Tim left Eddie alone in his tiny stone prison. Nothing happened for several minutes, and Eddie sat, sweating in his box, wondering what he could do now.
He heard voices outside. He stood up and strained to see what was going on. From his vantage, he could see the time portal, the equipment, and Ruby still trapped on the column. She stared back at him, her eyes filled with frustration.
"You won't hurt her?" asked a familiar voice.
"I don't need to," Tim replied. "I've got the boy. He'll do what I say. Now, will you follow my orders?"
"Of course, master," Dennis replied.
"Good. I need Eddie taken away from here, somewhere safe. The jailhouse should do it. Stay there until I summon you back."
"As you wish, master."
One wall of Eddie's prison dropped back into the floor. Eddie didn't wait for anyone to fetch him. He sprang out, spotted Tim and sprinted towards him. He made it only five strides before a clawed hand reached out and caught him by the throat. Eddie struggled, but Dennis was too strong.
Dennis raised Eddie off the floor and stared him in the face. His grip was iron.
"Don't hurt him," Tim warned. "If you kill him, then everything fails."
Tim loosened his grip. "Yes, master."
Eddie turned to face Tim. "Why do you need me?"
"Because you cancel out my power, and in this case, that's just what I need. The portal won't work because I radiate some kind of bio-electrical noise that interferes with the portal. But when you're near, that radiation is nullified."
"I won't help you."
"You don't have to agree. Dennis will keep you in line. And I'll hurt Ruby if you make too much trouble."
This got Dennis's attention. "Master?"
Tim waved a hand. "I'm sure it won't come to that. Now take him away. Do you know where the jailhouse is?"
Tim sighed. "Come along. I'll show you."
Dennis followed Tim through the columns. Eddie clawed at Dennis's arm as his captor dragged him. His struggle had no effect.
Outside, Tim stretched and took in a breath. "Nice place, this," he said. "The jailhouse is that structure down the street past the hedgerow. Can you take him there?"
"Of course, master."
"Tim, don't do this," Eddie cried as Dennis dragged him away. "You know what will happen if I go through that portal again."
Tim grinned. "Frankly, my dear, I don't—"
His grin dropped as he looked up. From the swirling clouds above, a blue car came bulleting down. It plummeted, far faster than a falling rock. Eddie caught only a glimpse of Bryce's face, contorted in rage as he smashed the car into Tim.
A jarring cacophony, then all fell silent. Dennis dropped Eddie. He gaped in horror at the place his master had once been.
Nothing moved. The car sat upended on the spot, miraculously retaining its shape after the massive impact.
The car made a creaking noise. It tipped backwards, falling over onto the soft cover roof. A hand reached out through the missing passenger door. Bryce crawled out and fell on the ground.
"Master," Dennis cried. He rushed forward.
Bryce lay on his back. He laughed. "Take that, you dumb son of a bitch."
Dennis crouched over Tim. His master's body was crushed, his legs under the hood of Bryce's car. "Oh, master. Oh, my sweet savior. My..."
Tim's arm twitched.
Bryce turned. "What?"
Tim's head caved in on one side. But as they watched, an eye popped open, circled around and spotted Eddie. His arm raised, broken bone protruding from his wrist. With a grunt, he whipped the arm sideways and popped the bone back into place. The wound healed instantly.
He was alive. And despite the mess, he was healing.
"No," Eddie said. He rushed forward, hoping to touch Tim before he could rise.
"Stop him," Tim choked, his good eye turning to Dennis.
Dennis leaped away from his master and blocked Eddie. Eddie tried to dodge around him, but the rat was too fast. He caught Eddie by the throat once more.
Tim stood up, his bathrobe covered in blood, spinal bones protruding through his neck, his head hung limp to one side. his other arm was broken, blood running down onto his slippers. He gripped the broken forearm. When he drew his hand away, the arm was straight once again. He pushed the bones in his neck back into place.
"Not cool," he said. He turned to Bryce, who remained on the grass, unable to move. "Not cool at all."
"Are you gonna kill me, asshole?" Bryce demanded. "Then do it quick."
"Not at all. I need leverage over Eddie, and if Ruby isn't enough, I'll sweeten the pot with you."
He pointed at Dennis. "Get him out of here. He makes my head hurt, and I need to think right now.
