Chronos & Chiara a novel by Jessica Conoley

WIP: Chronos & Chiara

Chronos & Chiara are used to dying, but Lex only has one shot at this life.

My latest work-in-progress is a time-twisty adventure that feels like it’s going to be a novel. But honestly, I never know what I’m writing until it’s finished.

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The box had decidedly not been there before. Because nothing was allowed her. Nothing of her own. Nothing of theirs. Things could cause harm, and Chiara needed no more ways to harm as she was already labeled a danger.

But now, there it was.

This box.  On the floor. Square in the center of her eight-by-eight room.

Chiara blinked, but it was still there—equidistant from the exterior wall with a barred window and the interior wall with the observation window.

She rubbed her eyes, and still the box remained.

It was not a big box by any means. It was small, covered in blue velvet. If Chiara had grown up amongst the wealthy, she would have recognized it as the type of box jewelers secured their wares in, but Chiara did not grow up amongst the wealthy (not in this lifetime anyways) so all she could tell was the box was beautiful, and most definitely not allowed.

She sat on the thin mattress atop the sturdy bedframe and stared at the flash of blue in the middle of the floor. Chiara was hesitant to move closer, less the box was a mirage and would disappear.  But as the sunlight slid across the floor, she realized her opportunity would pass if she waited too long, because eventually they would come to check her. And if the box was not a mirage, and it was indeed real, they would take it from her.

“Please, please, please be there.” She leapt off the bed and crashed to the floor directly next to the box. Crouching she held her breath and waited. Five… four… three… two… one…

She snatched it from the floor.

Soft fabric against rough fingertips.  Light reflecting across delicately woven fibers.  The cerulean the only taste of color Chiara had seen since they’d locked her in this gray, cold place however long ago. She noted the gold hinges and the seam on the side.

She angled her body, so they could still see her through observation, but not see what she was doing. Chiara pried the box open.  It creaked as the blue satin interior revealed itself.  And there, hanging from a surprisingly sturdy chain was a silver circular pendant.  Filigreed swirls so lightly etched on the front they seemed like a memory of what an artist may have dreamt in a past life.

Chiara touched the cool metal and felt the light ridge running around the pendant,  a small lip along the right side.  She pulled at the ledge and the pendant split wide, revealing itself to be a locket.  One side polished to a sparkling shine.  The smallest of mirrors reflecting as bright as the full moon on a clear night.

The other engraved with three sweet words: You’re not crazy.

Chiara laughed. At first it was a quiet wry, harumph of a laugh, accompanied with a headshake as if to say—of course you did. But as she peered down into the mirror, she caught her own gaze, and her laughter grew into the consumptive sort of laughter that twisted her insides to the point of pain and wrought tears from her eyes. He always could make her laugh. She had to give him that.

With a snap of the locket, she traced her fingers along the exterior swirls, feeling the silver pinpricks patterned amongst the design before she saw them. Once she’d felt them, they were all she could see.  The mirror of a constellation Chiara once knew well, but had forgotten in this life, and the one before that, and the one before that.

But now she remembered. Here was the proof.  The thing she had been searching for so entirely long. She found it where they threw broken people—broken people who didn’t even deserve broken things.

As she placed the chain about her neck, it was in the broken place she realized she was completely, perfectly, and totally fine.

The next morning, a new orderly was called to help move Chiara’s body from the bed. The woman paused at the entrance to the room, eyes widening as she took in the slip of what had been a person beneath a sheet, the watery early morning light through barred windows, and the four padded walls. She squinted at the wall with the window, then the next wall, and the next, and the next. In a tight scrawl on every surface in the room were the same words over and over. She leaned close, but could still make no sense of it as she, like most of the staff, had not been taught to read. “What does it say?”

Chronos left me alone.

“Who’s Chronos?”

The senior staff matron shrugged. “No-one far as we could tell. But when she had one of her spells that’s all she would say for days and days and days. ‘Chronos left me alone. Chronos left me alone. Chronos left me alone.’ If we gave her something to write with, she would stop her nattering and write it instead.”

The staff investigation was inconclusive as to how the patient obtained an object that left delicate chain link bruises on the flesh of  her neck. They searched the room six times, but all they found was hospital issued wares.  They sent her body to the medical students with the note:

Cause of death: self-asphyxiation.

Instrument of death: unknown.


