Paternoster Tales: Chapter 37

Ending with another story

So the Tale of Agatha is over. For now.

It is interesting, I often think, that in the telling of one story the seeds of others are found and scattered; some take root and grow and blossom, while others shrivel and fade. Take the story of Patrick for example, in the Tale of Agatha. And of the judge. And of Alice. An oak; a yew and a rosemary bush, perhaps; mighty, healing and aromatic, respectively. Molly, I picture as an orchid. A precious bloom. One that has re-flowered. One that still takes your breath away but … but … but … please don’t tell her this … who now lacks something. Her colours are muted and her white is less bright and the surface of her orchid leaves is pock-marked like the surface of an orange. That’s when you can see her – when the silver halo isn’t too bright. Molly isn’t a flower. It helps though – while I wait for her to recover – to assign everyone a plant. Silas is a thistle – the garden weed kind; etiolated by the dark of the tunnels and without the jaunty relief of a tufty, flowering, purple hat. Scorpio would be a jostling throng of bickering stems tangled into a thicket of bindweed – a new species with tendrils that silently reach out to caress your neck with silky strokes, as they wind round. Before starting to pull – tighter and tighter – slowly throttling life out of their victims who claw with frantic, bluing fingers at the suddenly barbed, wiry noose.

… I am of course procrastinating. I am putting off both telling you what Molly told me and admitting to myself that she isn’t recovering. Her light is fading ever so slightly which means that the Molly inside the halo can be seen more clearly. She doesn’t look good. Waifs were once boys and girls but waifs don’t look dead. Molly … well … she does. Her eyes look like they’ve seen something so terrible that they are stuck, red and terrified and in such awful pain that the only way they can get relief is to stare, unblinking, up from deep below the glassy surface of murky waters, in two deep wells. She doesn’t cry. She shivers, sometimes uncontrollably. She speaks with a whisper, so I have to bend in close, which does strange things to the heart-that-I-don’t-have.

She told her story to Paternoster first. Then, he told it to me.

Silas brought her back. Even though she had tricked him. Even though he had lost. He sacrificed all the relief that it meant to be Disappeared in order to return. After how he’d been – the Silas I knew and … yes … the Silas I feared – I am surprised that he did this for us. Perhaps, even bad waifs have a grain of the humanity that once made them reach out a hand to help another human being, even if they then regretted that instinct to be kind. Do we all have an instinct to be kind? I didn’t think we did, but now … perhaps, Silas just showed me that we do.

At the moment of Disappearing, as their atoms collided and exploded off each other, the train and the tunnel and London fell away and the sky appeared above them. They had the sensation of falling into it; of the end, of peace and of scattering themselves across the vast universe. From earth-dust to space-dust.

With protons and electrons zinging away from them, the last thing they saw was a red rip of fire tearing across the heavens from Scorpio’s head and a tall, dark man, carrying a long spear, clad in leather armour with a billowing, vermillion robe flying from his shoulders, running along it, with the sure-footed, agile grace and stealth of a hunter.

Antares was coming.

His past visits haven’t turned out well.

On Sunday 2nd September, 1666, London exploded in flame. On October 8th, 1871, it was Chicago’s turn. On 24th August, 79AD, vesuvius erupted. I know. I know – you’re thinking, ‘But we know, from History, what caused those terrible events to happen,’ but you don’t.

Something distracted Thomas Farriner as he closed up his Pudding Lane Bakery ovens for the night and someone spooked the O’Leary cow causing her to kick over a lantern in a Chicago barn. That something and that someone were both Antares. He claimed them and I know he spoke the truth. He boasts that Vesuvius was him too, but I find that harder to believe. I guess he could have super-heated the volcano. His star is a red supergiant and very, very hot indeed – so if he spat into a volcanic crater, it would probably explode.

Why he does these things, I don’t know. None of us do. He has a grudge against Orion – everyone knows that. And he is looking for someone he lost many years ago. Losing her made him furious. He still is. His fury creates fire. His desire is to turn the earth into a desert. That’s where he hopes to find the spirit of the being he lost. And take his vengeance out on her.

Silas saw Antares and dragged Molly into the path of the line of fire. The expanding, chaotic Brownian vibrations of their atoms abruptly stopped as the flames reached them. They condensed suddenly back to their waif forms and plunged back to earth. Both burning. Both stunned. Both in a place that we now know is worse than being Disappeared – they are Lost.

Antares is coming here. Molly is Lost. And the heavy rain has started to fall.

We don’t have long.

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