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by Scott M. Sands

“Where’s that filthy street rat! Where is that boy!”

Filan lay hidden from the moonlight behind a cart, a stolen melon and swipe of berries in hand. He watched through the cart’s spokes as the market vendor he’d robbed dashed onto the road in a huff. Cirivus Aholé, the lord’s brother—and a revolting pig of a man. In his late fifties, Cirivus sprayed spittle from his uneven gob when he spoke and his gut sagged halfway to his knees. He had to have mixed urine and lizard turd for cologne. If he caught Filan, it would be a severe beating at best, death at worst. But it was worth it as the juice from the berries soaked their sweet flavor in Filan’s eleven-year-old mouth as he squished them with his tongue. The melon would sustain him until morning—if the cold hours of winter didn’t kill him.

Long after the horrid fruit seller returned to his lair, Filan crept out. The thin white shirt he wore barely covered his skinny chest; it didn’t even conceal the scar from a previous failed theft that stretched across his collarbone. Wind blew against it like the whisper of death. His latest hideout lay past the fruit seller; too risky to travel that way now. He would find other accommodations. Maybe at the stables.

Distancing himself from his latest theft, Filan strode up the street. Several vendors recognized the dusty-haired orphan with a neck scar. Some tapped weapons at their hips to discourage him from their wares, others smiled—but checked their stalls’ security, all the same. One vendor from an unfamiliar traveling bazaar had a big sign protruding from his stall. Moonlight cast off its bronze coating, illuminating the name: Ahmul’s Grand Bazaar.

“Well, if it’s grand, I best take a look.”

Like a breath of mist, Filan walked the street one moment and all but disappeared the next.

The bazaar tent was an open rectangle at the front, but fashioned into a circle at the rear, where the owner slept. Faint but colorful light sparkled against the tent there, as though the heavens had been sewn onto the heavy fabric and brought to life in a variety of hues. Filan tiptoed over, admiring the patterns, then fingered one of the large pegs that grounded the tent. He slipped it from the earth, enough to pull the tent up later.

Filan left. He located a sand lizard; the little critters were common as dust in those parts. He pinned one quickly behind the head and the small creature thrashed to be free. Filan placed it on his opposite hand, soothing it gently with his voice and stroking its back. The lizard calmed. Sneaking back to the tent, Filan barely lifted the flap and slid his reptilian friend underneath.

He waited.

Two thumps came from inside—the owner standing. “Oh, you rascal. You’ll not gulp down my stores. Out.”
A sweeping sound—Filan wasn’t sure if it was the owner kicking the lizard out, or if he’d grabbed a broom. Then came the sound of rope slapping gently against material; the untying of interior tent flaps that separated the bazaar’s wares from the circular room at the back. Footsteps disappeared toward the front of the bazaar, giving Filan an opening.

He pulled hard at the same spot he’d shoved the lizard under, lifting the tent flap high enough to squeeze his thin body inside. He didn’t have long. The owner would return in …

A dazzling, colored lamp stole his attention.

Candlelight flickered against blue and amethyst glass tiles in a wide diamond formation, set against a river of flowing brown. The mosaics tossed unique colors against the tent. The handle bent up like a swan and curved down into a base of knob-like knuckles forming a ring—the most beautiful thing Filan recalled seeing in his life. Everything else in the tent blurred as if only he and the lamp existed. He reached his dirtied hands toward it and cupped the tiles. They were warm.

Heavy steps from the bazaar’s outer room amplified. Filan pulled the lamp to his chest by instinct.
The world went still. Nothing moved. Not the dust kicked up by his feet on the way in, nor the sides of the tent flapping gently with the wind, nor the scurry of sand lizards roaming beyond. Everything froze, save his own hands and the impending footsteps.

Years on the streets had helped Filan know when it was time to leave a place; with care he might have reserved for a king’s crown, he slid the swan lamp out through the opening he’d made in the tent and scurried out after it. He had what he wanted. Now to escape.

The candle would not extinguish as he tore up the road. The wind alone should have put it out; he couldn’t even succeed by blowing on it. Behind him, a large man with a mustache burst from the front of the bazaar, wearing a white tunic and red scarf about his head.

“No! No!” he cried. “Come back!”

