Remains Of The Day
“Are we lost? I think we’re lost.”
“We’re not lost, we’re just – wandering about looking for a marked path.”
“What’s the difference?”
“One sounds less embarrassing.”
Alice shook her head, looking at the tall trees towering over their heads, stretching up to the sky like thick black needles. “I think ‘lost’ fits this wood better than ‘wandering.’”
“I’m sticking to ‘wandering,’ damn it,” Doc grumbled. “Besides, we do know where we’re going. So long as we keep moving east, we’ll come to a town. That’s what they said at our last stop.”
“Yes, but they also said we were all completely mad,” Jennifer pointed out.
“True, but I would think we’d be used to that.”
“I got called that a lot at home, so I definitely am,” Marty nodded with a little shrug.
“The same here,” Victor agreed. “Of course, sometimes I wonder if I really--”
A crashing in the brush near them caught their attention. “Place your bets,” Marty said, putting a hand on his sword. “Cute little bunny or vicious wolf?”
“Neither,” Alice said, her blade in hand. “I’d know the sound of either. It sounds like two creatures moving on two legs to me. Which means either two people, or two very angry if small bears.”
“Let’s hope for the former,” Victor said, looking slightly disturbed.
A moment later, Alice’s first hypothesis was borne out – two young men appeared to their right, panting and holding their chests. They were both in a state – leaves in their hair, dirt on their hands and knees, and rips in their clothing. One, a fellow with blond hair and bright hazel eyes, looked up them. “Oh! Thank God! Help!”
“What’s the problem?” Marty asked, leaning forward.
“A monster is chasing us! A creature from the depths of Hell!”
Marty gave him a grin. “You’re in luck – we specialize in creatures from the depths of Hell. Where’s the monster?”
“We left it behind us,” the other man, this one with dark brown hair and eyes to match, said, pointing. “But it just won’t stop coming! It’s horrible!”
“We’ll be the judge of that,” Alice said, slipping off her horse. “At any rate, I think we can safely say it’s about to get a nasty surprise.”
“Yeah,” Marty agreed. “You guys sit tight with us and – Victor? What’s up, buddy?”
Victor stared out in the direction the second man had pointed. “I – I’m not sure what’s chasing them, but. . .my godfather’s touched it,” he said slowly. “I can feel it. . . .”
“Your godfather?” Alice repeated. “Wait, what exactly is chasing you?”
Before either man could answer, there was another rustle in the brush, and a third figure emerged. “There you are! I’m sorry, darling, my dress keeps getting caught on branches, and I don’t want to rip it. Especially not now.”
There was a moment of silence from all involved. The newest person to join them was a young lady, fairly tall (although that could have been a trick of her high heels) and thin, with a tiny waist. She was rather pretty with her wide blue eyes and pink lips, and she wore a beautiful wedding dress which trailed out behind her for at least a foot. But all the blue eyes and pink lips in the world couldn’t disguise the fact that she was also dead as a doornail. Her skin and hair were both a bright blue, and all over her body decay could be seen. Her left arm had rotted right down to the bone – the same was true of her right leg, excepting the foot. There was a hole in her left cheek which showed her teeth, and another in the right half of her torso exposing her ribs. The young lady’s concern for her dress was unnecessary – there were already a number of rips and holes in the skirt, and if she’d had sleeves on her bodice, they’d already rotted clean away. It was a strange and disturbing mixture of beauty and horror that looked upon them now.
Well, unless you were Marty McFly, who just put his sword between the girl and the men and said, “Okay, you’re the weirdest monster from Hell I’ve ever seen. You planning on eating him?”
The dead woman blinked. “Eating – why would I do that?”
“I don’t know, you’re the – zombie? That’s the right word, right? I’m pretty sure that’s what they do.”
The woman frowned up at him. “Well, I have no intentions of doing anything like that.”
“So why are you chasing this guy and his friend?”
“Because he just proposed!” The woman held out her skeletal hand, revealing a golden wedding band gleaming on the fourth finger.
“I did no such thing!” the blond man cried. “I would never propose to a – a corpse!”
“But I heard you!” the woman protested, and extended her arms to him. “You asked me to be yours! All I’m doing is accepting!”
“Hang on, hang on, I’m completely lost,” Jennifer said, running her fingers through her hair. “You – tried to marry--”
“I didn’t!” the blond man insisted.
