As it turned out, we were on the same floor as the ghost labs. But it was on the other side of the floor so we ran. We ran as fast as we could, or rather Professor Redding ran as fast as he could and I was floating beside him, wishing he could go faster. Sen’s remains were in my hands and I held tightly, praying I didn’t drop it, praying this would work. It felt like the four minutes, less than four minutes, had already been up. But Professor Redding continued to run, and Doctor Redding was following. I had the sense she could go even faster but it was Professor Redding who was in the lead.
Then he skid when he tried to stop, nearly falling over. He was scrambling to get the keycard from his pocket but then was shoved out of the way by his sister who already had a card out. She swiped it, punched in some numbers, then threw her shoulder against the door to open it. I was past her in a flash, staring at the machinery sitting around the room. The lights flicked on and Professor Redding was trying to pull the urn from my hands.
“NO!” I began panicking and pulled back as hard as I could. “Sen–Sen–” And then I calmed down, the panic lowering a bit. I let go of the urn and Professor Redding set it in a globe sort of thing. Doctor Redding was at a large computer console and was hitting buttons seemingly randomly, but then the lights on the globe began flashing. “How long? How long?” I stammered, digging my fingers into Professor Redding’s arm.
“It w-w-will take another twnty seconds for the m-machine to turn on, and then the p-process will t-take a m-minute maybe, at most. We have enough t-time.”
I watched as fog began swirling around the inside of the chamber. My whole body was moving, shaking, quavering. My fingertips tapped rapidly against one another and I stared at the urn. Professor Redding was pacing while his sister worked. I had no idea what was supposed to happen but I jumped as I saw bolts of electricity shoot towards the urn. Light lit up the fog and I winced as it began humming and then there was one more bright flash of light. The humming faded, the lights stopped, and the fog started disappearing. The urn was still there.
“Wh… where’s…?” Professor Redding went over and was rapping the glass with his knuckles and then opened the door. “Wh-where?”
It didn’t work.
“I turned off the spirit container,” Doctor Redding said from a million miles away. “Her ghost is in that chamber!”
Sen… It didn’t work.
“It isn’t, th-there is n-nothing. J… just the urn… n-no ghost. There is n-nothing. It d-d-d-didn’t work. How c-can it not work? It’s n-never not worked before.”
“It cannot have not worked! This machine has had a one hundred percent success rate since I built it! IT HAS NEVER NOT WORKED! It can’t have not worked! This machine works. It works. It has to work, it does work, now she is in there somewhere because the time was NOT up and this is turned ON and it will have WORKED!”
“It… it’s empty… S-sister, it’s empty, it d-d-didn’t work. It didn’t w-work. How come…? How can it…? How c-can it not work?! We have… done th-this… so many times… it’s always w-worked, it’s always…”
Is this what it felt like to her?
“According to the program, it worked. Double check the–“
“I have d-double checked! It d-didn’t work. For th-the first time. The… m-most… important… Oh… W-Watcher… Oh, Henri…”
Losing me, did it do this to her? This emptiness? This hopelessness?
“It is probably because she is a Danevbie.”
“That is c-cruel!”
I already… feel… I can’t… I can’t…
“No, I mean it. And not just the blood she got from the toy. I mean, the reason we thought Jacob would be a good chance to succeed. Because of his–“
“S-sister, please. It didn’t w-work and now is not the time. Henri… I’m s-so sorry… I thought… it w-w-would work. It–I am so sorry…”
I can’t do this.
I stared out over the graveyard, my hands on my hips. It was night but not too dark out from the moon in the sky. There was a cool breeze rustling the trees and I began going down the hill towards the graves. It had been a full year since Serenity had died, and I had slowly lost everything–including myself. I had taken her urn home, and couldn’t even attend her funeral. My own wife. And me, and my son, had to stay home because we could not be in public. That had been the final blow and since then I had been drifting apart from whoever I used to be. I tried to stay together for the sake of the children, but without Serenity… the tug I felt towards the nether had never been stronger. I had nothing left for my children. I knew it was selfish, I knew it was weak. But what kind of father could I be when I couldn’t even hold my children? It had been eight months since I was able to muster the energy to become solid, and since then it had gotten worse.
