Promptly Penned ~ September

A new school year ~ possibly the last high school year for one of my kids. How did that happen? My youngest is hoping to grad a year early…and I know she’ll do it. Which means my last year of running kids back and forth to school.

That’s not what this post is about but damn it, I’m in shock. Anyway, it’s time for promptly penned. This month, it’s not something that works into the story, but rather a set up. Here’s the scenario…

You’re in an interrogation room. A man walks in and throws a bunch of photographs on the table in front of you. The photos are old and were taken at different points in history. You’re in each one. He demands to know who you are.

And here is the resulting story… and I used a woman instead of a man. Also, it’s a little tie in to Grave Measures, the first book in my Threshold series… one I’ll EVENTUALLY get back to, like all the others, sigh.

So, this is what an interrogation room looked like.

Branch Wells relaxed against the back of his chair, feet crossed at the ankles, hands resting idly on the table. He’d been escorted into the dingy room about thirty minutes, ago, with nothing more than a command to sit. Not that he’d expected pleasantries. He wasn’t a stranger to local law—he just hadn’t experienced it in this era.

What fucking year was it, again, anyway? Twenty-something. Maybe.

He blew out a raspy breath as he pinched away the growing headache building across the bridge of his nose. He’d made an unprecedented number of “leaps” in the past lunar cycle, and he was finding it hard to keep track of time. Which was ironic, since he was supposed to be a master of it.

Master of getting his ass in jail, was more like it. He’d had an unprecedented number of “interrogations” lately, too. Had been dragged into more places just like this than he wanted to admit to. But…trying to prevent future disasters wasn’t a pretty job—in fact, it was messy. Messy and bloody and downright ugly. If he had to smooth over a few ruffled feathers—knock a few officers, or agents, or whatever the hell they were called in this time, this place, on their asses, he was up for the task. He just hoped he didn’t have to do anything too…drastic.

The door opened, the telltale screech of hinges making his eye twitch. Didn’t this era have some fucking lube?

He smiled at the thought. He doubted they had the kind of lube he wanted.

A woman appeared in the doorway. Manila folder in one hand, cell in the other. Her long auburn hair was pulled up into a ponytail, the ends curling down her back. She was dressed in jeans and a sweater—not what he’d expected. And the way she looked at him—something seemed off. The slight press of her lips, a nearly imperceptible narrowing of her eyes. She wasn’t like the other law enforcement personnel he’d encountered. He’d bet his ass on it.

She walked over to the table, kicking out a chair then sliding into it. She met his gaze, staring at him for several, awkward moments before lifting one corner of her mouth. “Mr…Smith?”

He smiled. The token name shouldn’t be amusing under these circumstances, but he got a damn kick out of it every time some government agent said it. A slap in the face to their own cultural stereotypes. “It’s Smyth…with a ‘y’.”

One perfectly shaped eyebrow lifted. “A ‘y’?”

”S. M. Y. T. H. Smyth. Not to be confused with Smith…with an ‘i’.”

A twitch of her lips. Not much. So slight most people wouldn’t have noticed. Or passed it off as a trick of the light. Maybe their imagination. But she’d wanted to smile. She nodded. “Got it. Thanks.”

“And you are?”

“Agent Arrynn Baker. I’m with a division of Homeland Security called Threshold.”

Homeland Security? Threshold? What the hell did that mean? Though, he was fairly well-versed with most of the organizations in over a thousand time periods, he hadn’t ever dealt with Homeland Security, before.

Not a problem. She could be a ghost hunter for all he cared. Just another hoop to jump through. Misunderstanding to smooth over. And if that failed—he’d just do what he did best. Manipulate time. It was a last resort, of course. One he seemed to turn to more often than most. But, his superiors couldn’t argue with his results.

Branch nodded. “Good. Then, perhaps you can tell me what this is all about. The police didn’t have many answers.”

“Maybe you weren’t asking them the right questions?”

“Not sure how, ‘why am I sitting in here?’ could be confusing. But…if you say so, Agent Baker.”

Another twitch. Then, she was opening her folder. Spreading out a bunch of what looked like photographs. That’s what they were called, he thought. Nothing like that existed where he was from. They were too fragile. To easy lost or manipulated. Blood images forged from DNA strands. Those, you couldn’t fuck with.

The woman—Arrynn—tapped a delicate finger on each picture, her gaze pinned to his. “I believe you were brought in to explain this.”

Branch made a point of looking at them. Christ, how did anyone even tell what the damn image was? They were all grainy and scratched, half of them in black and white. They looked old, but that could just be the paper. He focused on her. “Explain what? Why you have a collection of crappy old photos?”

“More precisely, why I have a collection of crappy old photos with you in every one? A collection that dates back nearly a hundred years, yet, you look remarkably the same.”

Branch cursed inwardly. Shit. He should have seen this coming, but… But manipulating time was tricky. Required prolonged exposure to whatever era he was in. And it was nearly impossible to avoid leaving a trace behind, despite his best intentions, and skillset.

Arrynn raised a brow. “What? No witty comeback?”

“I’m not sure what it is you want, exactly. I mean…you’re suggesting I’m…what…a century old?”

“Thinking it’s more than that.”

