Sergio rose for the morning and stretched. Kat lay still asleep as she usually did, so Sergio did his best not to disturb her as he made his way to the bathroom.
He ran through the same morning routine he had kept for years. Or was it months? Anyway, soon he was showered, his teeth were brushed, he gobbled some leftovers for breakfast, went in to kiss Kat and Alice goodbye, and he was out the door!
It was a good day, the sun was shining, the air was crisp. It was already pretty warm here in sunny California. Remarkable since they had only been here a month.
Sergio stopped short. It had been more than a month, right? No, they had just arrived. Maybe two months? He tried to remember the date. Today is…April…no, February?
One of the neighbors drove by and waved. He waved back and continued on his way to Tom’s shop. What had he been worried about a moment before?
He didn’t remember so he continued on, whistling as he did so. After walking just a few blocks from his house, he arrived at Tom’s garage.
“Hey, I have a special assignment for you.” Tom said once Sergio arrived. “Them folks at the granary have some new grain-drying machines they want set up. None of it makes sense to me, but you seem to know your way around the more advanced stuff. Would you head over to take a look? They pay well.”
“Sure thing, boss.” Sure thing, boss? Since when did he talk like that.
He packed up the tools he thought he’d need in the truck, then headed out towards the granary. He’d never been there before, but he knew some of the guys who…
Something was feeling very familiar about all this. Sergio frowned. As he pulled into the granary, he could have sworn that he had been here before. He’d seen the granary from a distance of course, but to his knowledge he had never actually set foot inside.
A big man approached him. Joel, the landowner. “I thought Tom was coming himself?” Joel frowned as Sergio parked the truck.
“He has…other things on his workload. But I know my way around equipment so he sent me.”
Joel looked him up and down. “You sure you’re up for the job? Lot of this equipment is pretty high tech.”
Sergio grinned. “Believe me, I’m an expert at the high-tech…” He trailed off. Something didn’t feel right here. Hadn’t he been here and said these things before?
“You okay, son?”
Sergio pursed his lips. “Uh…yeah, yeah everything is fine.”
Joel considered that. “Hmmm. Okay well if you can help out I guess it doesn’t matter who is here to help.”
He brought Sergio to a small clearing where a bunch of shiny new parts lay spread out on the ground.
“We’ve typically dried our grain by laying it out on the ground, which works well enough.” Explained Joel. “But this here machine should, in theory, allow us to dry four times as much grain in the same time. I…are you alright?”
Sergio had a hand to his head, and his breathing was increasing. He had definitely been here before. But why on Earth couldn’t he remember how or when? He distinctly remembered seeing these pieces here before. But from the sound of things, this was the first time they were installing these materials.
“Um…ah, yeah. Can…can I have some of your men help, with the heavy lifting I mean?”
“Of course, you can have all the help you need. Just tell them what to do and they’ll do it.”
Joel barked an order and several other employees came walking over. “If you need anything, just tell these guys, Trevor here can come get me if there are any problems.”
“Hi Trevor, good to…”
“Tarnations son, just what is going on. You’ve been acting strange all morning.”
This time Sergio was staring at Trevor, one hand frozen in the act of reaching forward to shake the man’s hand. This…this man shouldn’t be here. He didn’t know why, but something about this worker, Trevor, was completely wrong.
“I…I’m sorry sir, I ah, I didn’t sleep well last night. I’ll get to work right away.”
Trevor put his hand down, awkwardly. Unshaken.
For now, Sergio was just going to ignore what he had seen. Something wasn’t right, but he had a job to do, and he was going to do it.
He spent the next few hours cataloging and arranging the pieces for the granary’s new grain-drying apparatus. He did his best to ignore the feeling that he had done this before, and just kept to his work. Still, he somehow, miraculously made good time assembling the pieces. He seemed to know exactly what to do without studying the pieces. This unsettled him, but he must have just been thinking quick on his feet that day. Yeah, that must have been it. His familiarity with modern technology must be giving him an edge working with this stuff.
Lunch arrived and Joel was generous to give them all something to eat, along with some cool lemonade that Sergio accepted gratefully. Taking a moment, he retreated into the barn to cool off.
