I know I haven’t actually posted fun stuff around here in like forever. But hopefully I can get back into the swing of doing so, and we can start right here with some backstory drabbles I’ve gotten done on Time Out of Mind (previously Long Lost) for the rewrites.
SO. This one will show some alterations I made to Jonah’s backstory and character motivations going forwards. (In this draft, instead of being someone hired to kill our heroes and then having a change of heart, he’s the dude who’s already been following Demetrius and so he kills the other guy who was sent to kill them. A little confusing when I put it like that but oh well.)
I’m really happy with how it turned out, so I hope you guys like it too!
Mr. Jonah Harkman,
It is with deepest regret that I must inform you of the loss of your sister, Miss Gia Harkman. She went missing over a week ago after exhibiting severe symptoms of time sickness (one of the more dangerous occupational hazards at the society).
Her body has not been recovered.
Personal effects will be sent to this address shortly.
Our sincerest sympathies in this difficult time,
Director Thomas Loughty
Funny to think how that small of a letter started everything it did.
I dropped everything after that. I hadn’t heard from Gia in over two years, but that didn’t change the fact that she was my sister. Even if we hadn’t been on the best of terms, I at least owed it to her to look for her, since this almighty Historian Society she’d dropped all the rest of her life for couldn’t bother to do it.
My wife Lily said she’d take things over on the business front for a few days – she was always better at dodging the cops than I was anyway – and I hightailed it for Earth. For that snooty old building outside of London, more specifically.
I had enough practice breaking and entering, and remembered a few things from the one time I’d visited this place. I had my plan of attack sketched up in less than a day. I broke in that night. In one of their glass cases was one of their only time warpers that wasn’t DNA locked. An old tracking warper they used to follow some of their members if different missions had gone wrong.
This was probably making way better use of it than they ever did, judging by how much dust this old thing had on it.
And then a quick look through their databases confirmed my suspicions that these guys hadn’t even tried.
They kept records on all their official warpers. Gia’s last logged warping was two days ago, to Victorian England.
So I took the tracking-warper, and I went. I ripped off a strip of one of those silver scarves to stick inside my hat, since that was supposed to be protection or something. I fed my sister’s name into that clunky old warper, found her in the records and hit the buttons to follow to her last location.
I’d barely worked a non-time traveling warper before. But I managed to get that one working.
And after all that… there I was standing over her dead body.
Gia was just a few yards away from where her last log said she’d warped to, lying on her side. She was completely still. Her clothes were muddy and torn and her long hair was tangled in the dirt. Dried blood smeared her pale face, dripping from her nose.
Her eyes were still open.
I took in a slow, shaky breath and crouched down next to her. A coppery chain dangled from her pocket. I pulled it out and a pocketwatch spun from the end of the chain. The one thing that wasn’t smudged with mud.
She looked older since I’d seen her last. Funny, we never thought of the two of us, she’d manage to get herself killed first….
Her with her respectable job. Her silver scarf and her fancy pocketwatch. Her “I don’t need you watching after me anymore” speech….
I bit my lip and watched her face for a few seconds. My hand shaking, I reached over and closed her eyes. Her skin was freezing cold under my fingertips. The cold constricted in my throat and chest.
“Sorry, Gia,” I muttered. “Sorry I didn’t…. come for you sooner.”
My eyes stung and I swallowed hard, but my vision still blurred and my breath choked.
I was too late.
I wanted to go for a walk. And possibly get a drink. And I didn’t feel like going back to do it in my own time at that particular moment to do that.
So I just wandered into the next city. Somewhere near York, if Gia’s log was right. Not that I cared.
I kept my hands shoved in my coat pockets and my shoulders hunched against the wind. Apparently England had always been a frigid wasteland. That hadn’t changed with a few hundred years jump back in time.
I tried to focus on my surroundings enough to clear my head. It was getting dark. A few dimly lit street lamps reflected yellow light off the slick cobblestones. People moved up and down the streets, dressed way better than me, and definitely belonging here more than me. I got a few weird looks, but being not very used to time travel and therefore any weird customs time travelers might use for deflecting attention… I didn’t exactly do anything but nod and look away.
All I needed was… well, picking pockets worked the same in Victorian times as they would in my day. Probably a little easier, really. Snag one wallet, find a bar….
Then one particular face caught my eye. Someone I’d seen before.
