---Impact, "Change In My Life"
1. "Move yer leg, Macca!"
"Ow! Sorry, John. It's really tight in here."
"Where are we?"
"I'd like to know that, too---move over, Ring, I think I'm sitting on you---but it's too damn dark to see a bloody thing."
"Okay, I'm gonna stand. Sorry if I whack any of you..."
Paul stood in the darkness, feeling about for anything around them. It was pitch black and they hadn't the slightest clue as to where they were. As soon as Ringo had disappeared from Delaney, they had all been dropped into this dark place without a word exchanged about Ringo's mission
Paul's groping hands encountered what felt like a wall. It was cold and rough; stone.
"Lads, I think we're in a room," he said quietly. "C'mon, stand and help me find a light switch."
The other three stood, clutching at each other blindly as they felt about for the wall.
John's fingers caught on something smooth with something pointy sticking out from the center---the switch! He pushed it up and they were bathed in a soft, faint light. He looked around and saw that they were in---
There was a set of stairs leading up to a door with light streaming from the crack under it. The ceiling creaked with someone's footsteps above them.
"Turn the light off, John," Paul whispered. "Whoever's up there might come down."
John nodded, but first turned his head and looked at all the shelves and corners in the basement. A lamp...a light...that's what we need..."Look for a light, mates," he said softly. "We'll need something to see by."
They searched as silently as they could and finally George said, "I found one---it's a little plug-in lamp. D'you think it'll be all right?"
"Yeah---perfect. Plug it in the corner furthest from the door," John replied, not looking at George, but watching the door with his hand on the light switch.
George felt along the lower part of the wall for the socket, as the dim light made it hard to see. He found it and plugged in the lamp and turned it on.
John flicked the switch down.
They huddled around the light, which was the only source of warmth in the cold basement. Paul closed his eyes and shivered. John touched his shoulder.
"Are you all right, Paul?"
"Ye-ye-ah," Paul replied through chattering teeth. "I-I-oh blo-od-dy he-el-el! N-n-no...I-I d-don't-t f-feel w-w-el-el a-at-t all, J-John."
John sighed, tired and angry with all of this Might-Have-Been/Them/Time nonsense that was slowly killing his best friend.
If Time were tangible, John thought acidly, I'd take it by the neck and choke it. Paul doesn't deserve this...
The conversation he'd had with Paul's double came back to him: "Your friend can't handle the jumble of times---Time is out of step with itself and Time is what is killing him. Unless the Real Ones set it right, or the Higher Powers...He'll either die of the Time disharmony---your friend is in tune with Time, you see...Either the Time thing---or a Might-Have-Been trying to get his life. He'll---go, and that's the truth. Unless it's all set right, which I doubt...Look at it this way, mate. He'll be better off."
No he won't, John thought fiercely and took off his coat. He's gonna live! He put his coat on Paul, despite Paul's stuttering protests.
"Take it, you sod," he said with traces of warmth and affection in his voice.
"T-t-hank-k y-you, J-John," Paul whispered, wrapping the coat tightly around him.
John nodded and wondered why he always instinctively tried to get Paul warm when Paul showed signs of relapsing. How does warmth keep Them and the Might-Have-Beens from killing him on the spot? I don't understand...
His period of thought was short-lived. Footsteps creaked overhead again and this time approached the door.
They strained their eyes and watched it in anticipating dread. The doorknob rattled slightly and the door swung open and flooded the basement with light.
A figure appeared at the top of the steps with a very---familiar---face. John's eyes widened in terror as he stared at the figure and then at Paul who had rested his head against John's shoulder. John stared at the figure again.
"Hello," it said. "I've been waiting for you."
The figure flicked the main light switch and John gripped Paul's coated arm as he stared at the person standing at the top of the stairs.
It was another Paul double---a very youthful one. John ran through the years in his mind. So they were in what? 1960? 1961?
"Come on upstairs, Real Ones, you are certainly welcome to," the double said congenially. "I've a pot of tea on the stove and some sandwiches made." He smiled at them and then turned to go back up.
"So we call this one Paul Number Three?" Ringo said with a humorless chuckle.
"I guess so. What's wrong with you, John?" George asked.
John was white and held onto Paul's coat cuff in a death grip.
"They aren't supposed to know who we are. That double knows we are the Real Ones. How does he know? Why is Paul relapsing all of a sudden? What the hell is going on here?"
George paled and Ringo's face was completely devoid of any expression.
"We've...got...to get...out of...here..." Paul whispered. "...Try the...coins..."
Paul weakly reached under his collar for his coin and held it. The others held theirs and they tried their best to make the Timepool spring into existence before them, but nothing happened.
