Disclaimer: Still don't own Time Hollow.
A/N: Wow, this story got more attention than I expected! Thanks guys!
On a side note to Martial Arts Master, I completely agree that any caring parent would definitely whip their kids into shape if they were missing school. Hell, I know that my mom and dad would've done the same to me. But I tried to take into account that Timothy is a user of the Hollow Pen, like his son, so he might be at LEAST a little more understanding, considering the circumstances.
Anyway, this chapter is MOSTLY dialogue, so it might be a little boring. Sorry.
A Hollow Gap
A Place Out of Time
"Use this Hollow Pen!" Sox nudged something against his master's arm with his nose. "Use it now!"
Absentmindedly, Ethan's fingers curled around the pen, everything hitting him at once. He couldn't explain it. He thought that the worst of it would've come from just the Hollow Pen, but now Sox was talking…
Wait, was that really such a surprise?
"You were…talking before…" his words ended on a low whisper, still hardly believing that he was having a conversation with a cat.
The animal jumped back, arching its spine, "Look, I promise I'll explain everything after you draw a hole and step through it, but if you don't do it now, then I can't guarantee your safety!"
Ethan gazed down at the pen between his fingers. He never thought that he would have to use this thing again. He didn't understand what was going on. Every time he expected answers, he just got more questions. He hoped for the sake of everything worth living for that this wasn't going to be a mistake.
Throwing back his covers, Ethan took little notice that he had never changed out of his clothes from earlier that night. He jumped out of bed and held the pen up, drawing in a deep breath.
This feeling…every time I used the Hollow Pen, I'd feel it. Here it comes again…
With a shaky hand, he proceeded to etch a circle, the glow emanating from the pen as he had seen so many times before. Once completed, he was blinded by an overwhelming light, and shielded his eyes with the underside of his arm. Normally, he could see into the circle where he was going, but now he couldn't.
Actually…now that he had the time to think about it, he had never stepped through a hole and stayed there, either. It was dangerous, and he had always been afraid of it. But what choice did he have now?
"Step through it, Ethan!" he heard his cat call out over the noise coming from the hole. "There's nothing to worry about. I'll be right behind you!"
For my sake, you'd better be. But Ethan was terrified. If Sox didn't go with him, then he'd be lost through some other time, more confused than he had ever been while using the Hollow Pen. Only Kori had been the one he could cling to, for she knew everything.
But Kori was gone now.
He brought up a leg and placed it into the hole.
Balancing himself on his other foot, he prepared to propel himself through the opening, but was taken aback when a force as powerful as a vacuum sucked him through, and he tumbled into the hole, screaming.
This isn't supposed to happen! There's supposed to be a landing after the hole! Why am I falling? …Where's Sox!?
His cries echoed all around him, the wind rushing past him as various colors flooded his vision from within the hole. He plummeted, no end in sight, and his arms reached out, desperate to grab anything.
It was a hole. There was nothing to grab.
All he could do was brace himself for the horrible impact…whenever that came.
"Sox!" he howled, tucking his body into a ball and flipping over so that his back would hit the ground first.
For some reason, nothing ever went his way.
…in the whole wide world…
Was this even…a world?
All this time that he had been traveling…Did that qualify him as a master of time and space?
He could manipulate time and change the horrible and unsatisfying past.
What would that qualify him for?
All he wanted…
All he truly wanted…
…were those damned answers that no one could ever seem to give him!
That wasn't it at all.
Sprawled out on his back, Ethan found that he was looking up into the sky. Confirming that he was, indeed, in one piece, he allowed his mind to reel backwards.
How long have I been lying here? What happened to the hole?
When had he landed? He didn't even remember landing.
He hoped that no one had seen him fall from the sky, or else he'd have a lot of explaining to do. And just where the heck was Sox?
Rocking himself into a sitting position, Ethan grimaced as the blood quickly rushed to his head. He held a hand against his temple until the pain subsided and then closed his eyes. He swallowed his dizzy spell and then opened them.
Just as he thought, he was outside, taking an afternoon nap in the street.
Wait, afternoon? It was dark just a moment ago. He was in his bed, asleep, and then Sox disturbed him, and—
Whatever the case, it was daytime now. The sun hung over him, greeting him warmly. Ethan inwardly told himself that at least something was happy around here, even if it was only the sun. Though unharmed, his body ached and wobbled.
He had to find out where he was.
Shakily, he pushed himself to his feet and hung there in case his knees gave out and he toppled back over.
Exhaling and positive that his body was going to be fine, he scanned his surroundings. Ethan was glad to see no one in sight, but, given his location, it was to be expected. Glancing down toward the ground, he gulped to find that he had been sprawled out in the middle of the highway.