Now in my line of work, I was used to that happening. And my usual response was to duck my head and walk a little faster, since most people who I would recognize and who’d recognize me weren’t exactly friendly.
But this was Victorian England. There’s no way….
I did a double take and stopped walking. It took me a few seconds of standing there and squinting to place it.
The guy was just coming out of a big, dank building off to one side of the street, walking in a little bit of a daze.
He was a tall guy, with curly hair that hung into his eyes, a stubbly beard and sharp features that didn’t seem to match the vacant look that he wore.
His boots were tall and polished, but a few of the buckles flapped, unfastened. He wore a nice coat, but had a sloppy looking scarf tossed in a lazy loop around his neck. He walked with a limp.
Everything about him looked subtly… off.
It wasn’t until I saw the silver chain dangling from his pocket that it clicked.
This was Gia’s friend from the society. Demetrius.
We’d met once, a few years back. The last time I visited her at the society. He was one of the highest ranking guys there, if I remembered correctly.
What was he doing out here in… to say it kindly, a less than perfect disguise? And he didn’t look like he was feeling that great either.
Not like I was doing much better than he was on either of those fronts, but something still niggled in the back of my mind. He didn’t look like he knew what he was doing here. And from meeting Demetrius at first, he seemed like he was a guy who usually knew what he was doing.
I hesitated for another second, watching him.
He narrowly avoided collision with a lamppost, his foot slipping a little on the curb. A carriage rattled past, very close by, and he didn’t even seem to notice.
Alright, he definitely needed help.
I pressed my lips together, pulling my coat tighter around me and breaking into a jog as I moved towards him.
Demetrius was just sitting down on the curb as I came up. He seemed to be staring intently ahead, his brow was all furrowed up, but his gaze didn’t focus on anything.
I slowed down, wondering how to start this conversation. Clearing my throat a little, I came to a stop next to him. “Hey, buddy. You alright?”
It was hard to catch a response with all the noise in the street, and how quiet his voice was, but I was almost positive whatever he said back was in either in French or Italian. He didn’t even look up at me. Just seemed to droop a little more, scrunching one of his shaking hands into his tangled hair.
“Hey. Demetrius Morrow, right? Do you remember me?” I tilted my head at him for a second before slowly taking a seat on the curb next to him. “I’m Jonah, Gia’s brother. We met a few years back.”
Demetrius blinked a couple of times and looked over at me, his expression vacant except for a hint of confusion.
I raised an eyebrow at him.
A thought that had been hovering at the back of my mind came more into focus.
What had killed Gia… time sickness. I’d looked it up. All the telltale symptoms and what it did to people.
And obviously I wasn’t the expert on the subject. But this was definitely starting to look like what I’d read about, and it seemed like the most reasonable explanation for the state he looked to be in. Either that or he was on a really… weird and not-fun job assignment.
I ran over a few of the symptoms I was seeing in my mind. Confusion, spotty memory, not taking care of themselves…
That, plus the fact that he definitely wasn’t wearing a silver scarf. He was wearing a scarf, yeah, but this was some weird, plaid scarf. Not the time-sickness-protection type.
So, it was possible that the same thing that killed Gia was just starting to run its course on the guy right in front of me. I wasn’t real keen on just letting that happen.
I shifted my expression a little, trying to look friendly and approachable. I kept my voice low. “What are you up to? Got some friends in town, or just here to study up on the time period?”
“Friends in…” Demetrius muttered, putting a hand to the side of his head. He squinted at me a little. “I was just… how…?”
I blew out a breath. “Come on, I know you’re a time traveler. I’m one too.” Felt weird saying that, when by trade, I really wasn’t. But whatever works. Because that definitely seemed to do the trick.
He suddenly seemed more present in that second, his gaze focusing on my face. After opening and closing his mouth a few times, he swallowed. “No. No friends.” His voice rasped, like he hadn’t used it in too long, or like he’d been crying. His words came out in an odd rhythm. “I already looked in there… those ones are all dead and not…” he seemed to shrink a little further away from the big, boxy building he’d just come out of.
I looked back towards the building. A cold feeling settled in my stomach as I realized I was looking at a morgue.
Demetrius started digging through his coat pockets. He yanked out a slightly crumpled photograph with torn edges and his hand shook as he held it out to me. “Have you… seen her anywhere? Or if you’re like me do you know what they did to her? Where she is?”
I looked at the photograph. It was of a pretty, blonde woman in a simple, white dress. And it was very old looking. Like one of those stock photos you’d see looking up old pictures of how people dressed in days gone by.
