The Circle Is Complete
After a few long and very pleasurable moments, the princess finally released Marty, opening her eyes and grinning at him. “So you’re here! Finally – I feel like I’ve been asleep for ages.” She sat up as Marty leaned back. “What’s your name?”
“Marty McFly,” Marty said cheerfully. “You?”
The princess blinked a few times. “You – came to rescue me without even knowing my name?” Glancing down at her skirt, she scowled. “Why on earth did the servants let me get so dusty?”
“It’s – kind of more complicated than that,” Marty admitted as she brushed the dust off her dress. “It’s been a while since anybody’s been here.”
The princess paused, and looked up at him. “Been a while?” she repeated, suddenly looking frightened. “How long, exactly?”
Marty didn’t relish this next part. He figured he already knew what was going to happen. “My friend says one hundred years.”
The princess stared at him for a long moment. “One. . .hundred. . . .” She looked around her room, taking in its disheveled state. “But – but– I wasn’t–” She started to cry. “Oh no. . . . My parents, the servants, even my cat. . . .”
Marty put an arm around her, feeling bad. He couldn’t even begin to imagine losing his own family. Of course, he’d never really thought about it before now. “I’m really sorry. Doc says people tried to rescue you, but there’s this whole field of thorns around your castle with monsters living in it. Well, monsters were living in it – my friends and I might have managed to kill them all.”
The princess nodded, still crying. “One hundred years. . .I don’t even know what the world is like now!” She looked up at him. “Is – is my family still on the throne? Did my parents have another child I never knew about?”
“I don’t know,” Marty said honestly. “I’m hoping you aren’t related to our current queen, though, we’re going to kill her because she’s been summoning monsters into the kingdom.”
The princess stopped crying for a moment to stare in shock. “What?!”
“Yeah. That’s where we were going when we saw your castle – I got curious about what was inside, so we decided to come investigate. Then Victor kind of went nuts in the courtyard because of all the death inside – it’s a long story. Anyway, he told us you were still alive, so we decided to rescue you.”
The princess nodded and sniffled. “Well, I’m glad you did,” she said, wiping her eyes. “Still, one hundred years. . . .” She looked around her room again. “What’s going to become of me now?”
“You can come with us, if you want,” Marty offered. “We’ll take care of you. And maybe we can find some of your family along the way. Uh, descendants, at any rate. What’s your name?”
“Parker,” the princess said softly. “Jennifer Parker.” She managed a small, trembling smile. “And yes, I suppose I should go with my rescuer. Being as I think you’re supposed to be my True Love and all.”
“Really? Awesome – sorry I wasn’t born earlier, though.”
“It’s not your fault.” Jennifer sighed as she stood up straight. “I should pack – do I have anything left to pack?”
“Doubt it,” Marty admitted, standing up too. “Most everything looks like it’s rotted away to dust.” He looked down at her. “Surprised that survived.”
Jennifer blushed and quickly checked her gown for sturdiness. “Looks like it was protected with me.” She sighed deeply. “C-can we go? I don’t – I don’t know how long I can stand being here now that I know--”
“Sure,” Marty said, offering her his hand. “I have to meet my friend Doc in the courtyard soon anyway. Come on, I’ll introduce you.”
Jennifer nodded and took his outstretched hand. Marty led her back along the path he’d taken. It wasn’t hard to follow – the dust on the floor was thick enough that he’d left clear footprints. Jennifer clung tight to his arm as they walked, looking utterly depressed by the dilapidated state of the castle. “I remember when my mother would have a fit at the slightest speck of dust in the house,” she mumbled, looking up at the cobwebs. “She kept the maids working hard all through the day, obliterating all messes. She’d be livid that it ended up like this.”
“The servants really couldn’t help dying, could they?” Marty said, trying his best not to sound too annoyed at that uncharitable view.
“No, of course not – Mother was just a terrible neatnik. She did make sure the maids had the largest salaries of all the servants, at least.” She sighed. “I used to play hide and seek all the time in these halls with my father. Or visit the cooks making dinner, and sneaking little treats. Or listen to the bards sing and musicians play in the music room.”
Marty lightly squeezed her arm. “If I wasn’t afraid it would crumble on me, I’d try and get you a souvenir or two.”
“No, it’s all right. I think they’d just make me cry.” She sighed again. “What’s the world like now? Besides the fact you apparently have an awful queen.”
“It’s okay, I guess,” Marty shrugged. “Probably a lot different than what you were used to. We’ve got steam power now, and some people are fooling around with electricity.”
