Do you remember that story I started writing and never finished? Yeah, I suck sometimes. I could make up excuses (insomnia messing with my brain, no clue where I want the story to go, etc. etc.) and they would all be true, but who wants to hear that?
I really appreciate those who have read the story and given me positive and/or constructive feedback. You’re the reason I’ve been trying my hand at fiction in the first place. While I can’t say exactly when it will be posted, I can say with confidence that the final part of this series will be posted BEFORE NaNoWriMo begins.
Again, apologies for the delay and I appreciate all of you for
impatiently waiting. You all rock!
In case you haven’t read any of it, or want to re-read it, here are the first four parts of the series.
She wakes up in a daze and waits. The date and time flash before her eyes, reassuring her that she is back in the present once again. She stretches, her body recoiling against her, begging her to lie down and get some actual sleep. She laughs at the reality she lives in. She can’t even recall the last time she truly slept.
* * *
Elle is what you call a sleep traveler and has been one for over twelve years. She is one of the few in the world emboldened with the gift. When it first happened, she had thought they were just dreams. She confessed to her parents that she thought something was happening to her and begged them to keep watch for a night. They had reluctantly agreed, the evidence in their eyes showing they believed their only daughter to be going insane. Their minds quickly changed, however, when they watched her vanish right before their very eyes.
When Elle finally returned to them a mere three hours later, her parents were shocked to hear that, to Elle, she had been gone for days. They panicked, resorting to research to see if anyone else was like Elle. After days of finding nothing, her father stumbled upon a doctor who mentioned ‘Sleep Travelers’ in a study he conducted. Though the doctor was a continent away, her father booked tickets for all of them and they left the next day.
Dr. Bruge had immediately put them at ease. He had more information regarding Elle than they could have dreamed and even introduced them to others like her. She had a gift, he called it. There were fourteen sleep travelers in the world that he knew of, making Elle the fifteenth. They could not control where they went but, wherever they were sent, there was a task they were supposed to complete. They would be sent back over and over until it was finished. He urged Elle to explore wherever she was sent, that the task would be revealed to her if she kept her eyes open. Elle had been terrified but excited about this new gift, eager to know what tasks she would have to complete. Dr. Bruge implanted a chip in her that would help her keep track of time, flashing the date in front of her eyes as soon as she awoke.
They had traveled home in silence, anxiously awaiting what would come next.
* * *
It was hard to believe that was so long ago. She had completed thirty-two tasks since then, ranging from the mundane document retrieval to the ever exciting disaster prevention. She had thwarted twelve terrorist attacks on her own country, a feat which no one in the world would ever know. The sleep travelers’ identities were a secret in order to keep them safe. There was no way to know what the world would do for their gift.
Elle gets up from her bed, her body fighting her every inch of the way. Her most recent travels itch the back of her mind. For four nights, she has searched for the task but has failed each and every time. This had never happened before. She has always discovered her task by the second night. Something feels off this time. She can feel it in her gut.
The day drags by at a snails pace. She attempts to enjoy lunch with a friend but her mind wanders to the prior night’s events. She’s missing something. It’s standing right in front of her each night but she can’t put her finger on it. Night finally comes and she gratefully crawls into bed, knowing she must decipher the task tonight, whatever it may be.
* * *
She awakens in the same alley from the past nights. She already knows where she is. Chicago. 2023. Never knowing how much time she has before she’s pulled from the past, she takes off from the alley, scouring the streets for clues she may have missed the past couple of nights. Hours pass in a blur with nothing to show from her search. She sits down, forcing herself to rest. It isn’t long before the hairs stand up on the back of her neck. She’s close. Her eyes fall on a store across the street and she takes off. Upon bursting through the door, she finds herself in a shop filled with clocks. She smiles.
Of all places….
She hears mutterings coming from the back of the store and moves closer. A man emerges, clothed in all back, and welcomes her. Her mind erupts, the sign that the task is before her. Images and words explode before her eyes. She gasps in horror.
This has never been asked before. She can’t possibly do this.
She races out of the store and back to the alley where she arrived. She sits, urging her mind to relax so she can return to her time. It doesn’t take long. She awakens back in her room, realizing the bed has been soaked through in sweat. She bolts out of bed and to the nearest phone, knowing she must call Dr. Bruge at once to explain what has happened. He’ll know exactly what to do.
He’ll tell her it’s okay.
He’ll tell her she must have misunderstood.
He’ll tell her she won’t have to kill him.
He picks up on the third ring.
