The release of Crossing Time is drawing near and what better way to do a countdown than with some teaser posts? Crossing Time was an unique project, something that pretty much came out of the blue. It was different than anything I’ve ever worked on before, not only because I had to create my story in a pre-determined world, but also because I had to collaborate with other authors. It also allowed me to dip my toes into historical fiction, a genre that has always fascinated me. How I went about the writing process is a topic for another post. I will leave you now with the Prologue of Crossing Time.
Oxford, April 2nd, 1875
Sweat trickles down my forehead and into my eyes, making them sting. I blink a couple of times as I circle my opponent, quick on my feet, body hunched forward, bunches of fives up. The man twice my size is slower, and the big gash above his left eyebrow bleeds in the constant flow of a crimson river. Surrounding us, the excited crowd cheers on, but I can no longer tell whose name they are clamoring. There is a fierce rushing in my ears, drowning out everything else.
I came into this fight as the underdog despite my many previous victories in the pit. Fools, all of them. All they saw was the sheer size difference between me and Ludwig Schrammer, a third year law student with ties to Germany and built like an Alpine mountain. He relies solely on his size, without regard for strategy, which makes him predictable. A pity for certain. I was looking forward to more of a challenge. This fight has become tiresome and I aim to end it as soon as Ludwig gives me the opening I need.
I do not have to wait long. He feigns left, but I anticipate the right swing he aims at my head, which leaves his entire mid section exposed. I dodge his blow easily, hitting him right above his kidney with several powerful jabs. The giant takes a couple of steps back, struggling to breathe. I do not wait for him to recover, I stalk him like he is prey and end the night for him with a knockout punch.
He falls to the already bloodied floor with a resounding thud, his body slack. Once my brain catches on that the fight is over, the barrier I had to the outside world is lifted, and the roar of the crowd hits me like a cannonball. My eyes roam the space, finally landing on my best friend Charles Westbrook, who is presently jumping up and down, screaming like he is a poor railroad worker who has found a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. I think about what his father would say if he witnessed his son behaving in such an unbecoming manner.
The arbitrator of the match raises my arm, officially announcing me as the winner. I am still trying to catch my breath when Charles jumps on me and claps my back.
“Well done, Saint. Well done.”
“We are rich!”
“We were already rich, you idiot.” Nathaniel Atkins, another friend, joins us and hands me my shirt and jacket.
“Details.” Charles waves his hand dismissively.
Nathaniel narrows his eyes and peers at my face down his beak-like nose. “Bloody hell, Saint. You will have a half-mourning tomorrow. Mr. Long will have your balls.”
I touch the sore spot under my left eye. I let Ludwig hit me at the beginning of the fight, a calculated move on my part to build his confidence and ultimately lead him to his downfall.
“Maybe Alice can lend you some of her girly powders.” Charles laughs.
“Alice does not wear any of that clown stuff on her face,” I grumble.
Charles knows better than to say anything about Alice. He is not allowed to even get near her for that matter. He might be my best friend at Oxford, but I do not trust him one bit when it comes to her.
In true Charles fashion, he makes a phony sorry expression, spreads his hands, and backs away. “It was a jest, Saint. Calm down.”
“Do not pay attention to Charles. He is a certified dimwit,” Nathaniel says.
“I am not a certified dimwit.” Charles glares at Nathaniel and crosses his arms.
“Lack of certification does not mean intelligence.” Nathaniel fixes his gaze on something behind me. “We need to move, lads. I see a group of very unhappy men with murder in their eyes.”
I look over my shoulder and attest that Nathaniel is correct in his assumption. There are four men that I am most certain do not have any honorable intentions in their minds. It is not the state of their clothes, wrinkled and stained, nor the gruff on their jaws, but the way their faces are twisted into scowls, and how one of them cracks his knuckles as he assesses our trio. Their animosity rolls off in waves, and instinctively my body tenses as it anticipates another fight. I can hold my own if it comes to a brawl and so can Nathaniel. Charles is a different matter.
“I am thirsty. Who wants to go O’Shea’s for a pint?” I begin to move toward the exit.
“Are you daft? We are most certainly not drinking cheap beer tonight. Come. I know just the place where we can celebrate in true Westbrook style.” He walks along with the air of confidence that only those born in gilded cradles can master without effort.
Nathaniel moves closer to me. “No cheap beer for Charles, but betting in underground boxing fights is completely acceptable,” he whispers in a conspiratorial manner.
I shake my head and follow Charles into the cold and wet night. The pungent smell of the filthy street in this unsavory part of town hits my nose, its familiarity a warm blanket. I shove my hands inside my pockets and walk at a brisk pace toward the carriage that waits us. Once inside, Charles cannot stop talking animatedly about the fight. I block him out and stare out the window, pondering about my life. I have found myself doing a lot of that lately. I never once thought that I would be involved in illegal fights at indecent clubs when I sailed across the ocean to attend the prestigious Oxford University. Nor did I ever dream that my partners in crime would be members of the exclusive Bullingdon Club, a membership I also possessed. Only England’s high society was granted access.
I should be delighted about the course my life has taken. Nonetheless, there is a restlessness inside my soul, the same kind I had when I was a little boy, laying on a grassy field back home, and staring at the stars. I have known since then that my life could not be confined to the mere existence of a wealthy owner of an entire small town in Virginia. I thought that perhaps what I needed to do was travel, see the world. When the acceptance letter to Oxford arrived, I honestly believed that it was my ticket out of a meaningless life. But I had made a deal with my father. As the sole heir to his fortune, I was expected to return home upon graduation. At that time, I would have sold my soul for the opportunity to come here. Now that I have tasted what my life could be like if I broke my promise, severed the ties with my family, I feel wretched, powerless.
I must have been lost in my thoughts for too long because the carriage has stopped. We have arrived at our destination, a high-class gentlemen’s club, where wood and brass gleam, and wrinkles in clothes are not tolerated. I look down at my sweat stained white shirt and my hand reaches the swell under my left eye. One look at me, and the gatekeeper will send me away, rightfully so.
“They will never let me through the door in this condition,” I say.
Charles, who is already halfway out of the carriage, glances my way, an air of boredom in his eyes.
“You are wearing my patience thin, Saint. Stop with the fastidious attitude at once and follow me.”
I grind my jaw as I watch Charles disappear out of my line of vision. Nathaniel claps my shoulder.
“Do not fret. Mr. Pattison will not even glance your way.”
“How do you know that?”
“How long have you known Charles Westbrook?” Nathaniel raises an eyebrow in challenge.
“Too long and not long enough, it seems,” I mumble.
“Precisely,” Nathaniel replies in his dependable, mysterious way and steps out of the carriage as well.
I take a deep breath and do the same, suddenly wishing that I was someplace else, by Mr. Beckham’s hearth to be exact. Alice would sit across from me in her usual spot, and we would listen with humor to her father’s accounts of the day. The restlessness ceases for a moment, only to be replaced by something foreign and familiar at the same time, a yearning that keeps me coming back to the only place in this city that truly feels like home.
Read Chapter One here