Face Value

By Michael Young All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Chapter 12: Unexpected Company

As I awoke, I became aware of several blurry figures standing above me, talking in hushed voices. I could only catch a few words, but not enough to make sense of what there were saying.

My body was now free of the awful pain that it had experienced in what had seemed only moments earlier. I blinked my eyes furiously to clear the mist from them, but could not until a hand reached out of the fog and grasped me on the shoulder, “Face! Face!” a woman’s concerned voice called, “Can you hear me? You should be feeling better, and you need to leave here at once! ”

The woman’s voice seemed distant and distorted as if only an echo carried down by the wind.

I tried to croak out a response, but my throat scraped in protest. I attempted to sit up with more success.

Slowly, as if smoke vapors were taking form, the woman’s face came into focus. At first, I mistook the woman for Christine; she had the same fair features, similar facial structure, and even the same blue eyes. However, to my amazement, I realized that those radiant eyes stared back at my from behind a pane of thick glass. The woman wore a heavy helmet with a clear visor reminiscent of astronauts, and the rest of her body was completely encased in a bulky orange suit covered with displays and blinking lights.

I nearly leapt back and then saw a man in a blue suit next to her. He too seemed to be scrutinizing my every move. In between them hovered Andrus, looking pleased with himself.

I worked my jaw up and down noiselessly for a few seconds before managing, “Uh, thanks. To whom do I owe this honor?”

The blue suited man stepped in and replied, “Hello Face. Trezzlepeg has told us about you. My name is Tomas, and this is my wife Samot. We are both skilled physicians, and I guess you can say that I’m here because I owe that little blue windbag a large favor,”

He turned and gestured to the Samot, “He saved my wife from certain death, and he called us up because he had found himself in a bind. Apparently he likes you Face, and I had no qualms about visiting earth, because it’s a place I’ve only heard about in stories.”

“In stories? Then where are you from? You are human aren’t you?”

They both nodded, “I guess you could say that,” Samot replied in a smooth tone, “Our ancient ancestors originated from earth, but none of our kind has been back for generations. It’s just too far away now, and it’s already overrun by your breed of humans.”

Samot paced about, her eyes suddenly distant and melancholy, he voice losing its proud, distinctive airs, “Many of our people would gladly return, but I’m afraid that most of them are just too attached to the old ways. To make matters worse, our entire planet is at war. If only…”

Tomas cut her off with a glance, “Dearest, we don’t have the time. If these people want to study our history, I’m sure Trezzlepeg will oblige them. We must leave this place and so must Face. Apparently, the only way Mercos and his followers can travel in time is if someone opens the door for them. As long as you are here, the door is wide open. Come, we must hurry.”

“So it was that man who I saw in Trezzlepeg’s shop!” I yelled as Samot helped me to my feet. “He was responsible for all this!”

Tomas nodded, “Yes, this and much more. He is a warrior of unmatched cunning and cruelty, and also from our planet. I don’t envy you. It appears that he has placed a death brand on you.”

“What? Do you mean the phoenix tattoo?”

“Exactly. He will not stop until he kills you, or you kill him. Impossible to remove.”

“Thanks for the cheery prognosis, doc.”

Tomas shook off the comment and pointed off into the horizon, “Samot and I must go, immediately. I’m not sure if Trezzlepeg can get you back before the day is over, but if not, you should be safe with Andrus until then. Try to mop up here as best you can. I’m sure that bear will help you.”

Andrus drew up his mouth in a defiant scowl at being referred to as ‘that bear’ but held his tongue.

A soft hiss permeated the air and both of the suited strangers lifted a few feet from the ground and hovered. Together, the couple faced us, drew their left hands about their hearts and then let their hands fly out to the side in a sweeping motion, in what I assumed that this was a farewell gesture.

“Until we meet again,” called Tomas, and with no more than a blur, they both disappeared, leaving me alone with Andrus.

Man, all my college courses in cultural diversity could have never prepared me for this weekend. Could this get any stranger?

