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Michael LaRocca was born in North Carolina in 1963, and he grew up in NC and Florida. His long list of career changes includes security guard, copier repairman, systems consultant, and executive secretary. He moved to Hong Kong in 1999 to marry his Internet sweetheart. He also dusted off a twenty-year-old dream and became a full-time writer. When he's not writing, he works as an editor and as a web site consultant. In March 2001, CrossroadsPub published his first full-length novel, VIGILANTE JUSTICE, in e-book format. The paperback edition is coming in June. Later in 2001, CrossroadsPub will publish RISING FROM THE ASHES and THE LAZARUS EFFECT. For more information about Michael and his writing, as well as hundreds of free resources for readers and writers, visit http://readers.freeservers.com/index.html

Here is "In The Fullness of Time", an excerpt from a short story collection entitled THE CHRONICLES OF A MADMAN, which is coming soon from Wordbeams.

In the Fullness of Time
Michael LaRocca

Standing in my high-rise flat, gazing out the window at the busy city below, my thoughts turn to the brother that I killed.

I have been a traveler through time, a savior of the time line that courses through the whole of human history. I have been to the past, saving it from those who traveled from the future to change its course. I have been far into the future myself, to protect it from those who traveled back from even farther into the future to destroy it.

Merlin was the son of an incubus and a human, condemned to age backwards, so that he predicted the past and remembered the future and used his skills to preserve the time line. At his death on March 14, 1879, which was not of old age but rather of pre-infancy, I held his baby hand and reminded him of who he was.

Thus grounded in the moment, Merlin became an infant again and began to age forward. Then I swapped him with the stillborn son of Hermann and Pauline Einstein, who would christen him Albert, so that he could grow up to once again preserve the time line.

Finally, bereft of my powers, I stand by this window in my own time, June 2000. I have been told that my mission was done, my purpose in history served. Now I have nothing to do but wait for death. I look down on the foreign country that is now my home.

A few cars, a few more red taxis and a light bus, yellow with a green top, drive on the right side of the road. This is no longer an odd sight to me, an American who has lived in Hong Kong for six months. People walk across the road, near another construction site that will soon become another high-rise building.

The two constants of Hong Kong are the people and the buildings. Beyond the site, a blue ocean and a green mountain. Atop the mountain, more towering buildings reach up into a polluted blue sky. A single double-decker bus passes below me.

I view life, but I am no part of it. I sit alone, writing novels that will never be seen, stories that will never be understood, poems that will never be read aloud before the awed masses or the small crowds in the coffee shops. All is empty, futile, meaningless.

I am a most unremarkable man. Neither too tall nor too short, too thin nor too fat, too handsome nor too ugly. My hair is neither short nor long, neither brown nor red. My skin is neither tan nor pale and it is freckled but not noteworthy in its freckling. I am 36, almost 37, neither young nor old. All in all, I am painfully and boringly average.

I have been many things in my lifetime. A security guard, a dishwasher, a copier repairman, a high-powered executive secretary, a web site consultant. My dream was to write, but I was too busy with work. When I finally left all that to pursue the dream of writing, when my world consisted wholly of free time, I learned that I had nothing to say.

Then I was summoned by the Guardian of the Time Line. Great and wondrous adventures awaited me, of the sort that have been told many times before but which made me feel fresh and alive with their immediacy. Unlike the masses below me, I served a purpose. Such fulfillment I have never known before or since and all else pales beside the memory now.

Finally, standing before this window in my isolation, my mind drifts to my own past. My own time line. Tragic mistakes that would have haunted me, had I not suppressed them. And why, I wonder, can I not address them as well. If I can correct the time line of all humanity, why not that of a single man? Why can’t I go back and change what is into what should be?

I call to the Guardian, knowing that He will not respond. Why should He? Honestly, why did the Guardian do anything? He summoned and I obeyed. That was all. But I call to Him nonetheless.

I find myself standing on an island. It is surrounded not by water, but by darkness. The landscape is so unremarkable as to be foreboding. There is no sound, no smell, no gentle breeze blowing across my skin or making the grass rustle in its wake. The sky, which is neither blue nor gray, is vaguely illuminated as if by an artificial sun.

