SHE WILL NEVER SLEEP AT NIGHT AGAIN
It was still night. It was still raining cold knives. They both still believed in evil.
“Do you… Do you have to drive so fast?”
Bonnie found the wherewithal to grin as she pulled the car around this bend, around that bend. Her heart took off like a jet engine with the knowledge that there wasn’t another sixty year-old for a thousand miles in any direction in the world who drove like her.
“The information from the sonar grab integrates with the gyroscope bed at a rate of fifty-two exobits per second – this car drives like falling, don’t you, old girl?”
Bonnie hadn’t gotten around to installing an AI in this vehicle, but she had already worked out the car’s personality.
“Besides, when they ask you how it was that you missed the Devil, you don’t want to have to tell them that it was because you were too slow.”
Jessica made the sign of the cross. Actually she was checking her pockets for her pen, her notepad, her pepper spray and her stiletto, but in effect it was the same call to faith and protection.
They arrived within the hour. The rain had stopped, and the sky had started to clear. That should have been reassuring, but actually it cost them the light pollution that reminded both women of the safety net of the last hundred or so years. The night looked down on the two old women like a teacher who wasn’t impressed.
They were at a crossroads. The land around them was quiet and flat and seemingly endless. There was no undergrowth about from which monsters could crawl free and help them – they were alone.
“Maybe Margaret was right and this is just a wild goose chase?”
“I love her as much as you, but this is why we left Margaret with Verlaine: we shouldn’t be thinking like scientists.”
“Said the Humanities post-grad…”
“You’re an engineer – just think about stress testing…”
Jessica’s blood was hot, excited, but her skeleton felt cold and aching. She felt stress-tested herself. She needed fresh bones, otherwise she would just crumple. That made her think again of Helena, and that gave her strength… but she could still sense Bonnie paying more attention to her than to the crossroads, to the crimescene. Every now and again Jessica knew that her beautiful friend looked at her and just saw an old woman.
“So what do you think? What do you feel?”
“This is definitely where Verlaine says she met Him. There’s the bus stop, she got off there. And the co-ordinates tally with the GPS signal on her phone before it crashed. And it’s certainly cold and dark… I don’t believe in spooks and I find it spooky…”
“There’s nothing here,” said Jessica.
“What did you expect to find?” Bonnie said.
“That’s what I mean. There is nothing here. There isn’t even any wind. I can’t smell anything. I don’t… I don’t feel anything.”
Bonnie looked concerned. “Jessica. Are you okay? I’m sorry, I know I was driving fast…”
“Relax, I’m not having a stroke. I’m having an anagnorisis.”
“I’m not rising to that.”
“It means a moment of dramatic reveal. Something strange happened here. Something Helena-strange.”
When Jessica had been a much younger woman she had fallen in love with a beautiful young boy. Much richer than she had been, and far less careful. They had enjoyed a romance, far too quickly, and it had developed into the only love she had ever enjoyed without having already endured the experience of love dying. It felt like it could have lasted for the rest of her life.
He had glanced at her, as she had asked some innocuous question, and she had seen through that beautiful young face to an absence beneath. Affection, yes, and desire and friendship and sympathy… But no empathy. She had seen a vacant sneer, an irritated reflex. She had been romancing an image, and this was the man. Part of him had never been there. Part of him would never be there. That part was suddenly gone from her life.
It had chilled her. No. Rather it had undone her connection to that space, to that story she had been telling herself. She had become dislocated from that narrative she had been enjoying so much. And she had thought to herself, in the scrap of a nanosecond before his face flashed back to normal and she had responded, do I ignore that look?
She hadn’t ignored it. They had split up, a few weeks later. Jessica knew that they had broken off their engagement entirely because of that afternoon.
Bonnie was looking at her now. She loved Bonnie. In Bonnie there was life and vivacity and challenge and all the empathy she could ever fathom. These were there in Margaret as well. All the time. She loved them both, dearly. For the rest of her life. But she was ninety-one and that didn’t mean as much to promise anyone, anymore.
Bonnie was looking at her and Jessica was thinking, consciously, for the first time since that afternoon seventy years before: did I make a mistake?
Cut off from the world at that crossroads, Jessica experienced an emotion she hadn’t felt for a lifetime. It was gone almost as soon as she noticed it, before she could properly recognise it. That sense. That sense of… What? It was on the tip of her tongue, in the crackle between flavours…
She was remembering that sensation in the boy that had never been there, and how that sensation had made her feel.
There could have been an answer. There could have been satisfaction. There could have been something that she could have done differently. Could everything have been alright after all? Had there been a right path that she could have taken?
Jessica was looking up at Bonnie as her dear friend crouched over her, horror on her face. Everything was growing dark, even as the morning sky was trying to brighten.
“It’s okay,” Jessica wanted to say. “I know what I should have done. It’s too late, it’s much too late, but I do know what I should have done…”
Thousands of miles away, in London, Ketaki Jude took the call. It was Margaret, back in Maine.
“How can we help you, Margaret?” Ketaki asked. In twenty-five years of managing Ms Bones’s affairs, she had only ever spoken with a member of the Maine Coven twice. Even though she had worked for Helena for a quarter of a century, she still sometimes felt nervous when dealing with some of her employer’s companions.
“Ms Jude, I’m sorry to bother you, but Helena gave us this number. We met in Tokyo in 1998, I don’t know if you remember? Anyway, we have an emergency at the Cove. We think we’ve encountered someone like Helena, but someone who has different politics. Jessica seems to have met him – she’s in the hospital and it’s serious.
“Helena might want to come and investigate.”