CHAPTER 39: THE HANGMAN AND THE FIRE
The smell of soup was rich in the air and she could feel the warmth from the fire on her skin.
The lie was perfect, she thought.
There sat Doctor Toureil at the kitchen table, so perfect in every detail that she felt the urge to run into his arms and kiss his cheek. One thing that curtailed this impulse, by his right elbow was an open box displaying a small syringe and a vial of green liquid. How had Mabus captured the exact way he would purse his lips and close his eyes when he raised the spoon of soup to his lips?
“Hello, Marie.” said her father, turning around from the stove.
“Papa.” she said quietly.
She closed her eyes as he bent down to kiss her forehead.
It would be so, so easy.
To just let them take her memories. To just pretend. Here he was, offering to take away all her grief and pain. To give a happy home, not just to her, but to Isabella as well. Isabella. Isabella who had never been loved, who had never been happy. Did she have the right to take all this away from her?
“And how are you tonight, my dear.” said the doctor “Your Papa, he tells me you have not been sleeping well.”
“I’ve been having bad dreams, Doctor.” she said dully, as if they were rehearsing a play.
“That is no good at all. You have to sleep, otherwise you will ruin your beautiful looks and end up marrying a doctor. And nobody wants that.” he said with a wink.
“So, you’re wife isn’t dead yet?” the words were out before she could stop them.
The two animals wearing the faces of her father and guardian froze in shock.
“Marie. That is a terrible thing to say.” said her father in a low voice.
Can I do it? She asked herself. Can I just close my eyes and forget? Forget Mariana’s bones smouldering in the ruins of the hotel. Can I put my arms around him, and lay my head on his chest without getting sick from the smell of death coming off him?
And she found that she couldn’t.
Not from courage. But from anger, and from fear. Anger for what he had done. Fear from what he would do in the future if she stayed here in his web while he sat in the kitchen in her father’s skin like a great spider…
“The spider.” she said “That’s how you did it.”
She actually laughed “That’s how you did all of it! It was the goddamned spider!”
“Marie? Are you feeling alright?” her father asked.
“It was under my bed, an iron spider. I tried to grab it and it shocked me and then I woke up…you clever dogs. You probably had them all over the village, listening in, recording everything. That’s how you were able to get everything so perfect. Well not everything. In fact, you made some howlers.”
“Oh, do tell?” said Doctor Toureil, genuinely interested. Luke shot him a filthy glare.
Marie started listing on her fingers “The well in the village is too small, we never had daffodils in the garden, the tree out front is a cherry blossom, not a sycamore. Big one: I don’t have a sister. Bernadette’s hair is browney-blonde, not blonde. Olivia’s nose is more crooked. You’ve completely left out Monsieur Nogaret, but quite frankly that’s fine by me. Oh, and one last thing.” her voice became very cold “I was invented in 1421. And that…” and she pointed to the syringe on the table. “…was most definitely not.”
Doctor Toureil sighed and picked up the syringe.
“We had to take a few historical liberties.” he admitted. “Hold her.”
She backed away, circling the table until her back was to the fire.
She felt hands like warm iron on her shoulder blades.
“Make it quick.” Luke murmured.
“Wait.” Marie whispered, struggling.
“This will not hurt.” said Doctor Toureil “But if you struggle, you could injure yourself.”
“Just tell me why, please tell me why!”
“Why are you doing this? Mabus. Mabus tell me why.”
It was a wise move. By addressing the question to him, Doctor Toureil had to wait until his master replied. If she had asked him, he would just have ignored her.
“I can’t tell you, child.” the thing that pretended to be her father answered.
“Why not? I’m going to forget anyway.”
“Exactly.” said Doctor Toureil, “it would just be a waste of everyone’s time.”
“Just answer me this.” said Marie “Is that the only one of those you brought?”
Doctor Toureil’s brows furrowed.
“BELLA!” Marie screamed.
Isabella was awake and at the door like a startled rabbit.
“RUN! GET HELP!” Marie screamed.
To her credit, Isabella didn’t even pause, and had already vanished out the front door before either man had a chance to react.
“Get her, Groethuis!” Luke hissed, and the figure of the Doctor vanished after her.
“Good girl.” said Mabus calmly, still holding her in place by the shoulders “He runs after her, and has to use the shot to erase her memory. Then we have to wait while he prepares another dose for you. And all the time you’ll be thinking and plotting and trying to find a way to escape.”
He lowered his mouth to her ear.
“I could kill you with a thought.”
“Like you killed Mariana?”
“Yes.” said Mabus “Just like I killed Mariana.”
She had been listening for some kind of remorse. Anything. But he had not even paused.
And the grief finally hit her and her legs went week. Or so it seemed to Mabus.
Her legs bent and she keeled over, and he bent over to keep his grip.
“You let her burn.” Marie hissed as the first sob crested her throat and ran down through her body.
“Yes.” said Mabus, pitiless.
“You’ll have to tell me what that feels like.” she said, and sprung the trap.
She closed her eyes, froze time to a snail’s crawl and straightened her legs.
Luke was thrown, body entire, into the fire. He screamed in shock and she watched his limbs flailing, black as night against the flames.
And then he stood up. His beard had caught fire, and his head was now wreathed in a halo of flames.
He stood there, a human furnace, and clapped his flaming hands.
“Oh bravo! Well done! Well done indeed! My word, what a fine Temporal you would have been. But you can’t kill me Marie, that’s not how Luke dies. You should know that better than anyone.”
She could hardly look at him. The fire was consuming his body, flesh was stripping away, leaving blackened bone. And yet he seemed in no pain.
“Enough playing. Come to me.” he stretched out a, flaming skeletal hand.
“Why? Tell me that. Why did you bring me here?” she pleaded.
He was staring at her now through empty sockets.
“Very well.” he said.
Without a tongue. Or lips. How was he talking? Why had his voice not even changed?
“I brought you here to love me, Marie.” he said “I brought you here to love me. I brought you here, so I could be your father. You see…”
“You are NOT! MY! FATHER!” she screamed with every last red ounce of strength in her body “And you never will be!”
“Yes.” said the skull “I will.”
She ran into the night. She ran harder than she had ever run before. Harder than the run into the rain all those years ago, when she had tried to outrun her father’s death.
And still she couldn’t outrun the words he shouted after her.
“You can’t escape, Marie! I’ll catch you! I built this world! You can’t hide here from me! I’ll catch you! And you’ll forget! And you will love me Marie! I promise you that! You will love me!”