I wait for the Guardian to speak. He had done so many times, in a dispassionate voice that sounded human but did not feel human. It emanated from nowhere and everywhere, auditory but not visual, without the unconsciously observed vibration that produces all sounds. But this time, it is silent. Without that sound, I am alone. To close my eyes would make the deprivation complete.

“Are you here?” I ask.


“Send me back to 1985.”


“Because I ask.”

Is the silence an affirmation or a negation? I wait for a reply, but there is none. Finally, I speak. I name a date, a time, a location. Then I find myself standing there.

My brother, Barry, joined the Army as a boy of eighteen and left it as a man of twenty. He returned home with his wife of two years and became a jail deputy. Now I am standing outside their apartment.

The Guardian was efficient. I could not remember Barry’s address, only that it was on 46th Street. I’d fully expected to walk, but I am glad that I haven’t been forced to because I am barefooted. I am clad just as I’d been in my Hong Kong apartment, in a white Giordano T-shirt and black swim trunks with empty pockets. My latest trip through time is so unexpected that I am totally unprepared.

The apartment is on the corner of two small dark streets, one of a set of five duplexes with an undersized parking lot. I look at Barry’s apartment. The lights in the one beside it are off. I suppose that it has to be empty, as no one had heard the gunshot when Barry killed himself.

I quietly creep to the closest window and peer into the living room. Fortunately, the curtains are slightly cracked. I see the glass-topped coffee table. I remember riding with Barry to a run-down furniture store beside a flea market to buy that table. We’d set the cardboard-wrapped glass atop his new car and held it through the windows as he’d driven across town. The following week, I almost dropped a large metal ball bearing onto it, which would have shattered it. At the last moment I’d deflected its fall.

Barry is sitting on the couch. My heart seems to stop at the sight of him. A wave of emotion rises up within me and I fight without success to hold back my tears. Only a thin pane of window glass now separates me from my little brother, in my heart dead for almost fifteen years.

Barry had always been blessed with good looks. He is dressed in a tight blue T-shirt that highlights the small but firm muscles in his arms and chest and tight designer jeans. He has brown hair, fine and straight, parted down the middle. I remembered the times he’d combed it while looking in the rear view mirror of his car. He took pride in his handsome appearance, of which I’d always been jealous.

His blue eyes are usually firm and confident, but at this moment they are red-rimmed and filled with tears. His normally smooth white skin, with freckles so pale as to be invisible to me from my vantage point, is creased by his grimace of agony.

As a child, I was the intellectual. Barry was the one with common sense, the strong one, the golden boy who was destined to succeed. Not only did everyone know it, but everyone made a point of telling us.

I move my head to see the rest of the couch and the coffee table. Atop the tinted glass of the table is a gleaming gun. This is the gun that his wife had given him, as he was too young to buy his own. I’d bought him the bullets. Now, unless I do something, this is the weapon with which he will kill himself.

Barry rises from the couch and cries and screams and rages and paces the floor of his beautiful home. His heart is breaking and I know that I am part of the reason. Then he strides out of the living room. I am afraid of what will happen with him out of my sight, but I try to calm my beating heart. The gun is still on the coffee table. My memory tells me that Barry killed himself while sitting on that couch. No, he is okay. I only have to wait.

Barry returns to the living room carrying a piece of paper and a pen. This must be it, I think. I remember the note that he left to his ex-wife. He starts writing and that is my cue. I quietly rush from the window to the front door and ring the doorbell. I wait for a moment, listening intently, but there is only silence. I pound on the door with both hands and yell.

“Hey Barry! It’s Michael. Open up.”

That, I know, will work. Barry would never kill himself with me standing outside the door.

“I’ll be right there,” he says finally. He is totally unsuccessful in hiding the sorrow in his voice.

Next, I hear him moving through the apartment, hastily putting away the pistol and the half-written suicide note. The magnitude of what I am doing strikes me anew. I wipe the tears from my eyes and struggle to compose myself.

Barry finally opens the door. I raise my eyes slightly to meet his gaze, as he is six feet tall. I’ve forgotten how strong and how handsome he looks and how young. But mostly I’ve forgotten how it feels just to be able to look at my brother. I fight back another wave of emotion.