He thought he saw something in the rafters, but dismissed it. There was nothing there. Why would there be?
Lunch ended and he made his way back to his work. He…why did he get the feeling that something bad was about to happen. He looked one way, then another. Joel was talking to a few of his men, though Trevor was cleaning down a tractor that one of the others had just brought back in.
In a rush of memories, Sergio remembered! He had been here before, doing the exact same things he was doing now. He remembered the tractor and Trevor…Trevor had died. But he was here, now, standing in front of Sergio without a scratch on him. What was going on?
With a rumble, the tractor started up by itself. Trevor backed away as it did so. “What the…” he broke off as the tractor lurched forward. It knocked Trevor down and Sergio heard a sickening crunch as it ran over the man for the second time in Sergio’s memory.
People were shouting, and running in every direction. All except Sergio. Because he had a good idea of what was coming next.
The tractor made a slow turn and faced him. It felt almost like a standoff. Sergio didn’t know what was possessing the tractor to make it move like it did, but whatever it was, it wanted Sergio dead.
It charged, moving at a speed that Sergio would not have thought possible of a low-tech tractor. But it sped towards him. He held his ground, knowing that running wouldn’t make things any better. He had faced this thing before, right? The memory was still cloudy, but yes. If he could just dodge out of the way at the last second and climb on top of the tractor, perhaps he could…
A strong pair of hands grabbed him. He tried to move, and the hands held him fast. Turning he found one of the workers was holding him in the approaching path of the tractor.
“What? Let go of me!”
But the man didn’t answer. He only stared straight at the approaching tractor, his eyes almost glazing over.
Lance’s training was the only thing that saved Sergio. Instinctively, he removed himself from the man’s hold and threw him to the ground using a self-defense technique Lance had taught him earlier. Then he leapt out of the way just as the tractor reached their position. He didn’t look to see what happened to the man that held him.
Sergio looked up from his place on the ground. The tractor was turning, albeit slowly. He could stop it if he hurried. Running, he closed the distance between him and the tractor with ease. Since it was turning, he had a good opening to leap onto the tractor from the side, and turn it off. Blessedly, it powered down and came to a slow halt.
Sergio let out a long breath. What had that been about?
He brought the tractor back himself, taking care that he stayed clear of any people.
What he found when he returned to the granary was Trevor, lying in the dirt, quite obviously dead, like before. Some shouting from where the other worker had held Sergio told him that Trevor wasn’t the only one mortally hurt.
The other man’s name was Herman. Sergio had worked with him all that day, and he’d seemed pretty nice to him then. What had changed to make him commit suicide by trying to kill Sergio? None of it made any sense.
“I think that’ll be all for today.” Joel said after they assessed the damage. “Why don’t the rest of yous head home, enjoy the comfort of your wives if you have ‘em. Nothing like someone dying to give you a fresh perspective on life and living. I’ll tend to Trevor and Herman.”
There it was again, the same monotone voice that Sergio had heard the last time this happened. He was sure, now, that he had been in this same situation before. But how, he could not imagine. Perhaps he should ask Lance about this. That man, as crazy as he might look, seemed to have this town figured out. They just needed to talk to him more about it.
He took the truck back to Tom’s garage and walked the rest of the way home. Everything felt…weird. Like he was part of a dream and couldn’t wake up. Perhaps that was it. Was he in some crazy nightmare that kept repeating itself? His world certainly felt real.
“Hey love!” Kat said as he walked through the door. “You’re back early.”
“Yes. And it’s the strangest thing.”
He then proceeded to tell her everything that had happened, including how it felt like everything had happened before. Like he was living in a repeating dream.
“You know, that’s funny because I felt the same way today when I took Alice to the park.” she responded when he had finished. “I met a boy there called Simon. He didn’t talk, but I was sure I had seen him before.”
“How did you know his name if he didn’t talk?”
“Oh, his mother arrived and told me. You remember Norma, who sold us the house? Yeah, apparently she has a son we didn’t know about. She didn’t seem very nice. Said some rather offensive things about my parenting methods, and even implied that I wanted to steal the boy from her. I mean, can you believe that?”
