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The Cottage at the Edge of the Universe

The Cottage at the Edge of the Universe

By Robert Slater - 3 Reviews

Burning fields. Screaming. The undead nightmare. The sky cracking. The beautiful storm. The hound. The friendly eyes. The darkness. Him. The Doctor. Evil. Pure evil. Evil, evil, evil…

“Jack,” said a voice laden in a thick German accent and laced with a pure venom. “Jack, please open your eyes my friend.”

Jack didn’t want to open his eyes ever again. Not while he was still there. The muffled sounds of an engine and the crackling and sizzling of something big slowly bled through the mental block he’d put up around his mind. The smell of copper and burning meat drifted towards him, gently taking hold of his nose and easing their stench into it.

“Jack, you don’t want me to hurt you, do you?”

The prisoner whimpered, straining against the bonds that kept him tied to the hard metal chair. Silent tears trickled down his bruised and bloodied face, forging thin streaks through the grime that caked it.

“If you open your eyes I won’t hurt you, Jack.”

Every fibre in Jack’s being screamed at him not to believe the devil who spoke to him, but he had to comply. Whimpering and sniffling he opened his eyes and let them focus on the man in front of him. He wore a dirty green uniform with a red armband on the left arm, the symbol of hatred emblazoned proudly upon it. He had a hooked nose that reminded Jack of a vultures vicious beak and a greasy moustache, fashioned like his only superior that turned his stomach whenever he laid eyes on it. The worst part was the eyes, the deep blackness of them, the way they sucked the very soul out of him. Doctor Frichowitz, the Nazis last hope in this endless, bitter war against the allies. Their worst creation. This was the man who had tortured and abused Jack to the brink of insanity, the man who’d implanted so many nightmares and fears in his mind that he didn’t think he knew who he was anymore. And he’d done more. Things Jack couldn’t remember. Things that darted around in the back of his mind, slamming the door when he was close to remembering them.

“Hello Jack, my dear friend. Have you had a nice sleep?” Frichowitz swooned as he bent down to Jack’s level, treating his prisoner as though he was no more than a child. Jack stared into the blackness of his eyes and the images flashed through his eyes again.

Burning. The end. Do not go gentle into that good night, Jack. Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Fire. The howling. The world flickering out of existence. Pain, pain, pain, pain…

Jack gritted his teeth and shook his head, scattering the visions from out of his mind. Frichowitz smiled proudly at his captives discomfort and moved to stand next to Jack, revealing what was behind him.

A giant, metal cylinder with what looked to be a doorway built into it towered over Jack and the Doctor. Above it hung an enormous globe of glass that had tubes connecting it to not only the cylinder below it but to four other cylinders around the enormous hangar that they were in. The four cylinders were different however in that they were all made of glass, just like the globe that crackled over them all. Each one was filled with a thousand beams of crackling blue energy that whizzed and sparked and bounced off the sides of the glass, screeching around inside their delicate cages.

“Do you like her, Jack? Isn’t she pretty?” Frichowitz cooed, as he turned to look at his prisoner, fixing him with his dead stare. The pools of darkness that were his eyes looked as though they held the souls of the damned within them. Jack strained against his bonds in horror.

“Wha…what…is…it?” he croaked, forcing himself to break eye contact and gaze at the buzzing monstrosity instead. The cracks of the electricity whipping against their glass cages caused him to flinch and the hissing of the engines reminded him of the gas from the trenches.

“This is Die Glocke, Jack. Project T! This will win us the war!” The Doctor declared proudly. He snapped his fingers at one of the guards who stood sentry at the hangar doors behind Jack, who scuttled to the machine and pressed a few buttons and yanked a lever. The doors of the cylinder slowly hissed open, revealing an empty, compact inside. Enough room inside for a man to stand in. Jack strained harder at his shackles. He knew what was going to happen.

“Win you the war…not…me,” he whispered. He’d heard rumours a long time ago about Die Glocke. Spooky stories to scare the soldiers, whispers in corners of taverns, words in the wind. Some sort of time travel device, a machine that the Nazis were going to use to change history. He’d never thought it was real and yet here it was, looming above him. He’d other stories too, nightmarish ones. Stories about super soldiers. Undead, indestructible creatures dragged from the very pits of Hell itself, apparently created from the Germans fallen comrades. Rumours were that nothing was off limits for the Nazi’s anymore. Animals, people. bacteria, nature, even time itself, all turned into weapons to bring the Allies down.