Filan barely heard him. A crow hung motionless in the night sky, wings stretched to full flight beneath a cloud. A guardsman stood paused mid-stride. What was going on? The lamp warmed his chest as he pulled it close, and waves rippled through his body as though parts were locked in time while others surged ahead. He couldn’t explain it, beyond saying this: it delighted heart and mind. He wished he’d come upon the strange object earlier.

Before that thought left, broad daylight erupted across the landscape, forcing Filan to shield his eyes. Already the sun hung high above. How? Why? The pitch black night, it just … vanished. Vendors appeared at the front of open stalls. The road bustled again with sound and movement.

Eyes wide, Filan gazed at the colorful treasure in his hands, then back at the surrounding scene. What was this thing? And the more important question.

What could he do with it?


Filan didn’t remember celebrating Summer Day—he’d lost his parents before they could ever enjoy it and give gifts like real families. But he’d ‘borrowed’ his share of toys from richer children, and knew what it felt like to get something fresh, something fun. Something like the swan lamp from the bazaar.

“Callum!” a girl’s voice cried across the street. She pointed an accusatory finger at a boy close by. “You ate my biscuit!”

The girl proceeded to wrestle her brother to the ground, making both filthy with mud and dust. When at last she pinned him face-down, she looked up and saw her biscuit, fallen from wherever she’d left it. Her face lit up, three parts shock and seven parts embarrassment. Her brother looked up from the mud and spotted it, too. He broke free only to turn upon his sister.

Laughing as he watched the whole scene unfold, Filan held the lamp in an outstretched arm, testing the limits of its proximity. He imagined seeing the siblings’ misfortune again and, low and behold, time reset itself.

“Callum!” the girl cried again.

Was it again, or simply the first time? Filan shook his head. Who cared about all the thinking stuff. He could stop the world! Even send it backwards. And forwards—he tested.

He spent the rest of the day indulging his playful whims like a boy who’d discovered a mage’s hidden spell book. Forwards, backwards, upside down. Eating, pranking half the town. The candle at the heart of the lamp never burned lower, any more than did Filan’s pleasure at discovering it.

He splayed himself out on Lord Himorda’s extravagant bed. The quilt was so soft beneath his scrawny body, the lightest afternoon rays almost melted him into it. It smelled of irises, reminding Filan of the corner field that led to one of his favorite hideouts. He lifted his nose, sniffing.

Filan scrunched the linen between his toes, considering how he might reset the world to make the delectable mattress his own, when a servant entered with a bed warmer and bucket of coals. He promptly shrieked and swatted at Filan with the warmer. Filan simply held the lamp and imagined time a few minutes prior, resetting it. He’d be gone before the servant ever entered.

Ah, well. Back to finding shelter for the night. That had been his life since, well, since his parents sailed away. He could turn back the sun, but he had to sleep sometime.

Filan looked at the swan lamp, elaborate and colorful. His parents … what if they didn’t have to leave him? If the lamp was strong, it might be able to take him back far enough to stop them. There, gazing out the window of a lord, Filan saw a future he’d never believed possible.


A cool summer breeze blew across the way, delighting Filan and his parents. Mason and Wilhelmina sat in wood-carved chairs at the front of their home, soaking in the morning sun in bare feet. Wilhelmina bounced two-year-old Filan on her knee. They joked, they snacked, and the swan lamp sat on the round table between them. Everything was perfect.

Filan found he could lean into his past form and began to feel like the two-year-old he was. The longer he stayed, the more he forgot about the lamp and simply experienced that life. Yet awareness of the lamp remained and he could fold himself out of reality at will like sliding backwards through mud. At those times he simply looked on, much like he imagined a ghost might.

He leaned in to two-year-old Filan, but feared this day; the last before his parents set sail from him forever. Why had they done it? He had to know.

Snuggling into his mother’s arms, he couldn’t imagine ever leaving. She had loved him dearly. He knew that. But for most of Filan’s childhood he could only dream what it had felt like to have her hold him. Now he remembered.

It felt like the mornings he woke in sunlight, encased in his tattered blanket.

Filan remained acutely aware of the lamp on the table. The tiled bulb shape that carried the candle wobbled. Each hand-crafted tile had a slightly different feel to the one beside it. The swan handle offered a smoother texture, like two iron cords folded over each other. His parents seemed to acknowledge the piece, but showed little interest.