“You look like shit,” he says.

After my momentary confusion, I realize that I’ve aged fifteen years since he’s last seen me. Like Mom’s face, mine is covered with the lines of premature aging. My hair, like Mom’s, is scattered with quite a bit of gray. Ever the observant one, Barry notices these things about me even in these circumstances.

“I just finished a twenty-hour shift,” I reply lamely.

Barry steps aside and I enter his apartment.

“Cathy’s working,” he says, unable to look me in the eye when he speaks because it is a lie. Barry’s voice is not like mine. We grew up in North Carolina and he still has the accent. I’ve lost my Southern accent living in Florida and later in Hong Kong. Mom, it seemed, had never had one.

“What are you doing here?” Barry asks me, closing the door behind me.

“I needed to talk to you,” I reply.

“What about?”

“Me being a jackass,” I reply and try to grin. “C’mon, let’s sit down.”

I wordlessly follow my brother into the living room. He sits on the couch, the one where I know he’d killed himself before. I sit in a nearby chair so that I can face him.

“How’s it going?” I ask lamely.

“Okay,” he mumbles.

What do I say? I know the answer to every question I can ask him. How many times have I replayed the details of his brief life in my mind?

“Does the job still suck?” I manage to say.

“Yeah.” Communication was never one of Barry’s strong suits.

“Still strip-searching inmates who spit on you and pour cups of piss on you when you walk down the halls,” I say. “And breaking up fights with the firehouse.”

“Yeah,” he mumbles, then finally looks into my eyes. “Not too fast, though.” The ghost of a smile flickers across his face. “If one of ‘em kills the other, that’s one less I’ve gotta watch.”

“It’d be better if you were out on the road, stopping those bad guys and helping the people they hurt.”

“It doesn’t look like that’s gonna happen.”

“Just be patient.”

“Like I have been all year? Fuck, man, I’m not ever gonna get out of that jail.”

“Unlike the guys you watch over.”

Barry drops his eyes momentarily. “Yeah.”

“Got any new comic books?”

“Nah. No time.”

“I know why you collect them.”

“Yeah, they’ll be worth a lot of money some day. I’ve got some I could go sell right now for two or three times what I paid for them.”

“No, that’s not it. You wanna be like those comics.”

Barry’s first instinct is to deny my words, but he doesn’t. His firm gaze challenges me, drawing out the speech I’d rehearsed in my mind hundreds of times since his death.

“When Sam beat Mom, we couldn’t stop him. All we could do was hold in the rage. So she beat him off with a chair and left his ass. Then when Ray Parker stalked us and beat Mom, all we could do was hold in the rage. And all the other guys, like Eugene - ”

“Who gives a fuck about all that?” he yells.

“We do.”

He glares at me angrily, wanting to rage at me, but he decides against it. He seems drained.

“We lived in a fucking car for three months with an escaped convict who beat Mom in those motel rooms at night,” I continue. “But how could we stop him? You were eleven. Just a boy.”

“I could’ve stopped him!”

“No, all we could do was what we did. Hold in the rage and the pain. And now you’re a cop - you were an MP - but you still can’t do a damn thing for anybody. Especially not Mom.”

Barry rises angrily to his feet and storms across the living room. “Fuck you.”

“Is that why you hit Cathy?”

Barry whirls to face me.

“Is that why she went back to Dennis?” I add, rising angrily to my feet. “Is that why you were sitting here with a gun writing a goddamn suicide note? Cathy you fucking bitch. You always wanted me dead. You fucking slut. Now you’ll get what you always wanted. I hate you. Fucking bitch. I hope this makes you happy. I know it will. This is all because of you, you fucking bitch. It’s all because of you.”

Barry says nothing, but there are tears in his angry eyes. Finally, a sign that my words are getting through. There is also a question in those eyes. How in the hell did I know what he wrote?

“You called me up and asked me to go to a movie with you,” I continue. “I said I was too busy, that you should go with your wife. But I didn’t know she’d left you. So you’re going to get all depressed and blow your fucking brains out, because of what I said. Asshole!”

