In Following Footsteps
Julie had these prompts to choose from:
Amy- The first taste of coffee in the morning
Cameron- I got a flat iron and a curling iron for my birthday.
Erika- Pigs in a blanket
Jen- Just another maniac Monday
Wendy- I’ve been cloned!
Took a while, but finally settled on Cameron’s. As always, these things never turn out as planned…
Once, when I was 14, I got a flat iron and a curling iron for my birthday.
They were hot pink – like Barbie’s dream Porche pink – with pictures of smiling white girls on the packaging, smiling their perfect white-toothed smiles and flaunting limp wristed grips while they curled and flattened their hair. “Be the envy of your friends”, the package said, “Look beautiful and fabulous!”
I remember them because I hated the gift, given to me by my aunt, whose mission in life was to make me into a proper young lady.
But I didn’t want to be a proper young lady. I wanted to take the world by storm, go on exciting adventures mixed with a dash of danger.
So, when my grandmother passed away and left me an amulet that let me travel through dimensions (apparently, she was quite the trans-dimensional explorer in her day – a different story for a different time), I thought Finally, some excitement.
But, right now, I’d rather have the flat iron/curling iron combo.
Blood runs down my leg, oozing from a deep gouge on my hip and staining my clothes. The metallic smell draws swarming insects out from their hiding place in the thick jungle.
I have no clue where I am. There hadn’t been any time to calibrate the amulet before I used it, not when I’d been fleeing for my life (apparently, there are some ‘verses where they frown upon a young woman touching a married man’s right shoulder – how was I supposed to know?). I’d landed on a steep slope, slick with mud after a recent rainstorm. There’d been no time to catch my balance before I tumbled down, rolling over rocks and tree roots, injuring my hip in the process.
I’m a mess of bruises and open wounds and there’s nothing I can do but keep moving while I wait for the amulet to recharge. It’s better than being a sitting duck in the middle of the jungle, but not by much.
I’ve said it once, but I’ll say it again: dimension hopping is a bitch.
I long for a machete. The foliage is thick and oppressive and every leaf feels slimy as I push past it. I’ve never wanted to chop something down so badly in my entire life. Hell, I’d settle for napalm if it got rid of these stupid trees.
I limp along for a while. I hear monsters in every distant noise, every ripple of wind. I hate this place. The sooner I’m gone, the better.
But the amulet takes a day to charge. How am I going to survive a day? I don’t know anything about wilderness survival.
I push my way through a thick bush and into a clearing. Half a moment later, I scream.
They’re just standing there, waiting for me. 12 men (or, at least, I think they’re men), with spears clutched in hands covered in dark purple skin, their hair – silver – braided and hanging over their shoulders.
My first scream dies and, before I can let out the second one and run like hell, the front man speaks. “You are the one the Herald promised, are you not?”
Cool thing about the amulet is that it has some sort of translator built into it. Right now, that’s the only point in its favor. “Am I the what, now?”
“The promised one,” the man repeats. “With hair of night and skin of loam and this symbol upon your shoulder.” He raises his spear and traces a shape in the air, leaving a line of light in its wake. The light forms an ankh and something clutches at my heart. It’s the same symbol tattooed on my shoulder, a tipsy decision that I both regretted and celebrated at the same time. “It was foretold that you would be here at this time, yes?”
I press my lips together to keep from drawing my lower one between my teeth. I don’t really think I’m this “foretold one”. But what happens if I say I’m not? Best not find out. “Sure, it was foretold.”
The leader cocks his head to one side and raises his free hand in a fist. He turns to the rest of the group and they let out a series of chattering yips. I don’t know if this is a good thing, but it’s a damn unnerving sound. The leader looks back to me. “I am Surac, chieftain of the Vendri.” He pauses and looks over me. “You are injured. Come, our dwelling is not far from here. Shallah will heal you, yes?”
I smile and let out a weak laugh before I can stop it. “Sounds great.”
Their dwelling is not the straw-and-mud hut village I expected. Instead, I’m guided to a small, walled city. The buildings are made of light grey stone with azure flecks that shimmer beneath the light filtering through the trees. Through the city gate, I see a crowd gathered and, when I step into view, trailing behind my escort, the crowd falls beneath a wave of silence. It’s clear, whatever these people think I am, that they’ve been waiting for me for a long time. My skin crawls at the feel of a thousand pair of eyes all focused on me and I try to smile, but it’s hard when I feel like I’m under a microscope.
Surac steps forward and, for a moment, I’m not the center of attention. “My dear Vendri, our burden is at an end!” he calls out. The city square fills with the same chattering yips that unnerved me earlier, only now it’s much creepier in stereo.
Surac holds up a fist and the sound dies down. “500 suns ago, we were besieged by a wasting sickness that nearly doomed us all. The Herald came to us in our time of crisis. He healed us of our disease and gave us the teachings to discover even more potent cures. For this, he asked no reward. But we are a proud people and we demanded to know how we could repay him. ‘On the 8th passing of Khelet,’ the Herald said, ‘She will appear, with hair of night and skin of loam and a symbol on her shoulder. Lead her to my Legacy and your debt will be repaid.’”