“Elle! What a surprise!”
She stammers, trying to find the words to explain what has happened to her.
“Dr. Bruge! Something is wrong. I’ve been given a task I can’t possibly complete!”
His voice is smooth, as always, lulling her into a calm she didn’t think possible at this moment.
“Elle, slow down. Tell me exactly what happened.”
She relays the story with as much detail as she can recall, concluding with the horrific task set before her, to murder the man dressed in all black.
There is a long pause. She can feel Dr. Bruge running the scenario over and over through his mind. Finally, he speaks.
“Well, this is unprecedented.”
Elle screams through the phone, “You think!?”
To her dismay, Dr. Bruge chuckles. How can he be so calm at a time like this? There has never been specifics but Elle knows that tasks are not to be turned down. A sleep traveler will just be sent back over and over again until it is completed. You stay longer each time as well. It always seems a little more difficult to get back with each travel. Even though she has been completing tasks for over twelve years, it is still essentially ‘new’ to her. There are many gaps of information when it comes to what they can do.
“Elle? Elle, are you there?”
She hadn’t even realized he’d been talking.
“Yes, I’m sorry. I’m just very tired.”
“Elle, get some sleep. Let me do some research and I’ll call you as soon as I know more. We’ll figure this out. I promise.”
With that, she finally smiles. He always knows exactly what to say.
With pleasantries and promises to talk soon exchanged, she hangs up and throws herself back on the bed.
Who is she kidding? No sleep tonight. She’d hate to be sent back to Chicago, knowing what she is being asked to do. With a heavy sigh, she decides to enjoy the evening, pours herself some wine and heads to the roof. It’s her favorite place to be. She can sit and listen to the sounds of her city without a care in the world. She can think up here.
Once settled and surprisingly calm, she moves to the edge of the roof, peering over the edge. For a split second, her mind wanders. What if she just jumped? There would be no killing, no time travel, just peace. If she just jumped, her worries could disappear forever.
In spite of the dark thoughts floating through her mind, she chuckles to herself. She could never do it. Her curiosity is already too high to stop now. She has to know what all this means.
As the hours slowly pass and her city starts to waken, Elle knows she has made her decision. It’s the right one. She has done great things for the world. She’s been told time and time again that her work ensures that peace will reign. However, she can’t kill. It defies everything she stands for in her life. She can never go against that.
With a firm nod of her head to the awakening world, she heads downstairs to call Dr. Bruge with her decision. As she approaches her door, she hears the phone ringing and races to get inside.
“Yes, Elle! I hope I didn’t wake you?”
“No. No. Please, tell me, did you find anything?”
The pause on the other end of the line deafens her eardrums as she waits.
“The news isn’t good, I’m afraid.”
“I can’t do it, Dr. Bruge. I was just about to call you and tell you I’ve made up my mind. I’m no killer.”
“It isn’t that easy. I found one other instance in the sleep traveler’s history where one was asked to kill for the greater good.”
“The sleep traveler refused. The target lived a full life and we have no idea what would have happened if he had been killed.”
“So what’s the big deal? I’ll just refuse!”
“Therein lies the problem, Elle. There are consequences to every action.”
“What do you mean, Dr. Bruge? Quit talking in code and just spill it already!”
“If you refuse, you die, and the world will suffer horribly.”
“The last sleep traveler who refused died within a week. Within a month, World War II had begun. Do I have to spell it out for you?”
Elle’s head spins. This can’t be happening. She’s isn’t a killer. Death? War? There is no right answer. What the hell is she supposed to do?
As if reading her mind, Dr. Bruge says one last thing before hanging up.
“There is only one right answer, Elle. He must die. I am sorry.”
And with those last words ringing in her head, the line went dead.
She hasn’t slept in forty-eight hours. Since Dr. Bruge broke the news to her, all she can think of is the man in all black, the man she is supposed to murder.
She knows she can’t stay awake forever but she’s desperate to try. She would give anything to not be sent back to Chicago. She has tried calling Dr. Bruge but he is suddenly away which is very strange. He is always there for his travelers, especially during hard times.
That evening, Elle finally decides that it is time to sleep. She’ll end up killing herself if she stays on this path. The bed welcomes her and she is out in an instant but she knows it won’t last. Within minutes, she is standing in the same alley in Chicago, only this time, she knows exactly where to go.
She arrives at the clock shop within ten minutes and bursts through its door once again. The man in black is at the counter and he smiles as he looks up at her.
“Hi, I’m Paul. Can I help you?”