Day became night. The town lord summoned Filan’s father. In his father’s absence, an unusual noise like metal shards in a rattle entered the house. Rolling on his bed, the swan lamp like a nightlight beside him, Filan heard footsteps. In the next few minutes, he strained not to fold back out of time with the lamp. He needed to see exactly what happened that night, to create a different path. One where his parents stayed, and he with them.

A scream from the meeting room. His mother. A loud thud followed. The scent of burnt sand wafted in as a man entered Filan’s bedroom, his nose and mouth wrapped in cloth. A bandolier hung over his right shoulder and he wore a leather pauldron, amber as the Millstone dunes, over his left. He looked familiar—wasn’t he one of the Desert Raiders Filan had escaped from when he turned seven? The man snatched Filan from his cradle, taking the lamp too, as though it were part of the child. Then he tossed a jar at the wall, igniting it into flames. As they exited the house, Wilhelmina lay unconscious on the floor.
Filan never saw her again.

He skipped forward a month. Men similar in appeal to the one who had kidnapped Filan kept him in a strange dwelling on the desert’s edge. Of course; the Desert Raiders. He’d escaped from their vile clutches days before his seventh birthday. Filan listened to their conversations without leaning in and becoming his two-year-old self. The men confirmed; after searching for a month and finding nothing, Filan’s parents had boarded a ship for the far north kingdom in despair.

So that was how it happened. His father led away, his mother overpowered, then both fled Millstone after the loss of their son. He didn’t blame them.

Filan folded himself into the nearby lamp, the task growing easier with practice. He felt eleven again, but at the time immediately before his father got summoned to see Lord Himorda. Filan hovered outside their home in his ghost-awareness state, his infant self asleep inside. Passersby couldn’t see him standing there, or perhaps took no notice of one more street kid in rags.

Time paused at Filan’s will. He followed his father. Passed the smithy and the heavy scent of charcoal, then by the well and a stranger who eyed Filan with utmost suspicion. That man, at least, could see him. How could this man see him? A tattoo graced the rotund stranger’s wrist: two connected circles, in unending union.

Finally, Filan’s father reached the paved steps of Lord Himorda’s expansive settlement. Only, Filan intervened before his father entered; he walked beside him, pausing time to whisper. Danger. Home. His confused father took another few steps—Filan whispered again. Danger. Home. Mason shook his head, clearly baffled. Moments before guard’s ushered him inside Lord Himorda’s dwelling, Filan whispered a final time. Danger. Home. Filan.

His father turned and bolted.

Filan couldn’t keep pace with his father—he’d never remembered the man being so light on his feet. Pausing time at intervals, Filan arrived home. His father instantly spotted his wife on the floor and ran to her side. She was alive. Quickly, he rose and removed the family sword from the large chest in the corner. His hands locked around the handle.

The kidnapper entered. Face wrapped in cloth, he held baby Filan under one arm. He dropped the child, unsheathed a sword wider than his biceps. Mason was no soldier, but he his sword didn’t waver; he fought for his wife and child like a desert demon. Metal clashed, flesh tore, and the intruder fled gripping a deep wound below his armpit. A gash at Mason’s waist dripped blood. The battle won, he called for help.

Filan gazed on with great interest. Neighbors doused the flames, saving most of the house. Reports gradually came in that twelve other boys had been kidnapped that night—a night raid by desert bandits. But not Filan. He remained with his parents, the next morning and the one after and many after that. By recalling his father home on that fateful eve, world events had been changed. Filan’s life had changed. Once he established the new future was safe, he could lean into that new life and let time run its course. Experience every hug he never got. Live every adventure with his dad teaching him to hunt in the desert. He could hardly wait.

Filan imagined life at four, in this new created timeline. As it had previously when he held the strange lamp, time re-set like a river changing course; four-year-old Filan darted around the sitting room holding a colored banner on a stick as though leading an imaginary charge against the warriors from the north. His father doted upon his mother, offering her food and rubbing her leg warmly. When he moved, Filan saw the reason for the man’s joy: another bundle wrapped in Wilhelmina’s arms.

Mason tapped the baby’s nose. “We love you, Ingrid.”

Filan’s eyes spread wider than the sky. Ingrid; a sister.

He had a baby sister.


He still couldn’t believe it. He had a sister.