I glanced back up at Demetrius. “And how do you know her?”
“She’s my… wait… no, I met her on… at the…” his voice trailed off from a confident tone down into a whisper and he pressed his knuckles to his forehead, squeezing his eyes shut and gritting his teeth. “… we were both… on the… the bus…?”
I winced, watching him.
“We were-…” he cut off as his wandering gaze rested on his red, plaid scarf. He blinked a few times and frowned, lifting the end of the scarf. “This isn’t my scarf. Where did I get this?”
My brow furrowed. “Hey, maybe…”
“And wasn’t there…” he squinted up at the lamppost above us. His accent twisted just slightly, sounding different from a minute before. “I was almost certain that was an electric light. Wasn’t it just a second ago? This should be America…”
“Morrow,” I interrupted. “You were telling me about your picture? The woman you’re looking for?”
Demetrius blinked and rubbed at his head again. “Oh. Yes.” He nodded, swallowed and cleared his throat before he spoke again. His words were slow and carefully formed, like he was very carefully trying not to fall off his train of thought again. But his voice still shook. “I need to find her. She’s…” he ran his fingers through his hair. “I lost her. I just… I need to keep looking or…” he shook his head, starting to stand up again. “I’m sorry, I need to go.”
He took a few seconds, looking like he was getting his balance back before he started striding away.
There… really wasn’t a lot I could do. Even if I could somehow get him back to his own time or wherever he was supposed to be, there was no cure for time sickness. He was stuck like this, whether he managed to find this woman he was looking for or not. I wasn’t even getting enough information out of him to start helping him in any sort of way. So why was I bothering? Why had I even come over to him in the first place?
An image surfaced in my mind of Demetrius, lying on the ground in the same way I’d found Gia. Hair muddy, eyes open and empty. Blood dripping from his nose over his pale lips. Not breathing.
I couldn’t let that happen to someone else. I couldn’t just leave my sister’s friend.
“Hey!” I called after him, pushing to my feet. “I think I might be able to help you find your girl!”
Demetrius froze, turning back to stare at me with wide, hopeful eyes.
I managed a smile, nodding. “Come on. Let’s go get a drink and we’ll talk about it.”
I quickly came to appreciate the location of the small, seedy pub I found as a haven for us two time travelers. If there was any place you could look weird and suspicious, but not be questioned about it, it was here. Either you looked more or less like one of the regular patrons here, or everyone else was too drunk to notice or care.
I filed away this bit of information for later time traveling reference.
Demetrius and I found a small table away in the back, and I ordered us some drinks. I also made sure I was facing the door so I could see anyone who was coming in. Maybe I was just being paranoid, but I tended to trust my instincts, and I was getting a definite feeling someone was following us.
With all the mystery surrounding Demetrius himself, and the obvious fact that he’d fallen out of favor with the society somehow, I wouldn’t be too surprised.
We just sat there for a minute, me eyeing the door and formulating my questions, and Demetrius alternating between drinking and just staring vacantly into his glass.
The clatter and conversation of the pub around dinnertime went on around us, punctuated occasionally by a shout or a drunken laugh. I had to admit, the overall smell and atmosphere of these sorts of places definitely improved in the future.
I took a breath to speak, but surprisingly, Demetrius spoke first.
“So you can help me find her?” His gaze didn’t come up to meet mine as he said this, fixed on some vague point beyond our table.
I opened my mouth and then closed it again, biting my lip as I shifted in my seat. “How about you tell me a little more about her first? And how you got…” I gestured vaguely in the air, “You know… to the place you are now. Just a little about yourself.”
Demetrius looked back up to my face, brow furrowed. I couldn’t tell if the look he was giving me was one of genuine, hostile suspicion, or just confusion.
“The more I know, the more I can help,” I added, spreading my hands. “So just whatever you can give me.”
Letting out a long breath, Demetrius scrunched a hand into his hair, leaning his elbow against the table. “Well I… let me think for a minute, it just…” he squeezed his eyes shut in a sort of wince again, rubbing his fingertips against his forehead. “It’s been a bad day. It’s always harder to… get it all straight in my head when there’s a bad day.”
“Take all the time you need, buddy.” I leaned back in my chair, relaxing a little. At least I could get something out of him on what exactly happened. Which was less than I got with Gia. I lifted my own glass and took a drink.