Barry begins walking toward me.

“Mom’s gonna hear about it on her birthday. You were supposed to take her out for dinner, but fuck that. And then after we’ve gone to the funeral home to see your coffin, closed of course, we’ll go back home. Tom’ll be there, since he’s your friend too and he’ll want me to go back with him and open the fucking coffin, just so we’ll know you’re really dead.”

“Shut up,” he snaps, but weakly. Ignoring him, I continue raving about my own pain. He stops walking.

“I’m guessing you put the gun in your mouth and not to your temple - that way it won’t slip. Does the fucking jaw fall off when you do that? Probably! Leaving what, a neck with a bloody stump of spinal cord sticking out? Do I really want to see that? Do I really want to know that you did that because I wouldn’t go to a fucking movie with you?!”

Barry simply stands there, facing me. He smells vaguely of Aramis. His expression changes from sad to challenging, then angry, then back to sad and finally just confused. Only his stance, shoulders back and chest forward and back ramrod-straight, continues to challenge me. In his face, he is the insecure little boy I’d known long ago.

“That’s it, asshole, bottle it up and be a fucking he-man. That’s what gets you killed.”

“Fuck you,” he says finally, turning away.

“Forget about Cathy and think about Mom. She’s only got four years to live. Do you want her to spend them knowing you killed yourself and wondering what she did wrong?”

Barry turns again and glares at me angrily.

“Do you?!” I repeat.

I want to reach out and hug him, but something in his expression stops me.

“That’s right, Mom’s got an aneurysm so deep in her brain that nobody could fix it even if they knew about it and she’s going to die on her 52nd birthday. You’re supposed to take her out in a few days for her 48th birthday. Do you really want her to learn on her birthday that you killed yourself?”

Barry can’t sustain his anger. He starts crying. This is his problem - our problem - holding back the insecurity and the sadness for fear of appearing weak. In my long life, I’ve done some terrible things because of that, but in his short life he’d only done one. He’d killed himself.

“Remember Club Boulevard, when you beat up the big bully on the school bus for picking on your little friend? Remember when you beat up Buddy - B-U-gee-gee-Y - because you thought he was picking on me?”

“He was picking on you.”

“I didn’t want to hit him because he was retarded, but I was going to do it before you jumped in and broke his glasses. That’s you, protecting the weak. What we wanted to do whenever someone beat Mom or raped her, but we couldn’t. It’s who you are now, sitting in that jail and looking at those scumbags instead of stopping them.”

Barry’s body slumps, as if tired of the pretence of being strong and unemotional. His eyes fall from my face to gaze at the floor.

“Remember Princess?” I continue. “A little kitten eating out of a dumpster, but you called her over to you and we raised her. That’s you. You’re a hero. And that’s why you’re so upset, not because of Cathy.”

“That fucking bitch! She left my ass and went back to Dennis.”

“I know,” I say gently. “I know. And I know it hurts like hell. You rescued her too, man and now she’s gone. But that’s not why you’re thinking of sticking that gun in your mouth. Not over a woman.”

“I love her!” Halfway between anger and pain, his yell begins as a firm shout but falls weakly to the floor.

“I know you do. She knows it too. And hell yes, it hurts. But not bad enough for this.”

Barry sinks back to the couch. I sit in the chair, facing him.

“Look at me,” I tell him. “Look at your stupid big brother.”

Barry reluctantly meets my gaze.

“Look at me,” I say. “I lied about the long shift. I’m not that twenty-two year old idiot who you called on the phone a little while ago. I’m thirty-six now.”

Barry glances at me. “Fuck you.”

“Look at me,” I command.

Barry looks at me hard.

“See the lines? See the gray hairs? Did I have those the last time you saw me? Was I this big?” I lay my hands on my stomach. “Was I this fat? I’m from the future - never mind how. Let me tell you what I remember. You’re sitting here on this couch, thinking how bad you hurt and how mad you are at Cathy. She hurts you, you hurt her because you’re hurting, she hurts you back and on and on it goes. And then finally you decide to show her sorry ass once and for all and stick that gun in your mouth and pull the trigger. But what about me?”