“Yes, it could,” replied Andrus, who had already retrieved Fred from his hiding place, “but I think that our primary concern is getting this guy back to normal. Those two fixed up his bruises, but we need to fix his memory, so that he doesn’t go berserk when he wakes up. We have plenty of time on our hands because the medicine they put in him should keep him out cold for the next few hours.”

“Easier said than done. We can make him forget, but how will we put things back right to where they were supposed to be? We can’t exactly show back up at the race track trying to get things back to normal!”

Andrus shook his head disapprovingly, “Tsk, tsk, always the unbeliever. I’ve already removed his memory of the last couple hours with that string by using that string, and all we have to do is replace it with new memories. Even though you are living this day over again, you still remember the first time very clearly. Do you see where I am going?”

I shrugged in defeat, “I must admit that you have completely lost me on that one.”

Andrus sighed and continued, “Well, we’ll channel your memories into him using me as the conduit. It’s another little skill that I’ve picked up over the years that makes me very useful as a Shadow. By knowing the language of the mind, I am able to control it.”

The idea still sounded pretty far-fetched to me, but after the events of the past few days, my doubting Thomas act was slowly losing its potency. “I guess, it’s worth a shot. What do I have to do?”

Andrus fluttered over and grasped the tip of my index finger with one tiny paw, “Hold on tight and think of the first time that you lived today, and I will hold on both ends to channel the memories through.”

I knelt next to my unconscious brother and watched as Andrus took his other paw and placed it on my brother’s head. Oh, and Face. It might not be such a good idea to send over the memory of his accident.”

I nodded and began to let the memories flow. However, I obeyed Andrus’s warning, and only let the more pleasant ones pass through. I had to concentrate with all my might not to let my mind wander on to gargoyles and mysterious cyclists who vanished into thin air. I let him remember a few races and then jerked my hand away, severing the connection.

I breathed deeply and glanced over at Andrus, who lay a foot or two away from me on the dirt and asked, “What do we do next? I guess we could just go home, and say we decided to come home early, because someone made off with our bikes while we had them lined up during lunch break.”

For once Andrus agreed with me, “I guess it’s as good as any plan, but you really won’t have to do much explaining. Trezzlepeg sent you back with the utmost care. He has already arranged two new bikes placed in your garage, and sent some of his workers to take care of the witnesses so that they won’t remember the incident. No harm done to anyone and everyone’s happy. He doesn’t usually do this for just anyone, but if he’s treating you so well, I trust there must be an excellent reason.”

A solid lump gathered in the back of my throat, growing until I felt like I was unsuccessfully trying to swallow softball.

Why is the locket so important? He doesn’t know where the other one is, so why is he going through all this trouble?

Andrus rounded both Fred and me and once again hoisted us skyward, leaving the dim, depressing rubble of the junkyard behind. Fred remained in blissful slumber and Andrus and I kept our thoughts to ourselves…as much as was possible.

We landed on the lawn beside our garage, and I noticed that the house was empty. Both cars were missing, which usually meant that mom was out running errands. As I approached the front door, my pulse pounded in my ears. The door was an inch ajar.

Huh, maybe mom forgot to lock up before she went out…

But my meticulous mother never forgot to lock up. She would rather eat her pancakes with motor oil before she’d leave things out of order before she left. “Andrus…we might still have trouble.” I called, gesturing nervously with left hand toward the entrance. Fly in before me and play spy, will you?

Andrus fluttered over, in no big hurry, “Face, I don’t think there is any way more monsters could have gotten in. Trezzlepeg has got scouts all over the area with the best resources. Nothing gets by them. Noth-“

A scuffling sound from within cut Andrus short of his point. Slightly embarrassed, Andrus did as he was told and slipped between the gap in the doorway, leaving the Fred propped up on the porch beside me.

