CHAPTER 14: THE PROMISE
“I…” he paused for dramatic effect “have a theory.”
“What is your theory, Virgil?” she asked.
He was sitting on a rocky outcrop a few hundred feet outside the city limits, staring at the glinting black
mountains in the distance that erupted from the earth like solid night.
She had her back to him, and stood bent over with a black, charred stick in her hand, writing words in the
fine grey sand.
“You may not like this theory.” he warned her.
“Oh really?” she noted, not looking up “Is it controversial?”
“All the best theories are.”
“Go on then. Shock me.”
“My theory…” he said turning and walking towards her over the outcrop, and nearly tripping over a jutting
rock “…is that you are absolutely insane.”
He stood and looked at what she had written. Words stretched off in a good thirty foot radius, variations of a
single sentence repeated over and over again.
STRANGE DAY TO GREET ANOTHER
STRANGE WAY TO SEE ONE OTHER
STRANGE GREY TO MEET OLD LOVER
STRANGE WAY TO SEAT A PLUMBER (This one had been crossed out with repeated angry strokes.)
“Really?” she said, looking up with genuine puzzlement “Why’s that?”
Virgil decided that if she had to ask the question, she was beyond help.
“You do realise.” he said “That the more you try, the less sense it makes.”
Marie gave an angry grunt and threw the stick down. She reached for the bottle of Red Marie that she had
left half buried in the sand and was about to raise it to her lips when Virgil grabbed her wrist.
“Hey.” he said “Enough for one day, day don’t you think?”
She looked at him for a second, and the nodded.
He nodded in return and let go of her wrist.
Quick as a flash, she had raised the bottle to her lips and drunk.
Virgil swore and caught her just in time as the memory kicked in and she collapsed.
Gently he let her down to the ground and took the bottle from her limp, unresisting fingers.
It was deeply unsettling to watch her, eyes rolled back in her head, shoulders and face twitching as she
relieved the memory of watching her father fight with the mysterious midnight visitor to his kitchen for
what seemed like the thousandth time. Virgil was amazed that the bottle was still almost half full. Finally
the twitching stopped and Marie opened her eyes.
“Well?” Virgil asked shortly, still angry at her.
She didn’t answer, and silently got to her feet and began to write in the sand again.
Virgil gave an exasperated sigh and threw his arms in the air as if washing his hands of her.
Marie paid him not the slightest bit of attention.
It was always that last phrase, the last thing the stranger said before leaving Luke’s kitchen.
Strange way, strange day, see, greet, treat, seat, every time she returned to the memory she heard it
differently. She knew with a certainty she could not quite explain that it was important. There was some
reason why this memory had returned to her rather than any other, there had to be. Another thing she was
sure of, she knew the man her father was arguing with.
She didn’t have a clue how she knew him, or who he was, but she would have bet her life that she had heard
that deep, harsh voice before. The shivers it sent up her back told her as much.
Virgil picked up a pebble and idly tossed it, trying to skim it off the sand like it was a lake of water. The
pebble struck the sand and stuck where it was.
Virgil looked up into the lead grey veil of cloud that hung over their heads.
“Never rains here.” he murmured “But there’s always cloud. Why do you think that is?”
“Because we’re not supposed to see Heaven.” said Marie quietly “That’s what’s on the other side.”
Virgil looked “You mean, Heaven’s up? Even here?”
“Where else would it be?” she asked.
“Well, considering Hell’s supposed to be on the other side of those.” he said, pointing to the Black Glass
mountains, “Shouldn’t Heaven be that way?”
“But it’s all uphill that way.” she said “If you keep going that way it just goes up and up and up until finally
it curves around over where we are now. Walk far enough that way and you end up in the sky.”
“And how do you know that?”
“Just a hunch.”
Virgil laughed and squatted down in the sand.
“You know, you keep writing these down, you could have quite a nice surrealist poem.”
He cleared his throat and recited
“Strange day to greet another?
Strange grey and meaty lover.
“Nice.” said Marie.
“You realise you completely plagiarised my work?”
“Nothing is original darling, get over it.”
They sat in silence for almost half an hour.
“I think I’m in love with you.” she said after a while.
Virgil looked up. He stared at her for a whole minute.
“You what?” he said eventually.
“I think I’m in love with you.” she said again, still writing. She might have been describing the weather.
“No you’re not.” he said.
“Don’t be stupid.”
“Love is stupid now? And you call yourself a Frenchman.”
“No. You being in love with me is stupid.”
