Chapter 10 of the Stone of Tantalus is live!

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Here’s the first scene…

Jason stood before the mirror, razor in hand, and couldn’t get past the idea he was stealing another man’s life. Sure, that man was himself, but that didn’t make it easier. Somewhere in the multiverse, the Jason that belonged here was having to adjust to another life—one that might not be as appealing as this one.

Patches of scar tissue—gnarled and twisted, though few in number—peeked through the shaving cream on his face. It had taken a long time to get used to shaving such a topography, but after nearly a year of practice he almost never nicked himself anymore. At least no hair grew in those areas for him to remove. If it had, he would have just grown a beard and called it a day.

“Are you going to stand there all day, or can I get to the sink?” Kathy stood in the doorway to the little bathroom with her arms crossed, a towel in hand, and a smirk on her face. “That mug isn’t going to shave itself, you know.”

Jason faced her and raised an eyebrow, most of which had grown back. “I was just noticing that I seem to be getting prettier, while you just keep getting older.”

With a practiced flip, she threw the towel in his face.

“Aw, man. Now I’ve got to start over,” he said, feigning hurt and dismay, as he cleaned the lather from his face.

“Keep it up, buster, and I’ll go on your fishing trip with you guys.”

“Oh, hell no. There’s not enough bug spray in the state to keep you happy, sweetheart.” He smiled again and tossed the damp towel back at her, which she neatly dodged.

She watched it hit the floor. “Be sure to pick that up, dear,” she said. “And this time put it in the hamper, instead of just laying it on top.”

Jason smiled back at her and sighed, happy for the first time in years. He picked up the can of shaving gel, squirted a dollop into his hand, and lathered his face once again. He picked up the razor and got to work. After clearing his mostly undamaged neck, he began to tackle the rough terrain of his face. Kathy watched him with a warm smile.

“Who’s going with you this time?”

“Jay, of course, and Phil. I talked Dr. Ambrose into meeting us at the docks.”

Kathy tilted her head. “Dr. Ambrose is going fishing?”

“Oh he’s probably going out, but the man doesn’t really fish. He says the only real reason a man fishes these days is to have an excuse to sit quietly, eat sandwiches, and drink beer without the missus bothering him.”

Kathy laughed. It sounded like church bells ringing on a clear morning when she laughed. “He and I have a lot in common, then. I always thought fishing and golf were invented to get away from the wives.”

“Can’t help it if those places are not your natural habitat.” Jason finished raking his face smooth with one last flip of the razor, and grabbed his towel from the hook beside the sink. As he cleaned the last of the shaving cream from his face, he turned to allow Kathy to squeeze by while they exchanged places.

“About damn time,” she muttered, passing him. Jason knew she would camp out there for the next half-hour or so, but at least he got in first this time. Going after… well, that would put a crimp in any man’s schedule. He stood there watching her and pondered something he had been mulling over for some time, even though he already knew what she would say.

“Kat, do you think we need a bigger place?”

She stopped what she was doing and screwed up her mouth for a second, then shook her head. “Bigger place, bigger problems,” she said. “We do fine here.”

“You sound just like your dad, sometimes.”

Her face clouded for an instant, then cleared. “Well, sometimes he’s right.”

“Babe, don’t you think we could be more comfortable in a larger place?”

“Of course we could, but that’s not a good enough reason.”

“Look, we’re both working, and there’s some money left over from all the donations we got while I was in the hospital. I just thought—”

“That money is for emergencies… period.” She turned to Jason, her eyes soft and her voice husky and deep, “You spend too much time thinking about now, and not enough thinking about tomorrow.”

She was right. He had always thought about only the now, never about the future. What was the point? Whatever future this Jason had, it would not be his forever. Why not enjoy now? Tomorrow might see him panhandling under an overpass. Or as a vegetable in intensive care. Or spending his days alone, not married to the only woman he ever loved.

He couldn’t tell her any of this, though. Even if she understood, the decisions he made would continue to impact her life long after he was gone. For the first time he understood real people were affected by the things he did as another Jason, and they had to live with those actions long after he left for a new reality. Each trip sideways washing him clean. Can the next universe’s God grant absolution for what I do in the this one? he wondered.

“Are you okay?” She leaned toward him, hand outstretched to touch his shoulder.

“I’m fine, babe.” He smiled back at her, trying to recapture the humor of the last few minutes. “You’re right. If we moved to a bigger place, we would need a maid… and you never know how that would work out.”

She laughed and waggled her eyebrows. “Don’t forget the pool boy. Momma’s gotta have a pool boy.”


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