The Hangman’s Daughter- Chapter 18

CHAPTER 18: LESSONS

 

 

There is a way of waking up that cannot be bettered.

That way involves being woken by sunlight coming through the curtains, and slowly coming to consciousness like rising from the bottom of a warm bath. You spend a few seconds as a blank slate, waiting for the memory of who and where you are to return. The bed is soft and just warm enough. And then the smell of eggs, bacon and toast wafts up from the kitchen.

Marie woke up this way, and knew at once that it was going to be a good day.

“Morning.” said Isabella, briefly glancing up from the stove as Marie came down the stairs still rubbing sleep out her eyes.

“Are you hungry?”

She was answered by a massive rumbling from Marie’s stomach.

“That’s a yes, then.” Isabella said smiling “Sit down, it’s almost ready.”

“Where’s Mariana…I mean, Madame de Babilu.” Marie asked.

“She should be down in a few minutes. You can call her Mariana, you know.”

“But you don’t.”

“No. Because I work for her.”

“How did you come here?”

“I told you. She took me in after my father died. Just like you.”

“So will I have to work for her now too?”

“No. She wants to raise you. She says she wants you to be family. She wanted to do the same for me, but I said no.”

“Why?”

“I don’t trust families. I told her I’d work here and earn my keep instead. Know where I stand and what I owe. I prefer it that way. Here.”

She set a plate down in front of Marie. Fried eggs, toast and bacon. They had evaporated within a few seconds.

“Have you seen the ghost yet?” Isabella asked.

“The what?” said Marie, wiping grease off her chin.

“The ghost.” said Isabella.

“He has a name, you know.” said Mariana coming through the door “Good morning Marie, Isabella.”

“Madame.”

“There’s really a ghost?” Marie asked.

“Surely after seeing angels and devils it’s not such a leap? You’ll meet him soon enough.” said Mariana.

“And he’s really dead?” Marie asked.

“Oh he is very much dead.” Mariana nodded “It is hard to think of any way he could be more so.”

Marie said nothing. As always happened when the subject of death came up, her thoughts had turned to her father. And she wondered what this ghost could tell her about what happened after you died, and once you had gone over, how you might come back.

 

“Most Temporals” said Mariana “are either forward inclined or backwards inclined.”

They were standing in Mariana’s study. Last nights’ fire had crumbled into grey sand-thin ash and the whole room felt somehow stale in the morning light. This was a room built for evenings.

“What does that mean?” Marie asked her.

“Which hand do you favour?” Mariana asked.

Marie raised her right hand.

“Some Adepts favour moving backwards in time, and some favour moving forwards. It is not something under your control, any more than you can control being left handed or right handed. You are backwards inclined. You have a tendency to slow time down, whereas others would speed it up, so we will start by learning how to travel backwards in time.”

“Alright.”

Mariana placed a mantle clock on the table. It had a white face with black, elegant numbers, and a golden pendulum swinging slowly beneath it.

“Now.” said Mariana “I want you to slow the clock down until it’s almost still.”

Marie closed her eyes. The clock ticked and tocked away to itself, always the exact same space between the beats.

“It’s not working.”

“Don’t try to make it work. When you made it happen before, were you trying?”

“No.”

“So try and make yourself feel the way you did when it happened before.”

Marie blinked. Most of the times when it had happened before she had been scared witless. So instead she tried to remember the rabbit. Funny, after all these years she could still remember the way his nose had wrinkled as he nibbled cowslips, but she could not remember her mother’s face. Odd, the things the brain chose to hold on to.

And then she realised that the ticking had stopped. She opened her eyes. The pendulum was gliding through the air like a bird flying through honey. She had done it.

“Very good.” said Mariana “I’m keeping pace with you. I’d reckon we’re travelling at around 0.025 seconds per second. Now, I want you to try and slow down time even more until we’re actually travelling backwards in time. See if you can get us down to -3 seconds per second.”

Marie closed her eyes again. Picture the rabbit, picture it rambling over the hill…

Tick tock tick tock tick tock…

The pendulum was swinging again, and seemed to be going much faster than she had remembered it ever going.

“Sorry.” she said.

Mariana snorted “For not travelling backwards in time on your first try? Don’t be stupid. Try it again.”

She closed her eyes…

“Mariana I did it!”

She opened her eyes. She had not said the words, but the voice had sounded very familiar. Standing in front of her, with a broad proud smile on her face was a red-haired girl of around nine years of age.

