Dear Readers, as we've crossed into December, today marks the last installment of the serialization to be posted on the blog, however it is not the end of the story! Free serialization has been happening weekly since March, but now that the full novel is available, the Double Life team is letting the rest of the full novel speak for itself in entire completion, in its intended form. For those who haven't already donated, we all hope you'll pick up a copy of the novel. It is now available in print and Kindle formats (Nook / Barnes & Noble links we're told will go live by the end of the week)! (To the Double Life donors who donated $20 or more to the project, your signed books and donor rewards will be shipped/arrive Mid-December). The Double Life team thanks everyone for being a part of this journey. Please enjoy this installment and then the rest, as there's still more story to tell.
Still stay tuned every Tuesday! Because Tuesdays will now become "Teaser Tuesdays" as I release a segment from a forthcoming book or novella, musings on the latest works, insight into the current creative process, or a selection from a work-in-progress. So fresh fiction will still wing its way to you every Tuesday, whatever the current project or teasers for upcoming releases, you'll have exclusive sneak peeks right here, just as you've been the first to read this novel as it's happened! Now I'm expanding the material to a greater range of work. Considering all my series have crossover characters, just think of it as spending time every week with different members of an extended family. An utterly mad and ridiculously colourful extended family...
Now, without any further delay, here is chapter twenty-seven of The Double Life of Incorporate Things' twenty-nine full chapters.
Jonathon and I jogged up the earthen corridor, coughing. The increasing smoke would present a problem indeed if we didn't keep moving.
My whole body ached as we finally climbed the stairs into the cottage. The rest of our compatriots had all found places to collapse ahead of us, draped on the edges of the bed or leaning bent against fine furniture that our sooty, bloody, bedraggled forms looked so at odds with.
Someone had opened the front door to the night, to the forest. Everything outside was still, save for the night sounds of insects and birds. So quiet. Peaceful. We did not turn on more than the one lamp at the entrance. We did not want to see the sharp details of what the night had done to any of us. What it had taken from us.
Jonathon brought a wet towel moistened from an outside water basin over to me and washed the inked cross from my forehead and then his own.
Reverend Blessing had laid out Maggie's body upon the bay window where the moonlight upon her face made her lovely face even lovelier and turned the garish pools of blood all over her dress into grayscale. Mrs. Northe had Maggie's head in her lap, at work in the moonlight, removing the blood from her face, neck, arms, and hands with silken kerchiefs.
I knelt upon the divan, and Jonathon drew close. As he sat I collapsed onto his lap, resting my head in his gentle hands that were shaking so hard. But he stroked my hair anyway. Wherever we landed, we wept. Silently. For a long time.
Finally, Mrs. Northe stirred, gesturing Reverend Blessing over to her side. "Reverend, I'd like to pray with you here, over my niece, if you would be so kind." I'd never heard her speech so gentle, so tired, so grieved.
I rose and moved with him; kneeling before the bay window bier, we prayed over her, said thanks for her, her bravery, and sacrifice. We asked for forgiveness of all of our sins that led to her death, Mrs. Northe having a most difficult time with the guilt of it.
I simply took Evelyn's hand, and she held it. I was well aware it could have easily been me upon those cushions with hands folded over my still breast. I might have done the same, trying to buy us time, but I'd never have thought to do what she did, not so boldly. With great sadness I realized she probably hadn't gotten my letter. I was a fool not to have sent it sooner.
Death brings such guilt to the living, illuminating all the things undone and unsaid. It wasn't fair. She didn't deserve such a death. And yet we didn't deserve such a sacrifice. But if she hadn't done what she did, likely casualties would have been higher. She may have had no choice.
I wondered what had happened in
right before Maggie left. I wondered
if she had dreams like I did. She'd shared with me, once, that the demon had
visited her dreams. What if she knew it was all as inevitable as I had known?
Somehow that gave me comfort, as her actions seemed far too calculated to have
been inspiration in the moment. Chicago
Mrs. Northe had promised there would be death. But even the most clairvoyant, if too close to the truth, couldn't see it. Not precisely.
"I should have known, I should have seen. It should have been me." Those words she kept repeating numbly in different variations. I shook my head at her.
"That does no good, Evelyn," Blessing murmured. "Accept the facts as they lie. As you live, give thanks for her life. Pray for her undying soul, that will be rewarded in heaven for such selfless acts."