Surac pauses and, though I can’t see his face, he holds himself with his head held high and shoulders back. Pride radiates from every inch of his frame. “We will be without the shame of debt once more!” The chattering yips start up again, louder than before.
Hands grab at my arms and I look to either side at the men who’ve grabbed me. Their grips are gentle and it’s the only thing keeping me from screaming. “Come, Heralded One. You require healing. Shallah’s lodging is this way.”
The hours pass in a blur. Shallah, a diminutive woman with short, ice-white hair pinned carefully around her ears, heals the wound on my hip with some sort of salve that leaves my skin unblemished, as if I’d never been injured at all – there’s not even a scar. They bathe me and clothe me and hold a feast in my honor. I wear a wrap, like all the other women, with one shoulder exposed, made of fabric dyed the deepest red I’ve ever seen. All sorts of food pass before me and, so as not to offend anyone, I try them all.
I try to smile and relax through the ceremony, but it’s hard when I have no clue what they expect of me. Countless people come up to me where I sit at the head table, next to Surac. They press their hands to mine and thank me for relieving them of their burden. Old women leave dry kisses on my cheeks and pat the top of my head. It’s not long before I’m passed overwhelmed from the attention.
And, when the feast finally dies down, Surac and his wife lead me to their abode, where they give me a covered pallet raised off the ground. I’m asleep almost before my head hits the feathered pillow.
The Herald’s Legacy looms large in front of me. It took two hours to get here from the village and now, Surac and I stand on one end of a narrow, stone bridge. Behind us, Surac’s honor guard stands 20 feet away at the far edge of the clearing around us.
“They won’t come any closer,” Surac says. “We are not worthy to cross to the other side. The end of this bridge is as far as one such as myself can even go. To go further would be blasphemous. Only you can move on from here.”
I smile at Surac. “You are freed from your debt.”
It was the best thing I could say to Surac. The relief that passes over his face is palpable. His eyes close, his head bows, and the tension melts from him. His is not a people that likes owing anyone anything. A proud people, indeed. “Go, Heralded One,” he says with a toothy grin. “Face your destiny. I will send someone to this clearing at this time every day for the next 10 days to see if you return. After that, we will assume you are lost.”
I bite back a smile. I don’t plan on coming out of the large stone temple that sits on the other side of the bridge, but he doesn’t know that. “Thank you, Surac.”
He nods at me and turns to go back to his guards. I watch until they disappear back into the jungle. After a few moments, the sounds of their movement fade and I’m left by myself with the noises of a jungle and a giant temple behind me.
Lichen and vines grow over the same pale grey stone that Surac’s village is built from. It reminds me of a Mayan step pyramid, with the apex reaching past the tops of the trees. There are no statues, nothing carved into the stone. Or, if there were, those carving have long faded away.
I worry my lower lip between my teeth. The amulet’s ready to go, but curiosity nags at me. What’s in the temple that was apparently left for me hundreds of years ago?
Well, I wanted adventure. What kind of adventurer would I be if I didn’t take a peek?
The buzzing of insects augments the calls and chatter of birds in the canopy and the sounds echo around me as I cross the stone bridge. A peek over the side shows a deep, dry moat, maybe 100 feet down with smooth, sheer sides. I gulp and pull back to the middle of the bridge. I may have forgot to mention that I have a tiny fear of heights.
I hurry across as fast as I dare and, soon, I’m standing inside the mouth of the temple’s entrance. A long hallway stretches out away from me, pristine and devoid of life. It’s like I’ve stepped into the cleanest Indiana Jones movie I’ve ever seen.
The sounds of the jungle fade the further I walk into the temple and soon the only thing I hear besides my own footsteps is the faint rushing of air passing through stone. The stone gives off some sort of ambient light, like it’s glowing from within, but at least I don’t have to worry about feeling my way in the dark.
The hallway turns, a sharp 90 degree to the right, and leads to a staircase. Compared to the jungle outside, the air inside the pyramid is cool and the thin wrap I wear does nothing to keep me warm. I’m trying not to mourn the loss of my clothes, but the goosebumps that pebble my skin betray my efforts. I rub my hands up and down my arms as I descend.
After the stairs level off, there’s just one more, long hallway that opens up into a central chamber. A low ceiling stretches out in front of me, supported by a handful of thick, square columns. A gleaming pedestal stands in the center of the room, the only point of interest. My instincts say “trap” – once again, Indiana Jones comes to mind – but I find myself making a beeline straight for the shiny. What can I say? I’m an easy sell.
The slap of my sandaled feet on the cool stone bounces back and forth between the stone columns as I move forward. It’s maybe 50 feet from the hallway to the pedestal that’s captured my interest.
