EPIC -- 2011 Winner
the seeds of time,
And say which grain will grow and which will not...” Macbeth
(Act l, Scene 3)
Summer – 1476
Under cover of darkness, Leonardo
crept through Vinci’s narrow streets, keeping to the shadows. A
hunting quiver crammed with brushes, vials of pigment, and
pieces of rolled canvas rode high on his back. His father’s
cloth valise hung from his shoulder. Tools of his trade and a
change of clothes were all he could gather in his haste to flee.
As he edged past the humble
dwellings of the village, muffled voices penetrated closed
doors. His breath caught in his throat when he heard his name.
He could imagine what they were saying. News of the allegations
and pending trial had traveled fast. Young ladies who once
fancied his presence now shunned him. Even his favorite wine
merchant met him with an accusing eye while patrons huddled in
conversation privy only to their ears. Soon he would be rid of
Lighted windows illuminated the
shallow ditch that paralleled the main road. This cesspool of
daily life reeked with the stench of human waste, a putrid smell
that hung in the air like a fetid veil. Leonardo picked up his
pace, anxious to reach the Tuscan hills ripe with the scent of
rosemary and evergreen shrubs. Perhaps there he would find
solace from those who chose to believe him guilty.
Near the edge of town, lights from
a tavern painted yellow streaks across the rutted surface.
Raucous laughter gave way to boisterous shouts.
“Take it back or you’ll pay with
your life,” a man threatened.
“What? That your mother’s a
Glass shattered. The door burst
open. A brawl spilled into the street.
Fists flew. Arms and legs
intertwined like a mass of snakes in mating season. Tossed from
the melee, a sprite of a man undercut Leonardo, knocking him to
“Get off!” Leonard pushed the
ruffian aside and scrambled to his feet.
The man squinted at Leonardo
through a half-closed eye. “Look who we have here, boys,” he
said, raising his voice to be heard.
The fighting stopped, and all eyes
turned to Leonardo.
A short, dumpy man with a peg leg,
wobbled closer. “Well, I’ll be damned. He’s the one I told you
about, the artist who fornicates with men.”
“Is that right?” a gruff voice
“No,” Leonardo said, brushing the
dirt from his tunic, “the governors cleared me of all charges.”
“And how much did it cost to bribe
them?” a tall, skinny man said, bringing a roar of laughter.
The man with the swollen eye
thrust his face within inches of Leonardo. “I’ve heard people
like you don’t change, but I know how to stop you.” He turned
to others. “Anyone here got a knife?”
Unbridled rage, coupled with the desire to survive, shot through
Leonardo. His hand moved toward his own knife, sheathed beneath
his tunic. But no, he didn’t want murder on his conscience.
Heat surged to his face, and the hair on his arms stood on end.
With clenched fists, he crouched--a rogue wolf ready to fight.
“I won’t die, not at your filthy
hands,” he snarled in defiance.
Hoisting the scrawny excuse of a
man over his head, he tossed him into the group, knocking them
backwards. In a flash, Leonardo bolted into an alley. His long
legs churned like windmills, faster and faster, keeping pace
with his racing heart. Rounding a corner, he shimmied behind
barrels stacked in front of a store. The rough spines of the
slats raked his forearms. He slunk low and swallowed the pain
as his attackers rushed past.
“Find him! I’ll cut that bastard
No doubt he would, Leonardo
thought. Perspiration seeped into his eyes. Despite what felt
like liquid fire, he didn’t flinch, didn’t even breathe until
the thundering footsteps faded in the distance. When he was
sure they were out of sight, he eased from his hiding place and
raced in the opposite direction. No one followed.
He skulked forward with great
trepidation. Near the end of the alley, the street appeared
empty so he stepped from the shadows into the open road. A
smirk curled at the corners of his mouth. “At least I saved my
manhood,” he muttered.
Two men sprang from a darkened
alcove. Claw-like hands grabbed his arms.
“What’d you say?” one of the man
said in a surly voice.
Before he could answer, a fist
slammed into Leonardo’s eye. Another split his lip. He spat
blood and strained with all his might to wrench free from his
“Hold him,” a voice shouted as the
rest of the men surrounded him.
Whump! A board cracked across his
back. Air whooshed from his lungs. He gulped, struggling for a
breath. Fire rippled down his shoulder as teeth sank into his
flesh. Someone in the tortuous mob twisted his fingers, so much
so, he feared he might never hold a brush again.
His pleas fell on deaf ears. The
men threw him to the ground, drove their hard-sole scarpe
into his ribs, stomped his legs and arms. With each blow, vile
remarks painted him the monster he wasn’t.
Outnumbered, Leonardo could do
nothing but cover his head with his hands.
“See if he carries any money,”
someone shouted over the fracas.
“What’s in his quiver?” another
Leonardo held fast to the straps.
“Turn loose, you filthy pig.” The
peg-legged man yanked hard.
Leonardo winched as the narrow
leather strap of the quiver cut into his shoulder.
Hands pried at his fingers. Then,
for a reason Leonardo could not fathom, the assault stopped.
The angry shouts turned to screams of fear, and they tripped
over him in their haste to get away…from what?
