Tentative title: The Last Way
word count: 1000 (/confetti!)
The Christmas bulb cracked beneath her boot and she paused. The room was layered with debris - ribbons, tinsel, strings of lights, and ornaments. The whole place was a mess, and it reeked of several unpleasant things. The small hand of a plastic doll poked between the loops of a bow, pudgy fingers reaching for salvation. She squatted to take a closer look.
It was a gift from her grandmother, for her fifth birthday. Straight out of the box, its left eye wouldn't close when it was laid on its back. They were inseparable. She carried it to school, took it to bed, set it up on the edge of the tub at bath time. The doll even had its own presents under the Christmas tree for two years.
"Cassandra." She pinched the doll’s hand, pulling it free of the holiday refuse. It was only the arm. She sighed and dropped it. As she stood, she pressed a button on a device strapped to her wrist.
"Too late again. The previous rescue attempts seem only to have worsened the situation. Scanning the premises for possible survivors." A hiss of static answered. She pressed a series of buttons and listened. The device offered no indication that anyone had heard her report. "Piece of shit."
A thump sounded from somewhere in the house. She took two long steps and flattened her back against the wall. There was no hope of moving silently across the remnants of the tree and its decorations, so she remained where she was, waiting. Another sound, a rattle – she recognized it as the doorknob to the hall closet – was followed by the creak of hinges. She inched along the wall, her left hand settling on the grip of her weapon. Someone was moving just as slowly and carefully as she. Her leg bumped against an umbrella that was precariously balanced atop a crumpled box. She grabbed it with her right hand.
The cautious steps in the hallway came to a stop. She took a deep breath to steel herself for what might be waiting. She swung her body around the corner, her pistol taking the lead. Time stopped; not literally, but for the woman in the hall, all things came to a temporal crawl. Down the hallway, not five feet from where she stood, was her, aged seven. She was barefoot, in her pajamas – the pink rosette nightgown that she’d kept until she’d worn holes in the elbows – with bruises up and down her arms. There was a cut on her forehead and so much dried blood in her hair.
“Mommy!” Her 30-years-younger self paid no mind to the weapon aimed at her and ran forward to hug the woman she thought was her mother. The woman would have to deal with the fact that she apparently had turned into her mother another time; a temporal disaster was flinging itself at her.
“Stop!” She lifted the umbrella and opened it. The obstacle startled the child and her sudden stop put her off balance. She teetered before falling back on her butt. “I’m not mom, honey, I’m not mom.” The little girl started to cry.
Her wrist radio crackled and a voice came through. “Icarus, can you hear us? Icarus!”
She holstered her pistol, keeping the opened umbrella between her and… herself. “I read you, Tower. I’ve just found myself. I need back up.”
“Found yourself? How deep,” the hiss wavered; the voice on the other end was laughing.
“Send back up A.S.A.P., Tower, this is a temporal threat level Tau. Send Demeter. Repeat, send Demeter.”
“Demeter is on her way,” a sterner voice this time, “And we’re glad to reach you Icarus, thought you’d gone too far this time.”
The child had stopped her crying, listening to the fuzzy conversation. “Icarus?” She hiccupped the name.
Icarus lowered the umbrella, pulling it closed, setting the tip on the floor in front of her. “Yeah, that’s what they call me. And you’re Icara, right?” The little girl nodded. “Alright, Icara, please don’t cry. I know I look like mom, but I’m not mom, okay? I’m you, and as much as I would like to pick you up and carry you out of here, we can’t touch. Someone is going to come soon to get us, and carry you, okay?”
The girl picked herself up off the floor and walked back down the hall to the closet. She reached inside, pulling out a small bundle, and hugged it close. Icarus watched her younger self as she returned to the midway point in the hallway. “Okay, but only if Cassandra comes too.”
“Of course Cassandra can come.” She moved back into the living room, retrieved the discarded doll arm and tossed it to the girl, who refused to leave the hallway. “Is there anyone else here with you and Cassandra?”
The girl shook her head as she wiggled the arm into an opening in her bundle.
“Do you know how long you’ve been alone? With Cassandra, I mean.” She remembered how mad she used to get at her mother when she didn’t include Cassandra in questions or conversations.
“Since the weird earthquake.”
“I wasn’t here for that, honey, when was that? A few days ago?”
“I don’t remember. I stayed in the closet after mommy told me not to come out.” She hugged the bundle closer.
“Can you go down the hall into mommy and daddy’s room for a second, while I look in the closet?”
“No.” The refusal was immediate and as solid as stone. Icarus knew what was in there, then. The girl hadn’t stayed in the closet the whole time, but after what she saw in that room, there was little doubt that she did exactly as she was told.
Time ticked by in silence as the two watched each other and waited. When Demeter came, Icara fell into her arms and started crying again. Icarus watched them leave the house that she’d grown up in for 18 years.