Elle panics. She hasn’t planned anything. What the hell is she supposed to say to this man? Uh, hello, I’m Elle and I’ve been sent back in time to kill you. You know, save the planet and all that! You don’t mind, right?
She stares at him until his expression changes from chummy to worry. She finally realizes that her decision has always been made. If her fate is to die for not killing this man, then so be it. She is no murderer, and never will be.
She moves toward the man who appears to be contemplating an escape to the back. She extends her hand and he takes it, though reluctantly.
“My name is Elle and we need to talk.”
Within an hour, she has told him everything. For once in her life, she feels the weight of secrecy being lifted off of her. She doesn’t care if he believes her or just thinks she is crazy. She has told someone and it feels good.
When she is finally finished, ending with the all important fact that she is not going to kill him, she notices that he is simply staring at her. Not in fear, but in wonder. She is about to give up and just leave when he finally speaks.
“You’re actually one of them?”
She can’t believe what she’s hearing.
“I’m sorry? You know about us?”
“Yes! You have no idea. This shop is just a cover. My sister was one of you!”
“Yes. She died a few years ago. She got sick all of a sudden. No doctor could figure out what was wrong. I must admit I went a little crazy after she passed and began studying the sleep travelers as much as I could. I discovered more than I could ever have imagined and I’ve been hoping to find others like her so that I could cure them.”
“I’m sorry, Elle. What you can do is no gift. It’s a curse and it will kill you eventually, just like it did my sister.”
Her head spins as she takes in the information. This is not where she thought this conversation would go.
“Dr. Bruge never told me any of this.”
“You know Dr. Bruge?”
“Of course! He’s guided me all these years. He’s the only reason I know what I am!”
“Is he the one who told you I had to die?”
“Then you may be in more danger than I originally thought. In my research, Dr. Bruge’s name has come up many times. He is a traveler as well?”
“No, he’s just always helped us out.”
“That can’t be right. He appears throughout history alongside the travelers. I’m not 100% positive but I believe he created you.”
“What? Why wouldn’t he have told me, and even so, why would that put me in danger?”
“Because I created a vaccine, Elle. A vaccine that will take away your curse. You’ll finally be safe.”
Elle can’t believe what she is hearing. She’s never even dreamed of it being an option. Sure, she enjoys doing good for the world but the toll on her body is evident and it is only getting worse.
Suddenly, everything begins to fall into place.
“Wait. If Dr. Bruge created us, but found out you had a vaccine,” she trails off.
He just stares, allowing her to work through it herself.
“I’m not supposed to kill you to stop some disaster, am I? Dr. Bruge sent me to kill you to stop the vaccine.”
He doesn’t have to agree with her. He just nods as she starts to cry.
It doesn’t take Elle long to regain her composure. She looks to Paul for guidance.
“What the hell are we supposed to do?”
A smile plays on his lips as a sinister look passes across his face. For a second, she questions everything he has told her. What if he is just spinning a tale in order to save himself? Sure, she had told him she wasn’t going to kill him but he doesn’t know if she’s telling the truth or not. What if everything he told her was a lie?
“Wait right here. I’ll be right back,” he says to her.
She thinks of running back to the alley to return to her time but something stops her. She needs to know everything that Paul knows before she decides what to do.
It only takes a few minutes for Paul to return. The first thing she sees is the syringe in his hand.
“What the hell are you doing with that,” she screams.
“Calm down, Elle! I know you’re going through a lot right now, but I’m on your side. I have a feeling you’re going back to your time soon so I want to give you this. Next time you come over here, inject yourself with this first. It will allow you to control how long you stay over here. You can even sleep and not be sent back to your time. My sister used to use it. It’s safe. I promise.”
Elle stares at the syringe, the trust in Paul rebuilding once again. If Dr. Bruge is really behind the murder plot, she has to trust somebody and Paul is all she has.
She takes the syringe out of his hand and places it carefully in her pocket. Paul stares at her in a way that is foreign to her. He looks sympathetic, as if he cares for her.
He speaks so softly that she strains to hear him. ”What are you going to do when you get back?”
“To be honest, I have no idea. I have to try and find out if this other traveler really existed, the one who refused the murder task before and died for it. If the world will truly suffer if you don’t die, if that part is at least true, then we have to figure out a way to fix it. We have to find a way for you to live and the world to be safe. That’s the only outcome I can live with.”
He smiles warmly. ”Please be safe. I’ll do my own research here. Hopefully, we’ll know more once you return.”