As the night swallowed up their
fearful cries, an eerie silence settled on the now desolate
street. Leonardo lifted his head, wanting to see what had
frightened them, and what now might beseech him. He wiped his
eyes. Then he wiped them again, unable to make sense of what he
saw--something not of this earth--a green mist that glowed and
pulsated. The diaphanous phantom with white-hot embers for eyes
drifted toward him. Waves of heat scorched Leonardo’s face,
singed his hair, and sucked the moisture from his mouth. The
smell soured his stomach. He heaved but nothing came forth, not
even enough saliva to moisten his parched lips.
The creature floated inches above
the ground. Arms, twice the length of any man, unfurled and
waved like dancing cobras within inches of Leonardo’s face.
Fingers turned into needle-sharp fangs, ready to strike.
Instead, with an upward movement and without touching, the hands
drew Leonardo to his feet.
Surely, the Devil had come to
claim his soul.
“I’m innocent. I don’t deserve to
die,” Leonardo cried.
A cavernous pit, where one would
expect a nose and mouth, opened wider and wider. And a
thunderous voice rumbled from the inky void.
“Nor shall you.”
wobbled and threatened to buckle. “Then be gone, least you
frighten me to death.”
Snake-like arms slithered back
into their sockets, and his eyes of fire cooled to an icy blue.
The gaping mouth shrank to a small oval, and the voice became a
“I chose that form to make the
others flee. Perhaps you would prefer I looked like this…or
this,” the creature said, changing from one horrific shape into
First, a dwarf’s body with a
bulbous head and a forehead embedded with six roving eyes. Wet,
slimy tentacles dangled from a clam-like nose, while saber-like
arms slashed the air. Next he appeared as a headless, lumbering
shape, draped in black. On the end of each finger, snake eyes
searched in all directions. A roar erupted, and the cloak
parted. Protruding from the chest, a shark’s mouth gnashed its
layers of razor sharp teeth.
“Aiee,” Leonard screamed. “You
are the devil.”
Without answering, the creature
evolved into a human shape, one pleasing to the eye. Brown hair
curled about the man’s ears, and dark eyes no longer
threatened. He wore a long white tunic, and his voice rippled
like a soothing melody.
“I am not the Devil, nor do I mean
“Then let me go.”
“I cannot. You are a chosen one.”
“Chosen for what, if not to die?”
“The time for new ideas, a
rebirth, is at hand. You, Leonardo, will serve as a vessel for
such change--the catalyst, the innovator who will transform this
world of darkness into an age of enlightenment. The seeds of
the future await you.”
“You talk madness. Who are you?”
“I am known as the Old One.”
“Well, Old One, I want no part of
Leonardo turned to run, but the
muscles in his legs cramped, and he dropped to his knees. A
sharp pain stabbed his chest. The beating had left him battered
The Old One drew near and placed
his hands on either side of Leonardo’s face. Warmth spread
throughout Leonardo’s body. The muscles in his legs relaxed,
and the knife-like pain in his ribs subsided.
“What manner of magic is this?”
The Old One smiled.
“Do you not seek refuge from those
who believe you guilty, those who would humiliate you?” he
“How do you know this?”
“I am a weaver of time. Do as I
ask, and I will give you refuge. For two years hence, there
will be no record of you or any of your works.”
“That’s impossible. Where can I
go that no one will know?”
“Not where, but when.”
The Old One stretched out his
arms. Light, as if from a thousand suns, engulfed them.
“I can’t see,” Leonardo shouted.
“What have you done?”
Little-by-little, the light
dimmed. The houses and shops were no longer visible, nor could
he feel the earth beneath his feet. Leonardo found himself in
an oval room surrounded with silver walls. With a wave of the
Old One’s hand, one wall disappeared, revealing the blackness of
Afraid of falling into that dark
abyss, Leonardo reached for his strange companion, only to watch
his hand pass through the Old One’s body. He jerked back and
clutched himself, wary of his own reality.
“What are you?”
“What I am doesn’t matter, only
that you complete your mission. Another world awaits you. I
will give you a glimpse of the future. When you return, and you
will, you will remember only enough to ignite your genius. Do
not be afraid. I will keep you safe.”
Outside the open portal, stars
streaked past, faster and faster, until they appeared as lines
of light. Surely he rode in a vehicle made by a god. When the
Old One pulled a fist to his chest, all motion ceased. The
streaks of light faded, and night gave way to day.
Leonardo gawked at the landscape
beneath him. Odd shaped buildings climbed skyward to dizzying
heights. Ships without masts plied a wide muddy river that
twisted and turned through the heart of an enormous city.
Strange covered carts without horses sped through a maze of
begins,” the Old One said. “I bid you farewell.”
Before Leonardo could
draw his next breath, the Old One and the silver room vanished.
“No! How will I--”
Leonardo’s lips continued to move,
but he could not hear his words. He plunged headfirst toward
The wind screamed past so fast it
sucked the air from his lungs and threatened to rip his eyes
from their sockets. He strained and squeezed his eyelids shut
but couldn’t close his mouth. His cheeks flapped like a flag at
the mercy of a storm.
I’m going to die!”