Los Alamitos, California – Friday, 3 November 2017 – 8:01 a.m.
He knew she had been terrified, desperate, but that was no excuse. Without balance the universe couldn’t exist, well except for that imbalance called entropy. The universe was moving slowly, inexorably from order to disorder, but Yama couldn’t let the breakers accelerate that process. Damn Kāla for the mess she’s created, that is if one can damn a goddess.
She is here, the breaker, he could sense her presence, her non-conformity, her being out of place and time. He would find her in this strange country with its paved roads and automobiles, this land hardly populated in the time she came from. But then from her point of view, this place was far better than the one from which she escaped.
That vehicle. She’s piloting it. Yes, going behind that building. What’s it called? The language was odd but Yama was not without resources. “The Original Fish Co. Co? What is a Co?”
The machine had stopped but she was yet inside. “If I hurry,” he told himself, “this can end quickly, privately. None of those other mechanisms are present. If this is a business, it must not have yet opened.”
The dark-skinned man with the smoldering gaze (for that’s how he would appear to any casual observer), walked quickly around the side of the restaurant and to the back. He approached from behind just as the young woman opened the car door, still distracted, looking for something in her purse.
“Sharla Dodd.” He spoke the name as you’d expect death to speak it if he came to escort your soul to Hell.
She looked up, gasped and dropped her purse. “Please. Don’t hurt me. Just take my wallet.”
“I have not come to rob you Sharla Dodd. Our business is much more dire.”
“How do you know that name?” She stood transfixed, her back pressed to the inside driver’s door. She madly thought of escaping in her car but the keys were in her purse on the asphalt at her feet. The same for her cell.
“Surely she said someone would be coming for you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m just a waitress. My name is Charlotte. Please leave me alone. I haven’t done anything.”
“I beg to differ, Sharla. You said ‘yes’ to her. When she offered you another life, you said ‘yes’.”
“You know.” It was a whisper. “But how? It’s impossible. Not after five years.”
“I see you’ve been a breaker for longer than I realized. The damage you’ve done must be great. I have to stop this before the imbalance becomes catastrophic.”
“Who are you?”
“I have many names for many peoples and times, but you may call me Yama, the Lord of Death.”
She chuckled in spite of herself and then remembered that her own story was no less fantastic.
“Look. People will start coming soon. I was supposed to open up but we won’t be back here alone for long.”
“Long enough, Sharla Dodd.” He started to reach for her and she managed to duck under his arm and get around the car door. She made a grab for her purse but missed as he nearly touched her.
Charlotte ran blindly until she was against the back door of the restaurant. She had thought of getting inside, locking the doors and then calling the police, but then she remembered she still didn’t have her keys.
“It’s hopeless. You cannot escape.”
“I’m not going back. You can’t make me. Kāla swore I’d never have to go back.”
He walked steadily toward the young woman. Yama could tell she was thinking of running, a natural desire under the circumstances. But whether she moved left or right, he would be upon her before she could take five steps.
“Please. Let me go. You don’t have to hurt me. I can’t go back. You don’t understand.”
“Alas, I understand death all too well, Sharla. I know the world you sought to escape. It was horrible. Over 100,000 souls were tragically lost.”
“My husband. My baby.” She was almost crouching at the door now, as if she could will herself through the wood or down into the concrete under her shoes. “They died, they all died. The rats. They squealed in the night as they perished too, their filthy work done. Please, please don’t send me back to such a fate.”
She was on her knees sobbing yet finding it impossible to take her eyes off of the image of the man-god standing over her.
“There is no sending you back, Sharla Dodd. You disappeared in the evening of February 2, 1666. Your body was never found, though the corpses were buried in mass graves, so you were not missed.”
“Not back? Then…?” A moment of hope. She started to stand and then he reached for her again.
“Dear Sharla, I shall be merciful and quick. You cannot remain. In allowing, even encouraging time breakers such as yourself, seemingly rescuing them from disaster or catastrophe and sending them to places and times of relative safety, Kāla has sown the seeds of chaos for the universe and all of time. Haven’t you wondered why so shortly after your arrival, the earthquakes began, the fires consuming vast portions of land, the thousands who have died? As long as a single breaker remains out of time, the essence of time revolts. If not stopped, then time will take all the innocents across the vast span of history.”
