Chapter 24 here … Comments
Gabriella returned and a facial gesture invited them to continue the questions.
Emma opened. ‘Why can’t you help those people still on earth - just because they don’t believe, they must die?’
‘We are intertemporal. Inside both of you is … let me find a word you would understand in human terms … let’s call it a code, an embedded code -'
'Who embedded it?'
'Who wrote your DNA? This code alerts us, enables us to assist you, keeps you alive, even now. Without that code, we have no communication channel and we have no mechanism by which we can send aid your way.’
'You could stop all that below if you wished,’ cried Emma, her anger kindled.
‘We offered to deliver each and every last person from it but each refused our help. The two of you did not refuse it, therefore you are here.’ To Emma's dismayed look, Gabriella added, 'you, Emma, have not refused but neither do you believe. You are here because of the one who does believe. He and your child will pass over and go one way, you will go the other.'
'What! You'd separate me from my family?'
'No, we would not separate you from your family, quite the opposite. You'd separate yourself from your family - it's entirely your choice, your decision.'
'Jean-Baptist goes with me!'
'You would choose death not only for yourself but for Jean-Baptiste as well? You would not allow this innocent his chance of life? You would take him with you to your own inevitable, unnecessary doom?'
'This is ... chantage!'
'It's choice - that's all it is and all it's ever been.'
Hugh asked, 'What about someone good - say a Buddhist holy man who's paid homage every day? Does he die too?'
'He perhaps has more chance than most because his mind is already open to possibilities - he is given his chance. The world cannot end until all have had their chances - all.'
'Can they change their minds?'
'Of course - at any time and then they join us here or on one of the other orbs.'
'And what must they believe in order to get onto one of these orbs,' asked Emma.
'What they are seeing in front of their eyes - that they can escape it.'
'Just that. Belief seems an easy thing. In reality, it is insurmountable for so many.'
They wanted to ask more but felt they'd only be going round in circles if they pursued this line. Gabriella felt it in them and began to tell them of the encounter they were soon to have. ‘You will meet one who is where he has no right to be and he will make sport of you, mock you and ask you to sign your spirit over to his master.
There is purpose in this. While your spirit emanates from a common source, your aura, in return, feeds back to the source when the channels are open, when the code is in place. This symbiotic relationship refuels itself and all attempts to break it are what drive the so-called mystery religions – it is an attempt to steal this key locked within the symbiosis.
The enemy can never gain that key but he can go about it the long way, by asking every soul to give itself to him - freely. If every soul were to give itself freely to him, he would be in a strong position to gain the key. The majority of the world has unwittingly already done this - squandered its birthright, through the seven sins, although they often have no idea they are lost until it is too late.
You see, it need not be a conscious thing. Every time you know something is right and you do something else, you lay yourself open, exposed to control. It also weakens your resolve and then this lack of resolve is celebrated. Eventually, your soul dies within you.
So far, there are still a few, a minority, who have not signed their souls over. They are the targets of his enmity.’
Emma could see where this was going, what was in store for them and her lips and mouth were dry. She knew that Jean-Baptiste, as an innocent, did not need to pass through this time of unpleasantness - but they did.
‘Why must we do this?’ she still asked.
‘In general, people have paths. Imagine it as a boat voyage. Those who have accepted our help have a sturdy vessel with high sides, while the others have a leaky raft. Both still meet the storm and the raging seas, both still travel the same journey. The first ones have the better chance.’
‘Can we refuse to go any further?’
‘Of course you can. Free will, remember. I can take you down to the Valley of Jezreel now, if you wish.' She paused and when no words came from either of them, she added, 'One last thing, both of you. As long as you believe, then all pain you suffer will be illusion – you will actually be immune, though your senses will tell you otherwise. In this matter, do not trust your senses – he can control them. Trust only your belief that they are illusion. It is the only way you shall both survive.’
'May I speak with my husband for a few minutes please? Alone, without you listening in?'
Gabriella smiled and faded from sight. The moment she'd gone, Emma asked, 'Do you believe any of this? Do you think we are actually in one of these ...'
'Orbs, yes. Do you believe we have to go through this trauma, that we'll be protected, that we'll see Jean-Baptiste again? That we'll ... get to this heaven?'
