The thing with Elmara the Tinker is that you never know when or where you’ll end up in her company. She’s known as the Tinker for a reason – she messes with wormholes and the fabric of space-time. So when I sat down next to her, what had been tree stumps were now short steel kegs and where there had been a leaf littered dirt ground was now a metal bridge connecting two sheer cliffs. Instead of the tree canopy overhead, now it was all steel gray sky lit up by a waning blue-tinted sun.
Elmara whistled and clucked. “Fecund, yes. My ravenous raven raves about this place and the eye, but I wouldn’t really see why.”
“Huh?” I shook my head to clear the dizziness from fast travel. Too much of inter-space travel is bad for your health, I don’t care what the experts claim.
“This young lady there,” Elmara pointed to a woman on the other end of the bridge. “She’s waiting.”
I got up and stretched. “You want to say hi. Or listen to my problem first.”
She chuckled. “I already know your problem, which is also my problem, and her problem. Rather nasty conundrum you’ve caused, better than a broken drum. I have to thank you.”
“A challenge. A quest. Or a quest ion. One of those.” She stood and, blocking the dim sunlight with her hand, looked up at a large black bird circling above.
I peeped over the side of the bridge and immediately regretted it. The view would have been nice had it been a regular height like you might see from the window of an aircraft. Or even a deep pit you couldn’t see the end of because the light didn’t penetrate far enough. Instead it was – I hoped – an optical illusion of spirals intersecting each other and spinning and orbiting at ungodly speeds. I staggered and nearly fell off the bridge. I’m not one to get vertigo easy.
A hand steadied me and pulled to the center of the bridge. A blur of black feathers flashed in front of my eyes, not helping me recover. Elmara chuckled. “I may have warned you, but you seemed to have figured out the Pit of Endless Stupor, figuratively. At least you didn’t figure it the hard way.”
“Pit of Endless Stupor?” My head between my knees, I shut my eyes tight. “What are we doing here, by the way?”
“Too many questions, not enough time, plenty of space though.” She stroked a raven sitting on her shoulder, which cawed. “We’re here to discuss matters of abysmal, dire circumstances with a prostitute.”
I got up slowly. “Go to the source. Always a good idea.” I pointed to the person at the end of the bridge. “This our lady by any chance?”
Elmara extended a hand to the woman and curtsied at the knees.
I balanced my body as best I could and stumbled across the bridge, relying on the clacking of my heels to tell me when I set my feet down. Every step lasted a lifetime as I swayed like a seasick drunkard on a pontoon, deja vu tickling the back of my brain. The prostitute was about my height, maybe a little broader in the hips, badly cut black hair. And a lazy eye…
“You look good, babe,” she said, winking with her good eye.
I – self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades, fast, smart, athletic, former acrobat (among other professions) – tripped on my ankle and feel face forward. Lucky for me, my body knew how to fall, which matters a little even when falling on a metal bridge. Muscles relaxed, head straight, arms tucked in, I landed on my shoulder with a loud clang and rolled to the side.
My mirror image looked down at me and laughed. “It wasn’t funny at the time.”
“Thanks,” I rubbed my shoulder. “So, if you’re my future me, mind telling me if anything is broken.”
“Wasn’t when I was in your shoes,” she – future-Brin – dutifully checked for injuries and helped me sit up. Standing in front of a mirror is nothing like actually staring into your own eyes – you know it’s a reflection, you can look away if you’re a normal healthy adult, and mirrors aren’t surreal. And mirror images don’t have shiny prosthetic eyes if you don’t have one. Brin pressed her glass eye. “I see you’ve noticed.”
I winced at myself. “How?”
“A perfectly avoidable accident involving a card shark,” she said. Elmara coughed.
“Who’s the shark?”
Elmara put her bony, cold hand on my shoulder. “Give her the eye and stop messing with time.”
“Kill joy,” Brin pulled her eye out of the socket. “I don’t want the stupid thing anyway. You got the pouch?”
“What pouch?” Elmara snapped, clearly pressed beyond her patience.
“You said that last time, remember? Oh, well, suppose you wouldn’t. Yes, that will do the trick.” She put her eye in a red silk pouch Elmara handed her, and passed it to me.”
I held up my hand. “I don’t want it either. Too. You know what I mean.”
Brin grasped my fingers and put the pouch in my palm. “Keep it for me,” she got to her feet. “No hard feelings, but I hope to never see you again.”
“At least tell me how to avoid what happened to you.”
She glanced over her shoulder, one eyelid closed shut as if winking, and shrugged. “Kill yourself now, or keep running from OITT forever. Suit yourself.”
I clutched the pouch in my fist, shaking it at her. “Kiss my ass.” I regretted watching her leave – a bit like watching a long-lost sister walk away without saying goodbye – and turned to Elmara. “I’m not a prostitute, bitch.”
To be continued…