Demetrius just sat there holding his head for another minute. He took another careful drink from his own glass before he spoke. “The… the woman I showed you the picture of is Jane. She’s my wife.” He said the words as carefully as though he was carrying something fragile with his voice. Then he fell silent again.
I squinted one eye, nodding. “And… obviously something happened, since you were looking for her in the morgue.”
Wrong thing to mention. Demetrius flinched like I’d just hit him.
Moron. Wrong thing to prompt with.
“I-I just mean… who was after you two? And why? Do you know who took her?” I scrambled to go back to the original intent of the discussion. “I know you’re from the Historian Society… was she another member?”
“She… I…” Demetrius clenched his teeth and rubbed a hand over his face. “It’s my fault. I wasn’t being careful enough and someone took her. Even though I told her…” His voice broke for a second and he trailed off.
I could probably finish that sentence for him. He told her what any man would tell his wife. That he’d always be there. That he’d protect her. And now here he was, being driven mad by the doubled forces of time sickness and guilt.
I leaned forward, waiting for him to continue.
Demetrius looked back up to meet my pleading gaze, a dull anger in his eyes. “And why exactly are you so interested in helping me, Mr…. whoever you are? How did you even get a warper? How did you know how to find me?”
I froze, swallowing. “Okay I… I swear, I didn’t even know you were here. I just happened to have a warper and I just… I really do want to help, alright? I have a wife back home myself and I just don’t want to see a guy like me just…”
Demetrius cut me off, smacking his hand against the table as he stood up, making the glasses rattle. “Stop lying to me, I know they sent you!”
Some of the noises around us in the pub quieted down. Gazes drew like magnets to our table. Because it didn’t matter what time period it was, the potential for a barfight excited everyone.
I stood along with Demetrius, holding up my hands in a placating gesture. “Whoa there… I wasn’t sent by anybody, okay? Jonah Harkman. You remember me, right? Gia’s brother? The one with the criminal record? If they wanted to send somebody after you, I’m pretty sure…”
And he didn’t even seem like he was listening. To busy just fixing me with a deathglare and stepping out to come closer. Maybe buying him a drink hadn’t been that great of an idea.
Demetrius came right up next to me, but instead of getting louder and hitting me, he just pushed his index finger into my chest and lowered his voice to a hiss, speaking through clenched teeth. “You can go back and tell them that I don’t care how many more tricks they pull, I’m notgiving up on looking for her. I’m goingto get her back. Alright?”
His hair hung into his face, partly obscuring his eyes, but that didn’t stop his gaze from burning into me, searing that moment in my memory. The circles under his eyes, the stony set of his stubble-covered jaw. The tear tracks down his cheeks.
I couldn’t think of anything to say, I just stared at him for a few more seconds. “I-I… Demetrius, I promise I’m not…”
“Shut up,” he muttered, the fiery anger in his tone fading as he turned back away. “Just leave me alone.” He started for the door, pulling out his pocketwatch with his shaking hand and fiddling with the dials. Another second and he was out the door and gone into the night.
And one of the pub patrons who hadn’t been there a few minutes before stood from his seat, picking up his bag. His gaze stayed fixed on the door, and I noticed that he hadn’t taken so much as a sip of his drink. I also noticed the familiar jangling sound of handcuffs from his bag.
This was the kind of thing I’d been watching the door for.
And this was also why I wasn’t going to leave Demetrius alone.
I kept an eye on the man as he stalled for another minute, then followed behind him as he started out the door and down a quiet side street after Demetrius.
As a mercenary, I’d been through this same thing a million times. As a historian, he definitely hadn’t. He just about passed out as he heard me cocking my gun to his back. His hands went straight up in the air and he made a little whimpering noise.
“Shhh, I don’t want to kill anybody,” I said quietly. “Just trying to make a point. And I’ve got a couple of messages I need you to pass on. Can you do that for me?”
The man nodded vigorously, not turning around. His knees were shaking.
“I’ve got one message from the guy you were just chasing. You can tell the society that he’s not giving up looking for his wife, no matter how many more tricks they pull. You got that one?”
“And the other message is from me. You tell them that Gia Harkman’s big brother has Demetrius Morrow’s back. And he’s not going to let the same thing happen again.”
So that’s what I’ve got for you guys today. Hope you enjoyed! And I’ll hopefully be back with more soon. ❤
Any more backstory bits you’d like to see? Favorite bits from this one? Comment below!