A short intro for my first post – This is a response to a flash fiction challenge posted on Terrible Minds. I’m way glad to participate. The theme was a random “It’s like X meets Y” challenge. Hope you enjoy!
“So, Prof, you’re telling me this little ball could send us back in time?”
Lacey moved the crystal ball back and forth between her fingers. It was small for such a powerful relic, although maybe she could only picture the kind of orb you’d expect to see an old gypsy woman waving her hands over. This was more of an enchanted golf ball.
The Professor leaped from across the room and cupped his hands around her own. He grasped tightly, intentionally preventing her from playing with the cursed thing. His eyes met her own with a look of disapproval. She got the point. He darted back toward the other end of the room.
“No!” he shouted as he flew away. “The problem isn’t that the ball could send you back in time. The problem is that it already did send you back!” He grabbed a piece of chalk from a nearby desk violently enough to snap it in half, and, without missing a beat, pulled over a chalkboard nearer his protégé.
Lacey had seen the Professor frazzled a thousand times. He was normally eccentric at best and nearly insane at worst. This time, though, she sensed something within him that she’d never before seen. Fear. She was worried. She tossed out a joke to calm herself.
“Don’t tell me you dropped acid again, Prof. Last time I spent three hours trying to convince you that your office door wasn’t the entrance to Valhalla.”
“Nothing like that, no. I ran out of raw materials for hallucinogenics after you vanquished the police chief and his army of mole people.” The Professor took a moment to compose himself. He straightened his glasses, adjusted his tweed jacket, and took a deep breath.
That was the sign, Lacey knew, that it was explanation time. In a few seconds, he would fly off the handle, speaking at a thousand words a minute, gesturing so wildly that she wondered if one day he might just run himself through with chalk.
His arm flew to the board. A pair of horizontal lines fired out. Symbols appeared from under the white stick, some ancient things, probably. Lacey recognized them merely as not-English characters.
“Here’s our current timeline.” He capped the topmost line with an arrowhead. “And here’s the timeline before you killed the Vampire Queen. Over here is the moment I sent you back with the orb.” He connected the two lines with a curved arrow, then thrust the chalk into the point at which the arrow spawned until it was all but pulverized. “Here! Right here is where I screwed the space-time continuum. Damn you, Cxaxukluth! Damn you to hell!”
This wasn’t the usual Professor, a man of energy and focus. Kind of unhinged, but always trustworthy. This person was someone else entirely. Something was actually wrong here.
Lacey sat up in her chair and clutched the orb in her lap. “Professor, what’s really going on here?”
The old man collapsed into the chair in front of her. His shoulders fell under some veritable weight.
“Lacey, a week ago I sent you back in time by using the magic contained in that orb. We were desperate. The minions of the Vampire Queen, Naxdradia, killed Billy and Jane during an assault on the school. But she was too powerful for you to take on by yourself, so…”
“Wait, what do you mean she killed my friends? I saw them in homeroom twenty minutes ago. They’re setting up for the prom right now!”
The Professor turned toward the chalkboard. “In this timeline they are alive and well, learning algebra and going to sock hops. But in this timeline, the Vampire Queen destroyed your family, your friends, the school, and the entire town. We had no choice. So I summoned that hideous space amoeba, Cxaxukluth, to fill the orb.
“I handed you the orb. It can only send one person back. Then I watched as the horde of vampires broke into the school and sucked the life from every person inside, myself included.”
“The me of the other timeline was killed. Cxaxukluth merely put the vision of my other self into my mind as a form of punishment.” He shuddered. “I can still feel them tearing my limbs from my body.”
Lacey brought the crystal up to her eyes and peered through, barely grasping it. If all was well in that timeline, then all was well, so what was the need for the orb at all. “What’s the problem then?”
The Professor snatched the orb from her hand with lightning speed. Well, probably not lightning, Lacey thought, but since she was the Hunter, no average person could possibly match her strength or speed. The Professor must have used a spell to increase his speed. Right?
She fired back with a puzzled look.
“Lacey, this is entirely my fault. I read and reread the history of Naxdradia a dozen times since it happened.” His eyes disappeared into the orb. For a moment, Lacey thought he might not snap back into reality. He began again with an air of lucidity. “The texts describe how the first Hunter was appointed to defeat the Vampire Queen. None could, but with each failure the torch was passed. Finally, you were successful. There was no more need for one great Hunter, so…”
He gave her a moment to catch up. When realization came, she struck back.
“I’m not the Hunter anymore?” The life drained from her eyes. Her purpose, her identity, was lost in that instant. What would she become? Without her power she couldn’t fight the undead. They would overrun the town. All hope was lost.
Or maybe not, she thought. Maybe they were already defeated! There weren’t any attacks since the night she killed the Queen.
But the sense of victory disappeared as quickly as it came in.
Then what? Go back to high school as a regular student? Study. Go to college. Come back to Pleasant Prairie as a teacher. As if.
She looked up to see a grin stretched across the Professor’s face. He replied even before she could ask him.
“Don’t worry. You’re still the Hunter. The only problem is that you’re not the Hunter. You’re a Hunter. When you killed Naxdradia the fabric of the spell tore. Pieces of the magic leeched into the lifestream and affected all those connected to it.” The Professor stood and braced his arms on the table between them. His face was grave. “Lacey, everyone is a Hunter.”
His arm flashed out toward her face with superhuman speed. The crystal ball had barely left his hand before Lacey prepared her own to catch it. She did, and she did it with the delicacy she now attributed to that relic.
Like the Professor’s before her own, Lacey’s gaze feel deep into the ball. She had that thing in her possession for the past week, but she couldn’t remember how she got it. There was the school assembly, but nothing before that. And she couldn’t pay attention, because the only voice she could hear was the Professor’s telling her to kill the Vampire Queen and not to lose or break the ball. So she obeyed.
But when she approached her mentor last week about the orb, he denied all knowledge. She spent the next few days tracking down Naxdradia. With the help of Billy and Jane, as usual, she defeated her foe.
“Professor, it’s been quiet for the past few days. Whatever we did must have worked. And now, you’re telling me that everyone’s a Hunter too? This is great! Whatever demon forces are left, we should be able to beat down with no problem!”
He shook his head. “But there’s the problem. Everyone is a Hunter. Not just you and your friends. The Cult of Winter. The Black Coven. Esquire. The mole people! Great scott, Lacey! What if there are still mole people with super-human, super-mole strength!?”
His eyes were fixed on her own in a petrified stare. To anyone else he would have looked vanquished, but she could see the flame of thought building slowly behind his eyes. A moment later, she saw the face of the Professor she knew so well. Not the old, defeated person who stood before her minutes ago. No, this was the man with the plan, and he was about to lay it on her.
“Give me the orb! I still have the quantum transistor hooked up to my Cabriolet. If we can reroute the Bohr resistor field back into the arcane diodes, we don’t need Cxaxukluth to re-energize the orb! We can go back further, back before you defeated Naxdradia to make sure you don’t defeat her. The only problem is that Cxaxukluth is going to retaliate. We’re probably going to have to fight him.”
Lacey stood. The adrenaline rush she got just from watching the Professor get all fired up prepared her for battle. She gestured toward the other end of the room.
“What about my weapons, Prof? What will I need?”
The Professor stretched one of his trademark driving gloves over a hand. “Lacey, where we’re going… You’d best be prepared to kill a god.”