“I have found that along this journey I need to forgive myself for the first time I smiled, when I laughed, for continuing to live … without you.”
“Love’s over-brimming mystery joins death and life. It has filled my cup of pain with joy.”
– Rabindranath Tagore
“Loss and possession, death and life are one; there falls no shadow where there shines no sun.”
– Hilaire Belloc
Joey didn’t know how long she had lain in the silence of her empty home. Curled in a fetal position on her bed, she held the framed photo of Elliott to her chest. Tom and Louis had not been there when she arrived.
She had found her purse and Kirsty’s in Tom’s house and took them both with her. After leaving a hospital emergency room, she had made her way back to the condo only to find evidence of a destructive fight downstairs. Searching the place and calling Tom on the phone had left her at a dead end. Horrified and fearing the worst, she had collapsed on the bed as a numb dread crept over her.
A sound intruded downstairs, and then someone called her name. “Joey? Joey! Are you here?”
Tom. Oh my God… Pain pulled at her as she set the photo down on the bed and struggled up to her feet. “Tom!”
He rushed up the stairs and held her fiercely. “I’ve had almost every cop in the area scouring the streets and hospitals looking for you. We finally hit an ER that said they had someone come in with ‘strange injuries’, but you walked out after they patched you up.”
“I had to find you. I got here… I thought they killed you both.”
“I will, but let’s get out of here.” He released her, but remained close. “Louis is at Captain Bowery’s house. We can stay there tonight, and then come and get your things out of here tomorrow.”
“Get them out?”
“Joey, they were here – the Cenobite wearing someone else’s face, and two of those hell dogs. I used bone pieces on the dogs, but that bastard nearly had me when he got zapped back. He dragged his dead dogs with him by their chains. I guess that was when you closed the box? They know where you live now. We have to clear out of here, out of my house, too.”
Her fingers rose to her lips. “Where can we go? What are we going to do?”
Tom touched her cheek, a hesitant expression on his face. “I didn’t know how you’d feel about it – but I have a home upstate. We could go there … if you wanted.”
Joey started to smile, and then looked away and sank down on the bed again. “What about everything that happened – I mean, are we in trouble for anything? Marta… What they’ll find in the fireplace? Bobbi…”
Tom moved away to lean in the doorway. “The police have been through it all. I told them it had been a break in, that Bobbi hadn’t locked the doors. They … didn’t find anything. I don’t know what happened.”
For a moment, she thought she would cry, but the tears still refused to come. “I know.” She looked up at him. “Kirsty told me that they sometimes clean up the scene; they leave no evidence behind of the lives they’ve taken. We don’t know how they do it, or if it’s even done by anyone from the Labyrinth – she assumed it wasn’t Cenobites.”
“What, like worshippers?”
“Maybe? The Cenobites seem to have servants on this side, like the people who give a box to someone. After she used a box to close the gate the first time, she tried to burn it, but a … man … walked into the fire to retrieve it. She said he turned into some sort of flying bone demon, like a skeleton dragon, and carried it away. Those things don’t seem to be bound to the gate, or forced back through it when it’s closed.”
Tom’s hand rose to cover his eyes. His voice was tired. “They all think Bobbi took a bus and disappeared. She did it once before. We found her in Boston, drunk and out of her mind. If I don’t press it, they won’t look real hard this time.”
“I’m sorry,” she whispered. They both fell silent. Glancing at Elliott’s photo, she asked, “What about Kirsty? Did she take a bus too? It’s so easy for them to believe, isn’t it?”
“She’s listed as a missing person. Her luggage is here, so I couldn’t say she went home. I was told that Kirsty has … quite a record for mental health problems and she was committed to an asylum. I suppose now I know why – but it paints a picture for them that she might abandon luggage and run off somewhere. They probably won’t even send anyone to check on her house in Boston.”
“They’ll let us get away with murder? What if they find the bones in our possession? We don’t even know who that was.”
“Kirsty did. If she was a monster fighter, maybe that person deserved to be chopped up.”
“You said when they investigated that shack where the children disappeared, Jack and…” She stopped at the wince of pain on his face. Swallowing, she continued, “They tested the area and found proof of blood residue, even though it had been cleaned up. A butchered human would put a lot of blood on that wood floor – it would soak in. The bones –”
“Those hell things won’t stop, and we can’t give up the only weapons we have, especially if they can send monsters after us without a gate opening. I got as much of the bones and fragments as I could and took them with me. If I hadn’t, we would have been killed here. The investigation is already over at my house. They were convinced it was a burglary after Bobbi ran and left the house unlocked, so no one used luminol in my living room. You don’t have to worry about anything like that. The police won’t cause trouble for us.”