“Well, for one thing you’re too young.”
“Too young? Virgil, if I’d stayed in St Anne I’d probably be married with my first child by now.”
“Ah, the Middle Ages.” Virgil mused “History’s Trailer Park.”
“What’s a Trailer Park?” Marie asked, who’s knowledge of future history was wide ranging but spotty.
“Never mind that. You’re too young to be in love. You don’t know what love is.”
“Why do you think I’m here?” Marie asked him coldly.
“That’s love for your father, that’s different. The kind of love you’re talking about, you’re too young for
“Ah.” she said “So on what birthday will the magic switch that lets me feel love suddenly turn on”
“It’s a girlish infatuation brought on by my exceptionable charisma and stunning good lucks. And you know
“No. I love you.” she said, still writing. Her eyes had not actually met his since she had first said the words.
“Me too. I’d be married by now, Virgil.”
“Not to me, you wouldn’t.”
“I’m not too young.”
“Fine. I’m too old.”
“I’ve personally experienced somewhere in the region of a hundred years. Can’t tell you my actual age from
my date of birth but since we just came from the end of the world it’s probably in five or six figures. That
old enough for you?”
“I was born two hundred years before you. I’m technically older.”
“Don’t give me that. Whatever you might think, Marie, you are too young. And I am too old. And the mere
fact that you’d fall in love with me…”
“So you admit…”
“The mere fact that you think you’ve fallen in love with me just shows how unready for love you are.”
“How?” Marie asked defiantly.
“Because petite, I am a terrible, terrible person. And you know the things that I have done. You saw them
Marie repressed a shudder. When they had first met, she had been planning on travelling back in time to
prevent her father’s murder. Virgil had shown her what happened to those who tried to change history for
their own ends. He had shown her a world where he had used his powers to make himself emperor of the
known world. She had watched a crowd of millions turn and kill each other purely for his twisted
“That wasn’t you.” she said simply “You’re a different person now.”
“Oh.” said Virgil “So if, say, Thomas lived another hundred years and saw the error of his ways and hung
up his knives and stopped chasing you and opened a shelter for orphaned kittens suffering with
hiccups…would you be able to forgive him? No, I’m sorry, better yet, would that mean your father never
Marie thought for a few seconds.
“I will never be able to forgive Thomas.” she decided, and the moment she said it she knew it was true.
“Well there you go.”
“But that doesn’t mean he mightn’t deserve my forgiveness some day. I just won’t be the one to give it to
“Well I don’t deserve forgiveness, Red.” said Virgil “And if you were really ready for love, if you were able
to see the goodness that should be in someone before you decide to stay with them forever? You’d run a
million miles from me.”
“No!” Marie shouted, and she tried to keep calm, but the more she tried the more control she lost “Because I
know you! You’re kind, and smart and funny, and beautiful. And you can make me feel happy even though
I’ve got nobody left and I’m going to have to go into that horrible place…and…and…I love you. Alright? I
“Shut up.” she said as he tried to interrupt “I love you.”
There should be tears on my cheek, she thought. She could no longer cry tears.
“I don’t know what to say.” said Virgil dumbly.
“Say you love me too, idiot.” she said.
“I do love you Marie.” he said.
“I know.” she said “You idiot.”
“Just, not like…”
“You don’t need to classify it. Love is love.”
“Right. I do.”
They said nothing for a few minutes.
Finally she turned to look at the Black Glass mountains glinting in the distance.
“They’re beautiful in a way.” she said.
“Yes.” he agreed “They are.”
“I’m going to have to cross them.” she said.
“I know” he said.
“Won’t lie to you. Kinda scared.”
“I know.” he said, and put a comforting arm around her.
“Will you come with me?” she asked him.
“Yes.” he said simply, and to his surprise he hadn’t even needed to think twice.
“Thanks.” she said simply and leaned her head against his shoulder.
They stood there for a while, watching the wind making snake spirits of the grey sand of purgatory. And
there on the horizon like ebony storm clouds, the mountains of Hell waited. And yet Virgil did not find
himself thinking of the horrors that awaited them over those peaks. Instead, he found himself thinking that
in this place, and in this time, gazing out at the desert with Marie’s head resting gently on his shoulder,
having given her his word that he would follow her and protect her, he felt truly happy. It was a feeling he
had not felt in a very long time, and he welcomed it back into his heart like an old friend, who had been lost
for years and was only now returning home, cold and weary, and wanting nothing more than to curl up to
sleep before a roaring fire.