this is my illutration for January Tale.
NEIL ASKED:
@zyblonius REPLIED:
“Why is January so dangerous?”
“Because an aging veteran just retired, to be replaced by a dangerously
unqualified youth, no more than a babe in arms.”
#KeepMoving #JanTale
JANUARY TALE
Whap!
“Is it always like this?” The kid seemed disoriented. He was glancing
around the room, unfocused. That would get him killed, if he wasn’t
careful.
Twelve tapped him on the arm. “Nope. Not always. If there’s any trouble, it’ll
come from up there.”
He pointed to an attic door, in the ceiling above them. The door was askew, and
the darkness waited behind it like an eye.
The kid nodded. Then he said, “How long have we got?”
“Together? Maybe another ten minutes.”
“One thing I kept asking them at Base, they wouldn’t answer. They said I’d see
for myself. Who are they?”
Twelve didn’t answer. Something had changed, ever-so-slightly, in the darkness
of the attic above them. He touched his finger to his lips, then raised his weapon,
and indicated for the kid to do likewise.
They came tumbling down from the attic-hole, brick-grey and mould-green,
sharp-toothed and fast, so fast. The kid was still fumbling at the trigger when
Twelve started shooting, and he took them out, all five of them, before the kid
could fire a shot.
He glanced to his left. The kid was shaking.
“There you go,” he said.
“I guess I mean, what are they?”
“What or who. Same thing. They’re the enemy. Slipping in at the edges of time.
Right now, at handover, they’re going to be coming out in force.”
They walked down the stairs together. They were in a small, suburban house.
A woman and a man sat in the kitchen, at a table with a bottle of champagne
upon it. They did not appear to notice the two men in uniform who walked
through the room. The woman was pouring them both champagne.
The kid’s uniform was crisp and dark blue and looked unworn. His yearglass
hung on his belt, full of pale sand. Twelve’s uniform was frayed and faded to
a blueish grey, patched up where it had been sliced into, or ripped, or burned.
They reached the kitchen door and –
Whap!
They were outside, in a forest somewhere very cold indeed.
“DOWN!” called Twelve.
The sharp thing went over their heads and crashed into a tree behind them.
The kid said, “I thought you said it wasn’t always like this.”
Twelve shrugged.
“Where are they coming from?”
“Time,” said Twelve. “They’re hiding behind the seconds, trying to get in.”
In the forest close to them something went whumpf, and a tall fir tree began to
burn with a flickering copper-green flame.
“Where are they?”
“Above us, again. They’re normally above you or beneath you.” They came
down like sparks from a sparkler, beautiful and white and possibly slightly
dangerous.
The kid was getting the hang of it. This time the two of them fired together.
“Did they brief you?” asked Twelve. As they landed, the sparks looked less
beautiful and much more dangerous.
“Not really. They just told me that it was only for a year.”
Twelve barely paused to reload. He was grizzled and scarred. The kid looked
barely old enough to pick up a weapon. “Did they tell you that a year would be a
lifetime?”
The kid shook his head. Twelve remembered when he was a kid like this, his
uniform clean and unburned. Had he ever been so fresh-faced? So innocent?
He dealt with five of the spark-demons. The kid took care of the remaining
three.
“So it’s a year of fighting,” said the kid.
“Second by second,” said Twelve.
Whap!
The waves crashed on the beach. It was hot here, a Southern hemisphere
January. It was still night, though. Above them fireworks hung in the sky,
unmoving. Twelve checked his yearglass: there were only a couple of grains left.
He was almost done.
He scanned the beach, the waves, the rocks.
“I don’t see it,” he said.
“I do,” said the kid.
It rose from the sea as he pointed, something huge beyond the mind’s holding,
all bulk and malevolent vastness, all tentacles and claws, and it roared as it rose.
Twelve had the rocket launcher off his back and over his shoulder. He fired it,
and watched as flame blossomed on the creature’s body.
“Biggest I’ve seen yet,” he said. “Maybe they save the best for last.”
“Hey,” said the kid, “I’m only at the beginning.”
It came for them then, crab-claws flailing and snapping, tentacles lashing, maw
opening and vainly closing. They sprinted up the sandy ridge.
The kid was faster than Twelve: he was young, but sometimes that’s an
advantage. Twelve’s knee ached, and he stumbled. His final grain of sand was
falling through the yearglass when something – a tentacle, he figured – wrapped
itself around his leg, and he fell.
He looked up.
The kid was standing on the ridge, feet planted like they teach you in boot camp,
holding a rocket launcher of unfamiliar design, something after Twelve’s time,
he assumed. He began mentally to say his goodbyes as he was hauled down
the beach, sand scraping his face, and then a dull bang and the tentacle was
whipped from his leg as the creature was blown backwards, into the sea.
He was tumbling through the air as the final grain fell and Midnight took him.
Twelve opened his eyes in the place the old years go. Fourteen helped him down
from the dais.
“How’d it go?” asked Nineteen Fourteen. She wore a floor-length white skirt and
long, white gloves.
“They’re getting more dangerous every year,” said Twenty Twelve. “The
seconds, and the things behind them. But I like the new kid. I think he’s going to
do fine.”