“Well done!” Mariana crowed and embraced her warmly.

“Is that…” Marie began. This was all very surreal.

“Hi!” said Marie excitedly “I did it! You did it! We did it! It was done!”

“How far back did you travel?” Mariana asked.

“Around a minute!” her other self squealed. God, Marie thought to herself, was her voice really that high?

“Well done, Marie, both of you!”

“But I didn’t do anything.”

“But you will. That fact that she’s here proves you do it, and on your second turn. That is wonderful!”

“But if she’s here now, does that mean that there’s always going to be two of me?”

“No!” said the other Marie excitedly, “because in a few seconds you’re going to travel back in time and become me and I’ll stay here with Mariana and be you.”

Marie was not sure she liked the idea of someone else taking her place.

“I know, I didn’t either, but it’ll be fine.”

“What?”

“I remember what I was thinking when I heard that. But it all works out.”

“Oh.” said Marie. She looked at her double. This was getting very unsettling..

“Marie, I think it’s time you got going.” said Mariana.

“Oh, quick, I’ll tell you how do it.” said the second Marie, and she whispered something in her ear.

“Alright.” said Marie, “Here I go.”

Close your eyes. See the rabbit. Picture it coming over the hill, backwards.

She opened her eyes.

Mariana and Marie were looking at her in amazement. A great proud smile broke over her face.

“Mariana I did it!” she cried…

 

“It was so strange. It was like someone’s showing you yourself in a mirror for the first time and saying “That’s you.” and you can’t believe because you always thought you looked completely different, even though you really had no way of knowing what you looked like…do you know what I mean?”

“Not a clue.” said Isabella sweeping the floor as Marie sat on the kitchen table, legs dangling, relating the story of the morning’s lesson.

“Well it was really strange.”

“Mmm…when I first came to live heEr I thought she was a witch.”

Marie stopped.

“Do you think she might be?”

“Well of course she might be.” said Isabella “Anyone might be.”

“Do you believe in witches?”

“Well that depends. Do you believe in angels and devils and people disappearing and going really fast and just moving from place to place and ghosts?”

“Papa always said there’s no such thing as ghosts.” Marie mused.

“Well he’d know.”

Ouch, thought Marie, that was nasty. Someone’s in a bad mood today.

“Well, just so you know, my father believed in ghosts until the day he died.” Isabella continued.

Marie realised that it would be best not to fight Isabella on this one.

“What’s he look like?” she asked.

“He’s tall. Curly blonde hair. Very strange clothes. All shiny and ruffley. Good looking, though.”

“Ooooooh.”

“Shut up!” said Isabella laughing.

“When did you see him?”

“I’ve seen him a few times. Usually just for a second. The first time I was walking down the landing, I had a candle in my hand and I heard someone behind me say “Boo””

“What?”

““Boo” like that.”

“It wasn’t more like “Booooo-oooooooo-oooooh”?”

“No. Just the word. Just boo.”

“Then what?”

“Then I turned around and I saw him standing there, and he winked at me, and then he just turned around and walked through the wall.”

“And weren’t you scared?”

“Why would I be? I’ve believed in ghosts all my life. It’s only the weird stuff around here that scares me.”

“That’s amazing.”

“No. You can make two of yourself. Thats amazing.”

“And totally useless. I thought it would be great for stuff like housework and all that, but it’s really not.”

“How come?”

“Alright. Say I have to do the washing up. And me from ten minutes in the future comes to help me. So we do the washing up together, and it only takes half the time it would if I did it on my own. But then I have to travel back ten minutes in time to help myself ten minutes ago, and I have to the same amount of work all over again, so that’s exactly the same as if I had just done it alone.”

“Hmm. That’s…What’s that word Mariana uses?.

“Crap?”

“Yes, it’s crap.”

“Yes, it is.”

***

 

Winter was coming.

Every breeze warned of it’s coming, and more and more often Marie would find herself sitting at the window, hands propped on her head, watching the grey rain lash the world into misery.

And as her breath clouded the glass, she could almost imagine seeing three figures standing outside in the downpour. The memory of that terrible, incredible meeting, with the angel and the devil in the rain outside her house. More than a year ago now. So near still. So near that if She wished she could close her eyes and feel her sodden nightdress clinging to her like cobweb, her red hair plastered black with mud and rain, the bone comb biting into her hand, listening to the Mariel and Rashgiel arguing for her father’s soul.

And then the terrible twitch in the air.