“No, you’re right. It will win us the war, Jack, but you will help,” Frichowitz laughed as the guard undid Jack’s bonds.

“Up!” he commanded and without hesitation Jack stood, although every inch of his being wanted to disobey.

“March!” the Doctor barked and Jack found himself following the enemies orders for the thousandth time since his capture from the trenches, so long ago. He sobbed as his feet carried him along the hangar floor towards the open doors of the machine. The visions assaulted his mind more frequently and intensely the closer he got to Die Glocke.

The cottage in a barren field. Crumbling. A man so young and yet he knew him somehow. The Fog. The Doctor laughing manically. Blood. Fire. Hatred. The swastika. Death. Darkness.

Jack shook his head violently, clearing the visions. They were different. New images. Who was that man? He watched helplessly, merely a passenger as his body unwillingly carried him into the open door of Die Glocke. He turned as he door slid shut, leaving him in darkness. He screamed and launched himself at it, trying to break out.

“SILENCE!” Frichowitz’s voice echoed around the small chamber. Jack’s heart dived into his stomach and he instinctively dropped to his knees covering his head.

“You will win us the war Jack. I am sending you back to 1914. You will lay the foundations for the Nazi Empire to begin thirty years early. You will change the past and help us achieve a better, powerful, magnificent future.”

Frichowitz voice echoed around the chamber, he couldn’t escape it. He stuck his hands over his ears, digging his nails into his flesh, clinging to what little sanity he had left.

“Hail Hitler!”

Jack lost control and screamed as a light slammed on, almost blinding him. The chamber was eye searingly white. The floor shuddered and quickly grew into a violent shake. A high pitched whine rose around him in the chamber and gradually drowned out his screams. He felt like his whole head was on fire and his body was being torn apart. He could hear a faint countdown through the cacophony of noise that surrounded him.

“Drei,” The engines whine grew into a scream as it built up power gradually.

“Zwei” The light in the chamber was getting brighter and brighter, burning Jack, helpless underneath it blazing gaze.

“Ein!” The chamber gave one final brilliant, violent convulsion and Jack was gone.

He stopped existing. And then he was there. And then he was gone again.

Pain, everlasting pain. Every atom of his being was burning. He didn’t feel real, he felt like nothing connected. He was being stretched in every direction at once, he was numb and burning alive at the same time. Pain, numbness, pain, please God make it stop.

His brain was being ripped apart and put back together over and over, every single synapse flaring at once. He felt a shift and was at peace for a while. He felt sleepy, warm, comfortable. Sane. His whole being rippled and he was torn back into the vicious winds of time.

His body stopped being part of this dimension and shifted into another for a bit. Jack felt his brain do a somersault and a backflip into his stomach and roared.

No sound came out of course. He was currently a billion billion atoms racing through a vortex of darkness and stars towards his new destination. The First World War.

Jack was wrenched violently back into reality and the pain vanished. It was over before it had begun. It felt like it had lasted less than a second and yet an eternity at the same time.

He lay in darkness. Nothing felt real, everything felt wrong. He tried to open his eyes but found he couldn’t. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to. He didn’t know what had just happened to him other than it was the worst pain he’d ever been in and yet the most at peace he’d been in an age. He’d been so detached from reality and yet so at one with it.

Sounds slowly started creeping towards him, filtering through the block that protected his mind. But they were muffled, indistinct. He strained and willed his scrambled brain to concentrate on the sounds, try and tune them into something legible. He started to become more conscious, more aware of other parts of his body. His legs and arms, his fingers and toes, his torso and head. Nothing hurt, nothing even ached. It was as though nothing had even happened. But it did happen. He remembered it all. Every single agonising second of it.

He felt his eyelids flicker, then flutter and slowly, with a lot of effort, force themselves open. Light. Blinding him. He slammed them shut again, screwing them up tight. It wasn’t the harsh white light of Die Glocke though. It was gentler. Natural. The sky!

He found it easier to open his eyes the next time. His sight was blurry but he knew it was there, the sky. He didn’t know when he’d last seen it, he had no idea how long he’d been locked in the Vault. He was free. The relief that was flooding his system froze as he noticed the sky. It was choking on dark, thick smoke.

The sounds that were muffled before were becoming clearer, louder. They were piercing. Violent. He knew what they were. Gunfire.

Shouting and screaming all around him. Guns rattling. Explosions, blazing closer and closer to where he lay. A roaring. It wasn’t an animals roar, it was bigger, from up above. He saw it, a dot on the horizon. A plane. Gliding towards him faster and faster, machine gun chattering. Jack started to tremble as he realised where he was. He dug his fingers into the ground and realised he was lying in mud. Acres and acres of mud and blood drenched bodies stretched all around him. He was in a war-zone.