With a nod, Dennis dragged Eddie away once again toward the jailhouse. Eddie fought all the way.
* * *
Eddie lay in the same jail cell he'd shared with Bryce and the frog brothers so long ago. The lantern flickered on the table by the door, just as it had before. Eddie lay on the bench, exhausted and hopeless. There were no more plays to make, no way left to stop Tim. Tim had Ruby and Bryce as hostages as well as Montrose and Gretchen. He couldn't control Eddie, but Dennis was more than capable of forcing Eddie in line. Even if Eddie refused to walk through the portal, Dennis would force him through.
As if to taunt his addled mind, a short sentence had been spray-painted on the wall near the lantern. He had a good idea who had painted it there, but it did him no good now.
You already did
Already did what? he wanted to scream. The message was from the mysterious Winnie. But what did it mean. Where was Winnie now? If he was here, why didn't he come out and help Eddie now?
Eddie's mind reeled. What could he do? Sabotage the equipment? That would only slow Tim down.
What if he killed himself?
The thought stopped Eddie. Would that do it? He didn't know how he could kill himself, but if he did, that would prevent Tim from getting the portal working.
Tim wasn't stupid though. He'd find a way to make it work without Eddie. Suicide wasn't an option. Eddie struggled to find a better solution.
A shadow flitted through the bars on the window. At first, Eddie thought it was a bat.
Skylar landed on Eddie's chest. "You're alive," she said. "What about Ruby? Where is she?"
"She's in the shadowy place with the columns down the street."
Skylar saluted. "Well, then I'm off. I need to go see what she needs." Her wings buzzed again, and she leapt towards the window.
She hesitated, hovering at the bars.
"You understand that Ruby won't be safe until Tim is stopped."
"Which one is Tim again?"
"He's the evil bald man in the bathrobe."
Skylar tapped her lip, thinking. "OK, yeah, I remember him. But I can't hurt him. That goes against my programming. I can help Ruby escape though."
"I don't think you can," Eddie said. "If Tim sees you, he'll smash you."
"He's a god."
Skylar frowned. She settled back down, landing on the window sill. She sat between the bars. "You got a better plan?"
Eddie thought. With Skylar, there had to be a better option. "How well do you understand the time portal?"
"Most of it," she said. "At least the mechanical part. The physics are way beyond me."
"Could you..." he stopped to think. He couldn't ask her to sabotage the time portal. That would be obvious to Tim. She couldn't do anything to prevent Eddie from walking through the portal or to prevent the portal from working.
An idea occurred to him.
"Could you change the time coordinates?"
"What do you mean, cowboy?"
"I mean, Tim wants to send me back two seconds in time. That will cause a massive paradox."
"Of course it will," Skylar said, folding her arms. "What kind of idiot would do that?"
"But could you send me back two months? The mishmash event was September 19th, and you can't send me back further than that. Could you adjust the controls to send me back to September 20th?"
"Piece of cake," she said. "But won't your god notice I've changed it?"
"You could sneak in and change it right before he opens the portal."
"I guess so. But what would be the point?"
"I don't know. If I go back..." He thought about it, about the possibilities. He wasn't able to sneak up on Tim because Tim was expecting him. Dennis was watching. But if Eddie went back in time, he'd get a second chance. Yes, it would create a paradox. There'd be two Eddie's in the world. But the paradox would be minor compared to what would happen if they repeated the original experiment.
Eddie could act without Tim's knowledge. He could change things. Stop Tim? Destroy the cocoon? Maybe. But wasn't Tim's cocoon guarded? He had Dennis, and Dennis had mentioned other disciples. What else could Eddie do? Eddie (the second Eddie) could come to Holcomb. He could bide his time for a couple months, then appear here at the end, and with Tim's attention fixed on Eddie Number One, Eddie Number Two could step out and slap Tim on the back. That would end Tim, and there might even be an Eddie left over to live another day. It was weird, but it might work.
So, Eddie Number One becomes Eddie Number Two. Then Eddie Two catches Tim unaware and...
You are one and I am two. Then I am one and you are two.
Winnie had sent him that message in a text so long ago. Was that referring to...
"So, is that the plan?" Skylar asked. "I monkey with the time portal controls and you go back two months into the past?"
Eddie noticed the graffiti on the wall once again.
You already did .