'I consciously made that decision long ago. I looked at as many sides to it as I could and concluded that it was real, that it was so.'
'And if I don't agree? If I say this is all rubbish?'
'Then you are trusting your fate the same way that those people down there did - and don't forget that the enemy has a special reception lined up for you, Belus.'
'And if I did that? What then of Jean-Baptiste?'
'He would pass over with me, while you went below to who knows what.'
There was silence for some time.
Finally, she said, 'You know I'm coming with you, don't you?'
Gabriella reappeared, Emma kissed Jean-Baptiste and handed him to her, Jean-Baptiste lapping up all this attention. Hugh kissed him and said, 'All right, we're ready.'
Still clasped in each other’s arms, they found themselves in space but not in free fall, yet neither were they soaring nor even floating. It was as if the space they were in had been de-painted and there were no points of reference. They’d not asked what to say to the enemy, knowing it would be supplied.
Slowly, new surroundings were ‘painted’ in and they found themselves in a broken down tunnel, ancient stonework crumbling, the hellish noise outside coming through in waves, along with the stench and the stench is what got to them first, the overwhelming sensation of rancid sweetness.
They looked at one another and set off, reaching the end of the concourse, turned towards the stone stairs leading upwards, climbed and climbed and climbed, pausing for breath and then climbed the last of the way. Immediately they were challenged by two guards who backed away upon seeing who they were.
A similar thing happened twice more while they walked for the entrance to what they’d never thought they’d ever see. Clearly, this was the light-stoned Temple and they knew exactly where they were going.
The guards at the first columns dropped back, those at the inner door did the same and then they followed the route they knew full well but how they knew it was beyond them. Up two sets of broad but shallow steps and they were in an atrium of some magnificence.
Emma whispered, ‘Is this actually … er … him? You know, the one?’
‘No, his offsider.’
She rested a hand on his forearm. ‘This is it, Hugh, you do know that, don’t you?’
‘Is everything right between us? Is everything forgiven?’
‘Of course it is.’ He dropped into the last kiss and those two minutes said everything which needed to be said. ‘Be cheeky, Fayette, as you always were, I plan to be outrageous - don’t be bullied into accepting anything. It's illusion what happens to us at his hands. Let's remember that. Bye, my love.’
Two huge doors opened inwards before them and there they were, inside the Holy of Holies. Before he could stop himself, Hugh had addressed the being lounging on the chaisse-longue on the raised dais. ‘You are on consecrated ground and therefore are blaspheming against your Lord and Master. Get ye gone from this place.’
The being, clearly human but seeming-powerful for all that, did not bat an eyelid but he did sigh. ‘I’m tired of every little nobody coming in here telling me this. I suppose you actually think you’re Albus and Belus.’
‘You know exactly who we are, as distinct from the masses out there.’
‘Have a care.’ Hugh felt his tongue fall back to his throat he was gasping for air, he collapsed to the floor. His tongue was released, he gasped for some time until his breath came back, then he stood shakily again.
‘You are on consecrated ground.' It was Emma speaking. 'Depart now, turn from your ways and pay tribute to your Maker.’ She'd seen that in a film. Now she suffered the same as Hugh who strode towards the being but was stopped and could not move in any shape or form.
‘So,’ murmured the creature, bemused. ‘They care for one another.’ He let them go. ‘Is there anything further you wish to say because I have one or two things to ask of you.’
Hugh stood again, restored. ‘Listen, you poor sod, you’re on a hiding to nothing here. Your so-called master can’t win this war, he’ll never find the key, no matter how many brains he dissects or how many sacrifices he performs. It simply doesn’t work that way; we know how it works, this symbiosis, he knows it too and so we want to ask you - why bother with all this?’
‘I shall only ask once more for you to hold your chattering tongue.’
‘Get stuffed.’ The creature’s eyebrow was raised at that and Hugh pressed on. ‘Listen, my friend - cut your losses, join us and you might still be saved.’
The audacity at first surprised, then amused the creature, he even nodded in a flicker of admiration.
When he spoke, the voice became like a deep rasp. ‘Why do you bother with all this, this thing you know must end in grief for you? We have a place for you right now, right here. You are bold. You might be one of our mightiest generals. Come now, think this over and don’t place your faith in a fairy tale of the blue yonder. Here I am, standing in front of you and I offer you both a place. Think of what we could achieve, what you have already achieved with the former head of your nation. This is too much talent to waste in this fashion.’