“SOLDIER! GET UP!” a voice shattered through his horror. He turned his head slowly in the direction of it and saw someone running towards him through the smoke and mud. He didn’t move. It couldn’t be real.

“SOLDIER! UP! NOW!” The man skidded over to him, reached down and tore him up from where he lay in the filth and the corpses. Jack’s brain stayed in the mud a second or two longer than the rest of him before slingshotting its way back up to him. He saw stars, the rush of being ripped up from the ground so quickly had scrambled his head. Through his spinning vision he saw the ground coming up to meet him and he thudding into him. He emptied the contents of his stomach and groaned as he felt himself being dragged back up again.

“You have to run!” the man shouted in his ear. Jack felt himself being dragged along, his feet sliding and bumping over the rough terrain. He opened his eyes and looked down, trying to move his legs. He felt drunk, the world was spinning and making him stupidly dizzy. He groggily turned to look at the man who was dragging him and felt something in his brain spark, like a switch has been flicked.

The friendly eyes

“Yooooouuuuu” he gurgled, staring stupidly at the soldier who carried him. He willed his own legs to start working.

“You got a name?” the man asked, still half dragging him as fast as he could, “Lets get these legs moving mate,” he urged. The sounds of gunfire was getting louder, the plane getting closer.

“Jack…Clarke,” Jack dribbled. He felt like he was sobering up, as though he was slipping out of a very drunken stupor. Everything was slowly clicking into place. He just hoped there wouldn’t be a hangover to accompany his reawakening of the senses.

“But…it’s you,” he gasped, “the friendly eyes, in my head.” The man threw him a look and Jack got a better look at him. Underneath a helmet that protected his head was a grimy, unwashed, unshaven face. Although he looked to be nearing the middle of his life his eyes held onto a youth that had long passed by. His strong features and high cheekbones were bruised and aged by war and he sported a nose that had been broken in the past. Thick, dark stubble coated his chin, hiding part of his identity and yet he looked familiar. Something about him reminded Jack of someone. Who was it?

“Are you hurt, Jack? A knock to the head?” the man said, “you need to run!” he shouted as he heaved Jack along. Jack forced himself to walk on his own alongside his saviour before building up to a jog. The soldier nodded and led the way, pulling a gun from his holster as they ran. Jack had to stay with him, where had he seen him before? He noticed the rifle strapped to the man’s back and cringed slightly. He stopped and noticed for the first time where he was.

In front of him, lying uncertainly in the mud that surrounded them were dozens of dirty, grey-white houses. Beyond them were more houses and he spied a church spire in the distance. A town. Shutters hung from the windows of the ugly houses displaying the shattered windows they used to protect. The doors of the houses were shattered and broken and surrounded by hundreds of pieces of broken roof tile. The houses all had the same pock marks made by bullets on their walls and all showed of streaks of mud and blood where men had fallen. One house stood out from the rest, the skeleton that held it together on full display, as though something had torn through it and stripped away its shell. A bomb. Jack turned and took in the vision of hell that greeted him. Wherever he looked there was only mud and smoke and fires, blazing proudly among the filth and the fallen.

Burning fields

“Come on!” the man shouted, snapping Jack back to reality. Jack raced towards him, stumbling a little as he got used to running again. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d exercised properly.

“Where am I?” he gasped as he ran to catch up with his companion. The plane that had been racing towards them roared above them and they both ducked, covering their heads. They scuttled on and reached the houses at the front line of the battle. He followed the man as he dived down an alleyway, shielded from the gunfire that had pursued them.

“What did you say?” the soldier asked, leaning against the alley wall, exhausted.

“Where am I?” Jack asked again. The man laughed bitterly.

“What kind of question is that? Do you need to go and see a doctor?” he asked, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a piece of paper.

The Doctor. Doctor Frichowitz. Evil. Pain. Nazis. Kill. Evil pain kill evil…

“Get the hell off me!”

Jack blinked. He felt something cold and hard digging into his ribs. A gun. He was holding the man by the throat, pinned to the alley wall, their faces inches away from each other. When did that happen? He didn’t realise he’d grabbed him. He hastily let go, stepping back.

“Im…sorry, I’m sorry,” he whispered shakily.

