The little girl arranged her face into as solemn an expression as she could manage. “Somethin’ bad happended in the back yard,” she said.
I looked at her mother to see how to react. Stella smiled indulgently. “What sort of bad, child?” she asked.
“The Muggobuffer ate Mrs. White’s cat,” said Jane.
The girl flickered. She seemed to appear and disappear simultaneously, to solid and light at the same time. Where she stood, the ground smoldered. It was simplicity to see from where she had come for she left footprints scorched into the stone.
De la Furie surveyed the smoldering ruin. His violet eyes were cold. The fire that had consumed his laboratory had burned so hot that the iron supports had melted into a pool of slag. Gray ash, lifted by the eastern breeze, drifted across the grounds. After standing motionless for, perhaps, ten minutes, he gave an exaggerated shrug.
“Even the new century will have its failures,” he said. “We simply cannot repeat them. That would poison our momentum. And speaking of poison …” he turned to glare at me, “We cannot continue to associate with those who would stand in the way of progress.”
He motioned to the Butlers. He said, “Kill her.”
De la Furie spread his arms expansively. He grinned even more so. “It is a new century. We are casting off the past and marching – boldly – into a grand future. It will be a future created by those brilliant and brave enough to give old ways of thinking and assured enough to embrace new concepts, new ways of imagining and of being.”
I sipped my tea. I felt old and tired and unready for a new century, much less a bold, brave and brilliant one. I looked at de la Furie. I sighed, “Am I to guess that you are such a person?”
He clapped his gloved hands in show of applause. “I am such a person. Tragically, there are few like me. Too many are still mired in the muck of the last age. So I have taken it upon myself to correct that. I am making a new man for the new age. Would you like to see?”
The faceless man said, “The century turns. It is an arbitrary thing. A belief that counting the days and the years matters. That we have control in the universe. This illusion does us no good. It stifles us and holds us down. We believe that the rules apply to us as gravity applies to the falling stone. I am going to demonstrate what happens when the rules are ignored. I am going to smash the cages of perception and open the people’s minds to their true potential.”
I looked at the acid scarred corpse at his feet. I said, “I think Mr. Copper’s potential is truly smashed. I commend your generosity.”
Abraham squinted up at maelstrom playing about Sentinel Hill. In the flashes of lightning we beheld a cyclopean mass swaying to a music heard only by itself. Abraham said, “Pluto is opening the gate. His throats form the words that mine could not.”
Helena giggled. The sound, light and musical, seemed ghastly in its inappropriateness. “Dear Abe,” she said, “that gate swings wide. And passage is allowed in both directions.”
With inhuman speed, she began to sprint up the incline.
“You are Briar Rose Taylor?” asked the giant.
I set down my traveling bag. Despite his size, the man looked nervous. We were the only sojourners at the train station yet his eyes darted about as if he were expecting an ambush. I walked forward, right hand outstretched. “I am. You are Abraham Wheat?”
He shook my hand gingerly, as if it were made of spun sugar. He seemed to exhale, to relax, ever so slightly. “The manner in which Miss Helena described you, I had almost come to expect a giant.”
I nodded. “Miss Von Laude is given to presenting her view of the world in large terms.”
Walks Behind Bears coughed and spat. Bloody phlegm hit the campfire and sizzled. If he were not already dead I would have been concerned.
I knew that if I allowed myself to fall asleep the ghost would appear. It is the nature of guests, both wanted and not, to arrive when one is unprepared.
The rifle that Mrs. Lancaster leveled at me was old but looked to have been well maintained. “You’ll not disturb her,” she said. “She’s done harm to none that have not deserved worse.”
I looked to the distant figure standing in the field, her arms stretched to the sky. I said, “There is a storm coming. There will be lightning and rain.”
Mrs. Lancaster showed a proud motherly smile. “She don’t catch colds. But she do catch the lightning. I’ve seen her get struck ten, twelve times in a night. It makes her laugh. She don’t sleep for days afterward.”