“Let’s back this up and go through it from the beginning,” Doc said, dismounting and looking between the dead woman and the two men. “You two – what are your names?”
“Timothy, sir,” the brunet man answered. “Timothy and Daniel.” The other man held up a hand. “Tim and Danny for short.”
“Why were you walking through the woods?”
“Danny’s getting married in a couple of days’ time, and we were on our way to the village where his bride lives,” Tim explained. The dead woman shot him a shocked look, and mouthed the word “bride?” “We stopped for a rest in a nearby clearing, under this old twisted oak tree. And – um--”
“We saw what we thought was an old root or twig sticking up from the ground,” Danny took over, fidgeting as the woman eyed him. “It looked like a hand. So I thought, well, I can always use a little practice with my vows, can’t I? So I went ahead and recited them to make sure I had them right, and I slipped the ring onto the twigs--”
“Onto my finger,” the dead woman protested, wiggling the fingers of her skeletal hand. “I’d been lying under that tree for years, waiting for my true love to come and propose to me!”
“What happened to you?” Alice asked, not unkindly. “What’s your name?”
“Emily,” the woman sighed. “Emily Cartwell. I – oh, I hate explaining this. . . . I lived here some time ago, and I fell in love with a man named Barkis. My father disapproved of the match since he was poor, so we made plans to elope.” She hugged herself. “I – I should have listened to my father. The night we were to make our escape, Barkis murdered me and stole my gold and jewels.”
“Oh, that’s horrible,” Jennifer whispered, putting a hand over her mouth. “I’m so sorry for you.”
“Doesn’t explain why you’re up and walking, though,” Marty noted, tilting his head. “I’ve heard the Queen has zombies, but they don’t talk. Or want men to marry them.”
“All I know is, right when I died, I vowed to myself I wasn’t going to pass on like this,” Emily told him with a shrug. “I wanted nothing more than to be the wife of the man of my dreams. So I said I’d wait until my true love arrived and set me free.”
“Would your godfather really allow that?” Alice said, looking at Victor.
“Why would his godfather have any say in this?” Danny asked, looking confused.
“He’s Death,” Marty said with a grin.
“. . .I think we may have run straight from the frying pan into the fire, Tim.”
“No, no, I assure you, I have no designs on your life,” Victor said, sliding off his horse. “I – I think I may hate him more than any other living being, honestly.” He shook his head, looking at Emily. “It might be like with ghosts. . .Godfather can take the life, but if the spirit is determined to linger. . . .”
“I was more than determined – my one big dream was to be a bride, and I had that stolen from me,” Emily said, folding her arms. “And now I learn that I was just a prop in someone’s rehearsal?!” She glared at Danny. “Well, you proposed, and I accepted! And it would have been much more polite to stay and say that to my face instead of running!”
“What would you have done if a dead woman tore her way out of the ground and declared herself your lawfully wedded wife?” Danny replied, moving a few steps closer (and slightly behind) Tim. “I had no idea that those ‘twigs’ were really a hand! And I have a fiancee already!”
“Well then, you’re going to have some interesting explaining to do when we reach her village,” Emily said, tilting her chin up so she could look down what remained of her nose at the unfortunate groom.
“Hey, that’s not really fair,” Marty said. Emily raised an eyebrow at him. “Well, it’s not! He didn’t know he was proposing to you. He didn’t even know you were there! Sure, I agree with you that it might have been easier on everybody if he’d stuck around and explained that, but I don’t think anybody else is.”
“He doesn’t know fear,” Jennifer told the two baffled young men, then looked at Emily. “He does have a point. Are you really going to accept a proposal that wasn’t even a proposal? It doesn’t even sound like he was asking you to marry him – just practicing what would be said during the actual ceremony.”
“I think that counts – the end was ‘with this ring, I ask you to be mine,’” Emily said, though she looked a little less sure of herself.
“I was just practicing,” Danny moaned.
“Think of it this way, Emily,” Alice said, moving forward a little. “If you’re determined to be this man’s wife, you’re depriving another young woman – who’s done nothing to you, I might add – of her groom. Is that fair at all?”