“She is but time personified, however when she rejected her service to me as my messenger, she staged a coup that sent Rama back to the realm of the gods and tricked Lakshmana into a situation that resulted in his death. She’s mad and I must stop her. But first, I must prune all of the branches she has caused to sprout on the tree of the living.”
“I’m sorry. You should have died a long time ago, Sharla.”
She folded her body into itself, face pressed against her legs, arms wrapped around them, sobbing, terrified, remorseful. Dear Ian. Little Jeffrey. She left them alone to die because she was afraid of dying with them. Her voice was muffled as she uttered her last words, “Just take me, then.”
It is said one cannot receive a touch from the gods and live, and so it was when Yama placed his hand oh so gently on the back of Sharla Dodd’s head. He caressed her long brown hair as a man might comfort a lover.
“Time is the fire in which we burn.”
When he walked away, there were nothing but cooling ashes where Sharla Dodd had once been.
“Can’t figure it out, Lieutenant. What could have burned her to ashes and left the door she was right next to undamaged. You’d think a fire that hot would have burned half the place down.”
There were a dozen Los Alamitos Police cars in the parking lot surrounding Charlotte’s Toyota Camry, the driver’s door still open, her purse next to it, contents spilled on the asphalt. Officers, detectives, forensics people all milling about investigating in the aftermath of a mysterious death.
“We’ll know more once the CSI people do an analysis.” Lt. Parker Cox shrugged his shoulders. “Not much left for an autopsy, is there, Watson?”
“No, Lieutenant. I’ll be damned if I know what happened to her. I guess we have to assume it’s her, Charlotte Dodds that is.”
“I guess we have to, Watson. Hell, three months until retirement and this has to happen again.”
“Again? What do you mean?”
“The M.O. It matches eleven cold cases, victims all incinerated, not even bone fragments left. Happened suddenly, no witnesses, nothing indicating what caused the fire, and no collateral damage, even when the victim’s ashes were found on a wooden floor. No scorch marks, nothing.”
“There have been eleven other cases like this one, Lieutenant…in Southern California? Since when?”
“Nationally. It’s kind of a hobby of mine, cold cases, I mean. I study them. Eleven cases just like Charlotte Dodds all over the United States in the past…” he took a moment to think “…one hundred and sixteen years. Bet I’d find more if I searched the Interpol database.”
“You can’t be serious, Lieutenant. I mean it’s got to be some sort of coincidence. If this is a homicide, it can’t be the same perp doing it for over a century.”
“I don’t know what the hell to call it, Watson. I only know that it’s happened again. What I don’t know is when it will end?”
For Police Lieutenant Parker Cox, the question is rhetorical, but for Yama, the man who became a god, the angel of death, the paladin of justice, it will end when every last breaker throughout history is discovered and eliminated. Once that is accomplished, if it is possible to accomplish, then Death and Time will meet face to face for the final battle. But will reality survive?
I wrote this for the Simply Marquessa Friday Writing Challenge. The idea is to use a specific song lyric as the inspiration for crafting a short story. The lyric for 2 November 2017 is “With the touch of your hand, you start a fire burning…”
I apologize for playing fast and loose with the gods Yama and Kāla. Given more time for research, I probably could have found a better couple of deities to use, particularly since Yama is only tangentially associated with fire and I have no reason to believe Kāla would or could oppose him (though she did have a hand in the fates of Rama and Lakshmana as I described them above). I’ve provided links in the body of the story if you want to learn more about them.
I pulled the fictional Sharla Dodds from the Great Plague of London which raged for eighteen months in 1665 and 1666 and killed an estimated 100,000 people, nearly a quarter of the population of London. I don’t know if Sharla would have realized it was the rats carrying the plague, but then again, it would not have been beyond Kāla to inform her as she placed the 17th century woman within a new life in early 21st century California.
“Time is the fire in which we burn” is a quote from the 1996 film Star Trek: Generations, delivered by the character Soran (Malcolm McDowell) to Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart).
To learn more, visit Someone to Hold and, if you are so inclined, write and post a story based on the prompt. You can also find links to other stories there as well.
Oh, one last thing. I used to live in Southern California and my wife and I patronized The Original Fish Company restaurant in the early 1990s.