"We can't leave," George said, his tone almost bordering on despair. "We have to stay 'til we're done...the Timepool won't come before then."
"Damnit!" John shouted in a loud whisper. There was silence for a few moments.
"We'll have to go upstairs, then," John said resignedly. "There's no way out of it."
The room they came into was a warm, sunny kitchen. Paul No. 3 was hunting through wooden cupboards and he waved to a small round wooden table to his right, off to the side. In the center of the table was a medium-sized, simple glass vase full of yellow and white daisies sitting on a cream-coloured doily. Five places were set with white china plates and shiny silverware wrapped in pink napkins. White teacups with pale blue flowers etched on them were turned upside-down on their saucers with small teaspoons across them and they were on the right sides of the plates. On the left were tall glasses, half-filled with milk. On four of the five plates were sandwiches and chocolate chip cookies.
The Beatles stood just a few feet beyond the door, against the refrigerator with the table to their left. George had an amused look on his face and Ringo said softly, "Well, we might as well eat something---I'm half-starved."
John was hesitant and Paul slipped from his grip slightly. John pulled Paul up against his shoulder more tightly and leaned to the side a bit to support him. He met Ringo's eyes and in his intensity of emotion, his mind was able to say, Sit down, then, but be ready to run if we have to.
Ringo nodded and helped John get Paul into a chair. Paul smiled faintly and mouthed a thank you. They both nodded and seated themselves, along with George.
Paul rested a moment and took a good look at his surroundings. There was a small window above the sink where Paul No. 3 was at the moment washing his hands. A cheery curtain of yellow and white checked gingham framed it and the late-afternoon sunlight slanted into the room. Everything about the kitchen conveyed brightness and cheer and he felt happy even through his pain. A small part of him was screaming quite high to get him to change his mood, but he resisted the dark feelings. For now, he was content to drink in the warmth around him. A kind double in the background ready to serve them and his best friends sitting 'round the table with him---he derived a reassuring feeling of peace from the quaint scene. He closed his eyes and rested his head on the back of his chair, trusting that everything was just as it seemed.
Paul No. 3 held the teapot and stood in between John and the real sleeping Paul.
John turned his teacup up and held it out. George and Ringo repeated the movement and the double filled their cups to the brim and then filled his own, setting the teapot next to the vase.
"Can I get you anything else?" he asked with a warm smile.
They all made gestures of polite refusal as they sipped their tea.
"So...are you just a double?" Ringo began.
Paul No. 3 smiled indulgently. "No, Real One, I am a Might-Have-Been."
George seemed to have trouble drinking his tea.
That fine, detached tone that had crept into his first meeting with a Might-Have-Been came into John's voice again as he inquired,
"What decision did you make to become a Might-Have-Been?"
"Oh...a few, actually. Money, college, all that kind of stuff. Decisions made by the Real Paul, Jim and Mike. If you haven't noticed, this isn't the house your Paul lived in as a boy." The double said Paul's name with a hard note lingering in his voice for a very brief moment. "This is a three-story house and my family is quite well-off now. I'm not a working-class scruff sagging off school, smoking Loosies and Typhoo Tea."
Well, I like Paul all the better for that sagging and smoking, John thought with a bit of sarcasm laced in the thought's overall tone. He instinctively resented Paul No. 3's middle-class airs.
"If you're asking such a question, you must not know why you're here," Paul No. 3 said.
"We know why we're here," John snapped, feeling himself shrink inside at the Might-Have-Been's words without distinctly knowing why. His temper flared at his own ignorance of his emotions.
"Oh, you mean for that mission of yours?" Paul No. 3 laughed airily. "No, that's not quite it. The angels thought you all needed a bit of rest, but in a different atmosphere. I am a harmless Might-Have-Been and one of the few who does not want a Might-Have-Been revolution over the Real Ones and Time. They thought that you would be safer with me and that you might enjoy a stroll through your younger years without screaming fans."
John stared at him, unsure of whether to trust him or not. After all, they had met a pretty harmless Might-Have-Been Paul and his Beatles had not wanted things to change. If there was one neutral party, surely there were others?
George had one eyebrow raised and Ringo looked a bit doubtful as well. The Might-Have-Been offered them each another cookie and smiled winningly. Their expressions changed. They trusted him. After all, he had such a cheery-looking kitchen. How could a place be so bright and not reflect its inhabitants' natures?
"I sincerely mean it when I say that I do not wish you any harm. The angels told me that you, the Real Ones, would be coming, and so I have got places for you to stay while you rest here. The Might-Have-Been John, George and Ringo are out of town, as requested by the angels, so that you four may be youthed and live in your respective homes if you so wish. I shall remain here, since I was asked, and Paul can stay with me. My dad and Mike know about this and they won't mind."