“Electricity? Harnessing lightning? Wow.”
“Yeah. I even heard somebody’s trying to make a carriage that doesn’t need a horse to pull it.”
“Yeah. All that stuff mostly happens in the big cities close to the capital, though. The little towns – maybe those haven’t changed so much.”
“I hope not. I’d like something familiar.”
They reached the courtyard safely and waited. Two minutes later, Doc appeared, brushing a few cobwebs out of his hair. “I didn’t see any – oh!” He stared for a moment, then smiled. “I see you found her – hello, Your Majesty,” he said with a very courtly bow.
Jennifer curtsied in response. “You must be ‘Doc,’” she said. “I’m Princess Jennifer Parker.”
“Dr. Emmett L. Brown, at your service,” Doc nodded. “How’d you wake her up, Marty?”
“Remembered Victor mentioned her waiting for a kiss, so I tried it,” Marty said with a smile. “Worked out pretty well.”
“Marty tells me it’s been a hundred years since I was last awake,” Jennifer said, biting her lip.
Doc nodded, his own smile fading. “I’m afraid so. I’m sorry.”
“Thank you.” She shook her head. “Mother and Father were saying that it would only be a few months, at the most. . . .”
“What was the deal with this curse anyhow?” Marty asked, curious.
“I don’t know all the details – my mother and father never explained it in full to me. But apparently, when I was born, they threw a great christening party for me. They invited everyone they could think of, including most of the members of Oberon’s court. Apparently, though, one fairy was overlooked in the chaos, and took offense. She came to the party anyway, and my mother accidentally insulted her in trying to appease her. The enraged fairy promptly cursed me to die once I pricked my finger on a spinning wheel and disappeared. My parents begged the other fairy guests to remove the curse, but none of them could. One, however, said she could at least change the curse so I’d simply fall down asleep, and could be awakened by my True Love’s kiss.” She smiled at Marty briefly. “Mother and Father did their best to keep me from encountering any spinning wheels – they banned them from the castle, and ordered all seamstresses to do their work in locked rooms in the nearby towns in case we visited. It worked for a while. Then, when I turned seventeen, I was exploring one of the high towers when I came across a broken spinning wheel someone had missed. Mother and Father had told me a bit about the curse at that point, but I thought I was safe as long as I looked but didn’t touch.”
“So what happened?”
Jennifer gave him a rueful grin. “I nearly got away with it. I examined it from a distance, but then I just had to get a slightly closer look – and I tripped on a loose stone. And in trying to catch myself, I grabbed onto the spindle. My index finger came down on the point, and – well, that’s the last thing I remember. They must have brought me back to my room after that, since that’s where Marty found me, but – that’s all I know.” She looked at Doc again. “Is it true that someone did try to rescue me before?”
“Yes, I’d heard tales of princes riding to find their destiny at the old castle years and years ago,” Doc nodded. “But not one of them made it through the – thorns?”
Doc was staring over the teens’ heads now, looking shocked. “What?” Marty said, turning around.
The thorns were gone. Completely. Surrounding the castle now was simple dirt. Marty blinked a few times, but the scene stayed as it was. “Okay, that’s kind of weird. . . .”
“You said there were thorns!” Jennifer said, looking incredulous.
“There were! We had to hack our way through them not a hour ago!” Doc frowned and scratched his head. “It’s possible they were linked to your curse, though. An extra challenge for any aspiring knight or prince.”
“Or just a way for that spurned fairy to get me as close to death as possible,” Jennifer muttered.
“At least it makes getting out of here easier,” Marty shrugged. “We ought to catch up with Alice and Victor, make sure they’re okay. Maybe Victor’s snapped out of his weird trance thing by now.”
“Weird trance thing?” Jennifer repeated.
“It’s complicated,” Doc said, taking the lead. “The short version is that Victor’s capable of seeing death, but large amounts tend to overwhelm him. And your castle, which had all those servants, and your would-be rescuers in the thorns. . . .”
Jennifer looked horrified. “Oh no! I hope he’s all right.”
“We all do. Come on, they’re probably back with the horses by now.”
The three walked across the dirt field as fast as they could. While the thorns had disappeared, the bodies trapped in them had not, and the bones of the early princes and knights as well as the freshly-killed demons were clearly visible around them. Jennifer shuddered and clung tight to Marty, who put a protective arm around her. “They’re dead,” he said soothingly. “They can’t hurt you.”
“Yes, but I’ve never liked dead people or animals. They – unnerve me.”