That seemed to get Emily right in the gut. She looked down at the forest floor for a moment. “No, you’re right,” she said, voice soft and sad. “I want so badly to be a bride, but – I don’t want to steal someone else’s dream from them either.” She reluctantly pulled the ring off her finger and offered it back to Danny. “And I suppose if you really thought I was nothing but some old twigs. . . .”
“I wouldn’t have done it if I’d had any idea,” Danny said, grabbing the ring back. “I’m – I’m sorry to have disturbed you.”
With that, both men turned and bolted, crashing through the underbrush and soon disappearing from sight beyond the trees. “Don’t think you’re losing much of a husband, Emily,” Marty commented with a little smirk.
“Honestly, I think it would have been worse if he’d have been eager for the wedding,” was Alice’s take.
“Beg pardon?” Emily said, blinking.
“No, I should be begging pardon,” Alice replied. “It’s just – I’m thinking about the sort of man who would actively propose to what he thought was an inert corpse. . . .”
A small shudder ran through most of the group. “I would hope that my true love would know I was waiting down there,” Emily responded, although it was clear to see that even she was a little squicked by that idea.
“Yeah, but if your hand was so messed up by the elements that people think it’s just a bunch of sticks. . . .” Marty pointed out.
Emily sighed deeply. “All I wanted was to be a bride,” she mumbled. “I wanted that whirlwind romance that ended in happily ever after.”
“Nobody’s saying that what happened to you wasn’t unfair as hell,” Jennifer said. “Nobody should have to find out the man they love is a murdering monster.”
“Or that their possible second chance was a complete accident,” Alice nodded. “I am quite sorry about everything you’ve gone through.”
“Thank you,” Emily said, voice quiet. She looked back the way she came. “I – I suppose I should back to my grave now. . . .”
Everyone turned to look at Marty. “I’m serious – why?” he repeated. “You’re just going to lay there and wait for somebody to stumble on you and realize they’re your True Love? That sounds really, really boring. Wasn’t it boring the first time?”
“Well, I wasn’t quite awake, I don’t think. . . .” Emily said, furrowing her brow as she thought. “And – he’s got to come sometime, right?”
“Yeah, but – well, you should tell her, Jen, it’s your story.”
“Did you ever hear a tale about a young woman sleeping in a castle surrounded by a field of thorns?” Jennifer obligingly asked the young corpse bride.
Emily grinned and giggled. “Sleeping Beauty! My mother told me about it when I was a little girl. She claimed it was a true story, from the old kingdom she grew up with.”
“It was – you’re looking at the title character.”
Emily’s giggles froze in her throat. “What?! But – you--”
“I’m awake?” Jennifer said with a grin. “Yeah, that’s because Marty and his friends stumbled upon me, and Marty decided to give me a kiss. That broke the spell.” The smile faded. “One hundred years after it took effect.”
Now Emily looked anything but amused. She covered her mouth with both hands, eyes wide. “Oh my. . . .”
“Yeah,” Jennifer sighed, looking away. “Apparently my parents left me in the old castle, unable to think about if I’d ever wake up. . .and if these guys hadn’t decided to check things out. . . .” She shook her head and looked back at Emily. “So yeah, your True Love might indeed stumble upon you. But how long are you willing to wait?”
Emily’s eyes flicked down to her skeletal hand. “I – For as long as it takes, but--”
“But waiting until you’re lost all your flesh has little appeal?” Alice said. “Quite understandable. You’ve lost enough as it is, I’d say.”
“So maybe the thing to do is stay up and look around for him,” Marty suggested, a smile quirking the corner of his lips. “Do something besides rot beneath some old oak tree. Fresh air will do you good!”
“I don’t breathe,” Emily said, unable to help a little titter.
“You can still get out in it. There’s a whole wide world out there – you might as well do something while you’re waiting for Mr. Wonderful, right?” Marty spread his arms. “You’ve got a body, and the ability to walk away from where you died. That’s more than most of the undead I’ve met can claim.”
“You’ve met other undead?” Emily asked, looking intrigued.
“Yeah, but never the friendly sort. Usually ghosts making trouble somewhere.” He grinned at her. “Why don’t you ride with us for a while, and I’ll tell you all about it? We’re used to picking up new passengers for a while.”
“We don’t mind the company,” Doc agreed, although his eyes flicked briefly to Victor as he said that.
Victor smiled at him. “No, we don’t,” he agreed, making the older man relax a fraction. “Since we technically deprived you of a potential husband, it’s the least we can do.”
