Epilogue [Bad Spirits]
Marina stood knee-deep in the snow, watching Ilya’s ghost brush the snow from his corpse. She watched the look of shock come over the apparition’s face. She’d hoped that, with Timmo gone, she’d been done dealing with monsters and spirits.
But Ilya had apparently followed them home. It had taken weeks for her to realize that the strange force knocking things over, occasionally blocking her doorway or even trapping her places, was actually a thing. It had taken her longer to see Ilya’s face, and longer still to hear the spirit speak – a whisper that she could only hear because she was listening for it.
He hadn’t realized he was a spirit, of course. He’d thought he was well and truly alive, thought that he was still there with them. So of course the only logical action had been to trek out into the tundra and show him the very place he’d been shot to death by his lover.
It all came crashing back in a moment or two, and the spirit whirled on her. She shook her head. “This is where you died,” she said, the bitter wind stinging her eyes.
The spirit shook his head and tried to tell her something. She bowed her head and wiped the tears away. She took a deep, sobering breath, then lifted her head again. She wrapped her hands around the spirit’s wrists. “You can see it now,” she said, “you’re dead.”
It studied her for a moment or two. She felt her lips quiver. “So please,” she whispered. “Go now. You don’t belong here anymore.”
It wanted to say something more, but its voice had become nothing more than a hiss. Already, it felt a little less solid beneath her grip. It was disintegrating.
Ilya was leaving her.
She nodded to encourage it. “Go,” she said. “It’s only right.”
It tried to cling to her for a moment longer, and then, the wind gusted and it was gone.
She took a deep breath in, what felt like the first full breath she’d had in months, and then she exhaled again, the arctic air burning through her lungs, reminding her she was still very much alive.
Ilya opened his eyes to bright sunlight. He blinked once, twice, and then he turned to his side. Beside him, cradled in the thick summer grasses, Timmo slept. Ilya contemplated him for a moment, then slowly sat up.
“Hello,” Mathilda said.
Ilya wanted to start; he wanted to be surprised she was there. He wanted to be angry, resentful. But there was nothing inside him, just a strange complacency.
He held a hand to his chest. “Am … I dead?” he asked.
“This time, yes,” Mathilda replied.
Timmo stirred, then rolled to his side, soothing back into a deeper sleep. They watched him, then shared a knowing look.
Mathilda shut her eyes and folded her hands in her lap. “There is nothing here,” she said serenely. She sighed, almost wistfully. “There is a memory, vague and fleeting, of a feeling, of desperate want, of needing to have him. But … when I look upon him now …”
She was silent, studying Timmo’s sleeping form.
“There is nothing,” she said.
Ilya’s eyes raked over Timmo. “I know what you mean,” he said. And he felt nothing for her either. He wanted to be angry about what she’d done to Timmo in life. He wanted her to be angry that he’d shot and killed her. But there was nothing. All of that seemed terribly inconsequential now, here in the meadow of eternal summer, on the cusp of life and death.
Timmo stirred again, then opened his eyes and slowly sat up. He looked around. “Where am I?” he asked, eyes scanning the vaulting sky.
“This is Death,” Ilya said, echoing words Mathilda had said to him in a past that felt both long ago and very recent.
Timmo blinked. “Death,” he said, as though contemplating it. He turned to face them. “I feel like I’ve woken up from a nightmare.”
A smile curled around Mathilda’s lips. “Perhaps you have,” she said.
He stared at her for a moment, then said, “I don’t hate you any more.”
“Death has that effect on people,” she said lightly.
He looked to Ilya. “I … you …”
“I feel nothing either,” Ilya said.
Timmo made a motion to breathe, then realized he didn’t need to. He faced Ilya again. “You feel nothing?” he asked.
Ilya shook his head. “Not a thing,” he said.
“I do,” Timmo almost growled, then leaned over and dragged him down into a furious kiss, and something ignited in Ilya, something like a fire and it burned them up together, hands clasping and scrabbling at each other, and they definitely needed to relearn how to breathe.
And then Timmo pulled back, wiping at his lips, and Ilya stared at him, panting, eyes wide.
“Well,” Mathilda said, raising an eyebrow.
“I think,” Ilya managed, “I might feel something.”
“Good,” Timmo almost purred, that salicious smirk overtaking his features. “Very good.”
He sat back, looking up to the sky. His knuckles brushed against Ilya’s. “I think,” he said after a very long moment, “I think we have finally found a place we can just be.”
And Ilya sat there for a longer moment, watching Timmo, the wind playing in his hair, his eyes bright in the eternal summer sunshine, his smile finally soft and true, and he felt it too, felt it in his bones.
In death, they could finally learn to be.
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