“. . . Is that the same thing as scaring you?”
Jennifer gave him a bit of a weird look. “Er, sort of. Why?”
Marty grinned awkwardly at her. “Well, the thing is – I kind of – don’t know how to feel fear.”
“I – what?”
“He doesn’t feel fear,” Doc said, looking back at her. “Take our word for it. He has no conception of what it is.”
“It’s just the way I was born,” Marty shrugged. “I’ve never understood what gives people the shudders.”
Jennifer stared at him, one eyebrow going up. “Really. You’ve – never been afraid of anything? Being around blood and gore doesn’t bother you?”
“Nope. It’s just liquid and junk. Can’t hurt you.”
“What about the demonic monsters? They didn’t inspire any fear?”
“Nah. Annoyance, sure – one of them scratched up my back, and they were in a pain in the ass to kill – but not fear.”
“. . . Mice?”
Now it was Marty’s turn to give her a strange look. “Mice? Why would mice scare anybody? They’re just small and furry and like to eat a lot.”
Jennifer tilted her head at him. “You’re a bit of a strange person, aren’t you, Marty McFly?”
“I know,” Marty said, sighing. “I’m trying to fix that. That’s the other reason we’re going to kill that queen – I’m hoping she’ll give me the shudders.”
Jennifer watched him for a moment, then shook her head. “It’s a strange new world I’ve come to.”
“Hey, I’d like to think I’m still a pretty nice guy,” Marty said, frowning a little.
Jennifer grinned and kissed the tip of his nose. “I didn’t say you weren’t. You did save me.”
Marty smiled back. “Yeah.”
Alice and Victor were by the horses, sitting on the ground. Alice had her arm around Victor, who was staring off into the distance, muttering to himself in a voice too low to hear. “I take it he’s not any better,” Doc said as they approached.
Alice looked up. “I’ve been trying to talk to him, to tell him he’s with the living,” she said, voice shaking. “He won’t listen, or can’t listen. It’s as if he’s trapped in his own head.” She looked back toward the castle. “I’m not sure if the thorns suddenly disappearing as we were leaving helped. Do you know what caused that?”
“We’re thinking it was an aftereffect of Marty breaking the princess’s curse,” Doc replied, indicating Jennifer. “Meet Her Royal Majesty Jennifer Parker.”
Alice inclined her head. “A pleasure to meet you. You’ll have to forgive me for not getting up, but--”
“It’s all right,” Jennifer interrupted, looking at Victor with a pained expression. “I’m sorry my castle had such an effect on your friend.”
“It’s not your fault,” Marty said, patting her on the back.
“It was my curse that--”
“Not you,” Victor said, suddenly turning to face them with his wild eyes. “Not you at all. Mother and Father made them stay, then the thorns prevented their escape. They – they died cursing you, but unfairly.” He suddenly grabbed Jennifer’s arm. “Slipped through Godfather’s fingers, but he’ll have you eventually. He’s patient. . . .”
Jennifer stared at him with wide, nervous eyes. “W-what is he talking about?” she whispered.
“He’s not himself at the moment,” Alice said, gently pulling his hand off her. “Victor, please. We’re away from the castle. We’re away from all the death. Please come back to us.”
“Never away from death,” Victor said, his voice cracking. “He’s everywhere always, will always be everywhere. . . .” A few tears began to roll down his cheeks. “So tired of seeing it. . . .”
“Maybe we need to get farther away from the castle,” Marty suggested, glancing back at it.
“Maybe,” Doc agreed, though his lips were twisted up in a frown. “But can he ride, is the thing?”
“He can ride with me – I don’t think he’s lost the ability to hold onto someone,” Alice said instantly, wiping his tears away with a corner of her cloak.
“Jennifer, can you ride a horse?” Marty asked. “Because then you can take mine and I’ll take Victor’s.”
“Yes – Father was insistent I have lessons,” Jennifer nodded, then blushed a little. “I don’t know how rusty I’ll be, though. One hundred years of sleep might do odd things to your memory.”
“We’ll be right beside you,” Marty reassured her.
“You don’t have anything you want to get from the castle first?” Alice said, helping Victor to his feet.
Jennifer shook her head. “Too many memories,” she murmured. “And Marty warned me most everything was on the verge of crumbling to dust anyway.”
Doc brought over Marty’s horse. “Need a hand up, Your Majesty?” he offered politely.
