What happens now?
At the close of the day, as the magic slips away from the world, and the pillar is wiped clean, and it's still sinking in that that's it now. We're done. It's over. And as Andy waves a fond farewell like a ship sailing off into the night, I get this heavy, sick sensation in my stomach that after everything we've been through, this moment will be that last that we are all together like this; that there won't be another...
What happens now?
What do we now become?
And I hear a voice that sounds like the girl I used to be in the back of my head praying desperately to whatever is out there that we didn't destroy, that can still hear us:
Please. Tell me that there is something more.
It's as good a number as any, isn't it?
It's coming up on 42 months since I went to a little get-together hosted by a forum poster named gatlingmonkey47 and found myself caught up in a dramaturgical chaos ritual that would, as little as I suspected it then, redefine my life. Unknowingly, each of us was assigned a role, with a greater or lesser degree of prescience; a part to play in a cosmic drama.
That was the party where I met Andy Beckett, who taught me to weild the power of a symbol. It was the party where I met Michael Batman, the truest soul I know, and where I met Jayne Brookes, whose courage and strength and determination won my heart a hundred times over. I met others then, as well, who walked with me for some part of this journey the last 42 months, but at some stage went their own way. Imogen, who still allows us to use her shop; Barney, Riley and Ben; Amanda and Holly. Bee, of course, without whom I would never have had to send any member of the CFSS to hospital with the broken stump of a syringe in their leg, and the other Andy, the Teahouse Sorcerer. And Chloe, of course, whom we lost.
Val and Lewis joined soon after the start and many others have come and gone, but now there are only three of us left of that first group: Andy Beckett, Mike Batman and me.
And yet I am sure that this has been the journey of the Cambridge Fortean Studies Society, and I am sure that the journey is coming to an end, of sorts; or perhaps a new beginning.
And so I am having a party. There will be food and drink, and party favours for all, but with a twist.
We came together cast unknowingly in roles. The favours at this party will each denote such a role, but neither I nor Andy nor anyone else will choose which mask any other wears. Each will choose their own favour, and so their own role, and so we shall go forward; redefined, self-defined.
I wonder, will we be what we think we are, in the end? In the beginning.
Julius van Helsing
It’s just a game – isn’t it? I felt myself start to break apart – I think it was… I don’t know how long ago now. And I keep thinking that I’m nearly there. I’ve nearly beaten it. We’re changing the world – worlds, even. And this last step might be the end of ours.
It’s just another hurdle; once more into the breach. One more boss fight, one more lucid dream, one more blaze of glory and gunfire, one more ‘once more with feeling’. The final curtain might be more final than we knew but we always knew we could win. That’s why we’ve been fighting so hard and so long, isn’t it?
But, you know… seeing my handwriting scrawl across that pillar… watching as another me resigned herself to death while another filled with fear and was swallowed into the nothing. And another her. And another and another.
And her blood on my hands. We raced up the pyramid, bare flesh and bone and our fists balled and our hearts full and we ran headlong into the hungry blades of warriors and fanatics. It’s easy to be fearless when you don’t know you’re alive. But her blood on my hands, soaking into my shirt; her warmth fast getting cold as I staggered away with her slung in my arms. More and more this feels like it’s all I have; and yet more and more fantastical by the hour.
I saw things I never could have imagined. Worlds I never knew. Ends of worlds. Time turned back and forth.
So maybe the joke is on me. Maybe this is not the dream; not the delusion I imagined it to be. Maybe the delusion has been that I had dreamed at all.
But if I’m dreaming… why not her? If I’m dreaming and I die, the story is always so; there’s a girl. And it was always her.
But if I’m dreaming… how long has it been? And am I lying alone in the dark in some world that will never be as bright or as terrible as this; and there she doesn’t love me, and there I didn’t die, and there even if I wake again the world will always be grey.
But if this isn’t a dream – if everything that’s happened has happened and the world has fallen down; and the Fifth and Pillar become as they should be and always will have been – will everything we’ve lived and loved and breathed be rewritten after all?
And will I, in some other world, awaken as I lose the threads of her; and only look fondly at her passing in the street and not remember how I loved her? And wander by the Enchanted Forest one day and see her card atop a pack and feel compelled to step inside to -- nothing. Just the smell of old books and candle wax. The promise of another life; another time.
And will I never again feel as alive as I did when I was dreaming?
Miss Poole dispels any feeling of foreboding I might have with a friendly American handshake. She gets me a bottle of water and makes sure I'm comfortable before she is happy to let me start. Once an orphan, Miss Poole came into the public eye as abruptly as her pest-controller-turned-inventor employer, but both have shone in terms of philanthropy. This dynamic duo are certainly a pair to watch.( Read more... )
That's probably why I didn't notice him at first. He hovered silently like a shark until I'd fidgeted enough with the canape and finally shoved it in my mouth. Then he pounced.
"You're Batman's...Assistant, aren't you?" he purred in my ear, making me jump. I hate when people say Assistant like that, like there's something inherently sexual about our relationship. It makes me want to hit them in the face. Just a little.
I turned to face him, taking a step back as I did. He was too everything; too close, too tan (why do people do that? I'll never understand), too smarmy. I should have smelled him a mile off - not just because he had too much cologne on, but because he was a con artist.
"Who are you?" I asked, crossing my arms. I could feel myself going hostile, hear the blood starting to pound in my ears. Go away I was saying in my mind.
Maybe one day I'll be psychic and this will work.
He introduced himself, but I forgot his name immediately. If I could have forgotten him completely, I would have happily done so. But no, he kept talking.
"Looking for a new Wayne Enterprises headquarters?"
Who was this guy? Was I required to be nice to him? I looked around desperately for Mike, but he was gesturing emphatically out the window (which I had yet to risk getting close to), deep in conversation. I turned back to Mr Aren't-I-Clever-Making-a-Reference-to-
He smiled toothily at me, and I bared my teeth right back. "Been to India before?" he asked doggedly. I grunted. He took this as encouragement to talk about his experiences in Dubai, plodding his monologue inexorably to: "I'll show you around the city after this." It wasn't a question, wasn't a request.
Cons based on expertise were always hard to pull off. You had to be a certain type (he was), and you had to be confident enough to bluff if you were caught out.
This was the sort of con artist Mike's money attracted most often.
I smiled grimly. He gave me a million-dollar - or maybe I should say billion-pound - smile in return.
I leaned in. "Look, buddy. You're made, all right? Get out of here and I won't make your life difficult. Stay, and I'm not going to say anything more about it than things will get really uncomfortable for you."
I turned pointedly back to the canapes (if I could have made myself get closer to the windows, I would have done that).
I didn't see him again.