A Time Line Regression
Have you ever had a trauma at an early age? Perhaps you were humiliated as a child, or were abused. Or perhaps you never got over the death of a loved one. You desperately wished you could go back in time and fix things, with all the resources currently at your disposal. But you could not. One day I was given that chance. I do not know why or how, and nobody has been able to tell me, not even the Lord of Time himself.
It began with a dream. Oh, I was so wonderfully dressed in the dream. A gown made up of sparkling diamonds that covered my neck all the way down to my toes. My sleeves were pure, sparkling rocks. I went up to Rosalyn, my lady-in-waiting, and asked her to admire it.
“You are dressed in splendor, your highness,” she said.
I laughed, because ‘dressed in splendor’ is my personal euphemism for my nakedness. I marveled that I had ceased to be naked, as there is no end to the curse that will cause the death of all I love should I hide my beauty in any way. But here I was dressed in diamonds, my bosoms and womanhood, nay, even my ankles hidden from the world.
Soon everyone was admiring my dress. Ioseff, my sheriff, and most importantly, even my father, Heveydd. He was no longer mad and in a death sleep, so I hugged him.
“How can this be, father?”
“I do not know, daughter, but it is wonderful. You are every inch the princess I knew you to be.”
I then found myself riding on a horse. Riding, riding, riding; trying to find a place to pee. But everywhere I went, someone was there, and I did not wish to squat before them. Finally, the urge was so horrible —
That I woke up. I quickly pulled the chamber pot from below the bed and sat on it. Blessed relief.
“That was a narrow escape,” I said.
I stretched, yawned and smacked my lips. Scratched my head. Looked over at Rosalyn, who shares my bed. She was curled up in a little ball.
She also was not breathing.
Panicking, I pressed my head against her bosoms. No heartbeat; no breath.
“No, oh, dear goddesses this cannot be happening!” I tore at my hair.
I rushed in a panic to Vivienne, our court physician. But as I headed down the corridor from my chambers, and took the stairs to the infirmary, I noticed something odd indeed. None of the servants I passed were breathing either. Nor were they moving.
It was as if everything had stopped.
Everything had stopped. I went through the castle, out unto the grounds, through the freshly scythed yellow-green grasses, no blade of which was swaying. Birds were frozen in the sky; clouds did not budge; there was no wind. Nothing, save my self, showed any signs of animation.
“I must still be dreaming!” I cried. But I was still damp from using the chamber pot, and I knew this was not the answer.
“Alas, lass, you are not still dreaming. I wish you were, but you are not.”
I had gone into my garden, desperately seeking motion, any motion. Just a little stirring of even the tiniest creature. I turned at the sound of the voice. A squat, chubby man, with a thick nose, and wild brown hair was picking at the still grasses. He was wearing gray pantaloons, a gray jacket, and had timepieces sewn all over him. Each one told of a different time, and their hands were all moving at different rates.
“You are alive, at least!” I was still in shock, but the sight of one living creature filled me with joy.
“No, I am not. At least, not in the way you mean.”
“What means you, sirrah?”
“I mean that to be alive, you must be in Time. Same for being dead. For both life and death occur at a particular Time.”
“You are hurting my head, strange sir; please stop and speak more plainly.”
“That is as plain as I can put it, your highness. I am outside of Time; to be alive means you have to be in Time.” He put a blade of grass in his mouth. Spat it out. “Patooie. When things are frozen in Time, they just do not taste good.”
“Huh,” I said wittily.
“Well, I do not suppose you would be willing to help me fix this?”
“You mean bring back Rosalyn, my servants, the birds, all that I know? Of course, I will help you fix this. But what can I do?”
He looked me over. “Well, you are naked—”
“So nice of you to notice,” I said, wrinkling my nose at his impropriety. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“Well, your highness, simply this. The motor of the world has stopped.”
“What do you mean, the motor of the world has stopped?”
He got a disgusted look. “Just what I said. The motor of the world has stopped. It needs someone to kick-start it.”
“Why cannot you do this thing?”
“I am outside of Time. Must I always repeat myself?”