‘I’m going to ask you one last time,’ said Hugh, evenly. ‘Renounce this way and depart from this holy place.’
‘Aaaaggghh!’ roared the creature and Hugh fell to the ground, writhing this way and that, in deep agony. Blood appeared from his nose and ears, red froth appeared from his mouth, he was lifted, released and fell to the stones.
‘Stop it, stop it,’ shrieked Emma, taking three steps towards the creature, then she stopped as if hitting a stone wall, her breasts enlarged and deflated, her thighs were forced apart and she felt something unholy, wholly evil entering her and yet nothing and no one else was in the room. The creature desisted and she fell to the ground, Hugh crawling over to hold her.
The creature made as if to play a violin, then turned a stern face to them. ‘I tire of this interview. You will sign a document agreeing to come into the service of my Master and that will be an end to it. He clapped his hands and the necessary materials were brought from a sideroom by two clerks or scribes or whatever.
‘We need to read these first,’ Hugh reminded him. ‘Never sign anything you haven’t read.’
The creature sighed again. ‘Yes, yes, if you must. Ten minutes.’
Hugh took both and gave Emma her copy. They sat on the stone and started to read. Emma actually guffawed at one part and then read on.
Eventually they came to the end.
Hugh spoke. ‘May I ask one question?’ The creature, seeing that Albus was finally coming to his senses, nodded for him to continue. ‘AC, sir, I’m in awe that whoever wrote this piece of garbage ever seriously thought we’d sign it. You can stick it where the sunlight won't see it and tell the goat the same thing.’
‘Hugh! You’ll stop speaking like that before me now. I’ll not have you descending to his level.’ He looked at her and saw the smile playing at the corners of her lips. He returned her smile but in the next moment was lifted bodily and flung against one of the columns, a bolt which appeared to be very real and very steel came from the creature’s hand and pinned him to the column by a good foot or so.
Emma screamed and dropped to her knees, knowing this was one Hugh was not coming back from. If they’d managed to get him from the bolt, the internal damage ... Before she’d even had a chance to respond, seven men in robes emerged from the siderooms and it was clear their intent with her, as the creature settled back on his chaisse-longue to enjoy the show.
She continued to scream as it began and went on and on, Hugh made one attempt to climb off the bolt and the pain knocked him out, which didn’t suit the creature one bit.
When he came to, Emma was lying on her side, in foetal position on the stone, still clothed and he knew precisely what had happened. Now, from where she lay, she found the greatest insult she could think of in front of this creature and in this Temple. She invoked the word Jesus at him, he flinched so she said it again. Hugh picked up on it and started doing the same. The creature shut up their tongues, swept down the steps, released his tongue and asked if he’d sign.
‘Yes,’ said Hugh, gasping for air.
The creature looked hard at him, decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and the bolt just disappeared, as if it had never been there. Hugh felt his wound and there was none. Emma had turned her head, she'd seen this as well, put two and two together and remembered what Gabriella had said.
They’d believed the rape had taken place, they’d believed Hugh had been impaled but now she felt nothing, as if nothing had happened at all.
It was a mighty powerful illusion too because each had experienced the full extent of the horror during it but now they appeared whole and yet not whole. He shuffled across to Emma and held her. ‘Just stick together and don’t fall.’
The creature now demanded, ‘You gave your word. You said you would sign - you freaks always keep your word.’
‘Yes, I gave my word and I shall sign. Give me the paper.’
He went across to the table which had appeared, Emma was in shock and yet she felt something had to have been in the wind.
‘You want us to actually write, freehand, that we accept the conditions and to state what we understand by those?’ Hugh asked, just to clarify. The creature, now back on the chaisse-longue, nodded impatiently. Emma looked on incredulously as he bent down and began to write. If anything, she would have said he was jaunty and knew she’d best get over there too.
Glancing down at what he’d written, she saw all and asked, ‘May I write mine in French?’ The creature nodded again. She scribbled something not quite the same but similar, in her own language.
