The Grisly Ghosts of Gruesome Time – Chapter 5
The Great Substack Story Challenge
The Great Substack Story Challenge is a round-robin story being written by 13 fiction writers. If you are new to the story, you can find the first chapter by clicking the center link below.
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Joey flung the window open and took a deep breath, hoping for a little fresh air to clear his thoughts. He started choking on the smog and reeled away from the window, heading for the chair behind the desk. This was—too much. Way too much.
“1947? Nah. I can’t be from this time. I like too much heavy metal music. No big band stuff. Maybe some Western Swing.”
And yet there was the evidence of his own eyes and nose. Unless this was another hallucination, like the talking birds. And the check. And Crystal Bacon calling him from—Limbo? Really?
Joey pursed his lips, thinking. If this really were 1947 and he was supposed to be an adult during this time, then he would have memories of being in the war. Wouldn’t he?
Then again, if this really were 1947 and he had been in the war—maybe he wouldn’t have memories because he had repressed them. PTSD—no, shell shock, that’s what they called it in this era.
But if it really were 1947, then what had happened to the information that Crystal had sent him? There was something iPhone-shaped with the same weight in his pocket—could it have survived the time travel transfer?
Joey groaned as he pulled out a notebook instead of the iPhone.
Of course it wouldn’t be that simple.
“Look inside,” Rob said. “I told you that Ms. Bacon is good at what she does.”
Joey flipped it open. A photo, in black and white, printed on the first page.
And on the second page, carefully written in copperplate cursive handwriting:
Roswell, New Mexico.
“Oh now, you have got to be kidding,” Joey groaned. “Roswell? Next you’ll be telling me that little green men are involved in this whole time bandit mess.”
“Actually, that’s what we’re trying to prevent. Ms. Bacon—Crystal—” His face softened, as if Steward were contemplating a pleasant memory. Then he shook his head. “Her ultimate goal is to provide financing for a fleet of disembodied megalomanic alien ghosts from Limbo to materialize in clones. Special clones, with time and multiverse traveling abilities.”
Joey shook his head. He dropped back into the chair by his desk and eyed the unopened bottle of whiskey. It was oh-so-very-tempting to open it.
“Clones,” he said flatly. “Inhabited by megalomanic aliens from Limbo. As if human cloning is even possible in 2022.”
“Happens in 2050 in one universe, developed by a megalomanic who wants to live forever.” Steward grimaced. “Don’t envy the Multiverse Patrol. Time cop detail is rough enough. Every bad actor across the universes wants to talk to that man so they can make their own clones to possess. They’re busy trying to isolate him by making his son a worldwalker so that he interferes.”
Joey groaned and reached for the bottle. He waggled it from side to side, listening to the amber liquid gurgle. So easy to open it up and start pouring it down his throat….
No. He set the bottle down firmly on the desk.
“All right, then. So why does Crystal need to raise financing? Just what in Sam Hill does she—and those aliens want?”
Steward spread his hands wide. “Joey, if we knew, things would be a lot simpler.”
“And then there’s the issue of why I ended up in 2022 when you say I’m supposed to be here. Just what’s that all about?” Joey rose, clenching his fists. “Why don’t I remember life here if this is where I’m supposed to be, huh?”
Steward started backing up. “Now, now, now, Joey.”
“I want some real answers from someone!” Joey bellowed. He lunged at Steward.
Almost got his fingertips on the man and—he shimmered out of sight.
Joey collapsed on the floor.
This was one pretty fix. Joey rose to hands and knees, shaking his head. He pushed himself up and collapsed in the chair, carefully not looking at the bottle of whiskey.
No phone. No car, most likely.
“Rawwk…” came from the half-opened window. Joey jumped as a raven thrust its head inside.
“Look for the Maureen connection,” the raven croaked. Joey lunged at the raven, but it was too quick for him, flying away before he could grab it.
He collapsed against the wall underneath the window and banged his head against the wall. Now what?
Joey glanced around the room. Not much to the place. A desk with straight-backed chair. Two similar chairs in front of it. Shabby, dark, with corners barely illuminated by the feeble light of the desk lamp. Frosted window set into the door, not even his name painted or stenciled on it. A coat tree in the corner with an overcoat and fedora hanging from it.
Did he have a place to live in 1947? A car? Any usable money?
Joey fished in his pockets. His keychain was sadly reduced to one key—probably to the office. A wallet. Cloth handkerchief. Matches and a pack of menthol cigarettes. Instead of t-shirt, jeans, and knock-off athletic shoes featuring an upside-down and backwards swoosh, he wore wingtips, a gray suit, white shirt, and a daggone tie that was choking his throat.
Joey loosened the tie and inspected his wallet. Maybe fifty dollars in cash, small bills, but at least it all bore a 1947 date. He exhaled with relief. Food and housing were doable, then. Driver’s license, in the name of Joey Hardcase. Address—not one he recognized.
But no weapons. Joey pushed himself up and went to the desk. The bottle of whiskey went into a bottom drawer, along with the cigarettes. Another drawer held file folders. He flipped through them. Not much there, just records of past cases with PAID receipts. Apparently, he didn’t have any other active cases at the moment.
The center drawer yielded another set of keys. But no indication of what they belonged to. One short stubby one was apparently to a locked drawer on the opposite side of the one he had put the booze and cigs in—wait a minute.
That drawer hadn’t been there a moment ago.
Joey inserted the key into the drawer’s lock. He turned the key and started to open the drawer.
BZZZRTRING! He jumped as the telephone on his desk rang—and where had that come from? It hadn’t been there before!
“Thank God I finally got through to you,” Maureen said.
“Maureen! Where are you? I need to talk to you. Things are really weird.”
A deep sigh. “I know. Steward talks too much. And now he’s endangering not just the flow of time in this universe, but others. Between him and Crystal—”
“What do you mean?” A sinking sensation tightened Joey’s gut.
“I’ll be there in a little bit, Joey. Whatever you do, don’t go anywhere. The future of—well, everything—depends on it.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, don’t go anywhere. Otherwise you make the leak in time spread across multiverses.”
“You’re a Multiverse Patroller!”
“Multiverse Marshal is the better term—and don’t go anywhere!” Maureen hung up.
[To be continued next Thursday on Story Cauldron ]
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Text (c) 2022 by Joyce Reynolds-Ward.
Header image by Erica Drayton.
This story gets better with each new chapter/author!
And the plot continues to thicken...