Mrs. Northe nodded and just kept stroking Maggie's hair. That was a comfort, the idea of her reward. I hoped in heaven, for Maggie, there would be lots of balls and pretty dresses and exquisite company, that she'd have no need for gossip or intrigue, merely be loved and cherished by heavenly hosts until I'd see her again in some future day and thank her soul myself. I moved back to rest in Jonathon's arms.
After some time, Brinkman banged upon the iron door from the other side, making us all jump. He called out to us to let him in.
"Most of the wing was saved," Brinkman said as he entered, mopping a sweaty brow. "Thank goodness for stone frames between wings. But you'll need a new dining room, Lord Denbury. I'm off to Scotland Yard, friends," Brinkman said, crossing the cottage in a few stern strides. "I'll fill out the reports and keep your further involvement to a minimum. I'll push for an immediate trial."
"Shouldn't you rest, Mister Brinkman?" I asked.
"Not until I have my satisfaction," he said gravely. "Those wicked bastards have my son. My child. My only joy in this goddamn world. I'd rip out all their throats with my bare hands if I thought I could still find him without their knowledge."
There was a terrible silence in the room at this still unfinished business.
"Let us know how we can help," Mrs. Northe said gently.
"Thank you," Brinkman said, burying his pain. He glanced at Maggie's body. "I take it you knew her. I'm sorry for your loss."
"We'll be praying for your son," I offered. Brinkman managed a slight smile.
"Thank you. Ladies, you were very brave. I doubt the men hidden in those walls waiting for the signal could've done all you did. If it were up to me, I'd have the queen award you a medal, but I doubt we'll be allowed to talk much about this, if any of it, ever again," he said with bitterness. "I'll follow up with Knowles about the properties to make sure any lands and assets seized by the Society are returned to proper owners. This is your estate. You've a grateful family who have been ferried off to the station that would like to return Rosecrest to you."
Jonathon nodded. Brinkman bowed slightly and stormed off. I heard a cry urging on a fast horse. Hoofbeats pounded off and faded into silence. For poor Brinkman, this was just one ongoing nightmare. Suddenly I felt very lucky. I had my joy in this room with me. Maggie's body notwithstanding.
I glanced from Mrs. Northe to Jonathon, to the tall form across the room of Reverend Blessing, dark skin gleaming in the moonlight as he remained in prayerful watch over Maggie's eternal rest, to the brave entwined couple of Nathaniel and Lavinia who had risen to the ultimate challenge. Lavinia was already fast asleep on Nathaniel's shoulder.
I had everyone I needed right here, except Father. Mother lived on in my heart, having always shown herself when I needed her most. Love was like that, taking the form of angels when faced with devils.
As the cottage had neither amenities nor staff, it was not a place we could weather the night. The appetite we'd all lost during the battle returned with painful awareness. But we couldn't be seen like we were. Nathaniel gently roused Lavinia, and we each did as best we could to put ourselves together. We hid our bloodstained clothes under cloaks and rode into
Nathaniel's fine carriage. All of us were able to fit as Lavinia chose to ride
up above with Nathaniel driving. At the back of the carriage, laid out upon
clean boards and swathed in thick layers of black fabric, Margaret Hathorn's
corpse made the journey back with us. Greenwich
We went to the nearest inn, a modest establishment, and took over a shadowed corner of the public rooms and ate everything they could lay out for us. Something about the looks on our faces did not invite any comment. It was late, after all. And we were a bedraggled, strange set of compatriots that thankfully no one took exception to. Surely we looked as haunted and as at the precipice of death as we felt.
The gentlemen took turns driving back to
, all of us dozing in and out. That night,
in Jonathon's flat, the whole motley crew remained gathered. None of us could
bear to be alone or separated because our collective trauma made us stronger. London
I cried myself nearly sick. Nothing else would do. The anguish I felt was only matched by a wave of hatred for myself, guilt threatening to drag me under into a mental state that I wondered if I could recover from after the progressive stages of grief. I'd been stronger when I had been trying to soothe Mrs. Northe. Now that reality was truly setting in, I was coming undone.
Someone dying in your arms is something no one can prepare you for.
It is the most terrible thing in the world.
It is the most incredible thing in the world.
Because never are you so aware of your own fragility, of that precarious moment between life and death. One moment here. The next, gone. A fleeting, breathless moment gives over to no breath ever again.
