James, a small boy with messy auburn hair, had no idea what had bitten him on the top of his hand when he woke up on that rainy Saturday morning. His mother insisted that it was probably a small spider bite and that it was nothing to worry about. However, it was not a spider that had bitten the boy, it was an etherflea; a curious little phantom that dwells on the backs of hairier beasts in the Ether Realm. Usually, it is nearly impossible for the creatures of the Ether Realm to effect the inhabitants of other realms but it occasionally happens and the consequences can range from a mere sneeze to, in some extreme cases, an extinction event — which the dinosaurs, regrettably, found out the hard way.
Except for the occasional itch, the boy did not notice anything out of the ordinary about his bite, even when a small red rash began to form around it, shaped like a thumbnail moon. That night, at bedtime, his mother put a third dose of ointment on the bite, gave him a kiss on the forehead, turned of his light and left the door slightly cracked so that a wedge of light sliced through his dark bedroom.
As he did almost every night since he had turned 9, James immediately produced a comic and small flashlight from under his pillow. His mother did not like him reading comics at such an impressionable age (as she called it), so He had become very good at sneaking them from his father’s old things in the garage.
Tonight’s story was about a man who fell into a vat of chemicals at a clock factory and could now travel through time. Dubbed, Captain Clock, the man uses his powers to fix horrible events of the past; or at least he tried to until realizing it was only making situations more complicated and sometimes even worse. So instead of focusing on the past and future, Captain Clock vows to stay vigilant in the present, only using his time-travel techniques in nanoseconds to outmaneuver foes and other elements of danger.
Before he even knew that his eyes were getting heavy, the boy fell asleep with the comic fanned out across his chest.
“Where did you come from,” demanded a gruff voice in front of him. When the boy opened his eyes he saw a man standing in front of a fireplace with a dog curled up at his feet. He was on a hardwood floor in a dark and unfamiliar room, that looked like it was new but felt very old. “I asked you a question, young man,” repeated the stranger who was pointing at him with an iron fire poker.
“I was…reading a story…I was in bed. And. And…,” said the boy, not sure of where he was or how he’d gotten there.
“Alright, kid. It’s ok. I’ve seen weirder things in my day. Just try to stay calm, ok? What’s your name?”
“Ok then, Jimmy. Let’s just try to figure this out together. Deal? My name is Henry Kronos, and this rug looking thing here is Bella. She’s useless until she’s bad, but she’s also friendly and loyal as they come.” The man gave the dog, a small collie mix from the look of her, a little nudge and said, “Well, at least wake up and say hello now. Don’t worry about guarding the house or your master next time a stranger appears on our floor — meaning you no offense, of course, Jim. How old are you, son?”
“I’ll be 10 in July.”
“Hrm, a big one indeed. Don’t be rid of your last single-digit year too fast now. A shame they didn’t make more single digits past 9, if you ask me,” said the man.
“Your name, Henry Kronos, it’s from a story I was reading before bed. But you’re not him. I mean, you couldn’t be…he was made up…he was able to travel through time…Captain Clock.”
The man crouched to tend to the fire as James was talking. He poked at it idly and the fire blazed, filling the room with warmth and light. James hadn’t noticed the clocks, dozens of them, lining the walls of the room until this point — and now that he had noticed them, their tic-tocing filled the silent spaces that were there just a moment ago. With the light of the fire, James was also able to get his first good look at Mr. Kronos. From what he could tell, James estimated the man to be around the age of his Grandpa. He had a large grey beard and untidy salt-and-pepper hair.
“A story, huh? Must’ve run out of good things to write about. I have to ask, son, what year are you from?”
“Nineteen Ninety Four,” said James, slightly louder than a whisper.
“Hrm, tried to fix a couple of things in the 1980’s but I never made it to the 90’s. Tell me, have you heard about spacemen from Alteron Z?” James shook his head partly in answer and partly in disbelief. “No? Good. That means I did something right,” continued Captain Clock.
“Do you mean, you’re really him? Captain Clock?…but how?”
“Captain Clock was the name when I put on that cloak over there,” he indicated to an old yellow cloak with silver gears adorning it here and there, “but I haven’t done that for some time. You see, I’m old now. Time doesn’t stop for a man just because he can travel it. Now, let’s worry less about me and more about how to get you home.”
It was nightfall and the Milky Way was cascading closer and closer to the horizon as the remaining daylight vanished. The girl was laying in her favorite field soaking up the twilight air, when the strange cabin appeared from nowhere. Smoke was billowing from the chimney and she heard a muffled voice from within say, “Where did you come from?” Never one to shy away from a mystery, she got close enough to see into one of the cabin’s small round windows. A boy in funny blue clothing was starting to sit up on the floor and an old man stood across from him holding a fire poker, a dog asleep at his feet. The boy was small and skinny with auburn hair that could only have been styled by a pillow. The man, though considerably past his life’s prime, still appeared strong by the way he held himself. She couldn’t hear much of what they were saying but she could see that both were equally confused.
That’s when she felt the eyes on her. And before she could pretend to have not noticed, whatever had been watching her was racing at her like a shot out of a cannon.
She remembered Etherhounds from her early schooling, but the illustrations in her textbook clearly had not done their size justice. The lanky, skeletal beast was the size of a horse with wiry grayish-blue hair that waved as if it were suspended under water. It’s head, all snout and jaw, had no fur to speak of and, most disturbingly of all, no eyes.
She didn’t mean to scream, she never screams, but it was all she had time to do.
James turned to look in the direction of the scream that interrupted their conversation, and when he turned back to ask what they should do, Mr. Kronos was gone and the front door slammed against the wall like a hurricane wind had opened it.
James ran through the open door into a world he could never have imagined existed. The night sky was covered in stars and astral clouds. The ground beneath him glowed slightly, like a glow in the dark toy that hadn’t been exposed to light recently. Surrounding the house was a field of blue glowing flowers. He heard a scream from the other side of the house and ran towards it. Everything about the situation felt familiar to him, as if he’d been here before — his mother called it Deja Vu.
Terror struck the boy as he rounded the corner of the house. “Get back inside, James, run,” yelled Mr. Kronos. There was no way to describe what he was looking at, except for part horse, part wolf, part nightmare, and James had run up right behind it. Captain Clock was standing between a girl that looked around James’ age and the beast, shielding her from it. James wished he had run to the other side of the house, so he’d be be protected too.
The Etherhound rounded on the boy in a flash. It growled, showing black teeth that James had never seen the likeness of. “I can’t stop it,” shouted the old man, “it’s not bound by time!” It came at James with lightning quickness. James only had time to raise his hands in front of his face and close his eyes. He knew that he’d feel the pain of razor sharp teeth any second now…but he didn’t. Instead he heard the beast whimper. He opened his eyes to see that his hands were glowing with a blue flame. The Etherhound was haunched from whatever had happened and circling him like a shark, poised to make its second attempt. It lunged and James extended his hands, launching the blue flames for a direct hit. The animal was stunned and down, but not beaten.
James did not know how long he’d have his newfound power to protect him — the flame seemed to be dying down after his last strike. The animal had regained its footing and was ready for a 3rd assault, but a whistle stopped it dead in its tracks. It stood alert and obedient. James looked where the whistle had come from. A hooded figure stood at the edge of the nearby forest, another glowing Etherhound by their side. The stranger whistled again and the wounded hound ran to be by its master’s side. James could feel the stranger’s eyes on him even though they were shrouded in darkness. After a moment, the hooded figure turned and vanished into the thick forest, the Etherhounds at his heel.