“That, sirrah, is no explanation.”
“It is the only one the likes of you are going to get.”
“You are being rude, sirrah.”
“Forgive me, for I am agitated. And I need your help. I need you to go and kick-start the motor of the world.”
“Sounds like a reasonable enough request. Where is the motor?”
“Ah, but that brings us to the point that you are naked.”
I put my hands on my hips in annoyance. “And why is that, sirrah?”
“It is at the Western Pole, in the frozen tundra. I would take a flagon of whisky and sip it frequently. Gods and Goddesses, I would hate to be you, right about now. Brrrr.”
He stood up; his hands turned into wings, and he flew away, leaving tons of sand in his wake.
I made it to the Western Pole and I kick-started the motor of the world. And for my help, the Time Lord gave me a boon. I could go back in time and change anything I wished. And that is the true beginning of this story.
I was on the streets of our neighboring kingdom of New Dyved’s Capital City. About a week from the moment I had insulted Graymulkin, second only to Hecate herself in witchcraft. I would have a week to stop the curse from happening. A week to reclaim my right to wear clothes, to no longer be a woman naked in a man’s world.
The trouble was, how was I to do this? Naked, I would be mistaken for a whore, and how was a whore to get into the palace? I would be sore afraid, anyway in my humbled condition. I felt acid come into my throat at the very thought of it.
I had arrived in the Bazaar, with its many shops, its tents with every kind of goods, and its men in brightly colored robes offering you “the best deal in the land,” and I was already being jostled by the throngs of men and women. Both sexes in pantaloons and blouses made of the offworlder cotton, which was growing like a sinister weed through the farmlands of New Dyved, killing off our native plants and fungi.
Often, at this time in my life, I would be in a carriage traveling along the by roads of Farrell’s kingdom, amused by the half naked men breaking their backs picking those small white balls. All so that we could wear garments made of them. I am ashamed of that feeling now. But I had thought it funny that they could not wear shirts or long pantaloons in the heat. But now that I cannot wear anything, I no longer have those feelings.
But wait. I can wear clothes. This was before the curse. Yes, but how to pay for them? Being without money in New Dyved was worse than being without clothes. Without clothes, if you are reasonably attractive, you can get the money. But was it really before the curse? Yes, I would not be cursed until the end of the week, but the curse had already occurred three years ago. How could the curse be in both the past and future?
I was contemplating this conundrum, when she ran into me.
“Watch where you are going, missy.” A tall woman, with bosoms like twin moons, long legs, long black hair a startling contrast to my short locks, and brown eyes, barked at me.
She looked disdainfully down her long, noble nose at me, from the glory of her pink skirt and blouse made of purest spider spun. It was short, exposing her thighs and ankles, something I knew she thought cute and alluring. As immodest as it was, I was more so, and she knew it. She was with her friend, who was wearing a summer weight white gown, made of cotton.
“Do not pay this strumpet any mind, Rhiannon,” said the other blond, blue-eyed lady, whom I also recognized. I was startled to hear my name used for another, but I should not have been.
I had just run into my earlier self. No more fortunate occurrence could I imagine.
“Please, Rhiannon, you must talk to me.” I grabbed her arm. Her brown eyes widened. Branwen, now the Queen of New Prydain and my childhood friend, knocked my hand off Rhiannon with her parasol.
“Do not touch your betters, woman,” she said, in the voice of one annoyed at a fly.
“But I must talk to Rhiannon.”
“Well, you seem to be doing so, strumpet,” Rhiannon said, her eyes looking me up and down.
“Rhiannon, do not give this harlot your time.”
“And why not? What she says may be amusing. And then I will ask her something. Like, ‘How does it feel to be such a whore, displaying thy beauty for all to see?’ And I will beat her for her answer, no matter what it may be.” She laughed an ugly laugh. She was clearly having sport at my plight.
“You will know soon enough what it is like to be naked and a whore, if you do not listen to me.”
“What? Why you insolent little creature. Say what you need to say and then go please a man or something.” Only she did not use the word ‘please’ and got very graphic about what I was to do to that man.