Emily smiled back, adjusting the long veil that sat on her head. “Well, it would be nice to see what the world is like now,” she admitted. “And I agree that Marty has a point – obviously waiting underneath the oak tree hasn’t helped me yet. Maybe the thing to do is to go out and find the man who’s destined for me.”
“That’s the spirit,” Marty agreed. “You’ll have to share a horse for a while, but I think we can get you one at the next town. If we ever find it,” he added, smirking at Doc.
“We will locate our destination as long as we keep riding the way we were riding,” Doc told him with a frown. “As for sharing a horse, you can ride with me, Emily. Though we’ll have to find a way to tie up your dress first. Who’s got the rope?”
“Here,” Jennifer said, pulling it out of the pack she was carrying.
Emily fidgeted nervously with her hands. “Let me do it,” she said, reaching out for the coiled bundle. “It’s just – the dress was my mother’s, and – it’s already seen its fair share of damage.”
Jennifer handed over the rope. “It’s still a beautiful dress,” she said as Emily worked on the best way to get her long train settled.
Emily smiled up at her. “Thank you. You should have seen it when it was new. I thought for sure Barkis would faint when he saw me.” Her expression soured. “If only he had.”
“I’m sure he’s gotten what’s coming to him,” Jennifer tried to comfort her.
“I hope so. I really hope so. It scares me to think I wasn’t the first – or the last.”
“Violent people often come to violent ends,” Alice said. “Which is why I’m not exactly expecting to die peacefully in my sleep. Even if I try to make my violence constructive.”
Emily gave her a strange look as she finally managed to tie her train up so it was out of the way. “What are you going on about?”
“It’s a long story,” Marty said. “‘Course, all of our histories are long stories. We can tell ‘em to you on the road.”
“All right.” Emily accepted Doc’s help into the saddle. “Given what I’ve already heard, I expect them to be very interesting stories. Do you really not know fear?”
“Yeah, and it’s a real pain in the ass,” Marty said, rolling his eyes as the others remounted. “I don’t know why I don’t know what it is – I’ve just always been like that. I didn’t think it was gonna be the problem it was until I shoved our sexton down a flight of stairs for pretending he was a ghost – not that I knew that at the time. . . .”
It wasn’t until late that night that they finally spotted the lights of the next town, glittering through the dark trunks of the trees. By that time, though, everyone was well and truly exhausted. Rather than force themselves to push on, they set up camp near the rediscovered path and prepared to get some sleep.
Or, at least, most of them did. Victor remained by the edges of the firelight, having volunteered for first watch. He alternated gazing at the fire, the woods beyond, and his friends, snug on the ground under warm blankets. He felt – restless. Restless and a bit edgy. And it all had to do with their latest new member. He hadn’t been lying when he’d said to Doc earlier that it was all right to have her come with them. Despite her rather interesting introduction to them, she seemed a sweet young girl. And he felt so terribly sorry for her, having been murdered and robbed by the man she loved. What kind of fate was that for any young woman – for anyone at all, really? But he couldn’t stop himself from feeling a bit weird about her. He’d seen his godfather before on this trip – what with some of the danger he and his new friends got in, it was impossible not to. But having her here felt like the Reaper himself was traveling with them. He knew it was a stupid notion – his godfather wouldn’t be bothering with her now that he’d taken her life – but it still made him uneasy. All it took was one look in her direction to make him remember the day he’d gained the ability – no, the curse – to see Death, wherever he may be. . . .
Victor nearly jumped a foot. “Emily!” He forced himself to lower his voice. “I – d-do forgive me, I thought you were sleeping with the others,” he said, looking up at her.
“I don’t have to sleep if I don’t want to,” Emily replied, sitting down next to him and using her skirt as a cushion. “I thought I would stay up and keep you company.”
“Oh.” Victor managed a smile. “That’s very kind of you.”
They sat in silence for a moment, looking out at the dark woods. “You didn’t say much on the ride,” Emily finally said. “I know you told us your story, but – I barely know anything about you yourself.”
“I’m sorry – I’m a bit shy,” Victor said. Which was true, but – well, it would be horrible (and rude) to say “And your presence makes me nervous.” “Um – w-was there anything in particular you wanted to know?”
