This story is by C. M. Machado and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The scheduled day arrived when Tempest’s spirit was to choose a body and join the terrestrial realm. She’d be able to inhabit the world of the living for only twenty-four hours. During that interval, she’d enjoy everything the living did with one exception. She couldn’t get involved with any human. It was the most inviolable cardinal rule.
Tempest was aware I’d be in tow as the official Timekeeper. In the past, some of these spirits had overstayed their allotted time in the earthly realm. Knowing Tempest and her antics, I knew she’d attempt to elude me, so I couldn’t let my guard down. Hence the reason I came into play in this venture. In Tempest’s case, I had to bump up my vigilance to protect her.
This spirit’s name befitted her unpredictable behavior. She was an excitable, uncontrollable and capricious young spirit—a handful. So, what I lacked in agility, I made up with my razor sharp wit to outsmart her. It would be one of the most challenging assignments I had undertaken in the longest time.
The job of formal Timekeeper fell on my lap as soon as I arrived to this spiritual domain. In my former life, I always obsessed about time and its passage. The Grand High Exulted Mystic Spirit of our realm thought the title suited me well. But, you may wonder why the strict time vigilance.
The time restriction was important. These incorporeal beings inhabited a timeless and untethered domain wherein this timelessness offered them sustenance. Their essence prevailed because they weren’t bound by the passage of time like humans.
Spirits that exceeded their preset time in the earthly realm wouldn’t be able to return to the spiritual domain. The punishment for noncompliance—eternal damnation of their condemned souls to the dark Afterworld. Here they’d remain anchored in the form of gargoyles with no hope for redemption. I refused to allow this to happen to Tempest on my watch.
The transition took place, and I accompanied Tempest in my spiritual state. She materialized into a beautiful olive-skinned woman with exotic facial features and long black hair. I already sensed trouble relating to this choice, but refrained from meddling.
To her dismay, she was to roam only a particular area in the world of the living. So as an extra measure, I got an aura locator and a high-frequency pitch emitter. The former gave me the freedom to locate her essence, and the latter alerted Tempest of my presence. These devices offered a limited distance range, so I had to make sure I maintained a consistent proximity to her.
We arrived at our designated area of terra firma via a black beam invisible to humans. For the time of this venture, I was only visible to Tempest. I began my watch from a discreet distance so she wouldn’t see me. I used the pitch emitter, whose sound irritated her, as a sure way of making my presence known. I’d then change position throwing her off my new location.
I thought I had it all figured out until I saw her walking into a museum within the assigned area. It was mid-morning, and the museum was teeming with people. Tempest sauntered up the main entrance marble staircase entering the grand hall. She looked around and slinked past the admissions area into a gallery. There was a group of people to her right gathered in a semi-circle around a large oil painting.
Tempest headed in their direction and wedged her way through the group. She stopped in the middle standing out like a sore thumb, for she was the tallest one among them. The tour guide’s back was to the spectators, but she could see and hear him well from her vantage point. Once he turned to face the group, their eyes locked. Tempest moved through the group. It was as if a strong magnetic force pulled her toward the tour guide.
He stood transfixed without being able to utter a word. The confused spectators looked at one another. She got to the spot and stood in front of him batting her long, black eyelashes in a seductive fashion. His blue eyes lit up. Seeing this reaction from my vantage point, I already knew this would be trouble. I needed to think fast and figure out how to divert Tempest’s attention.
As I was ready to use the pitch emitter, a sudden rumble erupted and everything swayed and shook. People dispersed in a panic while they screamed and ran to the nearest exits. Security guards and other museum personnel were yelling instructions above the screams of the public. Tempest grabbed the tour guide’s hand and said, “I’m Tempest. What’s your name?”
“Armand,” he said, eyes wide as saucers.
“Well, Armand, let’s make a run for it!”
As if on cue, he pulled Tempest toward a doorway he knew wasn’t jammed with people trying to escape. In a matter of seconds, an earthquake had caused total pandemonium. It was enough for her to outdistance me since my aura locator lost total reception making my pitch emitter also useless. Tempest was at large.
I transported myself searching for her in the bright morning sun. I stopped to get my bearings once a full moon appeared in the night sky. Finagling once more with my aura locator, as I’d done on numerous occasions throughout my search, I succeeded in resetting it this time. It gave a signal leading me to an art deco apartment building not far from my location.
I saw Tempest with Armand in one of the apartments. She was sitting on a black couch wearing only a man’s shirt. Armand was shirtless. I remained ensconced from Tempest’s view by positioning myself in a strategic area. There, I could also hear their conversation.
“Thanks to the earthquake, I got out of the museum,” Tempest said with a malicious smirk.
“Why do you say that?” asked Armand, furrowing his brow and sitting next to her. “You make it sound like somebody was following you.”
“No. No one was following me,” she said, averting his gaze. She wasn’t going to divulge her provenance and, much less, her disregard for the cardinal rule.
Tempest had indulged in the carnal pleasure of Armand’s company. She shouldn’t have done it, but she did. She justified her actions with the knowledge that it would take another century before she’d have the chance to return to this earthly realm. There were never enough bodies available for all the spirits wanting to jump into them. She moved in closer to Armand longing for more. A high-frequency sound, too familiar to Tempest, catapulted her from the sofa. She knew I’d found her.
I saw her trying to redress herself as she picked up her strewn clothes from the floor. Armand followed her, his arms flailing up in the air, “What’s happening? Why are you leaving?” She disregarded his questions as she scrambled around the apartment.
Consulting my hourglass, the sand was trickling down too fast now. Tempest only had minutes. It was then I blasted my pitch emitter, which made her freeze and acknowledge my presence.
“Whadda you want, Timekeeper?” she asked, clenching her jaw.
“Tempest, you’ve been selfish in having broken the cardinal rule. We must prepare for our journey back via the black beam. Once in our domain, your punishment will be meted out. There’s not much time left.”
“Try and stop me!” Tempest snapped.
Armand looked around confused. “Whom are you talking to, Tempest?”
“Myself and you now. I’m outta here,” she said, looking at me with a sardonic smile.
She turned and bolted out the door disregarding Armand’s frantic calls. I recognized she had no intentions of cooperating. She darted for the stairs and found a back exit on the ground floor. Tempest sprinted through an alley leading to the other side of the street. My locator was picking up her every move. Having the advantage of flight, I hovered over her like a helicopter for she’d try to disappear again.
I tried telepathy to make her aware of the little time remaining. I then realized it was useless to attempt this type of communication with a human. I blasted my pitch emitter to stop her. She put her hands over her ears and continued running down the long sidewalk. She was out of control with no sign of stopping.
I then navigated ahead of Tempest trying to block her from escaping. From my vantage point, I saw a gaping hole forming in front of her path. In her frenzy to dodge me, it went unnoticed by her, and she fell into the cavernous pit. She had run out of time. Her screams became more inaudible as she descended further and further. All I could do was watch from above as the void closed and engulfed her. The horror would haunt me, for it came to pass on my watch.