“You’re in Mons, Belgium,” the man said warily, rubbing his throat. He holstered the gun, he’d never shot anyone before, he wasn’t going to start now. He picked up the paper he’d dropped. A map. He held it in his trembling hands, pretending to analyse it.

“What year is it?”

“What?” the soldier asked, eyes wide. Jack recognised the look on his companions face. Fear. An explosion went off nearby and both men flinched, cringing at the sound.

“What’s the date?” he asked again.

“Ummm…twenty-third of August, 1914” the man said.

Jack took a step backwards and sank to the floor. He put his head in his hands. This couldn’t be happening. This wasn’t possible.

“It can’t be. It’s 1945, I know it is,” he mumbled, “This is Germany. I’m in Germany.”

His companion overheard him. “No, this is Belgium and it is most defiantly August twenty-third, 1914,” he said, “I should know, it’s Sarah’s birthday,”. Jack stood.

“You don’t get it. An hour ago I was in 1945! Something’s happened! They’ve sent me back. This isn’t real, it can’t be! It’s impossible!” He clutched his head and groaned. The visions.

The fog. The hound. The cottage. The gun. Family.

Family? What was that about?

The jarring chattering of gunfire went off nearby startled him back into reality. He noticed the man staring at him.

“What are you looking at?” Jack muttered, massaging his temples.

“I don’t know you, do I?” he asked, “It’s just I feel like I do…somehow,” he dismissed it. “Anyway, look, we’re here, on the map. Come here, look,” he was pointing at a squiggle on a map that Jack assumed was Mons. “We need to go west, past the church, back to my brigade. What squadron are you in? Do you remember?”

Jack merely stared at the man and took a step closer as though he was examining him, recognising him for the first time.

“Jack?” the soldier said warily after what happened before.

“I know you,” Jack said quietly. What the man had said had resonated with him somehow. There was something there. The sounds of the battle faded away as both men studied eachother. What was it? A bond of some sorts? But they’d only just met. And yet…

“What’s you name?” Jack whispered, now a foot away from the soldier.

“Fred. Fred Clarke.”

Deep in No Mans Land, in the mud and the smoke, something happened. The smog swirled and rippled and convulsed. Fires that had been blazing quietly extinguished. Darkness slowly crawled out of the fog and uttered a low, vicious growl. Something had gone very wrong with time. The thing in the fog knew what was wrong, it knew everything that had ever happened or ever would and knew where the problem lay. It growled and grunted as it felt the universe slowly being torn apart. It felt time itself ripple, history straining against the oncoming paradox, writing, erasing and rewriting itself in a continuous, agonising cycle. Time’s protector howled. It had to stop Jack Clarke.

In an alleyway deep in the heart of the war zone, Jack stumbled backwards, crashing awkwardly into the wall behind him.

“You..you can’t be him. But that’s…that’s not possible,” he stammered. But it was him. Alive and well. Younger. The man he’d idolised all his life. The man who’d been taken from him too soon but left a legacy. A war hero. His hero. His grandfather. Fred Clarke.

“What do you mean? Of course it’s possible. I’m Fred Clarke,” he chuckled, going back to looking at his map, working out a route.

“Where from?” Jack asked, trembling. He dug his fingers into the wall behind him, grasping for something to show this was real.

“Gloucester. Lived there all my life,” Fred said with a hint of pride.

“Same here,” Jack whispered. It was him. The more he stared the more it became obvious. The nose that had been broken in too many games of rugby and fighting when he was younger. The high cheekbones that Jack had inherited. The eyes that had always possessed his youth whilst the rest of him had moved on and aged. He was so young, so scared. Like Jack. He couldn’t believe it. He’d actually travelled through time.

“Oh, really? Local boy then!” Fred smiled, more at ease in the presence of the stranger he’d saved. He reached out a hand and Jack grasped it. “Nice to meet you, Jack. Same surname too! We aren’t related are we?” Jack said nothing.

“Anyway, we can talk later. We have to move, we need to get back to our squadrons. I don’t know what else to do, no one does. We’re being overrun by Fritz, he’s mowing us down. It’s a slaughter out there. They’re too strong. We need to go, then we can figure out our next move and get your injuries checked out by a…”

He didn’t finish his sentence. Bullets smashed into the wall behind Jack, cracking the bricks and sending shrapnel flying, filling the air with the sound of gunfire and the acrid stench of smoke.

“Shit! Run!” Fred shouted and scuttled down the alleyway as fast as he could before breaking into a sprint. “Follow me! Don’t stop, don’t look round, just run! They’ve breached our defences, we’re going to die unless we run!” he shouted as Jack raced to catch up with him.