Alexandria Soderstrom was on her way to meet the cartographer, so they could place a guiding star inside her. The weight of a star was “painful at first,” at least that’s what the hand lettered pamphlet her assistant gave Lex said.  So Lex asked Droo, her best mate, if he was free, and he said, yes. Now here they were walking through cobblestone streets toward an unassuming building at the base of Bay Street.

Droo seemed a bit overdressed for the occasion (a cape and top hat hardly felt necessary for 11 a.m. in the business district,) but he insisted on marking the occasion’s import with his attire.  Lex knew he just wanted to wear his newest cape.  He liked the dramatic swish it made when he changed directions and had snapped his step at a precise ninety degrees at every turn they made.  They were a bit early for her appointment, so Lex agreed to walk around the block with him for ten minutes, and at every right turn she waited for the step-and-turn that furled his cloak behind him and noted the slight upturn of his lips upon each instance.

It really is the small things in life, isn’t it? Besides if Lex kept her attention on Droo she didn’t think about how much the damn star was going to hurt.

Okay that was a lie. She was thinking about it.

All the time. For days upon days, since she knew it was really happening.

Step-and-turn. Swish.

But that’s why there were best mates. To distract from the suck.

“What time is it?”

Droo pulled a pocket watch from the folds of his cape and clicked it open. “Quarter ’til.”

They both stopped.

Step-and-turn. Swish.

Droo had turned himself square toward the cartographer’s store front. Lex step-and-turned to follow.

“I saw that,” he said.

“It’s kind of fun.” She admitted.

“You should try it wearing a cape.”

She wanted to answer him. Something flippant and light, something that said, I don’t care I’m going in this shop to let some woman I met one time carve into my chest, take part of me out, and shove some cold, shiny, star into me for the rest of eternity. Instead she said, “Lunch in an hour?”

Droo nodded and did a step-and- turn.

Lex waited for the swish of his cape and the echo of his footfalls to disappear, before she stepped forward, put her hand on the gilt framed doorknob and entered the shop that held the rest of her tomorrows.


How one could tell friend from enemy grew less and less clear as sickness spread through the trenches and everyone’s uniform became the color of mud.  Shelling stopped at night, mostly.

Chronos was three kilometers from the front lines. After that all he’d have to do was cross no-mans-land and find whichever superior was still standing.  He’d turn over the three sets of IDs he’d collected from the others, and if he was lucky, he’d find rations had been delivered and he’d eat.  The thought of food almost kept him walking through the night, but experience had taught him the dream of food was likely all he was going to end up with, and he wasn’t ready to leave this life quite yet. He still had more to do. Wars were such easy places to tip the scales in his favor.

Besides his accent was only almost right. His tells were always worse when he was tired— the drop of an “r,” a half beat too long as he searched for the right word, and for the past six months tired was the perpetual state of existence.

He followed the base of the mountain at sundown. Behind a boulder he found a fissure wide enough for a half-starved man to crawl through.  Once through he lit a match wishing for a cigarette, though even if he had one, he wouldn’t have lit it for the danger the scent of its smoke would carry on the wind, and the red one-eyed glow of each drag would wink out into the dark signaling where his life could be taken.

The match flared to reveal a cave hollowed out into the black rock. He backed against the wall. The match fizzled. He crept  from the entrance counting his paces; his right hand against the rough  stone to ensure he could find his way back in the morning.  At twenty-five paces the clatter of metal against his toe stopped him. He knelt in the black and struck another match (four left). An oil lantern.

The oil sputtered and caught. The cave revealed its final secrets.

A dozen mud-covered people stared at Chronos. Their rail thin arms still strong enough to hoist a board with nails hammered through the end, the rusted blade of a saw, or a length of chain.

Chronos raised his hands and shook his head at his mistake. He knew better than to light a match in the dark, but he was tired, and when he was tired sometimes he would slip.

A child skittered from the dark and snatched the lantern from between Chronos’s feet.

“Turn around.”

Chronos  faced the wall of the cave. Thin white writing, in a language Chronos did not know, scrawled across the rock as far as he could see.

“Hands on the wall.”

Chronos hesitated a fraction of a second before placing his hands on the wall. Fear rushed through him. Not at the thought of the armed people behind him, but fear he would smudge the writing, mar these words he could not read.

Chronos knew better then to fight. He’d been on the other side of this equation too many times. The footsteps were swift. The blade wasn’t sharp, but the blow was precise. Chronos admired the skill and was grateful for the mercy.

He bled out quickly, staring at the handwriting that looked so familiar. The final thought before he left his body: Chiara always writes the strangest things.

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