Paul No. 3's stressing of the angels' charges eased the uncertainty in John's mind. After all, the angels were their friends. If the angels had sent them there for a break, even with a Might-Have-Been, who was he to question it?
"When you all finish your sandwiches and tea, I think you should all go to your homes and get some sleep. Your Paul needs a bit of rest and I'll put him up in my room. Come, I'll escort you out."
The back porch door of the three-story house opened and golden light spilled out into the yard and Paul No. 3 appeared on the cement steps, motioning to what looked like the bushes.
Two large, burly and obviously masculine figures stepped out of the bushes and answered the Might-Have-Been's beckoning.
"Sirs," the double whispered, "I need your help moving the Real One upstairs."
The two men nodded and as they moved into the light, one could see their black army uniforms with round silver buttons all the way down the front and the baggy breeches they wore that were stuffed inside shined black boots with crimson satin lining. They both wore black cloth caps with small brims and silver scallops on their heads, put on at an angle. Their faces were weathered and their eyes, on both men, were a frosty, pale blue and the hair that showed was jet-black. They looked every bit their part of war-hardened soldiers.
They all went inside and Paul No. 3 shut the door behind them, glancing furtively about the yard before shutting it completely.
"He's at the table," the double said briefly. "I want him in my room."
The soldiers nodded without speaking and one proceeded up the stairs to Paul No. 3's room to open the door and ready other things while the other soldier went to sling the Real One over his shoulder.
Paul awoke as the soldier touched him and his eyes widened in fear. Who was this giant with such a cruel face picking him up?
"Get the hell away from me!" he shouted, backing away. "John! George! Ringo! Where are you?!"
"They are not here," the soldier said with a creaky voice, like a door opening unsteadily on its hinges. "No one is here to save you from your fate, not even your precious angels." Without warning, he leapt upon Paul and punched the sickly Beatle several times, splitting his knuckles to the bone on Paul's mouth. Paul slipped on the tiled floor, hitting his head sharply and losing consciousness. He lay in a crumpled heap, his lips already swollen and dripping blood from the corner of his mouth.
The soldier roughly pulled Paul up and dragged him up the stairs into the double's room. Unbeknownst to any of them, the blood spilling freely from Paul's other wounds left a dotted trail of red up the stairs and into the room.
Paul No. 3 entered the room last and shut the door behind him as the soldier carrying Paul laid him carefully on what seemed to be the Might-Have-Been's bed.
"Administer the shot," Paul No. 3 said quietly.
The other soldier produced a small kit and pulled out a clear brown bottle and a needle. He loaded the needle with the fluid in the bottle and ripped Paul's left sleeve off. The soldier made a quick stab with the needle and the unconscious Paul winced and moved his legs feebly but in a moment was still.
"Good," the double approved. "Now for the binding."
The soldier who had carried Paul gagged him and the soldier who had injected him bound his feet and then tied his hands behind his back. He pushed Paul into a sort of sitting position and the ribbon of Paul's Time necklace slid into view from under his shirt collar.
"What's this, then?" said the other soldier, coming closer and lightly pulling on the ribbon until he had drawn out the coin itself.
Both soldiers leaned forward to look at the coin and their lips moved silently as they recited the two engraved verses to themselves. Paul No. 3 darted a cursory glance at it and shrugged his shoulders as if to say the coin was completely useless.
"Where would you like us to put him?" the carrying soldier asked in monotone, drawing his attention from the coin as his partner tucked it back in Paul's collar.
"In the closet," the Might-Have-Been said. He crossed the room and opened the closet door, revealing clothes on hangers and a clean carpeted floor with a few things shoved to the side, but with plenty of room for Paul to lay curled up in fetal position.
The soldiers put him in there, taking care to sit him up as they did not want any chances of him drowning in his own blood. They then closed the door, locking it and then handed its gold skeleton key to Paul No. 3 with complete indifference to what they had just done.
"We will report now to our Most Excellent Leader," the carrying soldier said.
"We will tell him what we have done and what we have observed in your communications with the Real Ones," the other soldier added. "If our Most August Leader does not find perfection in what we report, you will be executed at sunrise."
Paul No. 3 paled a little, but nodded.
"The only execution fit for Might-Have-Been scum such as yourself," the other said with a sniff. "Only the best get an execution at moonrise and you should be on your knees night and day praying for such an honor."
"It matters little my execution time, sirs," Paul No. 3 said with dignity. "I will die no matter what time is appointed. I will pray that the Leader of the Most Excellent Army of Them does not find fault in your actions. Sirs, take your leave."