Mons. Mons. Retreat. “The battle of Mons ended with the retreat of the British due to the strength of the German attack”. Jack, my friend, are you listening?

“Tell your captain, your general, whoever to retreat! You need to retreat!” Jack shouted as they raced down the alleyway. The sound of gunfire pierced the air and both men ducked down as they ran. They burst out of the alleyway and skidded in the mud and gravel as hey raced up another street towards cover.

“Retreat? We can’t retreat! We have to fight them!” Fred gasped as they dived down another alleyway, powering down the narrow street. “The rendezvous is up this alley and to the right!” he pointed ahead of him. Every street looked the same, the same dirty grey houses, pockmarked and crumbling due to the war. The fog from No Mans Land was slithering into Mons itself.

Jack was struggling to keep up with his grandfather, he needed him to listen. He couldn’t let him die here, if he did he’d never live to be the war hero he became. He’d never do the things he’d do. He’d never have even met him. What would happen to history then? Jack’s history? The worlds history? The man was a war hero. He was important, he was family.

“Fred, you said it yourself! You don’t have a chance! You need to retreat!” he said as they burst out of the alleyway. Fred grimaced, turned and threw his grandson back into the narrow street they’d come from. They couldn’t hear any gunfire, the streets were silent for now.

“No! You listen to me! I’ll get court marshalled if I even suggest retreating and so will you. How hard was that blow to the head? Are you thick? They will never listen to me! I am the last one of my squad alive, okay? Those German bastards killed my friends! I am not retreating!” Fred growled, blinking rapidly as he tried to keep the tears at bay. He tuned and went to check if the coast was clear.

“Are you scared?” Jack asked simply. In the short time he’d known his grandfather when he’d been alive, he’d never seen him like this. This was new for him. It was heartbreaking.

“Of course I’m bloody scared,” Fred snorted, “I have a family back home. My wife, my daughter. I don’t want to die in sodding Mons, in the mud and fire,” he said, singling it was safe to move on.

“You won’t,” Jack said and followed his grandad out of cover.

The fog was thickening, creeping it’s way through the town of Mons. It slid down the alleyways, drowned the streets and slowly but surely, cut off all routes of escape for the two broken, lost men. The Hound was coming.

“This fog is awful,” Jack said as they jogged down another deserted street, “I can’t see a bloody thing.”

“Not far now, just this next left,” Fred said breathlessly. The sound of battle had died away, a haunting silence had descended on the town. It was unnatural, something was wrong. The fog seemed to be following them, closing them in. It seemed alive.

“What? I don’t…” Fred stammered as they rounded the corner. The rendezvous point was deserted, there was nothing to even suggest a whole brigade had ever been there in the first place.

“But I thought you said they’d be here?” Jack said, nursing a stitch.

“They… they can’t have just left. There’s still a battle going on,” Fred said in disbelief. He’d been abandoned in the middle of a war zone. He was lost. The thought of dying in the mud crawled back to the forefront of his mind, laughing at his misfortune.

“If they have any sense they’ll have retreated, thats what happened anyway in the Battle of Mons,” Jack said, before he realised the tense he’d been speaking in.

“What are you talking about?” Fred said, rounding on him, fury in his eyes. “What the hell do you mean ‘that’s what always happened’? Can you see the future now Mr 1945? What are you, a bloody fortune teller?” Who the hell are you?”

A howl carried through the air causing the men to freeze. Both instantly felt a shared feeling of complete and utter dread. Something was very wrong. It was almost as though they understood what the howl had meant, some primal knowledge every human being retained from their days in the trees.

“What the hell was that?” Fred whispered, taking a step closer to Jack, as though he wanted to protect him. It felt almost natural.

“It was just a dog,” Jack said though he didn’t believe himself for a second. Neither did his grandfather. The fog was closing in, making it virtually impossible to see anything. Faintly, through the silence, a deep rumble reverberated around them. A growl. Then even closer, snarling. Loud, angry, more vicious than anything they’d ever heard. Neither men said anything, they didn’t need to. They both knew what to do and turned and bolted into the fog, trying to put as much distance between them and whatever was out there as they could. They forgot about the battle, the brigade and the retreat, they needed to get out of there. Neither knew why but whatever was in the fog scared them more than any German soldier, any bomb or gunshot or explosion. This was something else.

