fill them in on travelling, and the difference between a traveler and a Keeper, and match them up with teachers who’ll work best with them. Because of our nature, and our ability to see all time at once, we can see good and bad decisions, and their outcomes, in an instant. It makes us uniquely suited to match people with people, and it’s one of our primary functions. When we’re not acting as glorified gophers anyway.

Then she told me who the kid was. Or so I though. My head was hammering away and the coffee really needed something, maybe a good shot of bourbon, and I’m ashamed to say I got it all completely wrong.
“Nick, he’s awfully young, and very confused. He was awakened much too soon, and in crisis, so he’s become very unstable. He needs help right away. I’m not sure when he’ll contact you, as always, you’ll know him before he knows you.”

Great. Just great. An unstable kid who needed guidance. I just didn’t feel up to it.
While I was mentally grousing (you don’t grouse out loud to Kay) I missed, though I didn’t realize it,  a good bit of what she said next.
“…boy in the void?” I couldn’t have been more shocked. “Shit! Yes! It’s that one that needs the appraisal? I remember him from next year!”

I the travelers and Keepers knew of that incident, it was considered “big news”, and gossip had run rampant. Nobody could believe the Keepers had contracted mortals to do their work for them, and all of us were appalled at the risks they’d forced these mortal kids to take.

I think I just stared at her. She wanted to give me the void kid? THE kid?
Kathryn sipped her tea, watching me make a moron out of myself, and I couldn’t help thinking how suited she was to Keeperhood. Her ability to fit in, and blend, in any of your linear times. Even here, in NY ’99, Kay looked wonderful. My tattoos usually meant that I had to cover up totally. Face it, a deadhead tat doesn’t much fit in in 1870 Vermont.
“Nicholas, fix your tenses please. Last year. Yes, it’s him.” She looked at me then with real regret. “I know you were planning on leaving. I’m sorry, truly, but this is your home time, as it is his. You will relate to him better than anyone else right now.”

I couldn’t argue. Even if I’d had a valid argument. After all, what she was asking was why I was there, and my hangover wasn’t really relevant.
“Kay, Any idea when this is gonna happen?”
She set her cup down and I could see her mentally leaving me, moving to her next obligations.
“No, but it should be soon. He’s very stressed, and his brothers know it’s
time, as well.”
“Brothers?”

I should have realized then that I’d missed something important, but my head was so fogged in, I had no idea.
As she pushed back her chair, I reached for her hand. I didn’t want her to leave, it was so much easier to talk to her. Keepers see time the same way we do, and talking to one was a welcome relief from the struggle to put things in some sort of sequence. They always understand.
She let me catch her hand, unusual in itself. She feels just the way she
looks, shimmery, faintly vibrating, almost electric. I suppose manipulating strands, and working with that much energy kind of left it’s mark. There’s not much mortal human left in her.
She laughed at me, and I’m afraid there was more than a little pity in it. I guess I was pretty pitiful.
“I’m sorry Nick, I can’t stay. We both have things to do, my dear. Remember poor Jake? Out in the cold?” She laughed, a rich mellow tone, as I jumped to my feet,
spilling my coffee again. It wasn’t a good day for me and coffee.
“Dammit, he’s gonna kill me! Kay…”
I had to stop then, because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to say. I was so strung up, so stressed out, I couldn’t believe she was giving me the void kid. Overwhelmed? Not even close.
She just laughed again, buttoned my coat, and stepped away from me, leaving me standing only a block from the parlor, and my popsicle partner. That he’d seen me come out of the coffee house was evident by the string of curses that came to us on the wind.
“I think Jake’s waiting for you, Nicholas. Oh… and Nick? Don’t call me Kay.”
Her words faded, much as she herself did, into the crowded street, and from the time you call February 1999.
I watched her go, wishing she’d stay, and started up the street to Jake, hoping my reflexes were good enough to duck when he swung at me.

I was already looking out for the kid, and since I thought I knew who he was, had his signature already in the front of my mind.
He walked right by me and I never knew he was there.

*PrologueNext Chapter*
*Go Back to Chapters Index*

This fictional story is hosted at The Gifted Ones,
with permission from the author, Sheryl.

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