“Add it to the list of weird things happening in this town. Also, you said that kid’s name was Simon? You don’t suppose…”
“No,” Kat shook her head. “I thought of that, and he’d be about the right age, but there have to be plenty of Simons his age in America. I mean, what would be the…”
She trailed off. Sergio recognized it too. They had had this conversation before!
“Oh my,” Kat put a hand to her face. “You’re right. We have lived this before. I can remember it all now.”
“Thank you! I thought it was just me.”
“What is happening, Sergio? We’ve only been here a month, how can we have experienced these things already.”
“I don’t think we have been here for just a month. It’s April right? Didn’t we get here in the middle of winter?”
Kat’s eyes widened. “You’re right, now that I think of it.”
“I think there’s something going on here that might be making us…I don’t know, relive part of our lives or something.”
“Do you think there are any connections to those apparitions that we fought when we first got here?”
Sergio had almost forgotten about those. “Maybe, I’m meeting Lance tonight. Maybe I can ask him what’s going on.”
“Okay, but be careful. We don’t know if he’s somehow wrapped up in all this as well. And after what happened to you when that man tried to keep you in the path of that tractor, we can’t trust anyone.”
“I agree, though I think Lance is different. I’m not sure how.”
“I’ll be careful, love. Don’t worry.”
He rose and found himself in the kitchen cooking a light stir fry for dinner. He didn’t have a lot of time, so he worked as quickly as he could.
Kat brought Alice in, who was just waking up from a nap and rubbing her eyes. Wow, she was getting big, way bigger than Sergio expected for someone who just turned one. He…
Sergio put a hand to his head. Why couldn’t he fully realize that they had been in Greenfield for several months now? The moment he thought he’d figured it out, he would go back to thinking that they had just arrived. Though sometimes it also felt like they had always lived in Greenfield. It was a very disconcerting dichotomy of feelings. But Alice’s growth didn’t lie. She had to be several months over one year now. Sergio thought back to the dates. Yes, they had arrived in January. It was now April. That made Alice about sixteen months old.
Even as Sergio formed the dates in his head, he could feel something pushing back, making him second-guess those dates. The more he thought about their time there, the more his brain seemed to drift into a fog, as if he had had a few drinks too many, or stayed up too late.
He finished the stir-fry and distributed what he had onto two plates. Handing one to his wife, he saw Alice reach for it, curious to know what the smell was. Kat grabbed the plate and sat down at their small dinner table, keeping the food just out of reach of their baby girl.
Alice, upset that something was denied her, began to pout and whine. But she looked cute even when pouting. Sergio smiled and searched the cupboard for some baby food. He also grabbed a banana and mashed it up for Kat, who took it and began feeding pieces to Alice, who promptly forgot about her troubles of being denied the stir-fry.
Sergio paused to take it all in. He loved moments like this, moments when he and Kat just clicked and cared for their child without even needing to communicate verbally. Alice had unified them in a way that several years of marriage had not. They were a team now.
Finishing his stir-fry, he wiped his chin with a napkin and stood, taking his plate to wash in the sink. “Well, I need to be going. Love you.”
He kissed his wife on his way out. “Be careful,” she repeated. He nodded, shook Alice’s little hand as a goodbye gesture, grabbed his jacket, and was out the door.
It wasn’t until he was halfway to the abandoned barn that his thoughts turned again to the strange repetitions of the day, and how he had trouble remembering how long they had been in Greenfield. Even now he found it difficult to even think about it, which troubled Sergio almost more than the attempt on his life earlier. Something was definitely wrong in Greenfield. He just wished they could figure it out before it caused them any serious harm.
Moments later, and he was at the barn. Lance was there, thankfully not trying to scare him this time. Sergio thought on that for a moment. Just how long had he been training with Lance now? It was hard to tell.
“Ahoy there, Sergio!” Lance greeted him as he approached. “Ready to get started?”
Sergio nodded. “We’ve been doing your morning exercise routine every day, just like you said.”
“Ah good, we’ll be increasing that this week.”