A few anxious minutes passed, and the sweat from my brow turned cold against my skin. I wanted to call out to Andrus, say anything, just to hear a word or two of assurance, but my poor mind only jumbled its thoughts together.

I leaned back against the porch and shut my eyes to try to drive out the aching in my tired joints and muscles.

When another five minutes passed without signal, I mustered up the nerve, and decided that I would follow in after him. My heart leapt as I laid my hand on the doorknob.

Andrus came bursting back through the door at that exact moment. His face betrayed no true fear, only puzzlement.

“Well,” I hissed through clenched teeth, “is there something in there?”

Andrus nodded, “Yes,” he began, “but it’s not a something. It’s a someone--a woman, and she doesn’t look particularly like one of Mercos’ cronies, though I guess you can never really be sure, can you?”

The news took me by surprise, and it took several seconds before I could sort out my thoughts well enough to muster a reply, “But if she isn’t one of his people, than who is she? I don’t remember getting robbed today.”

Andrus shrugged, “I admit that I’m usually pretty good at answering questions, but now I’m as confused as you. She was upstairs when I left, and she it looked like she was carrying something in a little box.”

This piqued my interest, “What kind of box?”

Andrus cocked an eyebrow, “I’m not certain. A jewelry box, perhaps?”

My mind relaxed a few notches, and I drew in a deep breath. All notions of sinister monsters and armor-clad warriors melted away. After another deep breath, I reached for the doorknob again, “Cover me. I’m going to find out who this lady thinks she is breaking into my home. If we don’t act quickly, she’ll get the chance to escape.”

Andrus voiced his agreement, and aided my entry by noiselessly propping open the door and then silently shutting it after I stepped in. True to my first suspicions, the house appeared empty and silent.

There were no signs of attempted robbery or search, as if the intruder had simply stopped by for a glass of milk. Remembering Fred on the front porch, I gestured back towards the front door, Andrus, would you mind locking Fred in my parent’s bedroom so that he’ll be safe? It’s down the hall to the right.

Soundlessly, Andrus followed through with astonishing efficiency, toting Fred from outside, down the hall, and into my bedroom. I nodded with satisfaction as I heard the click of the lock on the bedroom door falling into place.

Within moments, Andrus returned to my shoulder.

I didn’t want to prematurely blow our cover, and so I gestured to Andrus to go on ahead up the stairs as I waited below with a baseball bat, which I had fetched from the hallway closet near the entrance. After only a moment or two, he returned signaling to the affirmative,

She is still up there in one of the bedrooms. She’s got a small pad of paper and is writing something, but I still can’t figure out what’s in that box.

Does she have anything else with her? Any weapons?

Andrus furrowed his brow, I don’t think so. I didn’t see any weapons, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. She’s carrying a small backpack with her, and that could contain anything.

“All right,” I whispered back. “I’m going up. Follow me.” Nervously, I gripped the railing and slunk up the narrow flight.

As I approached the top, I could make out scuffling noises coming from our bedroom. With the caution of a secret agent behind enemy lines, I shuffled over to the door and peered in. Inside, a slender woman, dressed in deep shades of blue crouched over my brother’s bed, her back towards me. Trying to determine what she was up to, I simply waited calmly, watching for the right moment to act.

I didn’t have to wait long. Apparently finished with her task, the woman headed for the window and opened slid open the pane. On impulse, I dashed into the room brandishing the bat and lunged at the woman as she made her way out the window, “Stop!” I yelled after her, “what are you doing in my house?”

The comment passed right over her. With amazing ease, the woman slid down a rope she had placed at the window, yanking it down after her to throw off pursuit.

Desperately, I dropped the bat and groped for the rope, but instead fell to the bedroom floor as it slipped through my expectant hands. I burst out of the room, bounded down the stairs, and almost tore through the front door. Frantically, I cast my eyes about the street to see where she had gone, but to my dismay found no sign of the mysterious intruder. Andrus! I cried out, where did she go?

Uh…I’m not sure. I thought you had things under control. I’m still trying to figure out this note that she left.