“Do you not recognize me? I am you, Rhiannon. You! And if you do not listen to me, this will be your fate. To be naked for all to see. To be a whore for two long years, thinking yourself abandoned by Ferrell and the men of New Fairy.”
She started laughing. “Oh, you are a mad one.” She doubled over, and then righted herself. “And, prithee, how is this to happen?” I started to tell her. She stopped me. “No, I tire of this folly.”
She reached into her purse, then pressed a gold ducat into my palm.
“Now, go and spend it on lessons in manners.”
Laughing, she and Branwen waltzed away.
“Well, that went well.”
I turned to the familiar voice. It was Rosalyn! She was standing to my side, in the cobbled road that was the center of the Bazaar, dressed in a startling red gown, one that fit her feminine form well, but also concealed it well while revealing what it might look like, should a man be lucky enough to get her out of the dress.
Lucky, or wealthy enough. Rosalyn, at this time, was one of the highest paid harlots in the kingdom. As well she should have been, for even with her bosoms, small when compared to mine, she could stop a man with a single wink, a glance or a toss of her brown hair.
“You must be new on the streets. Not only have I never seen you before, but only a naïf would dare accost those upper-class bitches.”
“Rosalyn, you do not recognize me, either.”
“Have I not just said that?”
I grabbed her and hugged her. She kicked me in the bladder and I let her go.
“Rosalyn, you could have made me wet myself. Oh, goddesses, Rosalyn!”
I grabbed her as a horse, loose from a vendor’s cart and running wild, almost trampled her.
“Oh, that was close.” Rosalyn got up and looked in dismay at her gown. “Now, it is ruined.” It was smeared with dirt and mud, and had several tears in it.
“Well, it is not like you do not have others. I would wager you have an identical one in your closet at this moment.”
She looked at me searchingly. “And how would you know that?”
“The same way I know about your childhood friend Kilydd, about how your father was driven to suicide when the offworlders took his apothecary away. I know about—”
“Stop!” She put her hands to her ears. “Who are you?”
I took her right hand. “I am your best friend in all the world. Please, take me to your apartment and I will tell you my story.”
She sat on her silver-colored, leather couch, and watched, with amazed eyes, as I went through her cupboards, freshly painted in white, found her coffee cups and saucers without having to be told where they were. She was dumb, as I lit the fire in the belly of her wood burning stove, sniffed the smell of burning sawdust, ground the coffee in her mortar and pestle, put it in her percolator, and then, when it was ready, poured the brew. When I sat down beside her, she took the cup shaking.
“All right, now I am officially freaked.”
“I do not understand your words, Rosalyn.”
“Offworlder expression. Learned it from a billy. It means that you are scaring me, Rhiannon.”
I nodded. “As I was scared when I woke in our bed to find your bodily cycles had all stopped.”
She started. “I beg your pardon?”
“I told you that Time itself had stopped, and the Time Lord himself asked me to jump-start the motor of the world.”
“I got all that part. What startles me is the part about our being in bed together.”
“It is a rather involved story.”
“You’d best tell it,” she said, sipping her coffee. She would hold her cup daintily, with her pinkie poised like a lady’s but would slurp it like a dock worker.
“When I recovered my death sword, the token of my fathers love, I used it to kill Ferrell. I had to rush out to New Fairy, leaving you behind. I am so sorry.” I patted her knee remorsefully. “But then came the war—”
“There’s to be a war!?” She was growing in agitation.
I nodded. “To recover my lost honor, as I had become, will become, a prostitute. No offense, Rosalyn.” I patted her knee again. “But the men of New Fairy thought of it as a dishonor, and sought vengeance against Ferrell for tossing me on the streets when I was cursed to be naked.”
“Whoa. Whoa!” She shook her head. “You were cursed to be naked? By a witch?” I nodded. “Is that why you are naked?”
“I am getting to that.”
She placed the coffee cup down on the table, made of fine oak, which was facing the couch. It made a slight clink. She put her hands up. “Wait. Tell me about the war. That would seem to be the height of foolishness. Ferrell is a puppet to the offworlders. Have you seen their killing machines?”