"Good night," the carrying soldier said, rather stiffly.
"We know what lurks in your heart and we know if you have any plans of subversion in your mind. Bad report and you will be executed," the other said as he followed his friend out the door. He stopped and stared piercingly at the Might-Have-Been. "You can beat up the Real One all you want, but do not, under any circumstances, kill him or we shall not execute you simply at sunrise. We shall make your death long, slow, and painful. Remember that."
"I will," Paul No. 3 replied shortly. A flash of coloured light in the hall told him that both of the soldiers were gone, using the Timepool to go back to their "Most Excellent Leader"---the Leader of Them.
"Dunno. Why don't you go ask the double if he wants to come along?" Ringo asked.
Paul No. 3 had to try very hard not to smile. They believed that he was the real Paul!
"He's not here," he replied. "He went to London yesterday and won't be back 'til we're gone, prolly."
"Oh." John didn't seem to care very much. "But you're still living in that house, right?"
"Oh yeah," Paul No. 3. "That double said I could stay as long as I liked."
They eventually went for a walk together and Paul No. 3 said casually, "The double said that we have a gig to play. Ringo can stay at home since we're still with Pete Best, or he can go and just sit in the audience. He begged me to ask you guys since the others aren't in town."
"Sure," George agreed. "Why not?"
"Yeah, whatever," John responded. "When?"
"In two more days," the double replied. "But c'mon, let's do something!"
They went to a club and were turned out because they didn't look old enough, something which amused John very much. They ran into shops, yelling nonsense in German, and then ran out, laughing as the owners stood in the doors, shaking fists and brooms at them.
"Enough of something for ye, Macca?" John panted after they were out of sight from a baker they had just shouted at.
"Oh, yes," Paul No. 3 panted, grinning.
They started running again.
John No. 2 laughed with him and said, "Well, you know we have to turn them over to Them."
"Oh yes, His Most Excellent Majesty Leader Person and his people," Paul No. 3 chuckled. "That we shall, soon."
"So in a week, then?" Ringo No. 2 asked.
"Yeah. But don't do anything 'til I give you the signal. We have to wait for the perfect moment."
The others nodded.
They stood close to one another and watched their Leader pacing back and forth in the space in front of him. His whole manner and posture spoke of pure anger, frustration, and hatred. He stopped his furious march and turned his ice-blue eyes to the two shrinking soldiers.
"You let that Might-Have-Been tell you what to do!" he roared. "You willingly put yourselves under his control---a Might-Have-Been gaining ascendancy over agents of Them!" He shook his head in disbelief.
The soldier who had carried the real Paul tried to venture a comment, "Well, sir, we did tell him---"
"Keep your mouth shut until you can say something of real worth," the Leader said cuttingly. "I don't want your excuses. I suppose you don't even know why I am angry?"
The two soldiers stared back at him, their faces blank.
"Does this sound familiar?" The Leader moved his hands over one another and a sphere of whitish-blue light appeared and the two soldiers could see what the Leader went on to say, "A blue ribbon, a seemingly useless medallion---two verses stamped on it, a picture engraved into it? 'What's this, then?'" The Leader was almost frothing at the mouth. "You were supposed to get that coin as well as putting the Real Ones under. The first time we've gotten that blasted Timepool open in months and you go and let a Might-Have-Been walk all over you."
The two soldiers hung their heads, as they knew they were supposed to do.
"Can't we go...back?" asked the carrying soldier timidly. "I mean, the Real One is under and we can get it..."
"Fool! The Timepool is hard enough to conjure up and you think of going back?" The Leader fixed them with a hard stare and then turned his head, his voice returning to its normal pitch. "Emgrid!"
A thin, third-century attired man stepped into the Leader's tent. "Sir?"
"Ready these two for their execution: tomorrow at sunrise."
9.Paul knew there wasn't much time and he had been truly blessed to find that door open. He crawled out, looking for something sharp to undo his wrist bonds with. There was nothing.
He scooted himself to the window and with much effort, stood up and rubbed his bonds against the sharp metal lock on the window.
"Shit!" he hissed through the gag in his mouth, feeling pain and something warm and sticky in his hands; he'd cut himself and could hear his blood dripping on the windowsill in the silence. He began rubbing again and just as he thought he felt his bonds loosen, the Might-Have-Been walked in.
"What the hell are you doing?" the double shouted. "Get away from that window!"
The Might-Have-Been jumped on him and beat him savagely in the ribs. Paul had already been beaten up many times in the past few days and Paul No. 3 was just hitting swollen spots, which made Paul bite into the gag in his teeth.