Hugh now asked if they could approach to do tribute to him. The creature’s eyebrows went up again but he grunted his affirmation. They kissed one final time, quickly, both approached him obsequiously, bowing and scraping, until they were at his chaisse-longue.
Then the tribute began.
‘Oh, great creature, you know you really are the ugliest muvver I've ever met, did anyone ever tell you that? Plus you stink too,’ he grinned and she childishly poked out her tongue, the creature flew to the table in an instant, read what each had written – it was the Apostle’s Creed – the two of them looked at each other and held hands, their necks suddenly snapped and they fell to the floor.
The creature was beside himself – he hadn’t snapped their necks, it hadn’t been his doing, his intention had been to draw their innards from inside them, through their mouths and it hadn’t happened.
Now the two were beyond him and he’d not even begun.
It mattered not what he did to each of their bodies in the next two hours and as he finally subsided to his chaisse-longue, he was both sickened with anger and deeply afraid because he’d promised these two contracts, he’d have to file them, those were the rules, he could not afford to destroy them now they’d been written and signed and his mouth went very dry.
He wanted to punish them over and over but short of flinging bloodied chunks of flesh and organs or their heads about the Temple, there was no further way he could hurt them – they were gone, passed over.
He sat on the chaisse-longue and brooded, stroking his chin with his gnarled fingertips.
They were in some sort of corridor in space, bounded by countless rays stretching endlessly into the distance and were being drawn down that corridor.
At least they were conscious that there was still a 'they'. After a shortish time, they came out into ... well ... a space and in that space was Gabriel, with Jean-Baptiste in her arms.
Gabriella handed Jean-Baptiste to Emma, to fulfil the promise but then reached out to take him again. ‘You are now in what we call the first house. It's not a house as you understand it but it suffices as a definition for us.
In this house you have a period together now, the two of you, to revisit, to make amends, to close circles. You can go anywhere, as time and distance have no meaning here but you do have a limited amount of ... perhaps we could call it ... personal fuel. There will be sufficient. Leave Jean-Baptiste with me during this time and I shall await your return.’
Emma agreed. ‘We can just ... go anywhere?’
‘Yes. This is your last chance for now to visit the temporal world, to make contact down there. Don't spend time in long conversations because there will be an opportunity later for that, when those below will be here and it becomes much easier. This time now is to visit and see.’
'What happened to the River Styx?'
Gabriella smiled. It does exist, you crossed it but all of those things are just definitions.'
It beat airports, hunkered down in car boots or bolted down beneath back seats of cars. They thought up their destinations and asked if Gabriella needed to know. She already knew. They asked if they needed to wait until the ninth day. This was the ninth day if they deemed it so.
Emma asked if it would frighten people to see them.
Nobody would see them without mental effort from both, combined.
Should they appear to people?
It was up to them but it might be an idea to speak softly and warn those people first. They were to remember they were visiting the living, not those who had crossed the divide. The time for that was later.
The first and most logical place was the Lodge and thus they were now on what had once been the front porch. Though they'd lost their sensory apparatus, they knew the air would be acrid and yet, all sorts of mites still infested the air, eating tree bark and gnawing at anything gnawable.
Down the street was what looked like sewage and blood, ankle deep.
It was a crime against nature what had happened here. Wanton, senseless destruction, walls ripped down - not bombed or anything like that – just ripped down. Francine’s and Jean’s half was pretty well rubble but the gardener’s side still had that bed of Geneviève’s and the other bed of Ksenia’s.
They both looked at each other and then back at the relic of something now long gone.
Emma's birthplace was next, which Hugh had never seen and that was also near rubble, apart from corners where the floor remained partially intact, yet soggy. He caught his breath because in one corner of the downstairs were the remains of a soft toy, a bear.
Emma was distraught but obviously she had far more visiting to do and he accompanied her, offering her support as best he could.
Now came a tough one - the garage where Geneviève and Jean-Claude had passed on - he lifted the lid of the box and Jean-Claude … well … it might have been better not to have seen that.
He replaced the lid and they moved on to the English Chapel.
The name on the stone wall was still in place – the mob had neither erased it nor torn it off – Ksusha had been left alone.
The carpark was much the same, gravelled but no car had been that way in quite some time. She was clearly not there.