“It would be appreciated,” Jennifer said. Doc helped her into the saddle. “But you don’t have to call me ‘Your Majesty.’ Marty’s hinted my family’s probably not on the throne anymore.”
“Just trying to be respectful,” Doc said, making sure she was settled.
“I know, and I thank you. But really – maybe it’s best if I start over now as just plain Jennifer Parker. The life I once had is long gone.” She looked down at the horse’s mane for a long moment. “Maybe I should go back for a moment, our family mausoleum adjoined the grounds, and I’d like to pay my last respects.”
“Wouldn’t be buried there,” Victor told her, as Alice tried to get him to climb up onto her horse. “Be buried at their other castle.”
“They couldn’t stand seeing you there, cursed forever, so – they left,” he said, finally moving to swing a leg over the mare’s back. He nearly toppled over the other side, but Alice quickly caught him and steadied him.
Jennifer stared. “They – you’re lying! My own parents wouldn’t abandon me there!”
“Wish I was lying,” Victor said in a strangled tone. “Wish I could lie, wish I could block out the death, the truth, but it’s all laid out for me like a picnic. The world is a dark and cold place, and Godfather rules over it all.”
“Who on earth is this godfather of yours?”
Victor laughed his maniacal laugh. “Death! The Reaper! He who comes in the night or the day and severs the soul from the body! The end of all things! When the last star has gone out, he shall be there to collect it.”
“. . . He’s quite mad, isn’t he?”
“Right now, yeah, but he’s telling the truth,” Marty told her, getting up on his own horse. “His parents got him Death as his godfather.”
“You believe that?”
“Hey, when you see the guy get the shudders from a bed and then correctly guess somebody’s grandma got eaten by a demonic wolf in said bed, you tend to believe him when he says he knows Death.”
“I will swear before any court that he was perfectly normal before we came to your castle,” Alice added, getting on in front of Victor and putting his arms around her. “Hold onto me now, Victor, we don’t want you falling off.”
“But how does he know all these things about my parents? Supposedly?”
“Can’t block it out,” Victor said, looking at her with his eyes filled with pain. “Wish I could, wish I could. . . . See everything relating to a death. The servants died because your mother and father made them stay, made them tend you. They left in their grief.”
Jennifer stared at him as Doc mounted. “They really left?” she finally whispered, looking hurt.
Victor nodded. “I’d say differently if I could. Would pass the truth over, pass it under, pass it through.”
Jennifer shook her head. “I don’t believe this. They just left me there with the servants. Nothing against the servants, but – they knew I was going to wake up sooner or later! Didn’t they?”
“Maybe they didn’t,” Marty said. “Maybe they figured they’d be dead by the time your true love came along. Which, uh, they are.” He frowned. “That sounded a lot different in my head.”
“Still, to just leave me behind. . . .” Jennifer shook her head, brown locks flying everywhere. “Please, can we just go? I’d much rather think about something else, like – like what the next town we’re to visit is. Is it still called Mechanicsburg?”
“Yes, it is,” Doc said. “We’ll stop there and get you a horse. Mind you, the town will probably look a lot different than you’re used to. It’s practically a city now, and a center of steam power. If you need something invented, that’s where you go.”
“Sounds like a good place for you to live, Doc,” Marty noted. “Why didn’t you settle down there?”
“I was closer to Gale’s Town at the time. Maybe I should have made the trip. . . .” He looked at his traveling companions. “Then again, maybe not.”
“I don’t care,” Jennifer said firmly. “It had a reputation for being strange even back when my family ruled. I just need to get away from that accursed castle.”
“Right. Let’s get this show on the road,” Marty said, taking the lead.
They didn’t get too much farther on their journey – raiding the castle had taken the better part of the day, and soon the sun was setting on them. They stopped by the roadside as twilight fell to make camp. Marty looked back at Victor as Alice got him off her horse. “Any change?”
“Not really,” Alice said, looking up at the tall young man. “He’s been quieter, but I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.”
“Neither am I,” Doc grumbled, frowning at Victor with almost fatherly concern. “If he’s not out of it by next morning, it might be time to consider more drastic remedies.”
“What, like dumping a pail of water full of gudgeons over his head?” Marty suggested.
“If you think it’ll help.”
“Will he eat like this?” Jennifer asked, gripping a bit of her skirt in her hand and twisting it. “I feel so awful.”
“He must, he mentioned being like this for months before,” Marty said.
“I’ll see if he’ll take some bread,” Alice said, starting toward Marty’s sack.
