Novel Excerpt—The Stone of Tantalus

“Why haven’t you told your parents you’re here?”  Kat sat at the table, her back straight, picking at her salad while she spoke.

“I don’t know,” Jason shrugged,  “just didn’t want to talk to them about it, I guess.”  As a lie, it was close enough to the truth that he didn’t feel bad for deceiving her.  Other than Kat, he couldn’t face anyone in this reality.  They sat beside a large window, and he watched people walking along the sidewalks going about their daily lives.  All perfectly clueless to the greater universe around them.

He wished he were still one of them.

“A pretty big jump from football to physics, don’t you think?” she said, looking down at her plate.

“Don’t think I can handle it?”  He expected this reaction, but his other Kat would have never voiced it.

She stopped pushing her salad around the plate and looked up, saying, “Someone as dedicated to sports as you were rarely has time for another subject.  Especially something as time-consuming as quantum physics.”

“Quantum gravity, actually.”

“Specializing already?” she smiled.

“Well… the Many Worlds Interpretation is a special case arising from quantum gravity research.  That’s my area of specialization,” he said, smiling back.

“I see,” she said, placing her fork primly on the table beside the plate.  She laced her fingers in front of her, then rested her chin on them.  Jason nearly laughed at her “tell me more of your silly plans” posture.  He witnessed this many times while they were dating.

“I’ve got a question for you,” he said, trying to change the subject, “why aren’t we having lunch with your boyfriend?”

“Oh… well,” she sat back, “let’s just say he didn’t handle the separation during the summer very well, and leave it at that.”

“Ah,” he said, nodding.  “Got it.”  Boyfriends always screw up, he thought, with no small degree of satisfaction.  What he must not do, however, is smile about it.  He scooped a healthy forkful of his meal, and shoveled it into his mouth before that particular orifice got him into trouble.

“Speaking of not handling things well,” she began, then hesitated.  “Oh hell, I’ll just say it.  Your dad went ballistic at work about you leaving UT.”

She would know.  His dad worked for hers.

He swallowed hastily, then wiped his mouth with a napkin, and said, “Nothing I can do about that.”

“You could talk–”

“No I can’t,” he said, much harsher than he intended.


“Just drop it, okay?”

She stopped and stared at him for a few seconds, then shrugged her shoulders.  “Have it your way.”  She smiled thinly and added, “I guess I can relate to not being able to talk to one’s parents.”

That surprised him.  Her family was, though not wealthy in the classical sense, at least comfortable.  In his old universe they always had money for whatever she needed, and spent a lot of time supporting her various school activities.  Compared to his, they were damn near perfect.  Sure, they were strict, but this was the first time he’d heard of any discontent in the Nichols household.  When he first crossed over, he believed that all the changes to each universe were strictly local; ripples on a pond, flattening as they spread from the central point of change.  Is it possible a single person could have so much effect on the people peripheral to them?  He hoped not.

He opened his mouth to say something, but a noise outside their window stopped him.  The sound registered as overtaxed brakes locking four tires to the pavement, rubber squealing as the heavy truck did its best to stop.  But there was no stopping this juggernaut, and before Jason’s brain processed the sound as a danger signal, the truck slammed into and through the plate glass beside their table.  The large sheet of glass and its frame collapsed inward, and the truck pushed through as if it weren’t even there, scattering the other patrons and pulling down a rain of ceiling tile.  Jason was just outside the area of impact, tossed aside like a rag doll, but Kat took the full force of the beast head-on.

Seconds passed before Jason gathered enough of his wits to call out to Kat.  Pieces of the building were still falling, and the truck’s horn was stuck on a single pitch–the other having been destroyed on impact.  He looked where their table had been, but saw no sign of her, and he began pulling pieces of ceiling tile and glass shards from the floor in a desperate search.

He found her near the back of the room under what was left of their table.  There was no obvious sign of injury, but a single look at her glassy stare and he knew.  Kneeling beside her, then crumbling to the floor, he sat and lifted her head into his lap, stroking her hair as he cried.  The ripples of causality grew, becoming vast waves crashing against a ruined and crumbling shore.  Everything they touched shattered and fell, etching the shores of time and creating new boundaries with the sea of realities.  Jason felt a familiar pull, and bent to kiss his love one last time, then welcomed the engulfing darkness as he fell into the yawning abyss.


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