“Well. . .do you play an instrument? I’m a pianist myself. My father had someone teach me. Said it was proper for a young lady to know music.”
“Really? My home village was just the opposite in its opinion – music was far too passionate for women,” Victor said with a little laugh. “I actually play piano myself. We received one when I was small, to make our house look more ‘high class.’ I started playing with it, and decided I wanted to learn how to make real music on it. Mother agreed to lessons because she thought it would be ‘cultured’ to have a son who knew how to play piano.” He sighed, the weight of unpleasant memories dropping on him again. “Of course, now she doesn’t even want to acknowledge my existence. . . .”
“That’s horrible of her,” Emily said, folding her arms and frowning. “And of your father. It’s their fault you’re in such a mess, after all. The way you describe having Death for a godfather. . .it makes what happened to me seem like the merest trifle.”
“Oh, no, please, I d-didn’t mean to make you feel like that,” Victor said, feeling instantly awkward. “What happened to you is – terrible. I wish I could do something to fix it.”
Emily gave him a funny little smile. “Well. . .just looking at you seems to make me feel a bit better,” she admitted with a giggle.
Victor blinked, then turned to face her. She was looking at him with a certain gleam in her eye – something akin to the way she’d been looking at Danny. His stomach rolled over in his guts. Oh no. . . . “Emily, I – ah--” Damn it, why did he have to subject her to rejection twice in one day? But he couldn’t lead her on. Not when his heart belonged to another (who he was willing to admit might want him, but – well, as nice as the scene in the ballroom had been, the way it had been interrupted made him wonder if it was a good idea to fall in love on the way to kill the vilest Queen the world had ever known. And that voice that had given him so much confidence had vanished, letting his own doubts and fears have full reign in his mind again. . .).
Emily, however, seemed to realize she may have come on a bit strong. “I don’t mean – it’s just – you’re cute, and what I know of you, I like. And you being the godson of Death. . .I can’t horrify you, can I?”
“No, you don’t,” Victor told her, and it was the truth. For all her decay, and the unease his godfather’s vague presence around her caused in him, she herself didn’t horrify him. Seeing nothing but the deaths of everything around him had rather inured him to the terrors of walking corpses.
Emily smiled brightly. “So – can’t we maybe give this a chance?” she asked, all hope as she laid a hand on his arm.
It was cold in the forest, and dark – why had they chosen to run away at a quarter to three again? Surely they could have left closer to dawn and still avoided her father. . .but she was too excited to really let such worries and annoyances take root. This was it! She was finally going to be a bride! She twirled once in the dim light of the moon above the spindly branches of the trees. Her mother’s wedding dress fit her like a glove – a sign, she was sure, of how ultimately right this was. Daddy would forgive her this eventually. He would understand when she and Barkis came back with their children and repayment for the gold and jewels she had stolen. . . .
Of course, that depended on Barkis showing up in the first place. Where was he? It was time, and she was ready to leave this cold, lonely wood. She wanted him to come and sweep her away to a church, where they would declare their love for each other in the sight of men and God –
Wait. There in the shadows – was that him? Her heart beating fast with excitement and nerves, she moved a step closer. “Barkis? My love?”
A cold laugh came from behind her, as shadow fell over her body – she turned, saw the knife, saw the bloodlust in his eyes, and had just enough time for one short scream as the blade plunged into her ribs – the metal like ice in her hot spurting blood – Mother’s wedding dress! her mind screamed, desperate to concentrate on anything but what was happening –
And then she must not have been dying quickly enough for his tastes, as he picked up a large rock and slammed it with all his considerable strength into her skull –
Victor yanked away from Emily, eyes wide, breath coming in hard, terrified pants. His heart throbbed against his ribs as the images lingered in front of his mind’s eye, refusing to dissipate, refusing to leave him be. . . . He pressed a hand over his eyes, trying to force himself to calm down. Oh God. . . .
“Victor? Are you all right?”
Victor forced himself to look at her. Emily was regarding him with a mixture of shock, worry, and just a bit of hurt. She reached for him again. “What happened?”
Victor scooted away from the hand. “P-please – please don’t,” he whispered, shaking his head.
Emily paused. “Is it really that horrible for me to touch you?” she asked, and now the hurt was the dominant emotion, both in her eyes and her voice.