The fog was everywhere. It engulfed the entire world as they ran blindly through it. It blurred their vision, it forced its way into their noses and filled them with its wet, smokey, dirty smell. There was no turning back now, they were completely lost, tucked into a blanket of ghostly grey pursued by something not of this world. No sound could be heard except the heavy panting of the men as they ran and the pounding of their leather boots against the dirt and gravel. Every so often they heard something else panting, a low guttural growling, the drumming of four fast, powerful legs scrabbling through the dirt behind them. They willed themselves to move faster, pushing their aching, exhausted bodies harder, desperate to be away from the demon in the mist. Desperate to be safe again.

“Look,” Fred panted, pointing ahead of him, losing his hand in the mist.

“Pointing isn’t bloody helpful! Where?”

“There! Can’t you see it? That light, In the distance,”

Jack squinted as he ran, the thick moisture of the mist blurring his vision. There was something, it was faint but it was something. A light! Salvation.

“Follow me!” Fred shouted, energy renewed. A furious howl cut through the near silence of their escape, spurring them on.

The fog thinned into a fine mist, the light that guided them became clearer, brighter. They were going to make it. As the light became clearer, a dark outline seemed to grow around it, engulfing it.

“It’s a building!” Fred shouted, almost skipping in joy. Jack would have too if as sudden, horrible feeling of fear filled his very being. ‘Please no, please no, please no’. As the two men ran the shape became clearer and the mist got thinner and thinner. A vicious bark raced towards them from somewhere in the distance. Whatever was behind them was angry, it wanted to hurt them.

The mist disappeared into a few thin wisps and revealed the source of the light in all its glory. It was a small wooden cottage. It looked brand new, untouched by time and nature and the war. The wooden panels that made up its structure almost gleamed in the grey world. A deep, ominous rumbling filled the air and a flash of lightning blazed across the face of the earth just as the sky seemed to split open, releasing a torrent of rain. Jack stopped dead in his tracks and watched as his grandfather ran towards the cottage, the rain quickly drenching him. It was here, he realised. It had all been leading to this.

The cottage. The beautiful storm. The gun. The sky tearing. The end. Darkness.

The visions assaulted Jack’s mind, faster and more vivid than ever before. He screamed as they flashed past his eyes again and again and again.

“Stop it!” he groaned and clutched his head, squeezing it tighter and tighter as though it would stem the flow of images that seared themselves onto his retinas. He crumpled to his knees, screaming. In between the flashes of the visions he saw his grandfather turn and run back towards him, knee sliding in the mud to where he was no writhing in the dirt.

“Grandad…please,” he gasped as Fred heaved him up from the ground. He felt himself drifting into unconsciousness. “Help me,” he managed before slipping into the welcoming arms of the dark recesses of his mind.

The cottage.

Time is bleeding.

The gun.

The beautiful storm.

Multiple futures, multiple endings.

The sky cracking.

Frichowitz.

The end.

Darkness.

Time enough.

The storm woke him up. He jerked awake, yelping. He felt different, renewed. In control. Jack looked around. He was sitting in a bare, wooden room. Wooden panels lined the floors, walls, ceiling, interrupted by two small windows facing each other from opposite sides of the room. A lamp hung from the ceiling, its light what led the pair to the cottage in the mist. A door blended into the walls in the corner, the only thing setting it apart being a big, black metal catch, keeping the storm out. The whole cottage looked and felt new, as though it had been built that very day. Fred sat on a stool in the far corner of the room, staring at him as though he was some new species that he’d just discovered.

“I understood the visions this time,” Jack said, “I don’t know how I know but there is something very wrong with time. I have to stop it,”

Fred merely stared at his grandson, dissecting him with his mind.

Jack jumped up to look out the window nearest him. He thought he saw something moving outside. A trick of the light? The sky rumbled and Jack was transfixed by the torrential rain that battered the window pane.

“It’s started,” he murmured and turned to look at Fred. He was still sat on his stool, still staring, still silent.

“Fred?”

“Who are you?” Fred said simply.

“What?”

“Who are you?” Fred said, leaning forward. “You’re not Jack Clarke from Gloucester. Tell me who you are. Are you a spy?”

“A spy?! I’ve already told you,” Jack stammered. He couldn’t tell him. “I’m Jack Clarke. Born and raised in Gloucester. Joined the army when I was seventeen.”

“When were you born?”

“Eleventh of October, 1925,” he said. He didn’t get a chance to correct himself.

“1925? That’s what, eleven years from now? What the hell is wrong with you? Do you think I’m messing around?” Fred asked, standing. He tore the handgun from his holster and aimed it at Jack. “Tell me who you are?”