I nodded. “They still fill my nightmares.” I wrinkled my nose. “Or at least they will.”
“And your men fought them. They would have all been slaughtered.”
“Yes, but when I came upon my mothers scrolls, I learned that my death sword could raise an army of the dead—”
“This is giving me a headache, Rhiannon. Witch’s curses. Dishonored princesses. Death swords. Armies of the dead. Please, no more talk of things to come. If you are not just a madwoman—”
“How can you say I am mad, with all my knowledge of you? Secret knowledge unknown to anyone but you and me.”
“All right, so you are not mad. Then why have you come back?”
“To stop the curse, of course. Would you not, if it were you? No, especially you, as you hate being naked and only do it if you are well paid or if I command it.” I wagged my finger at her. She looked at me strangely.
“Well, in that case, you are really off to a good start. There is no way you can get into the palace as a strumpet. And you cannot even pretend to be a high lady and sneak in.”
“Rosalyn, I am a high lady.”
“Rhiannon, you are naked.” She reached her hands out as if to grab me. “The instant you cross into the grounds, the soldiers will seize you and then have a party with you. And there is no way you will get Princess Full-of-Herself to talk to you again, even if, by some miracle, we get you some clothes. She will now recognize you, if by perchance you would encounter her again, and will spurn you.
“What am I to do then? From what you say, I am lost!”
“More like cold. No, there is but one way you can succeed now.”
“Oh, thank you, Rosalyn. I knew I could count on you back in these times, as well as in my present.” I started to wiggle in excitement, which made the remains of the coffee slosh in her cup.
“Don’t thank me until you hear me out.” She put the coffee cup and saucer on the far side of the table and out of harm’s way.
I folded my hands like a good girl and listened. What she next said filled me with dread.
“I still do not see why you had to purchase the horses, instead of just renting them.”
We were riding out past the palace grounds. Farrell’s grounds abut the Golgonix forest, and it was through the furry limbs of the Matera trees, with their hanging man appearance, and their flowers that look like garishly pink, puckered lips, that Branwen and I had walked to come across Graymulkin, the witch who had cursed me.
“Because they don’t rent horses to whores, that’s why.”
“But how did they know you were a whore? You dress as even a lady of the court would dress.”
She gave me an annoyed look. “Well, you certainly don’t,” she said snidely. “And that tainted the both of us.”
She jerked the reins of her mount, a plain brown filly not nearly as substantial as Scout, her horse at the New Fairy court. The horse came to a halt. She dismounted it, and tethered it to a tree. I did likewise with my mount.
“It is over here, I think,” I said, as we proceeded on foot.
“It has been three years, Rosalyn.”
“And yet it will not happen until the end of the week. My temples are throbbing at this, Rhiannon. Throbbing, I’ll have you know. When I get home, I’ll have to chew on a tanna leaf. And watch your feet.”
She was staring wide eyed as I walked across thistles, tree branches that had fallen and rocks. She winced at every snap of a twig.
“My feet have grown tough.”
“I guess. Ah, is that it?” She indicated something just ahead.
Yonder was a small cabin, with a huge cauldron in front of it. Sweeping the porch of the cabin was Graymulkin. She was garbed in a black housedress, which covered her hideousness. A hideousness I knew so well, as when I had come across her (will come across her?)
I laughed at it. At the breasts, long and flattened, the stomach folds that made her look like she was made of tubes from the rubber bush, the hair sprouting from her udder-like nipples and moles all over her body. Her face — that of a crone, with a large, hooked nose was bad enough. But the woman’s body could turn a passerby to stone.
“Mistress Graymulkin, may I?”
She had watched us warily as we approached. She had rolled her eyes over the fine riding clothes that Rosalyn was wearing, with their brown ruffles along her thighs, and the cinch, made of silver, around her blouse. She then did inspect my body, exposed as it was.
I took the broom from her hands, and finished her sweeping for her.
“Thank you, dearie. Are you that one’s servant?”
“No, Mistress Graymulkin. And that is what I wish to talk to you about.”