Joey sighed and nodded, deciding to trust in his magic mascot talents with the NYPD. “We should search Kirsty’s luggage. There’s still another box somewhere, the one we found in Boston. If she didn’t leave it there… We have to find and destroy it – and any others she might have kept. It injures their god.”
“Then we will. We could go there once we get Louis settled. I can ask my mother to visit to guard him.”
“She can keep him safe from the minions of Hell?”
Tom winked at her. “You haven’t met my mother.” He moved to the top of the stairs. “I’m staying with Captain Bowery with Louis until I get moved out of my house and put a for sale sign up in the yard. You’d be welcome, too. You shouldn’t stay here, but you don’t have to go upstate. If you’ll allow me, I’ll get you a hotel until you decide what you want to do.”
“I have decided – I want to go with you, and Louis.”
His smile was haunted as he held out his hand. She brought the photo of Elliott with her, laced her fingers in his, and let him lead her out.
~ ~ ~
The crew had gone on a break after spending the morning packing up her condo and now Tom’s house, but the moving van was almost full. There wasn’t much to pack beyond books, clothes, and personal items; the house they were moving to was a furnished and stocked summer home. After Tom had told her that he planned to donate his furniture and dishes to a homeless shelter and then repair and sell the house, she had taken a look around her condo and realized that she wanted to do the same.
Joey had called her boss at the station to try to explain her abrupt move upstate, only to discover that he wasn’t sad to see her go. With Doc long gone and Kirsty lost to the Labyrinth too, she didn’t really have anyone else in New York to say goodbye to.
So that’s that – a fresh start all around.
Putting her phone away, she walked out of Tom’s kitchen. The memory of the housekeeper’s corpse stretched over the table by Hell’s chained hooks might never leave her, but soon, they would be able to go far away from all that had happened.
The box of precious information collected from the Channard Institute and John Merchant’s things that Bobbi had kept was in the front seat of Joey’s car with the original sketch of the Elysium Configuration wrapped in its heavy frame in the backseat. Tom had bundled the bone shards and placed them in a box in his car. The thought of them near her on the drive had been too disturbing.
They would pick up Louis from Captain William Bowery’s house on the way, and Joey would follow Tom’s car to their new home. He had offered to have one of the vehicles shipped, but she had wanted the time alone to think.
Leaning against the living room wall, Joey stared at the empty fireplace until time blurred around her. She could almost hear the heavy cleaver chopping bone and the wood beneath it in front of a roaring fire. She imagined Kirsty’s heart pounding with adrenaline, fear, and rage.
What happened here, Kirsty? Not knowing is going haunt me. I never should have shown up on your doorstep.
The front door opened and the clamor of men in work boots intruded again. She twitched when Tom touched her shoulder.
“I thought you said you’d go with them if they wanted a snack. You shouldn’t be alone here.”
Joey dodged the issue. “How did Merchant’s atrium look?”
“The same – dusty, with broken panels – the building’s management said they still want to leave it ‘as is’ for the tourist trade, but the rest of the building is full of business tenants. If Louis ever wants to mess with it when he grows up, it should still be there. I almost punched this weird janitor, though. I’m not a guy to sneak up on these days.” He leaned in and kissed her cheek. “Are you going to tell me about your nightmare? I woke you up three times, but you kept falling into it again.”
She sighed. “There’s nothing new to tell. My father comes out of nowhere and tries to kill me, and then he turns into that same Cenobite with the ammunition belts weaved through his chest.”
Sensing her need for a topic change, he invited, “Come on, I wanted to show you something in the study. They’re still packing up the books, but we can squeeze in.”
Tom handed her a photo album that was sitting on the desk in the study; it was empty except for two photos. The first was a 5×7 that showed Jack sitting on the couch with four-year-old Renée beside him and the infant Louis on his lap. The other was a black and white 8×10 of Kirsty, with a sad smile on her lips.
“Why did you have this?”
“Bobbi got it from one of the cops while we were investigating the children’s disappearance. After some of her stories about monsters, I guess they noticed a few similarities in Kirsty’s original reports. Maybe she was hoping to meet someone else who could understand what she’d seen … but she never mentioned that to me. I thought you might want it – to remember her by.”
Joey nodded. She touched the cherubic face of the little girl with the flood of golden curls. Swallowing quickly, she pulled out the photo of her friend and handed him the album.
Kirsty’s beauty seemed timeless in black and white, and she looked as though she might speak at any moment. There were secrets haunting the dark eyes that looked back at her. Some of them she knew – others might be lost forever.
You’re like Elliott now, aren’t you – tragedy, pain, and the unknown have transformed you into something otherworldly and wise.
