Authors: James Bow
Rosemary/Marjorie struggled, but the metal bonds held her fast. Her eyes tracked up and she saw a metal slab, descending fast.
Her scream was cut off by the clang of metal against metal and a hiss of steam.
All was black. She couldn’t move.
, thought Marjorie.
But how can I still be alive if I’ve been flattened? I can’t feel my heartbeat. I can’t breathe. I don’t feel the need to breathe. Am I dead? But why am I still here?
A moment later, the metal press pulled away. Rosemary/Marjorie stared after it; she could do nothing but stare after it. Her eyes wouldn’t move. She could see her reflection in the metal of the press. Her body and her clothes were white. She was part of the marble.
Grapples descended. They hoisted the slab into the air and carried it through the Hall of the Machine. The windows and the detail of the walls passed in front of her vision, followed by the blank faces of the stone slabs as she entered the Hall of Stability.
They placed her by the wall at the end of the hall. The grapples left, and silence fell.
She tried to move, but there was no part of her that she could move. Not even the sound of her blood rushed in her ears.
Oh my God!
Her thoughts bounced through her head.
I’ll be like this forever. Fixed in place forever! What can I do if my heart won’t even beat?
Her gaze was fixed forward. It fell upon two stone slabs, one holding a boy her age, the other an older teenager.
Andrew and John. Of course, they were the last to be processed. The Machine would place them together at the end of the hall and her along with them.
she cried out silently.
John! What do I do? What do we do? It can’t end like this! It can’t!
Then she heard a whisper in her head.
“Quiet your thoughts,” said the Machine. “You are disturbing the sleep of others around you.”
Others can hear me?
She listened. After a while, below the surface of sound, she could hear whispering as though through a closed door.
her thought went out.
Can somebody help me? Can somebody get me out?
Get us out!
came a voice at the edge of conscious thought. Other voices murmured in agreement.
The voice of the Machine grew dark. “You are here now. You have been preserved. So you shall remain for all eternity. Nothing you can do will change that.”
I can’t move!
a thought protested.
Let me out!
I’m going crazy! I want out!
“Quiet your thoughts,” said the Machine. “You cannot get out. You have been preserved for so long that to free you would turn you to dust. I am the only thing between your civilization and dust.”
What about me?
What about Andrew and John? We only arrived yesterday.
The Machine did not answer for a moment. Finally it said, “You cannot get out.”
I can be free,
You wouldn’t try to talk me out of trying if there wasn’t any hope of it. There’s still hope for me, and for Andrew and John. We can be free! I want us to be free!
“What hope do you have?” whispered the voice of the Machine. “Quiet your thoughts. Cease your struggle.”
I want to be free!
“You have no hope.”
I want to be free!
“You cannot get out.”
I want to be free!
“Escape is impossible.”
Nothing is impossible
, thought Rosemary, her thoughts cutting across Marjorie’s panic.
I thought saving Theo was impossible, but it happened. It was the sixth impossible thing I gave to the Ferryman. Anything can happen in the Land of Fiction. Perhaps I can get out of this. Please, God, I hope I can get out of this!
Hope warmed her heart, and at that moment, Rosemary/Marjorie’s heart began to beat.
It was painful, at first. The flesh struck against her stone lungs, and she couldn’t even draw breath to cry out, but gradually warmth spread through her chest, as the stone softened and turned back to flesh. The white of Rosemary/Marjorie’s cheeks flushed slowly to pink.
Her throat cleared and she pulled in her first breath with a gasp. Pupils reappeared in her eyes, and she could blink tears into them.
Her skin regained its pink, her clothes their bright colours. She broke from the stone that held her in place. Her muscles stiff, she fell onto the floor.
Marjorie got up, separating from Rosemary, and ran to the slabs holding her brother and her friend.
“Andrew! John!” she cried. “I made it out! You have to hope!” She jumped up and down into their field of vision. “The Machine takes away all hope. You have to hope to get free. Andrew, John, look at me! I’m free. You can be free too, just as long as you keep hope!”
Pink began to touch Andrew’s checks. The pupils reappeared in John’s eyes. Marjorie danced in relief.
Then Andrew and John fell from their slabs and lay limp on the floor. Marjorie rushed over to them. Soon they were on their feet, babbling and hugging each other.
A sigh rushed through the Hall of Stability. Far away, the Machine groaned. Cracks appeared in the walls and leapt and jumped across the floors and ceilings. Cracks appeared in the slabs around them and the stones started to crumble to dust. Rosemary was sure she saw one man smile and wink at her before he disappeared.
“You saved us, Marjorie!” John cried.
Andrew pushed them away from a stream of falling stone. “We’ve got to get out of here.”
“You two go. I’ll follow you.”
The two boys hesitated, but one look at Marjorie made them step back and concentrate. They disappeared from the planet.
Marjorie turned and helped Rosemary to her feet.