The gleam comes from a silver tablet that rests on top. On the tablet, there’s a circular button on the middle of the bottom edge and a series of 10 divots that create a circle on the square surface of the tablet. A small bracelet, also silver, sits just off to the side on the corner of the pedestal. But, as interesting as both of those objects might be, it’s what’s etched into the stone on the pedestal’s edge that sends my heart into my throat.
“Sayuri, press the button.”
Etched in English, addressed to me, the words brand themselves onto my brain. How? How is this possible?
I press the button with a shaking finger. The tablet clicks, the divots shift and slide open. Diffuse light shines up from the newly formed holes. Motes of dust float in the beams as the light coalesces to form an image, a hologram.
It’s a man, looking off to the side, and his gaze casts about as he adjusts something off screen. But I don’t care what he’s doing; I’m too caught up in the fact that I recognize the man in the image. A lump forms in my throat and I have to blink away the beginning of tears from the corners of my eyes. “Papa?”
As if the image hears me, the face of my father turns to look at me. A small smile pulls at the corner of his lips, sad and tender at the same time. He looks almost the same as he does in my memories – a little greyer at the temples, maybe, but he hasn’t aged much from the last time I saw him.
I was 5 the day my father left to go to work and never came home. His car was found in the parking lot of a nearby mall, with nothing wrong with it. He was listed as missing for years before the police declared.
“Sayuri, my little momo-chan.” The image speaks and I can’t stop the tears. Suddenly, I’m 4 years old again, in my father’s arms, as he presses messy kisses to my cheeks and pretends he’s eating them up. I was a fuzzy child, with very round cheeks. My father called me “his momo-chan” – little peach. After he disappeared, no one else ever called me that again.
“I know it’s been a long time since you’ve seen me and it kills me to know I missed watching my sweet daughter grow up. If you’re seeing this, it means you’ve discovered your grandmother’s amulet and you’ve started exploring the multiverse.” Papa pauses and sighs. “It also means that you’re wondering what happened to me and how I knew to leave you this message in this place.”
I chuckle through the thickness in my throat and let out a sniffle. “That’s an understatement.” I can’t stop my voice from trembling and I don’t know why I even speak.
“It’s not going to be easy to explain, and there’s not enough time.” Here, Papa breaks for a dry, humorless laugh, one my limited memories I have of him don’t recall. “Now, that’s irony.” He shakes his head with another breathy chuckle before he looks me in the eye again – or, rather, the image of him looks me in the eye. My heart doesn’t want to be reminded that what I’m seeing is from the past. I’ve forgotten how much I miss him and I’m realizing how raw the wound of his loss still is, even 20 years later.
“I wish I could tell you everything, and I wish I didn’t have to ask you to do what I’m about to, but we’re desperate, Sayuri.” There’s a long pause and the silence is the chamber is eerie. The need I have for the recording of my papa to speak again is all consuming.
“I was born 600 years after you were – 594 to be precise. And, at the time of this recording, it’ll be almost 500 years until you’re in this temple to watch it. So, I hope, by now, you’ve realized time travel is involved.” Papa closes his eyes and tilts his head down. “Problem is, something’s gone wrong. The threads between times and dimensions are unraveling; the multiverse is breaking. And there’s no one I can think of to fix it but you, momo-chan.” Papa’s voice hitches and he takes in a shaky breath. I stifle a sob.
“The bracelet doubles as a transporter, keyed to a specific time and place. There will be someone waiting there for you, but it won’t be me. Our paths cannot cross again, momo-chan. I want nothing more than to help you down this path, but the timeline is too sensitive to risk any unnecessary tampering.” Papa leans closer to whatever lens is capturing his image, his lips pressed in a stern line. I can see the shimmer of tears in his eyes. “Everyone needs you, Sayuri. Take the bracelet. Activate it, please.” I cover my mouth and press my lips together at the sound of Papa pleading. “Know that I wish things could have been different. I love you.”
The image disappears. “No!” The sob bursts through before I can contain it. It’s the only one I let through. I curl my fingers, nails cutting into my palms, and struggle to breathe through my nose. I don’t want to cry anymore. God, I hate crying.
After a few moments, the immediate press of emotions simmers down and I’m left hollow, empty. With one hand wiping the tears from my cheeks, I reach out for the bracelet Papa left me, pinching it between my thumb and forefinger.
Like the tablet, the cuff bracelet is silver, maybe two inches wide with a gap large enough so I can slip it over my wrist. There’s a pattern etched into the metal, faint and almost indistinct, of smooth, curling lines. It’s beautiful, elegant and simple.
God, I don’t know what to do. I’m scared, confused, and all torn up inside. Papa’s asked me to save the multiverse and I don’t even know how to go about doing that.
But, still. Papa asked me. And the little girl inside of me is saying “yes” loud and clear.
This isn’t going to be easy, I can already tell, but I know I can’t say no. I know I’m going to put this bracelet on and go on a journey to save all of creation.
And so, with a shaking breath, I slip the bracelet on over my left wrist.
When she’s not slogging her way through grad school, Julie is finishing up work on her first novel. You can find her attempts at blogging at japetersenblog.wordpress.com.