Victor swallowed, not relishing what he had to tell her. But there was no way he could avoid it either – that would just make her feel worse. “I’m sorry, but – this just can’t work. R-romantically, I mean.”
“Because I – I don’t--” He looked at her arm, still outstretched toward him, and laid the tip of one finger against her hand.
Cold steel plunging into her ribs–
He jerked his hand back like it had been burned and shook his head again, more wildly this time. “No. I can’t touch you,” he whispered. “And it’s not because you’re dead – w-well, it is, but – not in the way you think.”
Emily blinked a few times, her pink lips pulled into a frown of confusion. “You’ve lost me, Victor.”
Victor sighed and rubbed the back of his head. “I can’t touch you – because every time I do, I see how you died.”
Emily’s eyes widened. “You what?” she whispered.
“I know exactly how he killed you,” Victor replied, closing his eyes as the images played through his head yet again. “How he snuck up behind you, how he – he put a knife into your r-ribs, then h-hit you over the head. . . .” His hand felt his chest. “It was a-almost like I was in your place for a moment.” He opened his eyes again and looked at her sadly. “It was a terrible, awful way to die. I’m so sorry for you. But – I’m a-afraid I also c-couldn’t take seeing that over and over should we--”
“Oh, no, I perfectly understand,” Emily rushed to say, holding up her hands. “I wouldn’t want to inflict that sort of torture on anyone. I relive that memory enough myself.” She wrung her hands together, the bones of her skeletal fingers clicking together. “Do – do you think that happens to anyone who--”
“No, I’m sure it doesn’t,” Victor reassured her. “It’s not your fault at all. It’s the fault of my godfather. He’s made it so I’m so b-bloody sensitive to death!” He turned away from her for a moment as he felt rage bubble up inside of him, not wanting her to think it was directed at her. “I can’t even go near a graveyard for fear of being overwhelmed by all the death I feel inside. Even hospitals are tricky. And – when I first m-met Alice, in her cottage there was a bed. . .she’d replaced everything she could, scrubbed everything so clean the greatest detective in the world wouldn’t have been able to tell there was anything wrong, but for all that, when I touched the mattress, my mind was filled with the image of this o-old woman being torn apart and eaten by a monstrous demonic wolf. . .and then the wolf’s own death, with his belly ripped open and his head sliced off. . . . Though I didn’t t-tell Alice about that one, naturally. I didn’t care so much for the death of something so evil.” He squeezed his hands together as tight as he dared, trying to relieve the anger and pain deep inside him. “And when we met Jennifer, I – her castle was one hundred years old, and there was so much death both inside it and around it, I – I almost lost my mind. Ask the others, they’ll tell you.”
“I don’t think I need to,” Emily whispered. “Oh Victor – it really is a curse, isn’t it? I thought it might – might bring us closer. . . .”
“I’m sorry,” Victor said, turning to look at her again. “It’s a burden, yes. If circumstances were different, then – well, who knows? But as it is. . . .” He sighed, then attempted a smile for her. “I can be your friend, though. Just nothing more.”
Emily smiled back, though it was a weak, sad smile. “I can take friendship. I’m sorry, Victor. I didn’t mean to. . .” She sighed.
“You didn’t know. It’s fine.”
There were silent for a long while after that, just gazing out in the woods, unable to think of anything to say. Eventually, something stirred behind them, and they looked to see Marty rising from his makeshift bed. “Hey,” he said, rubbing at his mussed hair. “Anything happen?”
“No, no attacks,” Victor said, not really wanting to share what had happened with Marty. He was a nice guy, but his lack of fear would mean he wouldn’t really understand.
“All right then. My turn for watch. You go and get some sleep, Victor.”
“I’ll try.” Victor rose slowly from his set and looked down at Emily. “Good night, Emily.”
“Good night, Victor,” Emily replied, tone all sympathy and sadness. “Sweet dreams.”
“Thank you.” Feeling utterly worn out, both physically and emotionally, Victor stumped off to his blankets.
Marty watched him go with a curious frown. “Is it just me, or does he seem more depressed than usual?” he asked Emily frankly as he took Victor’s vacated spot.
Emily marveled for a moment at how easily he asked that. Most people would have been more embarrassed. . .of course, by the young man’s admission, he was immune to any form of fear. Then her sadness overtook her again. “It’s my fault,” she said, looking at her hands. “I – I did something silly.”