I could feel the blood rising in my cheeks, but instead of lashing out, I channeled my anger into my feet. I took off down the street like an Olympic runner in the direction that I suspected the intruder might have gone. Adrenaline surged through me and my legs pounded the pavement. However, after a few moments of unrestrained pursuit, I realized the futility of the task, and grudgingly slowed to a stop. With a sigh of defeat and frustration, I sauntered back towards my house. Nagging thoughts pulled at my brain and twisted my stomach.

All the way back, I brooded over the now bleak looking situation. I might as well see what’s one that note, and in the box. Knowing my luck the note probably says that they have my family held hostage and they want the locket in the box, or they’ll feed ’em to the fishes. It would figure by the way that today is going.

I thrust my hand into my pocket to retrieve the precious jewelry, only to find my pocket empty. At first I panicked, but then relaxed as a calming thought struck me, I don’t have yet, because it will be years before I will ever lay my hands on it. If I just knew where it came from…

When I arrived back at my brother’s room, I found Andrus pacing across my brother’s bed where the assailant had left a brief note, written in fine calligraphy. As Andrus paced, he mumbled to himself, seemingly lost in thought. I entered cautiously, still wary of danger, but, at seeing Andrus so nonchalant, loosened up a bit. I took my place behind Andrus and inquired slightly impatiently, “Well, Mr. Sherlock Shadow, what have we figured out?”

Andrus, who had previously been so wrapped up in his work that he had been unaware of my presence, leapt into the air with a soft yell and whirled about to face me his claws drawn for action. However, he shied away a moment later, when he released his company was not an enemy. Flustered, he fluttered back to the surface of the bed and lay there causally with his head propped up by one paw, “Eh, oh, it’s you. Sorry I snapped at you. Just trying to be on my guard that’s all.”

I shrugged it off and replied, “Don’t mention it. I’m really more concerned about what’s on that note and what is in that box. Any interesting leads on who that person was and what she wanted?”

Andrus scratched his head in puzzlement, “I think it best that you should just observe for yourself.”

Taking his advice, I knelt beside the bed and peered down at the strange piece of paper and the box next to it. My eyes were drawn to paper and I read the carefully written contents with growing interest. To my astonishment, the words did not pose a threat, but were the ones of someone with a gentle hand, and even a gentler heart.

Whenever I see your handsome face,

It’s burned upon my memory

My heart goes on a wild race

There’s no place I’d rather be.

I paused. The words stirred something deep within mind, however, for all my effort, I could not think of where I had heard them before.

Your fame has spread from ear to ear

Until, at last, it came to me

And thrilled my heart with tale so sweet

Of a man who follows chivalry

Your kind words, your charming smile

Now hold me captive to your spell

My tender heart is yours to take

I know that you will keep it well

If thou would want

That we should meet

And make this blessed day complete

Come before the clock strikes ten

To the park called Eve by men

Come to the fountain pure and clear

And I will surely meet you there.

As I finished, I set the page down, and stewed over its cryptic contents. It was obviously meant for my brother. He had said something about getting asked on a blind date, and I assumed that this was the same note that he had found all of those years ago. The timing made sense, because this was about the time we would have returned home for a lunch break.

“Andrus,” I began, “I’m beginning to think that that lady wasn’t hired by Mercos. This must have occurred the first time through this day, without my knowledge. The note was probably meant for Fred from one of his many admirers, though I still can’t imagine how that girl would know we were all gone.”

Andrus furrowed his brow, “Are you sure?” he mumbled, “it could be a ruse. You still don’t know what is in that box.”

I tilted my head towards the box and instantly the proverbial light bulb came on inside my head, “Actually,” I replied, “I think that I do, and it’s very important to this whole ordeal.”

“Humph,” Andrus scoffed, “I don’t see how that could be so. It’s probably just a trinket little Ms. Intruder is using to impress your brother.”