“Hey, are you okay?”
“I will be. So your agent will handle the repairs and the sale?”
“Yes, and once we get everything packed up, we don’t have to stay for any of that.”
“At least you didn’t shoot lightning balls at my condo.”
“We survived. I think Bobbi and Kirsty would want us to start over.”
Hearing their names linked together made Joey frown. It was hard to turn off the old reporter instincts, and there were so many unanswered questions.
“You said Bobbi ran off and went to Boston once – you found her there, drunk. What if that was her attempt to find a kindred survivor? If they met back then and something happened… They never seemed to approve of each other one bit – weird for people who survived the same trenches.”
Tom reached out and touched her arm. “We may never know the answers to a lot of things.”
“It doesn’t seem right. If we don’t know the truth, it feels like … they died for nothing.”
“Bobbi was – broken … the moment the children disappeared, if not before, when her first husband was killed. She only seemed to want to live for Louis, but odds are, she was tricked into putting him at risk. She couldn’t have coped with that, or with losing him, too, and maybe … death was a mercy, for her. Kirsty, no matter what her reasons were, gave us a chance to escape – to get Louis out. She helped you get away, too. That’s what matters. I’ll always be grateful to her for that – so she didn’t die for nothing.”
Joey nodded. Yet the dreadful memory of Trevor Gooden, torn with the bodies of others and tacked to a wall like art in Hell seemed to sway in the scales alongside Kirsty’s sacrifice for the Merchant heir. Those scales often showed up in her nightmares, but they never seemed to balance.
~ ~ ~
The moving van had already pulled out and would probably reach the house before they did. Tom had called his housekeeper there to ready the place for their arrival.
Standing up inside the open box where she could see them as she drove were the pictures of Elliott and Kirsty, side by side in matching silver frames.
Elliott found me in dreams and helped save me, and maybe the world, from Pinhead – and Kirsty gave me a way out of Hell and the will to fight the monsters. They lost their lives, but they gave me back mine.
She pulled her gaze away from them as Tom appeared at her open window. He leaned down to kiss her.
“I’m going to marry you, as soon as I can untangle the legal mess.”
“If that’s asking, I accept.”
“That’s early warning. When I ask, there’ll be a diamond involved that may blind us both.” He glanced at the photographs before kissing her again. “I think they’d approve. I’ll wait for you if I lose you at any red lights. Ready?”
She watched him walk to his car. Tom Ramsay was the sort of man who didn’t make a woman wonder or worry about his intentions. He still struggled with grief, as she did, and the madness that had tried to overwhelm them both. Yet after all of that terror and uncertainly, he wouldn’t ask her to follow him without knowing where she stood.
Grief and all that we’ve seen has taught us that life is precious. Living, finding what happiness we can – seems like the best way to honor the sacrifices of two people whose lives have been torn away by the same horror they saved us from.
The taillights in front of her flashed red and Tom drove away. Joey put her window up and followed.
There was a tiny local station she could apply at in the new town if she wanted to, but she hadn’t decided yet. She had time – time to learn how to be a wife, and a mother to a boy who would need a lot of love, guidance, and protection. Perhaps, eventually, they could have children together … more life to balance out so much death.
Making the turn to pick up Louis, feeling an unexpected joy to see him again, she abruptly felt tears fill her eyes at last. She didn’t look at Kirsty and Elliott as the tears fell. She knew they would understand.
Carl Richards finished his walk-through of the house and reached for his cell phone to tell his wife he was ready to meet her. As he dialed, he noticed a fresh gouge in the wood before the fireplace – in the exact spot he had already had fixed once before. Kicking the rug back, he cursed and clicked the phone shut.
“Damn contractors,” he complained as he struggled to kneel and inspect the damage. His fingers felt the jagged cut impatiently. “Ouch! Shit!” He stuck his fingers in his mouth. Trying to keep most of the original wood is getting to be a pain – literally.
Disgusted, he huffed to his feet, not bothering to replace the rug. He’d have to call them back in to repair the flooring again, delaying the whole deal – but his clients had waited this long to buy the house, they’d wait another few days to move in.
His blood seeped into the wood without a trace. Carl forgot the small cuts as he locked up and left, passing the sold sign over his proud smiling photo in the front yard.
Behind him, the silence of the growing dusk was broken throughout the house by the faint sound of a fierce desire, beating steady and strong under the boards.
Author’s Note: The end, alas. Drawing from all media types for this, it was a challenge meshing everything with some sort of sense achieved. I hope you enjoyed this tale. If so, please let me know, and thanks so much for reading! – AnonGrimm (@MET_Fic)