“What about you?! You told me to go do something with my wife!”

“That was wrong. I was stupid. Jesus Christ, you know how fucked in the head I am. But I always loved you.” I fight back my own tears. “You’re my brother, man. And if you do this, it’ll hurt me. Fifteen years later I’m still crying because I know I killed you. And what about Mom? You know how much she loved us, how much she gave up for us. Don’t do this to her.”

Barry cries out loud, something I’ve never seen him do before. Never in the twenty years of his life. He’d done it, of course, on this night, but I hadn’t seen that because I was sleeping in Mom’s apartment half a mile away.

“You’ll be twenty-one in two months. Less, really. And then if you’re not out of the jails and on the road, you can try at another police department. In Tampa or anywhere else. You’ll be old enough. Or if you feel you can’t hang on that long, just go see Mom. You know she loves you. You know she wants to see you.”

“Yeah,” he finally admits, wiping at his eyes and looking at me again.

“I’ll be there. I might be okay or I might be an asshole again, but you know I love you even if I don’t say it. But think of Mom. Make her last four years happy. Don’t do this to her.”

“How’d you get here?”

“Does it matter?

“No,” he says finally and then he chuckles quietly. “Maybe I’m fucking losing it.”

“Maybe we both are. But you know you’re not the only one to think of killing yourself. You don’t know how many times I’ve been at home alone, walking through the house and then just suddenly fell on my knees and started crying and wishing I was dead.”

“Why didn’t you?” he asks after a moment.

I make a point of meeting his questioning gaze firmly. “I didn’t own a gun.”

Barry drops his eyes to the floor.

“I’m serious, bro, I’m from the future. Don’t do this.”

“But it hurts!” he admits. Finally, the pretence has fallen away and the real Barry is exposed.

“It’s okay to be sad,” I tell him. “It’s okay to cry. It took me most of my life to learn that, but it’s okay.”

“You told me to -!“

“Fuck what I told you!” I yell. “I was stupid, okay?!”

Barry fights against his tears.

“That’s all we’ve done, all our lives,” I say, “Fight what we were feeling. That’s our fucking problem. Why we end up hurting the wrong people.”

I wait in silence while Barry cries. I want to walk across the floor, to hold him, to hug my little brother, but I decide against it. He doesn’t want me to do that, not even now.

Finally he looks up and wipes at his eyes again. I notice the fading pimple between his eyebrows.

“So what now?” he asks.

“Give me your gun.”

“I need that.”

“For what? You can’t take it into the jails. Look, you’ll be twenty-one in less than two months and then you can buy another one. Unless you really think you’ll get out of the jails before then, you don’t need it.”

There it is, out in the open, my purpose for being here. I can’t say anything that will stop my brother from killing himself in the next fifteen years. My words can’t ensure that he won’t kill himself this night, or tomorrow night, or the night after that. But if I can just get that gun away from him, then he’ll have to wait for a month and a half. It’s all I can do. That and hope for the best.

“I’d give you the money,” I add with a grin, “But I left my wallet at home.” I see no need to tell him that it’s full of foreign currency, probably signed after 1985.

“How’d you get here?” he asks again, looking firmly into my eyes. “Damn, you look fucking old. But I want to know how you got here.”

“First,” I state, “You give me the gun.”

Barry sits silently for a long moment, lost inside his own mind and his own feelings.

“Do it for Mom,” I plead. “Don’t ruin her birthday.”

After a long moment, Barry speaks. “It’s in the kitchen. The drawer beside the sink.”

I walk into the kitchen, retrieve the gun and unload it. It is a .357 Police Magnum. The bullets thump onto the counter. I slip the gun into my pocket. “I’d hate to blow my dick off.”

“I doubt you could hit it, it’s so small,” he quips.

I chuckle. I return to the living room and the gun falls to the floor. It is too heavy to carry in the small pocket of my swimming trunks. I pick up the gun and carry it to the living room.

“So how’d you get here?” he repeats.

“I don’t know.”

“That’s bullshit.”

“No, seriously, I don’t know. Some damn thing called the Guardian just snatches me up and sends me through time. That’s all I know about it, really.”