He was next to a cliff, the railing protecting drivers from going off the edge for whatever reason. Ethan peered over the side, hesitantly.
He knew this place well.
"Clockwork Hill," he mumbled, his mouth dry. It was the first set of words he had spoken since he awoke. It felt like he hadn't spoken in a long time. "What am I doing on Clockwork Hill?"
Taking a slow circle, Ethan gazed down the other end to where the highway disappeared around a bend and couldn't be seen after that. It was same for the other side as well.
"Yup. Clockwork Hill, all right. The place where that bus accident took place and Mary Onegin…"
He shook his head, forcing himself to stop. He didn't want to think about Irving anymore. It was over with and done. Now, all he wanted to do was go home and—
…What was his house doing on Clockwork Hill?
Ethan couldn't take it in right away. His jaw dropped, his back slumped, and he thought that he was going to collapse in the middle of the road. Set back from the highway, where a cliff was supposed to be, was a hilltop with grassy fields. Though it was a ways away from the highway, Ethan couldn't mistake that sad excuse for a color that was their house.
But…what was it doing here?
"…I don't believe this…" he found himself saying, eyes fixated on the house on the hill.
"You'd better believe it."
Ethan whirled around, but no one was there. Then, dropping his eyes to the road, he recognized Sox by his feet. "Sox! But…how did you get here? I…wait…I…" The boy harshly grabbed his head in between his hands and screamed. "Just what is going on here!?"
Ethan couldn't believe it when he heard the cat laugh. He pulled his hands away and looked down again. Sox was licking a paw, still chuckling.
"Calm down, Ethan. As promised, I'll explain everything."
Pointing an accusing finger down at the cat, Ethan spat, "You can start by telling me how you know how to talk! It was you who spoke to me right after that happened with Irving and Uncle Derek, wasn't it!?"
Sox did not lose his composure. In fact, he purred and strutted in a circle around his master.
"Yes, that was me."
"Why didn't you make your presence known sooner!?"
"There's no need to shout, you know." Sox placed himself in the middle of the road, tail whipping about. "I didn't see a need to tell you."
Ethan's eyes widened. "Didn't see a—! Do you know how much hassle I went through because of that Hollow Pen? I thought I was going crazy! No one understood what I was going through, not even my dad! If I had known that at least you—" The boy dropped to his knees, whining.
As he has felt before, nothing ever went his way.
"Come on, Ethan, don't be like that. You still got through it."
Peering back up at his cat with darkened eyes, Ethan mumbled, "Every time I thought I had something figured out, I'd end up with more questions. Your assistance would've been very useful, even for a talking cat."
Sox gave a low sigh. "Well, how about I start from the beginning, huh? I'll try to explain everything as best I can."
"I'm the Sox from the near future. I came into the past to save you."
And that was how it started, Ethan remembered. Sox had said something about needing to save him from someone who wanted him wiped from existence. It was also at this point that he knew things were going to get much more complicated than before.
"Save me? From what?"
"I'm not sure." Sox turned his head, "I woke up early in the morning and realized that my Ethan wasn't breathing. He was dead." The word 'dead' sent shivers up the boy's spine and he gulped.
"I couldn't figure that out. So I had to come back into the past and get you, the past Ethan, and save you before it was too late."
The boy shook his head, already feeling lost. Why couldn't things ever be simple? "The future Sox? The future me? Are you saying that what Morris was talking about, those parallel dimensions or whatever, is true?"
Sox nodded, "Time and space are vast things, you know. Anything is possible. I'm sure you noticed that there are many 'me's' roaming around during your time, too."
Ethan pondered heavily on the matter, chewing on the prospect that Sox had brought to light. Now that the cat had mentioned it, he did wonder how Sox showed up at all those different places at once.
"So…you're saying that there was a future you, a present you, and…"
"And a past me in your time period, yes."
The boy rubbed his chin, "But, why so many?"
"Well, according to the chain, there had to be a Sox you sent into the past after the events with Irving Onegin, right? It's like an assembly line, you know. Have to keep the chain going."
Ethan gave a low whistle and looked up to the sky. That's right. That was me that wrote that letter to my past self, and my future self wrote that letter to me, saying that it was from dad. I suppose that that makes sense why there would be so many Soxs roaming about.
"Easy enough to comprehend, right?" the cat interrupted his train of thought. "Well, chew on this. I had to come back and save you, so I pulled you out of time in order to do so. The time period we are in now is approximately one week to your past self's death."
Ethan stiffened when Sox mentioned the "out of time" part. He knew what being pulled out of time entailed, especially when it had happened to his father.