She gets up to leave, emotions pouring through her. As she walks toward the front door, she turns back to him.
“The cure. It really works? I could be normal?”
“Yes. You’ve done this long enough. It’s time for you to stop, before it’s too late.”
Her smile widens as the possibilities dance through her head. With one last wave, she runs out the door and back toward the alley, ready to face the dangerous path ahead of her.
* * *
Back in her present, she feels lost. She doesn’t know where to begin. She knows she has to call Dr. Bruge but she’s terrified he’ll know what she’s up to. As she gets out of bed to call him, a loud knock on her apartment door makes her jump. She races over, stealing a glance through the peephole, only to reel back in horror.
She opens the door to Dr. Bruge, a forced smile on her face.
“Elle!” He beams as he embraces her. She makes herself hug him back, suddenly disgusted to be this close to him.
“What are you doing here, Dr. Bruge?”
“Well, my star sleep traveler is in trouble! Why wouldn’t I come?”
She squirms, noticeably.
“What’s wrong, Elle?”
“I just can’t do it, Dr. Bruge. I can’t kill him. It’s not who I am!”
“Well, I figured as much. I don’t like to involve myself in my traveler’s matters but sometimes I must make an exception!”
Did he just say ‘my’ travelers, she thinks to herself.
“There is a way that I can travel back as well. I’ll go back to Chicago with you and do the deed myself, Elle. It has to be done. I’m sorry.”
Thoughts begin to rush through her head as the plan she’s been desperate to find presents itself to her.
I should win an Oscar for this performance.
“I still don’t like the idea of this, but if it has to be done, I can’t say no to your offer,” she says solemnly. ”Thank you so much for stepping in, Dr. Bruge. You really are an amazing leader for all of us.”
Dr. Bruge beams at her. ”Well then! We should be off as soon as possible!”
“Just a few minutes. Let me freshen up and then we can go.”
With a smile, she heads to the bathroom and locks the door behind her. She feels the syringe in her pocket.
I can do this. I can do this.
She sticks the needle in her arm, feeling the warmth of the liquid entering her bloodstream. She looks in the mirror, knowing there is no turning back.
She heads out to Dr. Bruge who gives her a brief tutorial on how to take him with her. They both lie down on the bed and close their eyes. Within minutes, they are gone.
* * *
Elle comes to in the alley and looks around. Dr. Bruge is standing behind her, smiling a little too hard for a man who is about to commit murder.
This is it. I only get one shot.
“Dr. Bruge, it worked!”
“I know, dear. Now, lead me to the man in black so we can end this once and for all.”
She tries desperately to hide her disgust. ”Actually, Dr. Bruge, I have an idea. Since I made contact with him on my last travel, I thought I could go see him and lure him to a place that is more discreet. I think it would be safer. He may be spooked if I just show up with you.”
“Hmm. Great idea, Elle! Why don’t you wait until nightfall and then lead him back here. That way, we can immediately return to our time without the threat of being caught in the streets.”
“Perfect, Dr. Bruge! You wait here. I’ll be back with him in just a few hours!”
Elle takes off down the alley, not believing her success in convincing him to wait. Within ten minutes, she arrives at Paul’s shop and darts inside, locking the door behind her. To her surprise, Paul runs out and hugs her. Even more surprising, she hugs him back. They pull apart from each other and she relays what has happened since she left.
“Paul, I have a plan and I think it will work. No one has to die. I can be cured. Win-win, right? There is just one problem. I have no idea if the world will suffer if I don’t complete this task. If World War III breaks out tomorrow, I’ll never be able to forgive myself for that.”
“Elle, I found something while you were gone. Well, let me rephrase that. The interesting thing is that I found nothing.”
“I don’t follow.”
“You already know that I’ve researched the sleep travelers for years, especially after my sister died. While I didn’t know any of the current travelers, I was able to trace ones from the past and the tasks that they completed. I went through my records from before World War II. There is nothing. I know it’s hard to believe, but I swear to you, if there was a task that could have prevented that war, I’d know about it!”
“So it was just another lie, huh?”
“Exactly. I’m sorry, Elle. I know you care for Dr. Bruge.”
“Cared. That’s over now, Paul.”
For the next hour, she relayed her plan to him, his smile growing larger as each step was laid out before him.
“This will work, Elle. I just know it.”
With the time to meet Dr. Bruge approaching, they gathered their needed materials and set off for the alley. They had one shot for it to work. If they failed, who knew what Dr. Bruge would do to their worlds.
to be continued… soon … i promise