“Thank you,” said Marjorie, all trace of malice gone from her voice. “I think you saved me in more ways than one.”
Rosemary smiled. “You’re welcome.”
“I didn’t like playing the villain,” said Marjorie. “All that hate and anger.” She shuddered.
“You would have lost, too.” Rosemary’s voice was light. “The villains always lose.”
“But sometimes. Life’s full of happy endings.”
“Listen ...” Marjorie faltered, her smile sheepish and nervous. “I know I haven’t given you any reason to help me, but ... I only just met Andrew, and ... well, he’s nice and ...” She gave Rosemary a shy smile. “I think there’s a sequel.”
Rosemary hugged her. “I’ll read it. I promise.”
Marjorie stepped back. With a final smile, she concentrated, and then vanished.
The floor began to shake. Rosemary ducked as a piece of masonry fell. Gaps appeared in the walls and she could see the sky. It seemed to be on fire. “Um ... Can somebody give me instructions on how to travel at the speed of thought? Hello?”
The shaking intensified. The rising dust began to claw at her lungs. She coughed.
Then Puck appeared before her, smiling broadly even as the columns collapsed.
He took her hand and together they ran through the Hall of Stability, leaping nimbly over the fallen stones. Outside, a thousand
s fell from the sky.
Puck turned into an eagle. Holding onto his wing as she had his hand, Rosemary felt herself soaring up into the air. Beneath her, the city of marble and chrome was crumbling into dust.
A part of her thought that this wasn’t right. She was barely touching Puck’s wing. It was though she were rising in the air currents by herself. She looked at Puck.
“Do not question,” he said. “Enjoy.”
They rose higher and higher, until the sky lost its blue and turned black, and stars came out. The air thinned. Rosemary was dizzy, but she didn’t care. Blackness was creeping into her vision, but instead of falling unconscious, she felt as though she were waking up.
Puck’s voice whispered in her ear. “Farewell, my brave Sage Rosemary.”
Rosemary opened her eyes. She was in her living room, surrounded by pillows. Her family were around her, cheering.
Theo enveloped her in a tight hug. “Rosie, you saved me!”
Rosemary’s mother hugged them both. “You did it!”
“You made it out!” exclaimed Peter. “Rosemary, I don’t —” He cut himself off. Then, smiling to himself, he slipped out of the throng to the front door, pulled on his boots and coat, and slipped outside.
Trisha was bouncing up and down and hugging everybody she could. “My sister’s a hero!”
Tears ran down Rosemary’s cheeks. “I’m sorry, Mom! I’m sorry, Theo! It was all my fault.”
“Don’t you dare say that,” said Mrs. Watson. “You’re okay now, and that’s all that matters.”
Rosemary looked at Theo. “A happy ending!” She hugged him.
Theo squeezed her.
Then it was a flurry of more hugs and thank yous and Shamus licking Rosemary’s face ...
Suddenly, Rosemary frowned. “Where’s Peter?”
They looked around. Peter was gone.
Rosemary jumped up and ran to the front door. She darted outside.
Peter was in his boots and jacket. He was trudging down the front walk.
“Wait!” called Rosemary, standing on the porch. Peter stopped. After a moment, he turned. He stood with his hands in his pockets.
Rosemary came down the porch steps and walked up to him. They stood staring at each other, breath fogging. The silence lengthened uncomfortably. Then, both at once, they hugged each other.
“Thank you,” said Rosemary at last.
“Any time,” said Peter. “Well, not any time. I don’t want to do that again, but —”
She cut him off. “Listen. Have you got plans this Christmas?”
Peter shrugged. “My uncle’s buying a special turkey TV dinner.”
Rosemary laughed. She looked at him. “How does a
turkey dinner sound? My parents always have a big dinner on Christmas Day. Perhaps you and your uncle can come along, around five?”
“Did your parents say it was okay?”
“They will. I’ll make sure of that.”
Peter smiled uncertainly.
The silence stretched uncomfortably again.
“I’d better get back in,” said Rosemary. “It’s freezing.”
“I’ll see you later, Sage.”
“Just don’t call me that in front of anybody else.”
They hugged once more, and then Peter turned and trudged up the country road.
As Rosemary watched him go, she muttered, “I wonder what the next book brings.” She smiled and
went inside. The living room was empty. Everybody was in the kitchen, preparing a feast of celebration.
“I’m just going up to my room,” Rosemary called out. She paused by the fiction shelves in the living room and pulled out a book. Then she slipped upstairs and lay on her bed.
She looked at the cover. It showed Marjorie and Andrew creeping up towards a scary old house. Their expressions were nervous, but determined.
Rosemary opened the book, and then frowned and looked at her right palm. There was a stain in the centre of it, like a birthmark, but blue-black like the ink from the sea. It hadn’t been there before. She rubbed at it, but it wouldn’t come off.
Maybe it would never come off.
She shrugged and returned to her book.