They went to the Farmhouse and parts of it still stood – the fire hearth, for example. It seemed to have been a bit too far off the beaten track for the mobs.
The sky was darkened, even at what must have been the middle of the day and it certainly looked ... endtime.
They moved to Melun.
Nikki’s parents’ house was not there, Thierry’s terrace house was - still largely intact, surprisingly but with no one in there.
They moved swiftly to Paris and Emma had much visiting to do, he had Cafe Noir and his old flat, plus that of Genie.
Time for England.
His childhood haunts were a sad testimony to the madness which had blighted the land and he didn't dwell. The cavern in Scotland - there was not a lot of the bodies left to recognize but baby Emma had him transfixed for some time.
Some of their old friends in Germany were next and here they struck gold. Franz and his wife were still alive and still going about their routines. Both paused, as if they sensed something and Emma thought it best to move on, not to appear to them.
Then they decided to give it a try.
Slowly, at the fireplace, they appeared hazily and the two in the armchairs were frightened. ‘Franz, Helga, it’s Hugh and Emma,’ said Hugh. 'Nothing to be frightened of - we'd just like to thank you for everything. I know about Nicolette.’
The old couple looked at one another, made as if to ask questions but Emma said, ‘Sorry, we haven't the power to remain longer. Thanks for what you did, for everything.’
Moscow Anna was no longer there but the brother, Vadik, was and not so little either, lying around aimlessly, waiting for it all to end.
Shadzhara. He took in various parts and then another tough call – an elderly couple in Ksenia's flat, still alive. The place was still spick and span and Ksenia would be grateful for that.
Anya’s home followed, he glanced about but it was long deserted, as was Viktor’s. Certainly nothing was moving in this ghost city now and thus no food, no greenhouses, no market gardens any more.
He wanted to see Anya’s grandparents’ dacha. It was overgrown and the house and verandah had rotted half away but the Table was still in place.
There were the plaques on the wall, there was the cross in the church garden, there were all the old haunts but a sense of urgency was now starting to creep up on both of them.
‘Just a few more. Where?’ he asked.
‘She’s alive, Emma, I feel she’s still alive.’
Suddenly they were in the flagstoned area in front of the big house in Veneto and there she was - sitting on a stone seat on the terrace. A sort of fine mist drifted down on her - she seemed oblivious - but it wasn't rain, it was coloured yellowish brown and her feet were awash in the sludge.
She still wore her Prada flats, such as they were.
They concentrated and appeared, she looked at them and if they’d expected shock or horror, they got only sorrowful eyes in return. She smiled weakly and spoke their names.
‘We've a short time only, love’ he said. ‘It takes too much effort to stay visible. Tell us quickly where all the others are.’
‘Quickly?’ She just looked down at the slush, then up at them again. ‘Thanks for coming, Hugh and Emma. It means more than you can know.’ She reached out both hands, they tried to take them, saw how weakened she'd become and now felt themselves fading.
‘We’ll see you when you get here,’ he reassured her. ‘It’s not a big deal, you know. Just believe and Gabriella will come for you. I love you.’
He wanted to check out the house and then wished he hadn’t. Anya’s mother and the rest of the Italian side of the family had passed on – it seemed over a period of a few weeks. Anya had done what she could and Emma noted some grain left but that was all.
They felt themselves drawn away now, losing power and both knew it was over. As he took her hand, it slipped through his and it took effort on both their parts to give their hands substance.
They passed through dark emptiness, finding themselves back in a familiar place, recently familiar anyway. ‘Well,’ they looked at each other, as Gabriella appeared with Jean-Baptiste and Emma took him back. ‘Well.’
Emma began to fill Gabriella in on the day but she raised a hand. ‘I already know what you did. So, unless you’d like to talk through any of it, let’s move on. I shall be with your Anya at the end.’
They nodded gratefully and looked at one other but there was no great necessity to ask any more – it was all pretty well done now.
‘Then it’s time for you both to understand what is coming. You will move now to the next house and that, I'm afraid, is your contact with the temporal world over. It would be possible for you to revisit it if there were a world to visit but now we are coming to a point when grave matters are dealt with.
I’m sorry to say that you’ll begin to lose your necessity for each other. You will feel it for some time yet because you have people to meet and to make your peace with in this house. Then you will move to the next house and so on but my task will have been completed by then.’