Only for Victor to lurch forward and grip her tightly from behind, resting his head on top of hers. “Don’t go,” he murmured, sounding frightened and weak. “You breathe, you breathe. . . He nearly had you, but you breathe. . . .”
Alice started at the sudden contact, then leaned into him. “Yes, I breathe,” she agreed. She took one of his hands and gently laid it against her chest. “And there’s a heartbeat in there too. Can you feel it?”
Victor nodded, eyes shut tight as he pressed his hand firmly into her chest. For a moment, he stood there quietly, everyone watching nervously (Doc and Jennifer) or with interest (Marty). Then a shudder seemed to pass through him, and his grip loosened. He opened his eyes, looked up –
And his eyes suddenly focused again. He blinked, the madness draining from his face. “A-Alice?” he said, looking down again.
Alice grinned up at him, looking relieved. “Welcome back, Victor.”
Victor smiled back. “It’s good to be back.” He suddenly noticed the position of his hand, right above her breasts, and went bright red with embarrassment. “Oh, d-do forgive me!” he said, yanking it away.
“She put it there, Victor,” Marty told him, fighting down an urge to laugh. “So you could feel her heartbeat. Guess it helped.”
Victor nodded, still blushing. “Y-yes, it did. I apologize f-for my behavior earlier, I j-just – it t-takes me some t-time to get back to m-myself under those circumstances.”
“But you’re okay now?”
“Reasonably.” Victor looked over at Jennifer. “I’m s-sorry for frightening you e-earlier. And f-for saying those things. I d-don’t have much control o-over what I say in t-that state.”
“It’s all right,” Jennifer said, giving him a brave smile. “Your friends assured me you meant no malice.” She curtsied. “I don’t think I was ever properly introduced to you – I’m Jennifer Parker. Former princess.”
“Victor Van Dort.” Victor bowed.
“Alice Liddell,” Alice added, curtsying as well. “I don’t think we were properly introduced either.”
“We had a lot more on our minds,” Marty said, opening his sack. “But now that we’re all settled again and know each other, let’s have something to eat. I’m starving.”
They made camp as quickly as they could. Alice chopped some firewood out of a couple of trees, and they built themselves a glowing fire as the night came upon them. They sat in a circle around it – Alice sitting next to Victor, Marty sitting next to Jennifer, and Doc sitting between the two boys. They shared around the jerky and the bread for supper, supplemented with water from a little stream they found flowing nearby. Everyone shared a brief history with Jennifer as they ate – she responded in kind, telling them a bit about her life in the palace and what she knew of her curse. Afterwards, Marty snuggled up closer to Jennifer. “How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Disoriented,” Jennifer confessed. “And hurt, and angry, and thankful, and nervous. . . .” She shook her head. “It’s going to take me a while to figure it all out.”
“Well, we’re here for you in the meantime,” Marty promised her, patting her hand.
“On that note, are you sure you’re all right?” Alice said, looking at Victor.
“Much better now, I promise,” Victor assured her. “Everything’s firmly under control again.” He lowered his head. “I’m sorry if I worried you.”
“It’s all right. I just wish I could have broken you out of it earlier.” She gently put her hands over his. Victor blushed, but didn’t pull away.
Doc looked between the two pairs with a small smile. “You know,” he said suddenly, “when I left home as a youth, it was under rather unpleasant circumstances. My father and I never saw eye to eye about my love of science. When I was seventeen, he finally kicked me out of the house after one too many vicious arguments. I never thought I’d have anything resembling a family again after that. But now, traveling with you lot. . . .” His smile grew. “Well. I feel like I belong again.”
Marty grinned back at him. “Thanks, Doc. We’re glad to have you here too.”
“It’s a lovely sentiment Dr. Brown – Doc,” Jennifer added, looking pleased.
“I – I think I feel much the same,” Alice admitted, her red cloak heightening the blush on her cheeks.
“I know I do,” Victor said, also looking embarrassed but pleased. “I’m glad I met all of you.”
“So am I,” Jennifer said. “It may not exactly be the time period I wanted, but I’m glad you’re the ones who came to rescue me.”
“How about we all just say we’re all really glad we met each other?” Marty suggested, half-teasingly. “And that we’re going to stick together, kick this Demon Queen’s ass, and end up the most famous group in history?”
“I could live with that,” Jennifer smirked. The others nodded.
There was a brief, companionable silence after that. Then Doc stretched and yawned. “All right. Time for a slightly less pleasant topic – deciding who’s going to stand watch when. Marty, if you could fetch a few sticks so we could do this democratically?”