This would be the last thing I ever did. I had kissed my children goodbye as best I could, and left home. We had been living with Kaylee for the year and she wast their official guardian now. Miracle’s official guardian, rather, as hardly anyone knew about Chance. She would take care of them and raise them better than my emptiness ever could.
I saw the ghosts, there were five of them in total. Even now I could remember their names, their strange, strange names. Olivine, Disco, Caramel, and Acadia. And then the fifth one, who was off to one side staring up at the moon and wondering, not for the first time, how he got there. Or rather… how I got there.
I looked so young. I made my way over to where my younger ghost self sat. I remembered this night so clearly, and remembered everything I had said. And what I didn’t say, what I now wanted to say. I stared at my younger self and watched as he turned and stared right back, slowly standing. He was shocked and very confused at the sight of… me. I could remember all the thoughts running through my head, that had run through my head. That were currently running through my head.
“You–you look like–like me,” my younger self stammered out in French.
“That’s because I am you,” I answered in English. I remembered standing there by the bench so many years ago and living–not living–through this. I thought it had been weird being on that side of things but now it was worse being on this side. Knowing everything and not being able to tell him. Tell me. I wanted so much to warn him about the lab, and about what would happen to Sen. But I knew if I told him, that would change everything. Things would turn out differently. Maybe I wouldn’t even have agreed to become this half-ghost thing I was and go back in time to be with her, if I knew it would result in her death. And part of me wanted that. For me not to know those few extra years of happiness for this miserable, miserable ending.
But then there would be no Miracle. There would be no Chance. And Serenity, she might have wound up in a worse place. So many things could have happened. A hundred different results, a million, more than that. She might be alive, I thought as my younger self grappled with the idea he was talking to himself. Except it never happened, and if I changed things now it would change the future–and the past, and then I wouldn’t be standing here. If I changed things, what would happen?
“How can you be here?” he asked, finally shaking out of his (my) startledness.
“It’s confusing,” I answered, the same answer I had been given. He narrowed his eyes at me and I smiled. “You’ll understand one day. Maybe.” I reached up to push some of my hair away from my face and then I sighed, looking longingly at the bench. I remembered wondering why I hadn’t sat down and why I looked so faded. Now I knew. “I want to just tell you something, that’s all. But it is very important.”
“Serenity,” I said and that got his (my?) attention. This had been the first time I said her name out loud in months. Talking to Kaylee, it had been ‘your sister’. Talking to the kids, ‘your mother’. Talking to her dads… we never mentioned her. I could still see their faces the moment they found Serenity had died. I had told them as much as I dared. I knew she had not wanted them to know about the Reddings. I had no idea if she still would want this to be a secret, so all I said was that she had been seeing someone about her abilities and there had been an accident. They had wanted to know more but I couldn’t give it to them. I did tell them her last words had been fear that a monster was going after Duncan and Sebastian, or something like that.
“What about Serenity?” my other self asked and hearing her name from a more innocent time made me feel like breaking down.
So much, I thought. Don’t let her go to the lab, to the Reddings, warn her about the ghost. “She…” I could tell him, myself, and it wouldn’t happen. The ghost. Serenity’s death. But then… I could change things so much I never even went back to her. I could lose her, lose those few years we had together. Ten years together, just ten years. Ten years of loving and fighting, of laughter and anger. Miracle and Chance. Changing things now would make it so they might never exist. Which was essentially killing them. My own babies.
“She still loves you,” I said. The same words I remembered. I remembered the pause, and remembered wondering why my other self–this self, me–had looked sad.
“It’s been years,” he said and I could say them with him. I knew exactly what was going to be said next. “And I’m dead. What good will going to her do? She’s moved on by now.”