She faded as she always did.
They were in the last house in which Gabriella would appear.
It was a large garden with a Mediterranean feel and could have been Italy. Then again, it might have been the Holy Land but only really on Mt Carmel in a Garden of Eden way.
There was a series of flagstoned terraces cut into the hill, with a view of the far hills in the distance and though they could feel neither cold nor heat, it gave the impression of a warmly temperate place, not particularly verdant, nevertheless there were tall, thin trees and beyond that, further on, were orchards, fields, some sort of civilization over to the left - a lovely place.
They were on the main terrace and the sun was shining in a clear sky, except for passing cumulus clouds - a gentle breeze wafted around the hill. It was not something they'd ever have expected as an end-time scenario.
‘And now,’ she addressed the assembled throng of some thousands, ‘you have a space in time in this garden in which to meet. Then you will be called to the next house.’
It was most strange. Simply by thinking of a person, that person appeared and yet how could that be? What if someone thought of another, just as that one thought of someone else? Presumably it came down to the notion of time and space here - perhaps time was more events based.
Emma was running through her list and he began as well. Both brought in their fathers, their mothers, their stepfathers, wives and a certain amount of dressing down was done but also some praise. He felt terribly guilty over his mother, which did ameliorate it somewhat - at least his mother said all the right things and all were delighted to see one another again.
That had taken a considerable time - they'd decided to leave recent friends and lovers till the end and so the moment arrived which had both of them gulping with apprehension, not least because all of these would still be in a more solid, temporal form.
He felt himself drawn to another terrace further down, called by someone and there, right in the centre, was Ksusha, with their child. The words wouldn't come as they went through the motions of the passionate embrace - bodily form was certainly losing substance.
'So ... it took you long enough,' she opened and he grinned. 'You see we lose solidity but I can still feel for you. Hugh, meet Hugh.'
'Ah.' He did what passed for lifting his son towards him and the baby looked at him, failing to be horrified. In fact, a smile broke out across his face. He looked more like mama than papa. 'I'm so sorry about your flat, Ksusha.'
'You speak of flats?' But her voice was kind. 'I've seen it anyway - it was in good hands. I was with you, Hugh, when you came on the 9th but on the 40th, I was occupied here. It helped though - I want you to know that. I've met your Sophie, by the way.'
He was happy. 'Emma's mine now, Ksusha. Look, I have to ask you - did we stay together? Do you know that? Will they let us know those things?'
She put a hand to his face and those shapely fingers looked as he remembered them. He tried to kiss them and she smiled. 'I'm sorry to say, Hugh, that I was killed a second time, if I can put it like that. That was why I wasn't actually there at the 40th. You see, we'd gone back to Shadzhara, it was too much for me, being married, about to become a mother and I ran away to have some time. You followed and found me in the forest but they found us and we were killed, all three of us.'
He was shocked to the core.
'There is a third scenario though,' she smiled. 'I did not run out, I had the baby and we stayed together. So it depends on whether I ran out.'
'And did you?'
'Who knows because I was killed at the English Chapel first.'
'That's too much for my brain to sort out.'
'I think I stayed - let's remember it that way, OK?'
He asked about Zhenya and Ludmilla - sadness about the former, more joy over the latter.
'There's not much time, Bebe, she said, 'Is there anything in particular you'd like to ... er ... do?'
'Yes, yes, of course.' He took them both into his arms and the passion built to a point where a sort of wind was surrounding them, buffeting them - some others on the terrace noticed in passing.
She pulled back, her fingers on his cheeks. 'We can meet again in the next house, apparently, it seems we can. If we are in the same house, which I believe we must be.'
She faded from sight.
He glanced up the hill at Emma with Michel and could see, from where he stood, that the scene on their terrace was not going well. She was distraught, Michel was more resigned to his fate but eventually, he too faded.
He quickly called her to him, she was instantly on the lower terrace, in his arms.
'Even now he was too proud.'
Marc and Dilyara appeared, and their child had grown. Gabriella had appeared to them near the end.
'I'm calling Mademoiselle,' said Emma and Geneviève appeared, still shamefaced over the eating of the petit pain but delighted to see the company. Jean-Claude looked considerably better now than after his death and a brisk conversation began, cramming as much in as they could in before they'd be called elsewhere.