"I…I can't use the Hollow Pen anymore," he realized, a great weight burdening him. "I've been disqualified…" A horrible thought came after that. He was pulled out of time like his father and Kori had been. How was he supposed to get put back into the time flow now? He'd be a wandering soul, like Kori, forever. He held his face in his hands again, not wanting to accept the horrible truth.
"Now, calm down, Ethan. Calm down." Ethan peeked out through the slit between his fingers at the cat below him. "The Hollow Pen you used was mine. Unlike the Hollow Pen that you used before, mine doesn't disappear permanently after stepping out of time."
"No. After a few days or so, I'll be able to let you use the Hollow Pen again."
A smile cracked at the boy's face, feeling that things were starting to go his way after all, save the fact that someone still wanted him dead. "So I can be placed back into the time flow? That's great!"
"Well…" Sox looked away. "I'm sure we don't want to use the Hollow Pen to send you back until after we figure out who wants you dead. It would be a waste to put you back into the time flow and then you just die. We've got to find out what happens to you, Ethan, or else you can never be put back into the time flow."
And, like all good things, his hope went up in flames. Ethan couldn't understand his string of misfortune. It had been bad when he had to save his parents, Uncle Derek, his friends, and even Kori. Now he had to save himself? He had no idea where to start.
"So we're about a week away from my other self's death?" Ethan confirmed. At Sox's nod, he asked, "If we're in the past, why does everything look different? What's my house doing on Clockwork Hill?"
"That…is a little bit harder to explain. You see, there's a distinct time flow that holds a line for every person: the past you, the present you, and the future you. Once one of the 'you's' has been pulled out of that flow, that leaves a gap in time. Even if you could use the Hollow Pen to change someone's life, there's still that 'you' that has been left out of time, right?
"That 'you' can't die because you no longer hold any concept of time, nor can you get any older. So that's where this place comes in. It's a Place out of Time, if you will—a parallel time flow to your original one. That's why you see your house here instead of where you normally live. Do you understand?"
The blank stare on Ethan's face proved that he did not. He was happy when Sox stopped long enough to reiterate everything in his mind. The town he was in now was his town, except a parallel version of it, meant solely for people like him, who were out of the time flow. He wondered if people like Kori, his father, and Irving had seen the same reversed town when they had been left out of time.
"…I…think so…" Ethan drew the words out, long and slow.
That compelled the cat to continue the explanation, "This world is virtually identical to your own, except that you're seeing it in a reversed way. Even the inhabitants here see it as a reversal to your original time. But everything is still the same. The past you is aware of the Hollow Pen. He's feeling depressed, just like you had been, and…is probably skipping school, too."
The cat dodged a swipe from his irate master.
"Very funny," Ethan narrowed his eyes. "So, we're here to keep an eye on my other self and make sure he doesn't die, right? That sounds easy enough."
Sox shook his head, "It's not that easy. Just because you can't die doesn't mean that you're invincible. We need to keep an eye on your other self, but if your other self recognizes you or touches you, it will cause a ripple between the two time flows and it will explode."
The idea didn't sound pleasant to Ethan, but he said, "Then, couldn't you just go back even further into the past in case that happens?"
"…You don't seem to have a clear concept of the situation here, or how powerful time is, either. If that happens, your entire existence will be wiped out, from birth and all."
Ethan clamped his mouth shut. That was a problem.
Sox was pacing back and forth in front of him. "We're going to have to change your name and your style up. You can't let anybody know who you are or why you're here. If you want to keep an eye on your other self, you'll have to go to Kako High, of course. Also, you can't live at home anymore, so you're going to have to find somewhere else to stay."
Ethan crossed his arms, frowning. "There's a lot to this, isn't there?"
"And even though you can't die, you're still human. If you stop eating and sleeping, your body will feel the fatigue and you'll just writhe in pain, unable to die."
"All right, all right," the boy waved the cat away. "I get it. So, what, I'm gonna have to get a part-time job or something? I can't afford an apartment, you know."
Sox was busy thinking about all of this. Everything was easier said than done. Ethan used his foot to draw circles in the road, sighing.
He had to keep an eye on his past self without letting him know who he was or touching him? That was going to be hard. And now he couldn't live at home. He wouldn't be able to eat or sleep.
This is too complicated. How am I going to find a part-time job to be able to accommodate for all of this? I…
Ethan paused, the most brilliant of ideas striking him like lightning.
"Chronos…" he said, staring down at the ground. "I'll ask Uncle Derek for a job at Chronos. I'll be able to sleep there after hours, keep an eye on my other self, and eat." Eyes tracing back to the cat, he asked, "Do you think that that would work?"
Sox appeared surprised, the idea tackling him as it had Ethan. But he answered, calmly, "So long as you don't call him 'Uncle Derek,' I'd say that you just came up with something amazing."