“Well, you are certainly a very respectful young girl even though your womanhood is bare. Please come in.”
The threshold to her humble cabin was slightly off the ground. I took her arm, and helped her swollen feet, bare with fungus-grayed toenails, up over it.
“I will make us some tea,” Graymulkin said.
“No, Mother, you sit down. Tell me where your dishes and herbs are and I will make us the tea.”
“You have a fine servant there,” she said to Rosalyn.
“She is not my servant.”
“She makes a fine one, though.” Graymulkin watched my every move like a dog awaiting its treat.
Under her direction, I went to her cupboards, found little bags of tea, not New Prydain, but fitting her humble dwelling. I lit the fire on her stove, watched as the kettle boiled, then put the tea in little bags (something I learned from the offworlders at Ferrell’s court). I served the tea.
“Now, dearie, what did you wish to talk to me about?”
“I want to apologize.”
“Apologize? For what? You have been the soul of politeness.”
“This time, but when I first meet you, I will be horrid to you.”
“When you first meet me? But this is our first meeting.”
“It is and it is not, Graymulkin.”
“I do not understand, dearie. You sound like an existentialist from the old world.”
“I have traveled in Time, Mother. Back to before I insulted you and suffered from your curse.”
“I cursed you? To what? You do not look bestial, although you are naked like a beast.”
“But that is just it, Mother. You cursed me to nakedness.”
She dissolved in cackles. “I did that? Oh, that is hilarious. Now, why did I do that, dearie?”
I was trying hard not to be offended at her laughter. “Because I came across you naked, Mother, and laughed at your nakedness.”
The tea cup broke in her hand, cutting her fingers. “You saw me naked and laughed at me?” The way she said it filled me with fear.
“Did you know how much that would shame me?” Tiny rivulets of blood dripped from her bony fingers to the bare wood floor.
“I know it now. You made me aware by putting me in that same state for the rest of my life.”
She stood up, knocking her chair over. “Get out! Get out of my house, you young bitch. I never want to see you again. If you do do as you say, then you will deserve my wrath and my curse. Only someone full of herself and insensitive to the plight of others would do such a thing. You must think your beauty will make people forgive you any offence. Not if it’s for all to see! For then people will know how truly low you are. You will know shame as I have known shame. Shame! I have half a mind to curse you now! I will certainly do so when you come back!”
“Please Mother!” But brooms, plates, books, saucers, dead rats and a stuffed ocelot were all flying through the air at us. Rosalyn and I ran out.
On the outskirts of Graymulkin’s meager property, Rosalyn turned to me. “Well, I can’t take you anywhere, can I?”
“Rosalyn, what am I to do?”
“The offworlders have a cream than prevents sunburn. I suggest you buy gallons of it.”
“Oh, Rosalyn, that is so unhelpful.”
Four days had passed, and it was the day that I would go into the forest and laugh at Graymulkin’s nakedness. I was sitting on Rosalyn’s couch, leaning over the table, playing cards, trying to ward off despair, as Rosalyn came in from an assignation with a billy.
“That offer of a foot rub still good?” She asked. Her hair looked like someone had pulled it hard. Someone probably had. She made a diagonal path straight from the door to the couch.
“Of course. I told you that when you took — take — me in, I acted — I will act — as your servant during the winter months, as I was — will be — confined to our — your — apartment. I thought it fair as you were the wage earner.”
“You are a strange princess.”
“I have learned a lot from my shame. I no longer laugh at those less fortunate. I try to be a good queen.”
“And you will drive the offworlders off, did you not?” She was mangling her tenses, but time travel does that to you.
She sat on the table facing the couch, after divesting herself of her boots. She put her right foot on my left leg. I began to knead the balls of her feet. She moaned. For a while, she was lost in the world of the massage. I then took her other foot, put it on my other knee, and kneaded it. She moaned some more. Her pupils went up into her head, and only the whites showed.
“You give good foot, Rhiannon.” Her pupils returned and her breathing became less stentorian.
“Oh, thank you so much, I think.”
She put her feet back on the ground, went and poured us some coffee. Sat down beside me. Handed me my cup.