“Fred,” Jack breathed, “Put the gun down,”

“You called me grandad earlier, when you were having your fit,” Fred snarled, the gun shook in his grip. “What the hell does that mean? Grandad?”

“Fred…I…you are my grandfather,” he said. He’d saved his life earlier that day, he deserved to know. He kept his eyes on the gun. Fred was emotional, wound up, lost. Who knew what he’d do.

“Shut up! You keep acting like you’re not from here, this time. You said earlier you were in Germany, 1945. What does that mean? Tell me!” he shouted and aimed the gun shakily.

“I am telling you! Put the gun down!”

“I’ll kill you!”

“Put the bloody gun down, grandad!” Jack roared. Fred jumped at the sudden noise and dropped the gun in fright. It bounced and slid over to Jack who stopped it with his foot. Both men were breathing hard. Times protector howled from somewhere outside. A chill filled the cottage, there was a draught of some sorts. Jack noticed the rotting walls for the first time. Gaps in the wood that had been eroded and splintered and crumbled over many years. But the cottage had been brand new when he woke, hadn’t it? He felt something drip on his head and looked up, noticing holes in the ceiling, filled with cobwebs. Fred merely stood rooted to the spot.

“You’re my grandfather,” Jack said quietly. He picked up the gun and placed it carefully in his pocket. Ignored by both, cracks slithered up the window panes before they smashed. A few weeds clung to the corners of the room as though they’d been there for years.

“That’s not possible,”

“I know,” Jack smiled faintly. “But it’s true. I was born eleven years from now in Gloucester. I joined the army at seventeen. I’m a prisoner of war. The Nazis, they caught me in the trenches. They took me to a secret base in Germany. They did things to me.”

“A prisoner of who? What’s a Nazi?! What the hell is going on? Is this a joke?” Fred asked, shakily sitting on his stool.

“No, it’s not. I can’t tell the future either. I just live there. I know you. Your wife’s name is Sarah. You have a daughter called Joanne. My mother. You live on Brooks Street, Gloucester, like you have done since you were a baby.”

“You some sort of pervert? Spying on me and my family?” Fred growled.

“No, you idiot! I’m your grandson! I’m Jack Fredrick Clarke. We’re blood. You used to read me stories and poetry. Your favourite book was The Time Machine. Quite fitting really isn’t it?”

Fred sat in shock.

“The happiest day of your life wasn’t when you won the football cup with school or even when you married my grandmother. It was when you held my mum in your arms for the first time and started a family. You told me that. You know I’m telling the truth. How could I know all that?”

Jack carried on, “You said it yourself, you thought you recognised me. Something, I don’t know what, some sort of family bond was echoing through time, drawing us together. Why else would you save me, there were hundreds of men calling for help in that field and you helped me? You knew from the start. I know I’m talking like I know what the hell is going on but trust me, I don’t. I do know you think you’re destined to die in the mud but that doesn’t happen. You’re a hero. You’re my hero. Why do you think I joined the army? I wanted to be like you,” Jack said, quickly drying away a tear that slid down his face. “It’s real Grandad, the Nazis, time travel, all of it. They sent me back here and told me I’d win them the war. I didn’t know what they meant until now.”

“I don’t…I don’t understand,” Fred whispered. He had a grandson. From the future. He was going to live. He was so caught up in his thoughts that he didn’t notice the roof slowly cave in, rotting and fading into nothing. The panels that lined the walls and floors disintegrated, leaving gaping wounds in the once secure walls. Something was wrong, it was though as something was ageing the cottage rapidly, as though the universe was speeding towards a premature, cataclysmic ending. A paradox was beginning. Jack did notice however and turned to look out the man sized gap in the wall behind him. It hadn’t been there a minute ago. He saw the thing outside, prowling, waiting. It growled and its entire being rippled and convulsed, as though it wasn’t fully there, halfway between this dimension and the next. It barked. He had to get his grandad out of there before he killed him.

“I don’t know what they did to me,” he said, turning to Fred, “The Nazis I mean. They tortured me, they experimented on me but I can’t remember what they did. But it’s all to do with you,” he said.

“Me? What have I done?” Fred stammered. How could this be something to do with him? He was innocent.

“It’s not what you’ve done, Grandad. It’s what you’re going to do,” Jack said grimly. It all made sense now. He thought he’d been sent to Mons to sabotage the retreat of the British forces or slaughter their men but it wasn’t any of that. Mons, the retreat, none of that was important. It was all background noise. The future of the war, the entire universe centred on the terrified man who stood in front of him.