It was eerie, it didn't feel real, it felt like a thousand knives in my heart and in my eyes, replaying her final moment. Her fine, amazing, brave, incredible final moments. Here I thought I was brave and she was weak. I was a fool, and she was a savior.
I threw up everything that was in my stomach and cried every tear that could be cried and still they came. Jonathon just continued to bring me water and hold me tighter. But he couldn't hold this away. Sometimes we cried together, for my tears granted permission for his.
Seeing his reanimate mother had to have been one of the worst possible sights a person could ever see. The fact he retained his sanity was a miracle. I was grateful I'd encountered my dead mother again as a ghost, a beautiful spirit helping me from the beyond. Poor Jonathon had been first confronted with his mother's desecration, and I would do anything to have taken that sight away. At least her spirit had won out and helped us, managing to redeem that dreadful blasphemy into a transcendent truth.
Our pain was so severe and so specific, we just held on to each other, knowing we were all we had, companions who had been through every level of personal hell, together, miraculously still alive to speak of it. Though I wondered if we'd ever speak of it again. I wanted to forget everything but the feel of his arms holding me as the sensation made life bearable.
Jonathon just held me until it was inappropriate for him to be in the same room with me any longer. It was only a mere hour or so before dawn. Lavinia and Nathaniel were curled up somewhere, recovering on their own time and terms.
At some point sleep claimed me until I was roused by something bright and cold hovering at the foot of the guest room bed.
Maggie floated before me.
I couldn't be sure if it was real or a dream, but I was very glad to see her spirit, in whatever way it wished to see me.
"Hello, my friend," I whispered. The tears came again. "I don't deserve you."
"Me?" Maggie scoffed. "The friend that almost had you killed back in
Of course you did. You do. This was
my penance, Natalie." New York
"It was, Natalie. It was foretold. Your mother has been very kind to me. She's been showing me the ways of this place, this in-between area where I'm still watching the world but above it. The Angel Walk, she calls it, as she fancies herself your guardian angel."
"She is," I stammered through my tears.
"There are two walks," Maggie's ghost said excitedly. "The angels walk a path. And so do the devils. That's the path the Society was trying to carve open. From here you can see where things have come and where things may go. One life to the next, one body, one soul to the next… So many possibilities." Her voice was filled with a beautiful wonderment. "When you and I meet again someday, I'd like to think we will be better friends."
"We will be," I said through renewed tears. She was staring at me with such calm, such care, such love, the sort of warmth I always imagined an angel or Jesus might look upon me with, a look that knew of terrible suffering, temptation, and pain but chose to stare lovingly instead. "I promise you. If whatever or whoever I am is too blind to see the woman you're capable of being, shake me out of it."
"I think you'll know, next time," Maggie said. "If there's such a thing as past lives, well, we will have learned in the next one."
"We are imperfect creatures down here, Maggie. I'm sure things look so much different up there."
"Perspective." She said, bobbing slightly in the air. "Don't lose yours. There may be storms yet ahead, who knows. You have people who need you."
"We all needed you."
Her grayscale form smiled. "It was nice to be needed for once."
"You were never not needed, we—"
Maggie held up a ghostly hand to shut me up. "Stay safe, Natalie Stewart. Take care of that lord of yours."
"I promise I will. If you can visit again... I hope you will."
Maggie shrugged. "I don't know... I've a lot of exploring to do."
"Evelyn will want to see you. Your aunt is devastated."
"In time." Maggie shrugged. "When she's ready, she'll see me. We see what we need to see when we can best handle it, whether it feels like it or not. I've a letter for you, back in
. It will
explain everything." New York
"Thank you." I reached out to the chill air before me. "Truly. I owe you so much more than that, but—"
"You're welcome," Maggie said, waving a ghostly hand as if it were nothing. When it had been everything. "Truly."
And she vanished.
And she vanished.
(End of Chapter 27 - Copyright 2013 Leanna Renee Hieber, The Magic Most Foul saga. For chapters 28 and 29, The Double Life of Incorporate Things is now available on Kindle and in paperback! (Nook / Barnes and Noble editions forthcoming). If you're not caught up on the series, pick up a copy of Magic Most Foul books 1 and 2: Darker Still and the sequel: The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart
Join us next Tuesday for Leanna's Teaser Tuesdays! Cheers and happy haunting!