She slurped hers, like a starving cat sucking at its bowl of milk. “I was thinking, Rhiannon.” Slurp. “What will happen to you, to the world, if you had not been cursed?” Slurp.
I shook my head. “I do not know. The Time Lord did not tell me.”
“But I think I can.” Slurp. Balancing the coffee cup and saucer on her right knee, she fluffed my hair. “You would be married to Ferrell as of next week, would you not?”
The thought of that hit me in my stomach like a battering ram.
“Oh, that is a horrid thought, Rosalyn. Absolutely horrid.”
“And you will be the world’s greatest queen, will you not?”
“Hardly. I would still be only interested in clothes and how I look and not the pain of others.”
“And the offworlders?”
“They would still be raping our planet. I never would have seen my brave countrymen die and so would not have learned the Dark Arts.”
“And who else knows these Arts?”
“No one, Rosalyn. When Myrddin opened the portal, he gave three sisters the wisdom to join with the dead. My mother was the last of the three.”
“And you listened to her like a grateful little girl, did you not?”
“I was embarrassed she believed she had this knowledge. I did not listen at all,” I said.
“And the knowledge would have died, and then who would have stopped the offworlders, with their terrible machines and weapons of mass destruction?”
“There would have been no one.”
“And what will become of me, if I do not become your lady-in-waiting?”
“You would die on the road, left for dead by a billy. Oh, Rosalyn, that future is a horrible one. I am wretched thinking of it!” I put my right fist to my forehead, as if back knuckling myself.
“And it will not happen if you are cursed. Your nakedness Rhiannon, god knows it must be hard for you to bear—”
“You are the only one who comes close to understanding that.”
“Yes. But however hard, it is what will make Farrell toss you out and thus save you from a despicable marriage; it will open your eyes to the suffering of others; it will bring us together; the disgrace of it will cause the war that will make you be the world’s last necromancer, and will drive the offworlders back to the stars. Do you not see? Your curse is yours and the world’s blessing.”
I was seeing my nakedness in a whole new light. The insight would not make the leers of men, the disdain of women, and the thousand shocks of being naked go away, but it now made me understand why my nakedness must be so. Why I must be Rhiannon the Nude.
“Rosalyn, I think this must be the reason the Time Lord really sent me back in Time. To learn this lesson. I was wondering why he did that, as he is charged with preserving the Time Line, and had seemed to give me a boon that would disrupt it.”
I got up and made to leave.
“You are going?” She seemed distraught.
“Yes, but do not worry. You will run into me again next week.”
“But Rhiannon, I know so much now. Will that change things?”
“It may explain things. Why you were so nice to me when we first met. But Rosalyn, pretend your ignorance. I must not know what is in store for me, or I will not learn my lesson in humility, or be motivated to fight the offworlders.”
She made a zipping and locking motion over her lips. “My lips are sealed.”
And with that we hugged; I opened her door and I left.
Rosalyn has no memory of that early meeting, except she vaguely remembers a mad woman accosting Branwen and me and then saving her from a trampling horse. And no one was aware when the world froze, as Time itself had stopped and awareness takes time. I would think it but a dream except the Time Lord visited me once again and gave me a golden watch, one that can speed up or slow down time.
“It will make time go very slowly when you are doing something you do not like, and it will make the time fly when you are doing something you do like.”
“That happens anyway, sirrah. So why give this to me?”
He shrugged. “Only Time will tell. Perhaps it is but a token of my thanks for your kick-starting the motor of the world, not once, but twice.”
He then shrank into a tiny black ball and vanished without explaining his mysterious Parthian shot, as I had only performed the service for him that one time. Methinks he simply wanted me to know that all of this really did happen. But I knew that.
Nothing has really changed that much. Men still leer; women still whisper, and I am still ashamed, even though I know now why my shame must be. But I know it all was real, as not only do I have the watch that can slow down or speed up time, but I still have the bruise on my big toe, when I stubbed it kick-starting the motor of the world.
Copyright © 2006 by Bewildering Stories
on behalf of the author