He laughed. “You’re serious? You honestly think this is me?” He pointed to one of the photos. And yeah, now that he was staring at them, he could see his face. Clear as a fucking bell. Was that the expression? Either way, he was in them. All of them. Even his clothes were the same in a few.

Branch made a mental note to get a new damn wardrobe, as he interlaced his hands and placed them on the table. “Okay. Let’s say this is me. In all of these photos. How is that possible?”

“You tell me.”

“I’m the one who thinks you’re a nut job, so…”

Nothing. Not a hint of humor or fear. This Agent Baker was stone cold serious. “I’m not crazy. And that is you. I’m just trying to figure out what, exactly, you are.”

He frowned, then gasped as a she tossed a vial of liquid at him. It caught him in the face, dripping down his chin and onto his shirt. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. This wasn’t going at all well. She was staring at him, some kind of object in her hand that was hissing out static, her focus never wavering from his face.

Damn, she was a hunter. Or whatever they called people who believed in the paranormal here. And she wasn’t backing down.

Which meant a change in tactics.

Branch wiped a hand down his face, flicking off the remaining drops. “Did you seriously just dose me with Holy Water?”

“A lady can’t be too careful.”

“Of what? What is it you think I am? A vampire? Sorry, doll, not even close. And before you go getting out some shiny piece of silver, I’m not a werewolf or faery or whatever else you seem to think exists.”

“Oh, they exist. All of them. But, I’m sure you already know that. Okay, Mr. Smyth with a ‘y’. What are you, then? Because there’s only one explanation for how you can be in all of these photos. And we both know it’s not that your moisturizer is working.”

Well, fuck.

He sighed, then raised his hands. It didn’t look like much. Nothing anyone would take notice of. In fact, Agent Baker didn’t seem to realize anything had changed until she looked at his hand—saw the drop of water just hanging in the air. That’s when she bolted. Scrambled to her feet, drawing some weird gun from the waistband of her pants.

He tsked, staring down the barrel. “Really, Arrynn? I just stopped time, well, your perception of it, and you think some token piece of metal is going to hurt me?”

It would definitely leave a mark. Piss him off, but it wouldn’t kill him. Not that she needed to know any of the details.

Arrynn didn’t budge. Didn’t so much as blink. “Haven’t met a creature I can’t kill, yet.”

He placed a hand on his chest. “Creature? Ouch! Now, you’re just being mean. Relax. I’m not going to hurt you, but…you didn’t really give me a choice. I know your type. All balls-to-the-wall. Hair straight back.” He frowned. “You do say that, now, right? I sometimes get confused with what’s popular.”

“Who are you? What…are you?”

Branch slowly gained his feet, being sure to move at a pace that wouldn’t startle her. Then, he gave her a sweeping bow. “Branch Smyth, at your service. And you’d probably call me a Time Bender.”

“Time Bender?”


“I’m pretty intelligent. Feel free to use some big words.”

He laughed, again. “Damn, I like you. Not that I swing that way, but…you’re definitely entertaining. And basically, I leap to different periods—stages, as we call them—in an effort to thwart extinctions-level events. Ones that have already payed out in other realities.”

Her mouth gaped open then closed before she finally lowered the gun. “You’re saying you’re one of the good guys?”

“The original good guy. Though, this does complicate things. I don’t generally operate with others fully cognoscente of my presence. Of who and what I am. That does put a wrench in my current assignment. Unless…” He thumbed his lower lip. It was against protocol, but he wasn’t one to actually follow the rules—not when the fate of the world was involved.

She gazed at the drop, then up at his face. “Unless…what?”

“Unless you were willing to help? I’ve had a bloody hard time finding someone. Maybe, with your connections, you could steer me in the right direction.”

She snorted. “So, I’m just supposed to believe you? That you’re not some evil prick that’s going to turn us all into pudding?”

“I’m more of a Jell-o man. And that’s more science fiction, than truth. Besides, you have your proof.” He waved at the photos. “I’ve obviously been here a dozen times that you know of—Earth’s still standing. Humans still running around.”

She stared at him, then sighed, sinking back into the chair. “Shit, I need a drink.”

“If you’ll help me get out of here, I’ll buy.”

“And if I unwittingly screw the human race over?”

“Oh, doll. If I wanted everyone dead, I’d simply vanish. Because you’re about to do that all on your own.”

“You make it sound like I don’t have a choice.”

“There’s always a choice. I’m just hoping you pick the one where we’re friends, and not where I spin things back a few hours and avoid this entire meeting.” He leaned in. “I really could use some help. This…guy I’m looking for. He’s like a ghost.”

She smiled at the reference, and he made a point to ask her about it later. “This…ghost got a name?”

“Only one. Styx.”

Her mouth opened, then split into a brilliant smile. “Well, Branch, was it? This is your lucky day.”

“And why is that?”

“Because not only do I know a Styx. I work with him.” She stood, motioning to the door. “Shall we?”

Branch released his hold on the threads, allowing them to weave back together—move time along. Cramps clenched along his muscles, sweat beading his brow. He really needed to rest. He’d been far too active, lately.

Arrynn stepped toward him. “You okay?”

“Fine. After you, doll.”


And that’s it for me. Sorry it was so long. It kinda just worked out that way. Now, hop on over to the other ladies…

Bronwyn  ~  Jessica  ~  Siobhan  ~  Gwendolyn

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