"You stay in that closet!" the Might-Have-Been ordered and then shoved him in there.
He closed his window and hurried to find the shots to shut Paul up since John would be arriving momentarily. He found them under his dresser and got the needle ready. He then jabbed mercilessly into Paul's arm and relished the sight of the battered Beatle wincing in pain and his large innocent eyes growing hazy and his eyelids drooping. Satisfied, the Might-Have-Been shut the door and locked it, throwing the key hurriedly on his dresser.
"C'mon, you wanker!" John shouted at the door. "Are you ever on time?"
The door opened and Paul No. 3 stood there, pulling on his leather jacket and looking rather disheveled. "Damn, John, I overslept! Sorry, all right? Come in, you nit."
John went in and Paul No. 3 sprinted up the stairs.
"I have to go to the loo," he yelled down. "Grab me guitar in me room, will ya?"
"Sure," John called back and mounted the stairs, his head bent and his eyes staring down in front of him. As he came to the middle of the stairs, he noticed some red stains in the carpet.
"What's all these red stains, then, Paul?" he asked loudly.
"Uhhh...it's just the wine from last night, John luv," Paul No. 3 answered nervously through the bathroom door.
"Oh," John replied and thought of the wine "Paul" had given him the night before and then he entered Paul's room.
He grabbed the guitar off the bed and then looked out the window, deeply breathing in the fragrance of the roses growing on the trellis just beneath the window.
Putting his hands on the windowsill and leaning out, he felt something wet and warm on his hands. He stood up and turned his hands over and saw the unmistakable deep red of blood. There were a few dots on the floor, leading to the closet. John, fear and dread stirring within him, quietly crossed the room to the closet and tried the knob.
It didn't open.
John looked around for something to open it and a gold thing, hanging half-off Paul No. 3's dresser, caught his eye. It was a skeleton key---a gold one. John wasted no time and inserted the key into the lock and it clicked. He turned the knob and his best friend, clothes soaked through with wet, fresh blood and face crusted with dried blood, tumbled out of the closet and came to rest at his feet.
John breathed his friend's name in utter disbelief.
The crumpled figure of the young man made no reply.
John stared at him for a split second and then bounded over to the room door and, sticking his head out and leaning his hands against the frame, darted furtive glances down both ends of the hall. There was light under the door of the bathroom; the Might-Have-Been was still busy.
John immediately bounded over to the real Paul and knelt next to his head, carefully gathering his upper body in his arms.
Paul's eyes were closed and he was breathing slowly and heavily. John took Paul's hand for his pulse and there it was, quite slow, throbbing under his fingers.
Looking beyond the blood Paul was soaked in, John saw that his friend had sustained several beatings. Even though there was a gag in his mouth, it was obvious that the side of his mouth was badly swollen and there were dark circles under his eyes. He was deathly pale but that could only be seen from the thin, bony wrist in John's hand. His face was so bruised and bloody that it was hard to determine its natural colour. A long, deep cut raced along his left cheek and similar cuts were to be found on the rest of his face and the exposed parts of his hands and arms.
There were torn pieces of cloth in Paul's clenched hands and John saw many gashes on the inside of his hands and wrists. It seemed correct to assume that at one time Paul was bound but he cut the bonds away.
Paul's left sleeve was torn off and there were several small red dots all along his arm. John was horrified when he realized what they were; they were places from where a needle had been injected. The veins on the inside of Paul's arm stood out unnaturally and were deeply blue and green.
Paul had been drugged, battered, and beaten almost to death while the Might-Have-Been had tagged along with the other three as the Real One. John saw red as all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place. He watched, helpless, as Paul's chest struggled to rise and fall with breathing.
Something must be done. But what? He could not take Paul from this place until he had George and Ringo to help him and if the other Paul came out of the bathroom while he tried to get away with the real one, how could John keep him off and protect Paul at the same time? He felt an aching, helpless anger at himself as he gently placed Paul back into the closet. He loosened the gag around Paul's mouth, but could not do much more as the Might-Have-Been might get suspicious. He stood up and reached for the knob, saying softly, "Don't worry, Paul, I'll come back for you. I won't leave you here."
He quietly shut the door and locked it, regretfully, and placed the key on the dresser. On second thought, he pocketed it, hoping to spare Paul from another beating. He left the room and went downstairs to the living room and smoked a cigarette, looking completely natural when the double, who was part of Paul's suffering, came down the stairs a few moments later.
Copyright 2000, 2001, 2002, etc.: Lissa Michelle Supler/Strawberry Sunshine This is copyrighted original work and may not be reproduced in any form by any means without the permission of the author. Permission may be obtained by e-mail.
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