Filan imagined their family further ahead in time; his sister turned six. Then she was ten. Their lives couldn’t be more serene. Filan, little Ingrid, and both their parents, all happily living together. Once he assured himself their future was sound—and once he got over the shock of a sibling he’d never known he could have—Filan had in mind to reset time at baby Ingrid’s birth and throw the swan lamp away.

Confident of a promising future, Filan imagined seeing his sister’s eighteenth birthday. To his surprise, the lamp didn’t transport him that far. It cast him into his bedroom. His parents argued the next room over.

“What can we do? Lord Himorda has decreed it,” his father said.

“She’s only thirteen, Mason.”

“You think I don’t know that? I don’t want her to marry Cirivus. But what choice do we have? We can’t run—we’d be hunted across all Euland. And I can’t fight off all the lord’s soldiers …”

“That overweight cesspool is sixty-two! She’s thirteen! THIRTEEN!” She shook her head. “Please, Mason. We cannot let this happen.”

Filan listened more. Lord Himorda had claimed some archaic rite to present any girl to Cirivus, his brother, to produce an heir. Having only known his blue-eyed, vibrant sister for what felt like days, Filan would now watch her be handed over to that disgusting man to take to his bed chamber. Filan would just have to use the lamp to change that.

Except he couldn’t.

He reset time, tried to adjust its course. The more he tried, the more he frustrated himself. He watched over and over again as soldiers took his sister. He even heard his sister’s despairing wails within Cirivus’ abode. Every time Filan changed something, events recalibrated and found a new way to make his sister Cirivus’ wife. He couldn’t understand it. It was as though events in the new timeline Filan had created could no longer be altered because he’d already changed the past.

In all Filan’s efforts, that strange man, the one with connected circles tattooed on his wrist, kept finding him. Watching. In the street, then outside Filan’s home—over different timelines. Was he a ghost? How did he even see the real Filan before he leaned into the timeline?

Filan returned to a later life in his parents’ home. Ingrid had been Cirivus’ wife for almost a month. His dear mother’s usual sparkle had gone. She lay on her bed, staring at the wall. She ate little. Warmth returned to her face whenever young Filan slipped his hand into hers, but vanished soon after he left.

His father was in no position to aid her. Two days after the soldiers dragged Ingrid out, he tried to break into Cirivus’ home and sneak her away. He was discovered and brought before the lord’s council; they broke his left wrist and took twenty lashes from his back. He couldn’t work. He couldn’t save his daughter. Nor could he care for his troubled wife. Just keeping little Filan alive consumed his daily strength reserves.

Filan watched his family. The one he’d missed all these years. The one he only wanted to reunite with. His mother, his father. Their pain made him ache inside as though a hawk had its talons in his chest. They’d not long reconnected, now his parents just seemed broken.

To assess the future, Filan used his swan lamp—whose shimmering brilliance had somehow lessened—and imagined himself at twenty. Like always, time shifted in the blink of an eye. His parents no longer owned their home. They still lived in Millstone, on the outskirts in a makeshift packed-earth hovel. His mother spoke little, his father stroking her early-graying hair with his good arm. Whenever they gazed upon Filan they smiled, but it was a different smile, like thin clouds weakly offering the pretense of desert rain. He imagined why; his dusty brown hair and narrow jawline matched Ingrid’s. When they saw Filan, they were reminded of her. His parents never recovered from her loss. No wonder the lamp hadn’t been able to take Filan to a timeline with his eighteen-year-old sister. She died before that in childbirth.

She was fourteen.

Filan slumped to the dust beside the street. He dropped the lamp, didn’t pick it up. He wanted a family. It’s all he’d ever wanted. He’d given up on that dream a long time ago, only to stumble upon a mystical lamp he’d thought the key to unlocking his craziest wishes. It did, in a way. If Filan let things play out, if he kept this changed history, he could live with his parents and have more of a family than he’d had when he lived alone in Millstone’s gutters. He would be happier—while his parents withered. They loved Filan, true, but it tortured them to see their only daughter day after day, trapped in Cirivus’ vulgar clutches.

Heaviness fell upon Filan’s chest. He gazed down at the swan lamp, its candle still burned beneath the tiles. He scooped up two handfuls of sand and bounced them on his palms.

“My happiness,” sand drained through his fingers. “Theirs.” More sand drained from the other hand. A simple equation, a terrible choice.