Hugh was allowed to embrace Geneviève.
Francine and Jacques, Francesca and Jean came through, Thierry, Olivier and Gemma. He greeted all and as Emma was going to spend more time here, she suggested he call Anya.
Anya appeared, as businesslike as ever, which amused him. 'I was about to call you,' she said, more solid than he, having only just passed over. 'I began to believe, Gabriella appeared and here I am. Lovely garden. Tell me, do I become like you - all faded and that?'
'We all do, darling. May I hold you?'
'I was wondering if you were ever going to.'
He reminded her of the icy knoll on the river, when they'd stood against the elements, rims of hoods sealed in that deep kiss and that's what they tried to recreate now.
Forlorn hope of course and yet there were tears and a final frenzy, which took them way over their allotted span, they felt each other drawn apart, he called out that they could meet again if they were in the same house, she smiled and then faded.
Strangely, one outstretched hand in the sunlight was the image which remained on his mind.
Emma was nearby again now, a bit tense. 'Nadine's on the terrace below. Should we?'
They did and the girl was drawn, clearly against her will and resisting with all she had.
'Even now, Nadine? Even now?' asked Emma.
'What's it to you?'
'I don't want this for you, even though it involved my husband.'
'Even while you were plotting to take Hugh from Nikki?' she mocked.
'What happened with you, Nadine?'
'Save your breath and let me go. Release me.'
'Nadine,' put in Hugh.
'Ha,' she shrieked and they let her go, watching her fade into the distance. They stood silently, more than a little shaken.
Emma said she was calling Sophie and asked him to stay.
The three were caught in a triple embrace and Sophie gained most from it. Sam had been to one side but he now greeted them as well.
Sophie offered Hugh Little Emma who recognized her father, thank goodness and was happy. 'I met your Nikki, Hugh,' commented Sophie.
He went silent and she nodded. 'She told me we were wrong on that hilltop, under the moon - I apologize, Emma. Do you agree with me, Hugh?'
'Yes. Sophie, by any chance, did you find out what happened to the others? Were the traitors those we thought?'
'I asked Gabriella. Seems so. The others were murdered, as we thought. Not something I wanted to think about for long.'
Miri appeared, beside herself as usual but time was running out and they knew they hadn't finished.
Emma now looked into his eyes, put two hands to his cheeks and kissed him carefully. 'Stay here while I'm with her. Will you allow me to be first?'
Her form drifted up to the top terrace and there, by an olive tree, stood Nikki and what's more, she'd been watching both of them for some considerable time. The two fell into what they considered sufficed as each other's arms and on the lower terrace, he watched every motion, every kiss, every embrace and could see that a very long conversation was underway in between.
Still it went on and he didn't actually want it to end - Emma was standing now in that knee forward, forearm extended way of hers, Nikki went through the full gamut of her mannerisms but when they now both suddenly looked at him, his throat went dry and he was literally gasping.
Gabriella appeared on the upper terrace with both Jean-Baptiste and Little Emma, mother Emma remained up there with them and Nikki began her slow descent - down the steps, of all things, quite unnecessary given their current locomotive ability and he had to smile - an actress to the end was Nicolette Vasseur.
Now she was on his terrace and hesitated, taking in the scene, taking in his expression, now she came forward with a rush and they were virtually inside one another, consumed by waves of energy, outlines blurred.
Emma asked Gabriella, on the top terrace, all those questions she'd saved up.
'I have to hear your voice again, speak to me, Nikki.'
'Oh Hugh,' she said nervously and it went right through him, 'I'm so confused. I'm so alone, I need you so much, I've waited for this -'
'You can't go with me. At least I think we are in the same house next but we must stay apart. Emma and Jean-Baptiste will be with you as well - Gabriella would not say but it seemed that way. Don't think this tragic. It's only until we really have no need any more and after that it is all fine. That's the next house - this house now of feelings and connections then disappears. So I'm fine that you are holding me now at the very end of this time - it's everything to me while it's still ... well ... everything to me.'
Her slight puzzlement at that had him falling for her all over again. 'Nikki, can you see what would have been? Did they let you see that?'
