Copyright 1991, 1996 by Leigh Husband Kimmel
Nikanor's voice brought her up short at the very threshold of the magnificent gate through which she had entered only the previous evening. Guiltily Sara turned to face her benefactor.
Nikanor was standing by the fountain which graced the huge entrance hall of the mansion in which he dwelt. He was a tall man, and his erect posture gave lie to the look of age which his white hair lent him. He was carrying a silver goblet like the one from which he had given her wine the night before.
"Did I not warn you when you entered that this might happen?" With his free hand he stroked that fancy moustache and goatee of his, which gave him the look of an aristocrat. Then he waved to the door through which she had been ready to step. "Just look at that and tell me that years have not passed in the world beyond even as we slept."
Sara looked back out the door at the rolling hills that stretched as far as the eye could see. Although there were signs that once nuclear weapons had fallen here, nature was already well on its way to reclaiming the blasted wasteland of fusion glass that must have been left once the bombs had stopped falling. And those bombs had just been falling when she had stumbled into the gate, thinking that it was a bomb shelter, and instead found Nikanor waiting for her.
"But it's so beautiful. Surely it couldn't do any harm to just take a little walk."
Nikanor shook his magnificent head. "Sara, I thought we talked about this last night. Driesen thought that, and I told you what happened to him."
Sara remembered what Nikanor had told her of Driesen, who had discovered this ancient house over which the tides of time washed in a most peculiar manner. He and Nikanor had stumbled upon the entrance while riding in the hills that had been there untold millennia ago. After spending the night, they had been ready to leave, only to find that the pleasant hills that had been there the day before had suddenly become a desert. While Nikanor had waited at the door, Driesen had gone on out to see what could have happened.
And then, even as Nikanor had watched helplessly, Dreisen had suddenly gone from a youth in the prime of his life to an old man, and then was reduced to a skeleton that crumbled to dust. An eddy in the currents of time spilling into the doorway had turned Nikanor's hair prematurely white, although it had not otherwise aged him.
"It was as if all of his life passed in an instant," Nikanor had told her as they lay sprawled across his great mahogany bed, eating the candied fruits which came in endless supply from elaborate jeweled boxes on the bedstand.
Remembering the closeness that she had shared with Nikanor that night, Sara stepped back from the threshold. Yet somehow she could not tear her gaze away from the beautiful vista that lay beyond that gate. It was so different from the grimy city from which she had fled while the air-raid sirens screamed their ululating tocsin.
"But I do so want to take just a little walk out there." Sara looked pleadingly into Nikanor's eyes, hoping that he might relent.
But Nikanor only shook his head. "That simply is not possible."
With that he pulled the flowers from one of the beautiful vases that stood alongside the fountain. Then he stepped over to the door and threw them out. "Watch, if you still have any doubts."
Although she really didn't want to, Sara found that she could not tear her horrified eyes away from the bundle of flowers that fell just beyond the threshold. In a matter of moments the half-opened buds unfurled themselves into the glory of full bloom, then faded and closed. In the space of a few breaths they crumbled to dust.
Feeling the tears stinging at the corners of her eyes but unable to hold them back, Sara turned back to Nikanor, meeting the steady gaze of his dark blue eyes. Everything that he had told her was true. And that meant that there was no way for her to ever return to the world she had once known, for now it lay somewhere in the unrecoverable past.
"Would you leave me here alone?" Nikanor's voice was choked with emotion.
At once she knew that she could not abandon Nikanor and join in oblivion the world she had known. Brushing away the tears that were now running down her cheeks, Sara allowed Nikanor to slip his arm around her waist. Then she walked with him back up the stairs into the inner chambers of the House of Time, knowing she would spend the rest of her life with him.
Copyright 1991, 1996 by Leigh Husband Kimmel
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