CHAPTER 38: CROSSING THE BRIDGE
She was rooted to the spot.
Isabella stood on the other side of the river.
Marie closed her eyes and tried to lift her foot off the path and onto the bridge.
It was like putting your hand on a tree and expecting it to follow the commands of your brain like a limb. The leg was connected to her body, but she couldn’t make it move.
“Marie, what’s wrong?” Isabella asked.
They had been on their way to the wood that nestled into the scrubland just outside Saint Anne, a cool shady playground filled with rabbits and blackberries and shiny red ladybirds and the cawing of crows. Standing here, rooted to spot, with the sun baking her scalp through her red hair, Marie very much wanted to be there. But she had been caught unawares.
That tiny, nagging little sensation that had stuck in her brain like a thorn, that feeling that something wasn’t right, had suddenly grown and overtaken her brain like black brambles.
And it had happened the second she had seen the bridge.
This isn’t right.
This isn’t right.
This isn’t right.
Pounding away at her head, she almost physically feels the blows.
“Marie…” Isabella crossed the bridge again to help.
“Stay back!” Marie screamed.
Her breaths were coming thin and ragged now. She was having a panic attack.
Her legs gave out from under her and one hand held onto the bridge, holding her body a few inches off the ground.
Over Isabella’s shoulder she could see the heat haze hovering over the dust road and she had a sudden horrible premonition that a young thin man with dark hair would emerge from the rippling air, a knife in his right hand dragging lazily through the heat.
Why she thought that, or who the young man might be, she couldn’t say.
And then, he was there. Striding towards her.
“Stay back!” she screamed again, not to Isabella this time.
She couldn’t see him clearly through the tears and the haze, all she could see was a jumble of thin, angular shaped limbs rolling towards her, a blur within a blur.
Isabella finally ran to her, put her arm around her and lifted her to her feet.
“No, no, we have to go…” Marie gasped “He’s coming.”
Isabella turned to look, but there was nothing there. Just dust and heat…
He was almost on top of her now, and still she couldn’t see his face, still it twisted and rippled with heat, as if she was looking at him through a waterfall.
He reached out a hand to touch her
And she roared a single word.
And he did.
So did everything else.
The panic was gone. And suddenly she felt very calm.
Isabella still clung to her, standing now like a perfect and beautiful sculpture, an expression of fear and pity etched on her face. As for him, it was as if he had suddenly been thrown into focus.
And he was not who she thought he was. His hair was blonde, not black, and he was as pale and thin as bone.
“Hi Red.” he said softly.
“Hi.” she whispered back “I know you.”
“I showed you my memories once.” he said “Now I’m in yours. Funny how these things turn out. How much do you remember?”
“There was an explosion.”
“Yes. He took both of you out just before you were killed.”
“And the others. Mariana?”
He said nothing.
“Why?” Marie finally asked “Why me, Virgil? What does he want with me?”
“He’s Mabus. He wants to live forever, and you wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t a way you could help him do that. The how doesn’t really matter. Now listen to me, we don‘t have much time. This isn‘t the first time you‘ve gotten your memory back. They will try to put you under again, to make you believe that all this is real, that you‘re father is still…”
“Virgil. I think I have to kill him.”
“This, what he’s done. He’s…he’s killed Mariana. He’s killed all of them, and now he’s pretending to be my father. He’s using my father against me. He took my happiest memories. He took the place I go to when I can’t bear it anymore. And he’s turned it into this. I think I have to kill him. I don’t think I can let him live.”
“Well if you’re looking for moral guidance, you’ve come to the wrong place. I know if Mariana was here she’d tell you that if you kill him it’s just the first step to becoming him. That the only way to stop him from destroying your soul is to forgive him. I, on the other hand say knock yourself out and bring me back an ear as a memento.”
“How can I do it?”
“Tonight Doctor Toureil is going to visit the house. Only he won’t be. He is going to try and give you an injection. It’ll make you forget everything. You’ll forget Mariana, you’ll forget me, you’ll forget your father is dead. You’ll forget how to shift time.”
“So I don’t let him near me.”
“Good girl. Then you’re going to have to break out of here.”
“This place, I think this place is a computer programme.”
“A…how can I explain this. It’s an electric dream, a….did Mariana ever let you see the Matrix?”
“Damn. That would have made this so much easier to explain. You’ve got to find out why he built this place. Something is supposed to happen. And when it does, the programme will end.”
“Virgil?” she asked.
He was starting to blur again.
“No more time…” he murmured, his voice sounding it was coming through water “Don’t believe their lies…”
He began to fade, rippling away into blue sky.
“Never forget. Never forget. Goodbye Marie, good…”
And he was gone.
Marie awoke in a cold sweat in her bed. Isabella snoozed beside her, shifted, and stole some of the sheets.
The blackness was total. Eleven o’clock at night, maybe later. She could hear crickets outside, and the heat told her that it was the kind of summer night where the air would be thick with moths and bats.
And a terrible uncertainty hit her.
She could remember everything. But was it a dream?
Was Mabus real?
Or was she really about to kill her own father?
She could remember it all. She could remember the warmth of Mariana’s hand in hers. But it was a weak kind of memory, and the bed was as solid as anything. She could smell the food in the kitchen. This was real. It had to be.
It had to be.
And then she froze, to the last hair.
Because through the bedroom door, through the sun-yellow crack of the door frame, Marie could hear the dull sounds of her father in the kitchen, talking with Doctor Toureil.