'Yes. I've seen it. We stayed together although we had times like you and Emma -'
'Who was at fault?'
'Maybe you tired of me.'
'Oh no,' he was chagrined, 'I did that to you? After everything?'
'We were stronger for it. And yes, it was with Emma. We grew together after that, you and me - we never parted and you were the best partner I could have wanted. They were all wrong to doubt it and I don't regret anything.'
'A child? Did we have one?'
Her face fell. 'It was not possible after ... what had happened in Paris in my late teens. You know.' She saw anger well up. 'Hugh, Hugh, that was old history, we talked all that out - no need to do it all again. There was you and me and we went to the end together. You actually departed first, I followed the following year.'
'Do you want to kiss or talk?'
'Both,' she laughed. 'Let's say the words now and then we'll just - hold each other, OK? Je t'adore, continuellement et toujours.'
'Je t'adore aussi, ma Nikki. It needs no words. If we're in the next house, then don't go away completely. Please?'
'Need you ask?'
He looked her over and even now she was embarrassed, they fell into one another one last time, the rush of energy swirling about them, buffeting them and then came that familiar drawing apart, she faded to another part of the garden and Emma was beside him.
After some time, he said, 'It's strange, Fayette, the pain feels dulled, as if something is dulling it. If you'll still have me, here I am.'
'Let's try to become solid again, once more, as we did with Anya. Let's really try. Do you want?'
They tried, they really tried but instead merged with one another, the whirlwind worked but that solidity was obviously from the former house and neither really minded now. In fact, though they stood together, knew that they should be together, that they were together, yet something else was calling them, drawing them to who knew what.
Gabriella appeared beside them with Jean-Baptiste and Emma took him in her arms.
'And now?' he asked.
'You know,' I've told you, I've told them and they've told you. This is the first separation coming now and you are not to be frightened. There is still work in the next house - you will recall about Sophie and her child, about your child - these things are yet to pass. I myself don't understand the next house but I know it is just an extension of this and so it goes on until you get there.'
'Wherever there is.'
‘We owe you everything, Gabriella,’ said Emma and Hugh fully agreed: 'How can you spend all this time with us and yet there are so many to be with?'
'There are so many of us too but yes, it is a good question all the same. Time is not linear here, as I have said. However many need to be accompanied - they are accompanied. Thank you for your gratitude.'
She smiled, touched both their foreheads and then faded, this time forever, at least as far as they knew.
People had been slowly filing into the garden for what was an impossible time to ascertain, the terraces were now crowded and a sense of foreboding crept over all present.
They first heard the hush below the terraces, a hush which spread upwards like a wave and someone was speaking out below, on some sort of rostrum with a door in a wall on the far side. It seemed to Emma that if they opened that door and someone walked through it, it would be into that valley but somehow she knew it was not going to be into that valley - it was to be somewhere else.
The genderless voice began calling out names from a scroll and when the person called reached the rostrum and approached the voice, he or she then went through that door and seemed quite calm, almost as if it was coming home.
Others though were drawn against their will towards it and that was distressing - they were often kicking and screaming, dragged by no visible force, at least to the two of them, to who knew where?
'I don't think this is the Final Judgment, Emma. It's too small a group - what do you think - four thousand in this garden?'
'A bit less than five. Yes, it seems some sort of pre-judgment to me, perhaps just a grouping of people.'
One had now been pronounced on, he tried to sweet talk the voice, tried to cut a deal, tried to justify himself. He went the way of the others. A woman tried bombast, demanding a retrial, another hearing - she went the same way - it was embarrassing the way she lost it completely, turning and appealing to the masses, as if that would have the slightest effect.
'I pray I go with dignity.'
She looked at him and tried to take his hand but that time had now passed.
'Hugh Jensen.' The voice rang out like a clarion.
Emma touched his cheek, he made a funny face at Jean-Baptiste, kissed both and made his way down the steps to a lower terrace, down further steps and so on, until he reached the rostrum and the voice.
He turned one last time, blew a kiss back to both, smiled and went through the door.
She quickly looked over herself, making sure all was in order, prepared Jean-Baptiste and then heard both their names called, one after the other, mother and child, finding herself not drawn but allowed to make her own way downwards to the rostrum, to that voice and frankly, she was more than ready to go.