“Why? What do I do?” Fred asked, “I don’t want a part in any of this!”

“It’s too late. What you do has already happened, it’s history for me, for the entire world. You’re a hero, you play an enormous role in the battles to come,” Jack said, glancing around him. The cottage was still crumbling, fading around them. “That can’t change. That’s what the Nazis wanted me to do, they wanted me to kill you. Kill you and the entire future changes, the Germans win the war, the Nazi empire begins decades early. The effects would be disastrous. It can’t happen, I wont let it. But they got it wrong. They didn’t realise you can’t change history like that, you. I kill you and the universe ends. I understand that now,”

“I still don’t fully understand. What are you going to do?”

“I’m telling you to leave me. Run. That thing outside, it wont hurt you, it’s trying to help. You have to get out of here, before I kill you.”

Fred stepped towards his grandson. He stared at him, drinking in every detail, every crease, every line, every bruise on his face. He believed him. All of it.

“Who did this to you?” he asked the broken man in who he’d meet again in eleven years. The name of the man who’d tortured and abused Jack for so long filled his head, repeating itself over and over in his mind. Frichowitz. That was it. The trigger. It was too late. Jack felt himself being wrenched out of the driving seat of his own body as the sleeper agent took over. The part of Jacks mind that Frichowitz had trained and tuned took over. He felt his face go slack and his arms go limp. He was merely a passenger now, he had no control whatsoever.

“NO! Grandad! Go! I can’t stop it!” he shouted in horror as he felt himself pull the gun from out of his pocket. He saw the cottage all but collapse and disappear around the pair as he unwillingly cocked the gun and aimed it at Fred’s head. He stood like a rabbit caught in headlights, unable to move out of fear.

“Grandad! Fred! Go! I’ll kill you! Please just run!” he sobbed.

The wind picked up and the rain lashed down, stinging Jack’s face as though punishing him. The hound howled as Jack watched his finger tighten on the trigger. Time slowed down. This was it. This was ground zero of a catastrophe that would tear the universe apart. He pulled the trigger. Jack saw Fred dive to one side as he screamed in defeat, the bullet slamming into his grandfathers shoulder. He aimed at Fred as he lay on the ground, clutching his shoulder, stemming the blood flow. He heard the hound as it snarled angrily, furious that he had failed to avert the paradox. He couldn’t turn his head but he saw it for the briefest of seconds, in the corner of his eye before it pounced on him and consumed him. It was a hellhound. A spectral dog with blazing red eyes. Razor sharp talons sliced through the air and it bared it’s fantastic fangs as it sailed towards him. It’s form flickered and shift, not quite there and yet as solid as the two men in the remains of the cottage. Wisps of what looked like fire flickered and danced over its matted fur. Jack closed his eyes. As long as Fred was safe, it was all okay. History can sort itself out for all he cared now.

But there was nothing.

No pain. No burning. Nothing. Is this what if feels like to die? Is it actually this quick and painless and peaceful?

He felt his minds hold over him weaken and fade away. He crawled back into control of his body, tensing and relaxing every muscle. He was whole again. He was alive. History had been saved. Everything was okay.

He opened his eyes to the sight of Doctor Frichowitz staring at him in horror, frozen in shock, mere meters away from him. The whine of engines powering down filled his ears and the smell of burning once again creeped into his nostrils. He was back in the hangar, the cold, metal room where this whole nightmare had started. The hound, it had sent him back. It felt like days, weeks since he’d been there but it was merely a few hours.

“J…Jack?” The Doctor stuttered, “But…how?”

Jack still had the gun in his hand. He didn’t know how to feel but he knew what to do. He swung his arm up and pulled the trigger, shooting the demon in front of him, eradicating him from the face of the earth. He noticed the two guards who stood at the hangar doors, frozen in shock. He dispatched them both just as quickly as their leader. He grimaced and spat on Frichowitz corpse as it lay in a puddle of brains and blood and made his way over to the guards. He took the machine guns they both carried, strapped one to his back and held the other out in front of him. He was going out fighting.

A faint whispering filled his head, a message from days to come and yet relevant to the there and the now. The words whistled around Jacks mind as he crashed through the hangar door, ready to fight his way out.

Do not go gentle into that good night, rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Author Notes: feedback appreciated

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About The Author
ros32
Robert Slater
About This Story
Audience
15+
Posted
19 Jul, 2018
Words
7,393
Read Time
36 mins
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