“That’s a bullshit answer.”

I stop walking and stand before him. “Does that mean you want your gun back?”


“Good, because I wasn’t going to give it to you anyway.”

“I could beat your ass and take it.”

“I could hit you with it, too.”

Barry looks at me for a long moment, his expression unreadable. Probably because he is feeling too many things at once, I decide and probably fighting against them all. Finally he rises to his feet and stares at my aging eyes. He silently reaches out and hugs me. I wrap one arm, the one that isn’t holding the gun, around him and hug him back.

Finally, Barry pulls away. “Now what?”

“Short term, call my ass again and make me go to a fucking movie. Then take Mom out for her birthday. Long term, don’t be such a fucking loner.”

“What about Cathy?”

“I don’t know. If you want her back, give it your best shot. If not, find somebody else. You’re the stud in the family, not me.”

“That’s the truth.”

“I think we oughta hang around until Mom dies and then go back to North Carolina. That’s what I ended up doing the last time around. But the main thing is, we figure it out together. We’re still a family.”


“It’d be a shame for Mom to have done all that for us just so you could ruin it with something stupid.” I grin. “I’ll do enough stupid shit for both of us.”

Barry grins back, a natural expression that makes him look mischievous. I’d forgotten how much I loved that simple expression. I let the tears run from my eyes.

“You’re an asshole,” he states.


“Coming in here like that and being a hero. You’re an asshole.”

I laugh through my tears. “Yeah. I know.”

“Your ass deserves to be woke up,” he states.

“Yeah, it does. Don’t even call me. Do like you used to do. Drive to the house and pour some water on my face.”

Barry grins again. “I will. And quit crying, you fucking wuss.”

I nod because I am unable to speak.

I stand before the Guardian once more. Or on the Guardian, I don’t know, but I’ve been here so many times before that I no longer care. I drop Barry’s gun upon the ground. Then I fall to my knees and cry. My little brother, who I’d loved so much but never been able to tell him. Until now.

Finally, I get to my feet and wipe at my eyes. I look at the gun, but I can think of no reason to pick it up. I don’t want it. After a minute, I change my mind. I pick up the gun and throw it as hard as I can. It sails off into the darkness. I don’t hear it fall.

“I’m ready to return,” I state. “To the second after I left, standing before my window in Hong Kong.”

Once again, there are no fireworks. No crashing of sounds, no bright lights, no special effects. I simply stand before the window as before, my memory of the past unchanged. Is this normal? Probably, but I’ve never changed my own time line before.

I walk across the small living room, past the ever-present computer and to the bookshelf. My keys are on a shelf, before a stack of paperbacks, atop my wallet and my passport. Attached to the key ring is an aqua blue piece of string, woven into an intricate pattern of knots, with a painted metal owl on the opposite end. There is a key to my flat and a key to my mailbox. There is also one of Barry’s Army dog tags. Shortly after his death, I’d retrieved it from his personal effects at the police station.

“Guardian,” I say. There is no reply.

It seems that nothing has changed. If I still have Barry’s dog tag, then he is still dead. I reach up to the bookshelves for a photo album and turn to the section where I keep Barry’s photos. The first is of him as a baby; the last is when he graduated from the Police Academy. There are no new photos.

I look at the watch on my wrist. It is 4:06 in the afternoon. That means it is 4:06 in the morning back in North Carolina, where my father is sleeping. Calling him to ask if and when Barry had died would be the height of stupidity.

I sit at the computer and turn it on. I wait as it boots up knowing that I am only confirming what I already know. It’s a slow old computer, rendered slower by sitting before it and waiting. Finally it is done and I open the word processor. I open a long-saved and long-forgotten manuscript. A quick search leads me to the essay I’d written shortly after Barry’s suicide. I read the first sentence.

“My brother, Barry, was sixteen months my junior. On September 21, 1983, he put a .357 Magnum into his mouth and spray-painted the back wall. He was twenty years old and it was my mother’s birthday.”

The manuscript is unchanged, as is my past.


Bonnie Mercure, your Fiction Guide at the dowse Fiction Hub, is a dark fantasy author.
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