"What do we do?" Bryce asked, holding the car steady at the edge of the storm.
"Go in," Dennis said eagerly. "Go find Ruby and the master. They're in there. I can feel his presence. I can feel him."
"You think she's still alive?" Bryce asked.
"She has to be," Eddie said. "If she'd gone through the portal, we wouldn't be here. There wouldn't be a here to be."
"Skylar, can we fly through this?" Eddie asked. "Or would it be better to drive?"
"It won't matter," the fixie replied. "We won't be any safer on the ground."
Bryce took a deep breath. "Okay, let's do this." He eased the gas pedal. The car moved forward. At first, the wisps of black cloud barely buffeted the car. As they proceeded, the car bucked harder, fighting the wind. A gust rose, and soon the car tumbled through the air, caught in the churning current.
Eddie gripped the dashboard as all sense of up and down spun into whirling confusion. "Bryce?"
Bryce tugged on the wheel. "I'm trying," he shouted.
Dennis flopped around in the back seat, yowling with agitation. Lightning flashed outside, blinding Eddie. He gripped the dash, smashed his head on the door and tumbled in confusion.
"It's getting worse," Bryce shouted. "We must be closer to the center."
"Can you climb?" Eddie asked. "We can come at it from above the storm."
Bryce growled as he fought the wheel. "That would have been a good idea two minutes ago."
Another flash of lightning, this one more distant, illuminated the roofs of houses to their left.
"That's it," Bryce called. "We're right by the top of Holcomb."
"Can you get closer?"
"I don't know. It's—"
Eddie could only guess at what happened next. He felt Dennis's claw move past him to the door latch. The passenger door flew open, flying off its hinge. The car tumbled madly. Skylar was sucked out into the maelstrom. Eddie hung on a moment longer before the vacuum yanked him out after her. He spun, gravity fighting from two directions at once, his sense of up and down spinning in all directions. Then he hit the ground hard, knocking him senseless.
He lay in sudden stillness. The storm raged high all around him, but the wind didn't touch him on the ground.
"Where am I?"
It was brighter here, the waning daylight cut through the storm somewhere towards his feet. Eddie pushed himself up and took a look around.
Behind him, lying across a broad fenced-in yard, lay the splintered remains of Tim's gravity wheel.
Eddie stood up and brushed himself off. His forearms were sore. No doubt they'd be bruised from where he hit the ground. He looked around himself. This was the place where Tim died the place that left Eddie feeling so empty. He couldn't have known then that Tim hadn't been the real Tim at all—that he'd only been the manifestation of a dream. The real Tim had been dozing for weeks in a cocoon, contemplating eternity.
The blacksmith's shop was still there, its windows dark. Eddie peaked in the window of the room that Dream-Tim had once called home. There was no sign of life. Tim wasn't here.
Of course, he wouldn't be. He'd be at the top of the Holcomb hammer, where the mayor's house stood. Eddie took a deep breath and walked.
He saw no sign of Bryce or Skylar. The wind had carried them elsewhere, along with the car and Ruby's rodent brother.
No one remained in Holcomb. No one lit the gaslights in town. Eddie passed the sheriff's station. The hole in the wall had been boarded over, but no light shone from within.
Either the citizens of Holcomb fled, or Tim had used them up in his experiments. How many people had died since Tim woke up? And how many more would be lost if Eddie didn't stop Tim? That was an easier question to answer. Everyone in the universe.
Eddie crested the curved surface of Holcomb's top. The mayor's house was gone, replaced by a series of stone columns. He couldn't see their tops, lost in a black haze. The space within the columns was dark, not from any shadow the stone cast, but from a heavy darkness that defied the waning daylight all on its own, a zone of inky obscurity. Despite the strange black phenomenon, a dancing firelight within cast eerie flickers.
Eddie sped his pace. First to a brisk jog, then to an all-out sprint. It was time to finish things.
The field of shadows did not deter Eddie. He rushed through the columns and scanned the interior.
Tim sat tinkering on yet another time machine, the equipment laid out in another replica of his living room—this time without any walls at all but with the addition of an open fire pit on one end. He sat cross-legged on the brown carpet, hunched over a control board of knobs, his half-concealed face looking livid.
Ruby hung on a column, the stone protruding out to envelop her waist and hold her neck in place. She stared down at Tim, her eyes filled with weary terror. Montrose hung on the next column, and Gretchen hung on the one beyond her. All were captive, alive but immobilized.
Eddie sighed. Ruby was still alive, and Tim couldn't make the time portal work.
Eddie slipped inside. He tiptoed in the shadows.
He only needed to touch Tim. If he could touch him, it would all be over. Tim would die, Ruby would be safe.
He approached Tim from behind. Tim made no indication he sensed Eddie's presence. Eddie closed the distance. Twenty feet. Ten. He inched forward—
The time portal whirred to life. The space within the doorframe distorted and hummed, bending the shadowy columns that reflected from the distant side.
"What the—" Tim cried, bolting upright. He stared at the portal, then turned, catching sight of Eddie.
Eddie's eyes went wide. He was mere feet from his goal. He lunged forward. Tim threw up a hand, and a stone barrier shot up between them.
Eddie stepped back, but another wall of stone erupted behind him. An instant later, more walls rose, forming a stone box. Eddie was trapped within.
Eddie beat on the walls. He screamed. He'd come so close. The air grew hot in his tiny prison. It was difficult to breathe. Eddie fell to the floor, exhausted. He gasped for breath.
An opening gave way on one wall, spreading as if it were soft as clay. Tim peered in down at him.
Tim beamed. "I've got it. I've figured it out. The portal works. I know what I was missing."
Eddie took a lungful of air. He coughed. "What were you missing?"
"Isn't it obvious? It's only going to work for you."