Preview of The Time Hunters & the Box of Eternity - Chapt 1

The Time Hunters and the Box of Eternity
By Carl Ashmore

Chapter One
Chapman’s Choice

Wandsworth Prison, London.   April 6, 1903

A gas lamp flickered outside George Chapman’s cell door, tinting his black eyes orange, and he heard a distant bell ring a quarter to midnight. He wrapped a blanket round his shoulders and watched a spider scuttle down the damp stone wall.
Then a bitter realisation struck. The spider would outlive him.
Teeth-gritted, Chapman swelled with rage; he wanted to destroy it, to crush it in his fingers.  But then, as it inched onto the floor, he felt an unexpected emotion; one he’d rarely experienced in his thirty seven years: mercy. For three weeks, since a jury convicted him of murdering his wife, the spider had been his only companion in this filthy, stench-filled box of a room. Perhaps it should live.
Turning to face the barred window, Chapman thought about the day ahead, his last on earth, the day of his own execution. And the same recurring question crept into his mind: how would he feel when death finally came? For so many years, he’d seen so much of it, more than anyone could possibly imagine.  And it was this fact that afforded him his greatest thrill. His true identity remained secret.
No one knew who he really was.
He was about to laugh, when an unexpected chill swept the air. Confused, he glanced round, seeking its source. At once, streams of dazzling crimson light shot all around – twirling, crackling, sizzling. Momentarily blinded, Chapman clamped his eyes shut, smothering his head with the blanket. Then - BOOM – the light vanished; the temperature returned to normal.
‘Severin Klosowski?’ a voice sliced the darkness.
Dazed, Chapman threw the blanket off, his eyes quickly adjusting to the half-light. ‘Who – who is it?’ he panted. ‘How do you know my real name?’
‘I know many things.’ A besuited sallow-faced man stepped out of the shadows, holding a two-handled sheer black leather briefcase. ‘You were born in 1865 in Nagorna, Poland. You arrived in London in 1887, and changed your name to George Chapman in 1895. Shall I elaborate on that heart-warming story?’
‘No!’ Chapman snapped back, his eyes seething. ‘But I - I don’t understand.’
‘I would be astonished if you did,’ Drake replied calmly.
Chapman’s face flushed red. ‘What narcotic have you given me?  Which hallucinogen? Regardless, I shall tell you nothing of my secrets, my - ’
‘Silence! You’ve been given nothing,’ Drake cut in, ‘other than the prospect of a life-line. My time here is short, so let me ask you a question. Do you want to live?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘At two o’ clock tomorrow afternoon you’ll be taken to a room I believe they call the Cold Meat Shed and met by William Billington, who will proceed to hang you by the neck until you are dead. Now, that is one possible chain of events - the other is up to you. So, I shall ask one last time - do you want to live?’
‘Yes,’ Chapman breathed.
‘Very well,’ Drake replied without emotion. ‘So be it. However, you shall not live as you have lived. You shall be mine. You will do my bidding. Is that acceptable?’
‘I’m confused.’
Drake’s cold blue eyes met Chapman’s. ‘Let’s just say, I am a great admirer of your work and I believe you can offer much to my organisation. In return, your loyalty will be rewarded. Do we have a deal?’
Chapman took a moment to survey his tiny cell and an incredulous smile arched on his mouth. ‘I will do whatever you wish.’
‘A wise decision,’ Drake replied, offering him the second handle on the briefcase. ‘Take this handle.’
Chapman eyed the briefcase suspiciously. ‘What is it?’
‘This is a Portravella, a portable time travelling device.’
Chapman’s brow creased. ‘Time travel?’
‘I shall explain later.’ Drake glanced at his wristwatch. ‘A warden named Gordon Bridge will make his rounds in precisely sixty seven seconds. I would like to have left by then.’
‘As you wish,’ Chapman replied eagerly.
‘However, just one more question,’ Drake asked coolly. ‘How does it feel being the most infamous monster in the history of mankind?’
Chapman looked startled but composed himself at once. He noticed the spider scurry past him. In an instant, he crushed it beneath his bare foot. ‘I don’t know what you mean, Mr Drake.’
Precisely a minute later, Gordon Bridge found the cell deserted.