He loved his family. The knowledge burned so hard he could barely swallow, but he knew it in the end. No matter how badly Filan wanted to see his parents every day, to wrestle his father and bring his mother flowers, he could never allow them to live crippled lives. Not at his making.

Slowly, blinking back tears that caught dust in his eyes, Filan picked up the lamp. He cupped it in both hands, no longer fascinated by the spell of its splendor. At his bidding, time reset to the year of Ingrid’s birth. He leaned into the reality of being four and became that person, running and wrapping himself around his mother’s leg. His father bent in, all four of them cuddling together. Warm. Safe. Beautiful. Filan would treasure the feeling for the rest of his days.

Then, his heart tore somewhere between the beauty of the moment and knowing it would never come again. He folded out of that time and used the lamp to travel back to the night Desert Raiders stole him. This time, he did not whisper to his father. He simply watched the bandit kidnap him and flee into the night. A month after, his parents sailed away again. Forever.

Light blinded Filan, brighter than glass reflecting the great sun. He sat in the dust under an orange dawn, a hungry sand lizard lashing its tongue at insects a few feet away. He squeezed his hands, remembering what it felt like to be eleven again and on the street. He couldn’t even recall wanting to return to this time.
Beaten by time itself, Filan had little left but to bury the ache in his heart and think about where he might steal some food, for he’d have nothing more to do with the lamp. He rose to return it to its keeper.

As he neared the bazaar, its bronze sign beckoned, shinier than the previous night. The owner—Ahmul?—stood with his arms folded at the front. He overlaid his white tunic with a beige vest that had patterned bands stitched onto the edges. He stared firmly from beneath his red headscarf as Filan approached.

Filan held out the lamp. “This is yours, sir. I am sorry to have taken it.”

The intensity of Ahmul’s gaze did not falter. “You are?”

Filan didn’t respond.

“You used it,” Ahmul said, his accent thick as the words rolled out through his mustache. It wasn’t a question. “You saw its power. Yet you return it to me? You could have everything you ever want.”

“Not everything.”

The large foreigner pushed his chin forward, nodding as if he understood. He extended a sturdy left hand. Filan gave back the swan lamp. It fit snugly in the crook of its master’s arm.

Ahmul smiled, eyes squinting. “There is more to you than most, young Millstonian. Lesser men would have stayed with parents, despite pain it caused, or simply kept lamp to fill their coin purses.”

How did he know about Filan’s parents?

Ahmul rolled over his right hand, revealing the sign of two circles looping into each other, engraved on his wrist. The man in the past …

“That was you?” Filan asked. “How?”

“It is my lamp, and as much me as it is tiles and wick.”

Filan shuffled in the sand. “So you know, then.”

“Your sister’s marriage shattered your parents.”

“And now? Do they have a daughter? Are they happy?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you believe?”

Ahmul smiled again. “They found peace.”

That was enough. Filan would believe it too, trusting that he hadn’t given up a life with his parents in vain. Maybe Ingrid had still been born. Somewhere, wherever they were, Filan had let his family be happy.
Nerves tingled in Filan’s leg. Time to leave. He stepped back to the road.


For a second, he considered running. But how could he outrun a man who controlled time? He faced Ahmul.

“You are good boy,” the bazaar owner said. “I have seen. Young, and thin like twig. But good.”
What was he saying?

“I have room in my tent for apprentice. Sweep bazaar floor, dust merchandise. Work, work, always. Very important. But much to learn, also. Lamp is not only valuable thing I can show you.” He held out a broom in one hand.

He was offering to take Filan with him? The possibilities that entailed opened wide in Filan’s mind. It wasn’t exactly the kind of family he’d been looking for.

Ahmul frowned, a mountain of upturned beard hair. Still, kindness lay behind those intense brown eyes. He pointed down the road. “You wish go back to street?”

Filan followed the direction of Ahmul’s finger. Down the way, the hideous vendor Cirivus, still without a wedding band, stubbed his toe and cursed. Filan laughed. He thought of his sister. Her place lay elsewhere—the lamp had shown him that. No, not the lamp, but it’s owner.

Yes, times could be hard. He was used to that. But here stood someone ready to embrace Filan into his life. And mystery painted the man the way wind grew in secret. They would explore Euland’s wonders together. Like family.

Filan took the broom. “I accept your offer, Master Ahmul.”