“She hasn’t,” I told myself firmly. “She still loves you very much. She needs you.” She needs rescue, oh my love, I feel like I am sending you to the grave. You go to her, she dies. You don’t go to her… Miracle and Chance die. I have to choose… and either way I will be apart from my love.
“I’m a ghost,” he spat out bitterly. “I’m dead.”
“So am I,” I answered. “I am you, you are me, and Serenity… Sen loves and needs you, Henri. Okay? Hold onto the hope of seeing her again, Henri.”
“I–I what?” He looked so confused. “When?”
That will make your mind explode, I realized. If I talk about the future and past, and Sunny–oh, I could warn him to warn Sunny somehow, about the fire. But–but then if I mess that up too then she’ll never meet Mr. Amour, and their babies might not be born. If I mess any little thing up, so many lives would be changed or not born. I have to not tell him anything new or else–or else so much would be lost. Sen, my love, I’m sorry.
“Be patient,” I said with a shrug. “Be patient, okay? And please remember, above all else, that she will always love you, she needs you, and you will see her again.”
“I c-can’t burden her with this–this–whatever it is I am!” he growled, stomping one foot. Ah, youth. When I had been turned into this sort of ghost, the years had caught up with me so I was the same age as Sen and had aged the same as her. I would be forty soon. And I had almost forgot about how I used to be.
“Just hold onto the hope, all right?” I said, resisting the urge to kick myself. “One day, Henri. One day. I promise. You–and she–will be happy. Goodbye, and good luck.” I turned and began walking, not looking back. My younger self called after me but I kept floating. I had not said another word, I remembered. I had kept going and left myself confused and worried. I could turn around right now and tell him no, it was all lies. I wanted to–I wanted to so bad. To save Sen.
My love, I am sorry, I thought as I began going down the hill and towards the river. I cannot change the events, as much as I desire. I know you would feel the same. For Miracle, for Chance, and for so many others. I knew if our roles had been reversed, she would feel the same and do the same. She would be stronger, rather. She would be able to hold on and be there for our babies. I wish I was able to do that but I was as substantial as a puff of cloud, as a wisp of smoke. Any moment I would drift into nothing.
I am sorry Miracle. I began drifted towards the west, towards the sea. I am sorry Chance. I didn’t know how long I had left but I needed to get where I wanted as soon as possible. What life could you have with me? Sen, you would understand. You would be mad, but you would understand. I just wished I could understand. I was abandoning them, but for a better life. A much better life where they didn’t have to see their father get weaker and weaker, and less and less. One day, I hoped they would forgive me. Because I simply could not hold on anymore. I remembered being told how pulling the grave was, how tempted I might be to slip into the nether. I had not felt it much before, but after losing Sen it felt like a whirlpool sucking me down into its icy cold grips. I was fighting a losing battle.
Ah. I reached the sea and looked out over the water sparkling in the moonshine. The tips of my shoes went through the sand as I went towards the waterline; when I reached just past where the water broke against the ground, I sat down as best I could.
The sea breeze hit me and I turned my face towards the direction it was coming from. Sen. My love. Soon, we will be together again. I lay back and closed my eyes, listening to the waves. And then I began to sing, Serenity’s favorite song. The words flew up into the wind, the night sky, the stars and to wherever she was now. I knew she could hear me.
“La mer… Qu’on voit danser le long des golfes clairs… A des reflets d’argent. La mer… des reflets changeants sous la pluie. La mer, au ciel d’été confond ses blancs moutons… avec les anges si purs… La mer bergère d’azur… Infinie… Voyez près des étangs, ces grands roseaux mouillés. Voyez ces oiseaux blancs, et ces maisons rouillées…La mer les a bercés le long des golfes clairs… et d’une chanson d’amour…La mer a bercé mon coeur pour la vie.”
The waves crashed loudly as I repeated the verses, as that was the way the song went, and sank into the sand, for here was as good as anywhere and one day–whenever that was–I would be with her again. The stars blanketed over me, and I spoke the final verse. “La mer a bercé mon coeur pour la vie.”
And I waited.