Sergio felt his shoulders slump. Increase? They had trouble keeping up with what they had. It seemed that Sergio always found himself sore in the mornings. But he said nothing and began running through the footwork techniques that Lance had been training them on. He was pleasantly surprised to see that he was doing rather well. His feet moved almost automatically as Lance dictated, without Sergio having to think about it too hard.
“Great, I see you finally got the hang of Sun Stance and Deer on the Rocks.” Lance was nodding his head in approval.
‘Finally?’ Hadn’t Sergio only just started learning those two stances? But the moment he had that thought, Sergio recognized it as the same confusion that had been plaguing him all day. No, when he thought hard about it, he had been working on these stances for a while, over a month.
“Lance, I have a question for you.” Sergio quit his stances and stood normally. “Have you ever felt like, I don’t know, like history is repeating itself? I don’t mean the distant past, but more like what’s happened recently is happening again?”
Lance looked at him sharply. “You’ve noticed that have you?”
“Yes!” Sergio began to feel relief that Lance recognized what he was talking about. “Today, I saw a man die, a man I’m sure actually died a few months ago, or maybe last month. I’m really don’t know. It’s like a crazy case of deja vu.”
Lance regarded him and nodded. “I was wondering if it would take you too, or if you would notice. The fact that you did notice something speaks volumes about your strength of will. Your wife notice the same thing?”
“Yes, but what is going on?”
Lance sighed. “To be honest, I still haven’t figured it out, see. I’ve been here for nearly three years and nothing has changed about this town. Nothing, that is, until your family arrived.”
“Do you think it has something to do with those…apparitions we saw when we arrived? You said they come every month, right?”
“That they do, and I’m sure they have something to do with it. Too much of a coincidence. But I still know very little. No one here has realized what you have, that nothing changes here.”
“But you’ve realized it too, right? Just like us?”
“Affirmative, but it took a long time before I came to the same conclusions. You’ve managed to figure it out far faster than I did. I can still feel it, something trying to keep my mind from thinking about time and the problems in this town.”
Sergio nodded eagerly, this was exactly what he had been feeling lately. “Do you have any theories?”
Lance shrugged, “A few, but none of them concrete. The only lead I have are them ghosts.”
“What about them?”
“Well, when I go to fight them, it…helps to clear my mind. I don’t know what it is, but I somehow manage to keep my sanity when fighting them. Matter of fact, tonight is the night. I’ll need to head over there soon.”
Sergio let his eyes drop to the ground in thought. He still had no idea what any of this meant, but he was starting to form a picture in his head. At the very least, he knew he needed to find out more about these ghosts.
“Can I come with you?”
“To fight the…ghosts, as you call them. I’d like to help.”
Lance rubbed his chin. “Well I suppose it would never hurt to have someone else along for the ride. What would your wife think of you coming with me?”
Sergio grimaced. She probably wouldn’t like it, not one bit. Despite all that had happened since they arrived in Greenfield, Kat was still determined to stay away from trouble if possible. She had only approved of training with Lance to learn self-defense for a last-resort type of situation. But despite all that, Sergio found himself saying, “I’m sure she’ll be fine with it. I can help tonight!”
“Well, then I suppose your training for today will include a bit of ghost hunting!” Lance seemed in a much better mood all of a sudden.
“So…uh…where do we start?”
“Well, just follow me.”
Lance exited the barn almost at a jog and Sergio had to move quickly to follow. He kept pace until they arrived at Lance’s house. Inside, the floor and other surfaces were covered with gadgets and grease, just as it had been when Sergio first arrived in Greenfield.
Lance approached one contraption lying on his table. It was the flamethrower exosuit that Lance had worn that first day when they had seen the ghosts in the foothills.
“This, here, is what I use to get rid of the ghosts. At least temporarily. I still haven’t worked out a way to extinguish them for good. I’ve made it almost entirely of pure iron.”
“Wouldn’t a lighter metal be better?” Sergio asked. “Even steel would be strong enough that you wouldn’t need as much metal to do the job.”
“Son, what do you know about ghosts and iron?”
Sergio thought on that. Aside from the fact that he hadn’t considered ghosts to be real, Lance’s words tickled something in his memory. A television show he used to watch.
“Isn’t iron supposed to repel ghosts? I mean, in the stories at least?”