Eager to prove Andrus wrong, I snapped the box from the bed, and cupped it in my open hand. Then, with the other hand, I pried open the lid, and saw what I had expected to see: the gleaming face of a smiling drama mask on velvet padding. I dropped to one knee to give Andrus a better look.

“Andrus, I think you lost that bet. This is the genuine article.”

Andrus studied the fine features of the locket, his eyes wide. I set the box on the floor and he pried open the clasp that held the locket together. As I suspected, the same words stared back at us from inside.

TO BE OR

Satisfied, Andrus replaced the clasp and glanced up at me.

“Face, this is really something,” he began in hushed tones, “I never expected in my lifetime to behold this locket with my own eyes. I only wish I could take it with me. The most pressing question now, however, is how that woman got a hold of it. It’s been missing for many years.”

I shrugged, “Yeah, and if she has the matching one as well. This girl seems like the hopeless romantic type.”

“Yes. I think the best course of action…”

A blinding flash of light burst from the center of the room, cutting off Andrus in mid sentence. Thankfully, the light slowly paled and the transparent figure of Trezzlepeg melted into view.

“Face, Andrus, I apologize for my interruption, but you must return immediately. The situation has quickly escalated. I know I promised you an entire day, Face, and I will make it up to you, but unless you come back immediately, I’m certain that you will all lose your lives before the day is out. Dispense with any unfinished business and get back through this portal. It will only stay open for the next fifteen minutes, after which I will have no way of getting you back early.”

I opened my mouth to protest, and the hazy image disappeared. I searched Andrus’s face for assurance, “Don’t feel too bad that he didn’t respond to you. It was a recording. As much as I would like to stick around and find out about your brother’s love life, I think we should follow his advice and scram.”

My face reddened. “But we can’t leave!” I protested, “that girl might have the other locket, and we’ve got to get our hands on it before the other side does! There has to be some way to make him see!”

Andrus darted about me nervously, muttering to himself, “We don’t have much time to decide, do we? I’m under the impression that Trezzlepeg knows something that we do not, and that should listen. Death isn’t a good alternative to returning early, and that locket isn’t going to do us any good if we can’t return it to Trezzlepeg.”

I collapsed on my brother’s bed and Andrus buzzed over my head like a giant dragonfly, “Face, can we postpone the pity party and get something done in the next fifteen minutes? It might be a good plan to get Fred in his bed so that he sees this stuff when he wakes up. Replace the note and the locket while I get Fred from the other room.”

I didn’t have any better plans, and so I followed Andrus’s plan. Working swiftly, I straightened the bedclothes, placed the locket in its box on the nightstand, and then placed the note by the box.

My task completed, I stood up and gazed over the strange objects one last time, a strange sense of regret seeping into my mind like the drip from a broken faucet.

I wish I could have known who she was.

Then, a smile crept across my face as a strange thought happened upon my mind, Who know, maybe I’ll get to. Thanks to Trezzlepeg, a certain motorcycle accident won’t be cutting your date short, will it? Maybe I’ll be greeted by an new sister in law when I return.

Andrus rushed back into the room carrying Fred, a frantic gleam in his eye. He lay Fred on his bed, propping his head up with a pillow. Even now, Fred had begun to show the first signs of conscienceless, stirring in his sleep. I fell to the floor beside him, feeling his neck to check that his pulse was still beating strong.

I clasped my slumbering brother on the shoulder and leaned in next to his ear. I whispered, figuring that he might be able to hear, “See ya Fred. I can’t wait to see what it’s like in the future. Have a blast on your date tonight, but don’t do anything I wouldn’t do…”

Fred made no reply, and Andrus tugged at my ear urgently, signaling that it was time to depart. With one last glance at my brother, I swiveled around to face the glowing portal, its ominous light beckoning me ever forward to embrace my new destiny.

Andrus flew in first, and vanished immediately. I inhaled deeply and stepped through the gate, and let the light embrace me.

Goodbye cruel past. Here’s to a brighter future.

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