“I thought – well, you’re taken, and Dr. Brown is old enough to be my father at the very least, and – and he’s rather cute, and sweet. . . .” She sighed. “So I thought, well, there’s no harm in asking, is there? And wouldn’t it be nice if, after all this time, my True Love – why are you shaking your head like that?”
Marty groaned. “Suddenly he’s the ultimate ladies man. Perfect.”
Emily frowned at him. “Are you insulted that I didn’t consider you? I thought you and Jennifer were very happy together.”
“Oh, no, this has nothing to do with me,” Marty said. “This has everything to do with him being in love with Alice and refusing to actually make a move.”
Emily blinked rapidly for the second time that night. “In love with Alice?” she repeated.
“Yeah, they’re crazy about each other,” Marty told her. “It’s pretty obvious once you’ve been around them a while. But they’re being stupid and refusing to tell each other. Victor doesn’t think he’s good enough for her, and Jennifer thinks Alice might feel the same. Either that or she’s worried that falling in love with him means he’s gonna die, since that’s what’s happened to all her relatives. Personally, I think the godson of the Grim Reaper is the safest person for her to fall in love with, but. . . .” He shrugged. “We almost got them together at this ball we attended a couple of weeks ago, but then this freaking Terror Dog interrupted everything, and by the time we left. . . .” He sighed in frustration. “It’s driving me nuts. They’re my friends – the first two people I met on this adventure. I want them to be happy, damn it.”
Emily looked over at Victor, either asleep or pretending to be such, then at Alice. “I didn’t. . .he didn’t say. . . .” She bit her lip. “Then again, me touching his arm must have interrupted him before he got the chance.”
“Why would that make any difference?” Marty asked, tilting his head.
“Because he can’t touch me at all,” Emily said. “Apparently it makes my death replay over and over in his mind.”
“Oh, like that bed incident in Alice’s cabin?”
“Just the same.” Emily hugged herself and sighed. “I hate to think my mere presence is causing someone pain. . . .”
“Well, he isn’t acting funny just by being near you,” Marty pointed out. “And trust me, I’ve seen him act funny. He was completely out of it the day we rescued Jennifer. Kept babbling on about how everybody around us died.” He frowned. “I think – I’ve never been able to puzzle out what he said to me.” He shrugged. “Maybe he was talking about one of the ghosts I defeated. Anyway, I don’t think you being a part of the group is bugging him. He would have said. At least, I hope he would have said. . .sometimes he’s too polite for his own good.”
Emily nodded. “He seemed a bit shy about telling me how we couldn’t be together. . .on the other hand, he wasn’t shy at all about saying that he simply couldn’t stand what happened when he touched me. And he said he wasn’t opposed to us being friends.”
“Yeah, you see? Just being around him won’t hurt him. You should be fine. Afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere for romance, though.”
“Apparently. Thank you for telling me about him and Alice though, Marty. I would have hated to break up a couple. Even one that hasn’t officially declared itself as such yet.”
“Not a problem.” Marty looked between his two friends. “Don’t suppose you might have any ideas on how we could make them get together?”
Emily bit back a giggle. “Marty, don’t you think the way I died suggests I’m not the best person to go to for romantic advice?”
“Well, from what you said, this Barkis person really played up the charm,” Marty said with another shrug. “Made you think he was the nicest guy in the world. Can’t blame you for being tricked.”
Emily sighed. “Perhaps. . .I just wish I’d listened to my father. Or at least insisted on a time closer to daylight. If it hadn’t been so dark, maybe there would have been a chance of escape. . .or at least of someone else being in the woods to help me. Or keep Barkis from escaping.”
“That’s life for you,” Marty said philosophically. “Just look at it this way – you’ve got a second chance now! Barkis stole your first life, and that sucks, but he can’t do much about your second one, can he?”
“I suppose he can’t,” Emily said with a smile. “Thank you, Marty. I think I needed that.”
Emily nodded at him, then looked back at Victor and Alice. “And I’ll think about a way to maybe get them to admit to things,” she added, a mischievous gleam in her eye. “No one should go through life without love. Especially when it’s staring them right in the face.”
“I knew I liked you,” Marty said with a grin. “I was thinking that, first, we should start making them ride next to each other more often. . . .”