The weight that had wrapped itself around Ethan was slowly crumbling. Running the different problems through his head, he voiced, "So, I have to join Kako High under a new name, right? How am I supposed to do that?"
"Relax," Sox's tail tapped back and forth against his legs while he sat there, staring up at his master. "That's what talking cats are for."
"You?" Ethan eyed him, skeptically. "What can you do?"
"Well, besides talk, I can do other amazing things."
"Yeah, now that you mention it, why is it that you can talk, huh? And why do you have a Hollow Pen in the first place?"
Sox gave him the slyest look a cat could muster, and that was even more amazing than his ability to talk, Ethan found. "You don't need to concern yourself with that right now. Time is of the essence, you know. My ability to talk has nothing to do with your current task."
"See? More questions that never get answered." Reaching into his back pocket, Ethan whipped out something and held it in front of him. It was a small book with a pen snuggled within the binding.
Sox blinked. "What are you doing?"
"I'm writing down all the questions I have and I expect you to answer them by the time this is all over with."
Ethan quickly scrawled something into one of the pages in his book. From out of the corner of his eye, he could see a curious cat edge his way around Ethan's leg, but no matter what he did, Sox was far too short to be able to see what his master was writing.
Where did the Hollow Pen come from? Why do I have it? Why can Sox talk? Why does he have a Hollow Pen? I'm sure that I'll find out the answers to these questions one way or another, or else I'll have a conniption.
Shutting the book with one hand, Ethan placed it back into his pocket and sighed.
I've gotta recap here. Most of this doesn't make sense anyway. So there's a time flow in which there are many me's that exist. The 'me' of the near future has died, so the future Sox has come back to take me out of time, claiming that it's to save me. He's brought me to this parallel time flow he called 'a Place out of Time.' It's for people who have been pulled out of time—a reverse world of mine. That's why my house is now on Clockwork Hill instead of behind Vin's house.
My current objective is to spy on the other me and keep him from dying. But I can't let him recognize or touch me or else it will cause a rift in time that will end my existence altogether. …That's about the gist of it.
"You look lost in thought?" Sox startled him back to reality. "Anything I can help with?"
He says that, but he won't answer any of the real questions that I have. So Ethan asked, "What next?"
"Well, we're right in front of your house, right? You'd better go inside and get some other clothes so that nobody recognizes you standing out here."
"Wait, what about my other self!?" Ethan made a sharp gesture to the house on the hill, "He's in that house at this very moment! If he recognizes me—" Ethan wanted to curse his cat's negligence.
But Sox was cleaning himself again, coolly and delicately.
"You honestly think that I would go through all of this trouble to save you just to mess up by placing you in harm's way? What kind of talking cat would I be in that case?"
Ethan cocked his head to the side, not sure what to say. The cat finished and moved past his master, trotting up the hill. "Your other self is busy brooding, remember? He's at the park right now and your parents are at work. I'd say you have about an hour before you have to worry about anything."
Staring after his cat, the boy found himself slowly jogging to catch up. "That's…very precise, Sox. I'm impressed."
"I told you. What kind of talking cat would I be if I put you in harm's way?" Ethan smiled. "We've got more important things to worry about. Be careful what you take so that we don't cause alarm for your past family and self. But we can't have anyone recognize you."
"Yeah, yeah…" Ethan craned his attention to the house that wasn't supposed to be here. But it was his house, undoubtedly. It was just too much to take in.
"You need to think of a false name, Ethan. And probably get acquainted with your new surroundings. After that, we'll begin our operation."
Slowly, his cat's words began to fade from his mind. Though he thought he had grasped what was going on at first, Ethan realized that he had absolutely no idea anymore.
Who would be trying to kill him? Was it Irving? No, no…he had already fixed that problem.
So who was it?
And why would they hold such a vengeance that they would want to kill him?
It just didn't make any sense.
But…because of that grudge, his whole world was flipped upside down now. He was out of time and couldn't go home. He had to save himself. If he was caught up with his other self, his entire existence would be destroyed.
Why couldn't things ever be easy?
"Cada," he blurted out. "Cada Nulls."
Har, har. I couldn't help but be EXTREMELY predictable and cliché. Cada (pronounced Kay-Duh) is supposed to mean "abandoned animal or lamb," according to a source on the internet (Poor, despondent Ethan) and nulls is, well, null.
Sorry, I couldn't help myself. And I'm even more sorry that this chapter lacked anything exciting. I promise that it will get better next chapter. And I hope that what Sox was trying to explain wasn't so confusing or farfetched that it just didn't make any sense, if it was, please let me know!
…So, what OTHER questions should Ethan be writing in that book of his?