Rashgiel hissing “He’s mine!”

Winter was coming, and with it stillness. Nothing to do but sit and think and let her mind wander, And all too often she found it wandering downwards. Her father was in Hell. He was suffering forever. And she would cry a little, and hold the bone comb until her knuckles whitened.

Mariana was beginning to notice it as well.

 

“Now, while the time outside the Adept’s body might be travelling at any speed, your body will always be ageing  at a rate of one second per second. The fact that you can travel through time does not mean that you will not get old just like everybody else…Marie, are you paying attention?”

“Yes.”

“What did I just say?”

“You asked me if I was paying attention.”

“And before that?”

“Erm, I could go back and check?”

“But if you were going to do that, wouldn’t you have appeared when I said what I said?”

“Yes.”

“Which means?”

“That you just frown at me and I stay right here.”

“Very good. Now, from the beginning…”

“Mariana?”

“What Marie?”

“Will I be able to travel back further than I can now? Like years?”

“In time. No pun intended.”

“And…say if I went back in time and I told the man who was going to build this house not to build it, and he didn’t, would it disappear?”

Mariana’ face suddenly became very grim.

“Why do you ask me that, Marie?”

“No reason.” she mumbled.

“Are you thinking of changing something? Something that happened in the past?”

“No.”

“You are, aren’t you?”

“No.”

She stared at her for a few minutes. Then she went to the window and gazed out a for a few seconds.

“Marie.” she finally said “It’s finally stopped raining. I think we should go for a walk and clear our heads. It’s not good to be stuffed up in doors for days on end. Go and get your rain things.”

Marie could tell she was not in a mood to be argued with so she simply mumbled in agreement and left the room. As soon as the door had closed Mariana leaned wearily against the window sill and sighed. After a few minutes, she rang for Isabella.

“Yes Madame?” Isabella said, appearing brightly in the doorway.

“Isabella.” said Mariana “Would you please fetch Virgil for me? I think Marie needs a demonstration of what happens when you try to change the past.”

The girl nodded once, and was gone, leaving Mariana alone with her thoughts.

11 comments

  1. “Tell me, Mousey
    Where are we going this time?
    Is this the fifties?
    Or nineteen ninety-nine?”
    Very cool chapter, I guess Virgil f*cked up something in the past and that’s why he is “dead”. Btw, you wrote “he” instead of “she” two times 😛

  2. *with pompoms, pigtails, and a skirt the size of a chip packet*
    Who blogs films, Snow White to Frozen?
    Everybody’s favourite rodent!
    Unshaved Mouse for the top ten!
    If you’ve voted once, go and do it again!
    GOOOO MOUSE!
    *attempts a cartwheel, falls on face*

  3. I kind of like how you explained Isabella’s reasoning for not wanting to be Mariana’s foster child. I bet being raised by Robert Hieronimo would not leave one with the notion that families are trustworthy. Also, aww, of course that would be the first thing Marie would want the ghost to tell her. Just like with Nick in Harry Potter.

    “Bird flying through honey”, eh? I think that’s another kind of awkward analogy.. Honey isn’t exactly something one can fly through. I kind of get the idea, but maybe it might be simpler to say something like “the pendulum was gliding along slowly, as if the air were thick as honey”. Trying to picture a bird submerged in honey is kind of jarring, similar to the idea of someone walking through a painting in an earlier chapter.

    Ahh, man. Have you heard Bill Watterson’s quote commenting on his comic’s duplicate story arc that most of us would probably be horrified to meet ourselves and see how other people see us? The first time travel moment reminded me of that. That and the part in Calvin and Hobbes in which Calvin tries to travel in time to convince himself in another time to do his homework for him. Time travel can sure be confusing, you’ve captured that well, though I hope this story doesn’t overdo it. Too much timey wimey ball makes my head hurt. You’ve kind of lampshaded how confusing it is to a nice effect, and I’m enjoying this so far, so let’s just see where this goes.

    Isabella’s dark humour privilege bit was funny. She’s pretty sharp, immediately reminding Marie that she’s been through at least as much as Marie has. And I hope that bit about Robert believing in ghosts wasn’t foreshadowing, but I’m not betting on it not being. Ulp.

    Also, I was wondering how you’d address changing the past. Mostly this version of time travel seems to follow the “you have already changed the past” rules, so it would be interesting to see what trying to change the past would do. You sure know how to make a hook, this story’s just hooks all the way down.

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