“That’s correct, the stories are true on that point, do you want to know why?”
Sergio nodded, this was getting interesting.
“Well, I still don’t know everything about these ghosts, but I’ve discovered one thing. They crave energy. Or they are energy. Either way, iron acts as a conductor. It absorbs them and sends their essence into the ground using these.” Lance pointed to the legs of the exosuit which had two spikes below the feet. “These penetrate the ground and direct the ghost’s energy down into the Earth. It’s the only thing I’ve found that works, at least temporarily, to get rid of the ghosts.”
“That’s why you used fire, not to kill the ghosts, but to attract them with the energy.”
Lance nodded, “When the ghosts touched you, and your wife, you felt what?”
“Deadly cold, and numbness.”
“They were sucking the energy out of you. If they had continued, you would have died, rapidly.”
“Wow, what would happen if they were set loose on the city?”
“You don’t want to find out. And this is just a temporary solution, as they reappear every month, but it seems to do the trick for now.”
“So why do they crave energy? What purpose does that serve?”
“I don’t know, but I have some theories. But that’s another story, and we have little time right now. I have a backup suit that you can use if you want.”
“Do I?” Sergio exclaimed. “This is the coolest thing anyone has ever asked me to do!”
“So…that’s a yes on the spare suit?”
“Affirmative!” Sergio gave him a casual salute for fun, though Lance returned it in all seriousness. Sergio almost laughed, but his own excitement overran his mind. This was it, he was finally getting a chance to be a superhero, even if the circumstances were a bit different than he imagined, more Doctor Strange than Captain America. But regardless, he was going to enjoy this.
He took the spare suit and, after practicing for a few minutes, he and Lance walked toward the foothills. On the way, Sergio was careful to steer them down a different road, one that would keep them from walking in front of his house. He wasn’t quite ready to tell Kat about this yet, and he didn’t want her finding out the wrong way. Thankfully, Lance didn’t ask questions.
Once on the foothills, Sergio could see no evidence of the ghosts.
“We still have a few minutes.” Lance looked at his watch.
“Do they always come at the same time?” Sergio was excited but his eyes were wide with anxiety, staring around the clearing for any sign of the apparitions.
“Yes, always. Twenty-one hundred hours.”
Sergio looked at his watch and counted down the minutes. At nine o’clock exactly, he heard the first shriek. Heart pounding, he fingered the trigger that would activate the flame thrower.
“Be ready.” Lance said, his usually jovial self now more serious than Sergio had seen in a while.
Sergio readied himself, unconsciously adopting Sun Stance as he waited. Faint, ghostly images appeared before him, like afterimages left in your vision after staring at a light. They were here.
Lance activated the flames from his suit, and Sergio quickly did likewise. The ghosts turned in their direction, the firelight reflecting in the dark pools of their haunting eyes.
Then they came. Attracted by the fire’s energy, they flew at the duo. Sergio raised his fiery hands high. Flame shot from his hands, and scorched the nearest ghost. It screamed, but it was only weakened. Lance had explained that the fire, though attractive to the ghosts, was also too much energy for them to handle all at once. It hurt them as much as it hurt regular people, weakening them and making it easier for the next part.
The ghost was nearly on Sergio now, and he thought he might have a heart attack. His blood pressure was ringing in his ears, and adrenaline coursed through his veins. But remembering Lance’s training, he shoved both hands into the ghost, creating contact between the iron spikes attached to his hands and the wispy tendrils of the apparition. It screamed and Sergio saw it disappear an instant later, sucked into the iron and down into the earth.
He avoided the temptation to look down, half expecting the ghost to rise from the ground and drag him down with it. But another ghost was approaching and he turned his attention to face it. A moment later, and it too was gone.
This wasn’t so bad. This was actually kind of fun.
Lance was likewise taking out one ghost after another, far faster than Sergio, who was letting the ghosts come to him. But still, they were mopping up this group of ghosts much more efficiently than the night that Sergio and Kat had originally arrived in town.
Sergio could get used to this. Kat wouldn’t like it, and he was going to have to invent some excuse for why he would arrive home late tonight. But he could figure that out later.
Right now, he had some ghosts to shove off.
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