Published: July 15th, 2018
Somebody wanted Minerva Rus dead. They succeeded. But Minerva isn’t letting a little thing like death stop her.
After the dangerous adventure that killed her in Memortality, Minerva Rus has reconciled herself to being dead. She and her also-dead boyfriend Raven share an amazing gift that allows them to bring the dead back to life―including each other. Now that Jules, their most dangerous enemy, has been banished from reality and trapped inside her own mind, Minerva and Raven plan on enjoying the eternity of their unnatural lives.
But immortality isn’t safe. Minerva and Raven’s life-giving powers mysteriously fade, forcing them to take refuge in The Between, a shadowy realm of memories that lies between life and death. What’s more, their old adversary Jules is on the loose, partnered with a resurrected Nazi scientist planning a monstrous experiment that will change the destiny of the human race. And now it’s up to a 21-year-old dead girl to save the world―again.
Maybe Raven shouldn’t have been so confident. Sure, he could get them back to his parents’ home in the Between. No problem. What could go wrong?
Distraction was one thing that could go wrong—very wrong, as it turned out. As he focused his memory on his parents, he was reminded of a story his mother had read to him when he was young. His parents didn’t just read him normal bedtime stories; they read him detailed biographies, historical accounts, ancient myths. The goal wasn’t merely to entertain or send him off to sleep: They were ways to exercise his memory. His parents knew about his gift, and they needed it to stay alive, but they had also wanted him to know as much as he could about the world. “You’ll have an entire library inside your head!” his mother had once told him.
It had seemed like a good idea at the time. And it had been. But now it had caused his mind to wander at precisely the wrong time. His parents had once read him a series of stories that seemed, in the present moment, to have diverted him from his intended destination to … here.
Just like the first time he’d entered the Between, he found himself in a forest. But unlike the first visit, when the forest seemed to shift and shudder, this one seemed very much like a real place. The ground felt firm, the sky blocked the sun with a shield of gray clouds, and beside him stood an enormous oak tree spreading in all directions.
“Okay, what just happened?” Mineva asked.
Raven shook his head as he looked around, trying to get his bearings. “I’m not quite sure, Min.”
“Where are we?”
Raven didn’t answer because where he thought they were didn’t seem possible.
“I don’t know, exactly,” he said. “How are you feeling?”
“Better,” Minerva said. “You were right. I think coming here might have allowed us to save some of our strength.”
There was a rustling in the underbrush off to their right. Raven looked over in time to see a brown hare scurrying away. The hare appeared to have been startled by a rapid, rhythmic tapping from high up in a nearby birch: the sound of a woodpecker announcing its territory. A nuthatch in a nearby rowan tree abandoned its perch, as did a jay, which began chasing it for sport.
A moment later, there was another rustling nearby, and Raven realized it might not have been the woodpecker that had spooked the hare and the other birds. This rustling seemed farther away, but grew louder as something trampled on fallen leaves. The sound seemed to rip through the thick woods.
Raven and Minerva instinctively took a few steps backward, sheltering under the massive oak As they did, a twelve-point royal stag burst through a thicket off to their right, bounding past them in a rush of hooves and antlers. Raven found his back hugging the tree as he watched the animal fly past, turning his eyes again toward the place where it had emerged as he heard the sound of branches breaking. Something, or someone, was in pursuit.
An instant later, a small man wearing a dirty green cloak over a brown shirt emerged from the thicket. The horse he rode, an unremarkable light brown steed of average size, hadn’t been prepared for the sight of Minerva and Raven just a few steps off its intended course. It reared and nearly threw the man from its back, breaking off the chase. It danced nervously in a circle, backing away from the two strangers.
“Wearg rounsey!” the man said under his breath in a voice that, even in just those two words, they could tell was thickly accented. He dismounted hurriedly and stomped to the place where his hat had landed in the dirt. “Wearg haet!”
The man seemed scarcely to be paying attention to them. Raven took Minerva’s hand and started inching toward the other side of the tree. If they could get clear of his field of vision, they could perhaps go unnoticed. He obviously had a temper, and there was no use antagonizing him.
“What language is that?” Minerva asked, leaning in to whisper in Raven’s ear.
“English, I think. He said something that sounded like ‘hat,’ and ‘rounsey’ … I think that’s a kind of horse.”
The man walked up to the horse, which had calmed and stood minding its own business. He swatted at its hindquarters with the cap. The horse, taking offense, whinnied loudly and ran off.
Minerva continued her conversation with Raven mind to mind. Better not to draw any more attention than necessary. That’s not like any English I’ve ever heard. What does “wearg” mean?
Probably dammit, or maybe something worse.
The man had turned and was staring straight at them, pointing with a drawn sword. He approached in a measured stride that was as ominous as it was methodical.
Minerva looked at Raven.
I have no idea. Either he wants us to stand where we are, or he thinks we’re astounding. Maybe both?
“No comprendo,” Minerva ventured.
That won’t work. He’s not speaking Spanish.
Well, it’s the only other language I know any words in. You got a better idea?
Raven had to admit he didn’t. What was bothering him was the fact that he’d obviously taken them someplace in the Between where he didn’t know the language. That meant this place somehow existed independently, at least to some degree. It was more a destination than a creation, which meant he had less control than he would have if they had landed in his own memory.
The man stopped a few paces away, looking them up and down. The anger seemed to have drained from his face as recognition dawned.
“By the beads of the blessed Mary, thou art one of those!”
Now he’s speaking like Shakespeare, Minerva offered.
Maybe he’s bilingual?
“I’d attempt no escape, were I thou. Anon, mine own men hast encircled this clearing.”
“We mean no harm,” Raven said, putting his hands down and opening his palms in front of him. “I don’t even know how we got here.”
“You got here by remembering, lad.” Now his language was closer to modern English, but still with the same thick accent. He stroked his scruffy chin. “I’d say … southwest side of the New World, about the nineteen-hundred and eightieth year of our lord.”
“Close,” Minerva said. “L.A. area, 2016.”
He put his cap back on without bothering to dust it. It was plain from his body odor that he’d gone without bathing for days. Or weeks.
“Can’t get ’em all right,” he shrugged. “The gifted and revived come here from all times. We try to make sense of their tongues when they land, and we do a fair job of it. Those of us who are gifted pick them up quickly enough.”
So, he’s gifted, Minerva commented.
Guess so. Looks like there are more of us than we thought.
The man turned and put two fingers to his lips, letting go a shrill whistle. Almost at once, three men emerged from the undergrowth. Two of them were shorter than Raven and Minerva, barely five and a half feet, but the third was a bear of a man who looked a full foot taller and significantly bigger around than either of his companions.
The man they’d been talking to, who appeared to be their leader, stepped toward Raven. “I believe introductions are in order,” he said, extending his hand to grip Raven’s. “I’ll begin with myself. Roger is the name, and these are my lands.” He made a sweeping gesture with his hand.
“Roger,” said Raven, more than a hint of skepticism in his voice. “I would have sworn your name would be …”
Minerva finished the sentence for him: “Robin Hood?”
About the author:
Stephen H. Provost is a veteran editor, reporter and columnists with more than 30 years of experience at daily newspapers in California. He’s currently the managing editor of The Cambrian on the Central Coast, as well as a columnist and assistant city editor for The Tribune in San Luis Obispo.
As an author, he has written historical nonfiction (“Fresno Growing Up” and “Highway 99: The History of California’s Main Street”), novels (“Memortality” and “Identity Break”), while also exploring the realms of mythology, fable and ancient history.
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