Title: Entertaining Angels (part 1 of 3)
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Permission to Archive: Please request the author's consent.
Characters: The Foggs, Jules, and Passepartout.
Summary: Not every lost soul who wanders the earth on All Hallows Eve is dead… yet.
Disclaimer: Jules and company, and everything that goes with them, belong to Talisman Crest.
Notes: This is very much a Halloween ghost story. I originally wrote it in the spring of 2003 for fanzine publication, but after more than a year of gathering dust in my files, I decided that its time had come. I dedicate it to the memory of Loralee, who to my regret never had the chance to read this story, but who encouraged me greatly in its writing.
The air was bitterly cold, the sunlight on the snow a blinding brilliance. All else faded into that whiteness except the distant sound of rushing water, the frighteningly nearer shouts of searching men… and the hand clutched in his desperate grip.
You have to let go…
With a sudden gasp, Jules Verne started awake, every muscle in his body still rigid with the sensation of falling.
If the shouting from the downstairs sitting-room was any indication, Rebecca Fogg had returned from her latest mission for the British Secret Service.
Rubbing his eyes with his fists, Jules stumbled wearily down the staircase of Phileas Fogg's house in London. For the last several days, he had been a weak and unprotesting charity case; the Foggs had brought him here to recuperate, after a bout of yellow fever which he had contracted in his travels with them. Under the vigilant care of Fogg's valet, Jean Passepartout, the penniless young student was sure to have all the nourishing food and rest and warmth he needed to swiftly regain his health.
At the moment, however, he suspected he would as quickly recover in his own drafty garrett on a diet of bread and water.
"Rebecca, it wasn't your bloody responsibility!" That was quite distinctly the voice of Phileas, assuming a particularly high pitch of anger. "Preston was head of the mission—it should have been for Preston to get his men out of there!"
"You perfectly well know Preston isn't competent for that sort of action!" Rebecca's voice now, every bit as sharp as her cousin's. "In any case, this was not about Preston. This was about my doing as I was ordered, Phileas!"
The decibel level reached a heated climax as Jules arrived at the sitting-room door, but against his better judgment, he did not turn and march back up to the room kept for him. As he stood mentally debating whether or not to knock, the door burst open—disgorging a gaunt and swift-moving figure which very nearly bowled him over. Phileas Fogg disappeared into the hallway without a single backward glance, and a moment later, the slam of the front door resounded through the house.
Somewhat hesitantly, Jules peered around the doorjamb into the sitting-room.
Rebecca was standing in the middle of the room, hands on her hips, for once looking oddly out of place in her prim blue-velvet dress. It was her expression that did it: she made hellfire and brimstone look beautiful, and absolute terror feel thrilling.
Jules adored her.
Passepartout was hovering in the corner, with a posture that in another man one might have suspected to be cowering. He was the first to notice Jules, and his shell-shocked expression instantly gave way to a look of concern as he rushed forward. "Mister Jules!"
"Welcome home, Rebecca," Jules murmured awkwardly. Under the circumstances, it sounded perfectly ridiculous.
"Oh, Jules." Rebecca's hands dropped away from her hips, and she stepped toward him, her expression suddenly transformed by contrition. "We disturbed you. I'm sorry. Were you asleep?"
"It wasn't you that woke me up." The young writer once again rubbed his eyes, the shadows beneath them a mute testament to physical exhaustion.
Rebecca's own eyes darkened. "Your dreams again?"
Jules nodded reluctantly. The visions that had long haunted his sleep had grown worse since his illness, allowing him little rest as he was increasingly awakened by vague terrors. By now, he had almost reached the point of asking Passepartout to concoct something to help him sleep.
Almost, but not quite.
"You will feeling better after you having the good supper," Passepartout said solicitously, resorting to his ubiquitous serving-cart to prepare a cup of coffee.
"Thanks, but I'm not hungry." Jules trudged over to the high-backed sofa and sank down onto it, looking up at Rebecca. "What was Fogg so upset about?"
"He was simply being pig-headed about my latest job," Rebecca replied crisply, and there was evasion in her tone of voice. Crossing the room to sit in the chair facing him, she bluntly changed the subject. "What about this dream of yours?"
As with a nod of thanks he accepted a cup of coffee from Passepartout, Jules gave a tired shrug. "I think I was somewhere in the mountains. I couldn't see much, because of the glare on the snow… but there were people chasing me. That didn't matter, though, because I was trying to hold onto someone at the edge of a cliff… Rebecca, what's wrong?"
While Jules was speaking, Rebecca's face had turned ashen. She shook her head, a troubled hesitation filling the silence that preceded her reply.
"Jules, what you just described… it's what happened when my cousin Erasmus died."
A jolt as of electricity shot through Jules. He had known that Erasmus Fogg was killed on a disastrous mission for the Secret Service, but neither Rebecca nor Phileas had ever told him exactly what happened, and he knew it was too painful a subject to pry into. Phileas had been there; had tried, and failed, to save the life of his younger brother.
How could Jules have seen it in a dream?
…Yet the dream was different, and even worse, than the reality.
"But that's not the way it ended in my dream," Jules murmured, shivering as he stared blankly into the depths of that terrifying vision. "I wouldn't let go. We both fell."
"Phileas didn't let go, Jules. It was Erasmus who did." Rebecca looked away, folding her hands in her lap. As she continued, her quiet voice could not have been more changed from the angry shouts she had last exchanged with her cousin.
"But Phileas, even to this day… never has let go."
The streets of London seemed unnaturally quiet for an autumn evening, the shadows of every doorway a little bit deeper. There was a sense of darkness and mystery in the air; this was All Hallows Eve. Once a Catholic holy day built on Celtic rituals, now an obscure observance left to rugged Irish countrysides and superstitious immigrants—yet it had always held a certain fascination for Phileas Fogg.
One ancient Celtic myth held that on All Hallows Eve, the spirit world was free to intertwine with that of the living. In some half-realized part of his mind, Phileas found it a somehow appealing notion that on one night of the year, the souls of the dead were close by.
Well… some of the dead, at least.
The occasion went largely unremarked in the bustling, modernized heart of London, yet here and there on a stoop or a windowsill, a candle guttered within a hollowed-out turnip. Phileas still recalled the legend of the Jack's-lantern, as told to him in his childhood by the Irish servants of Shillingworth Magna. In life, the "Jack" of the tale was a notorious drunkard and prankster who played a trick upon the Devil; in death he was denied entrance to both Heaven and Hell, the Devil giving him only a single ember to light his way in the darkness.
Phileas had often felt a certain kinship with that ill-fated soul.
Whenever you're not around… there is no light.
Rebecca was impossible. Simply, utterly impossible. On her latest mission, she had taken too many risks, nearly compromising herself to salvage someone else's bungled operation. Agent Preston was thoroughly incompetent, in the true Chatsworth mold—but he'd had the resources to solve his own dilemma, if not the brains. Rebecca need not have been endangered.
Orders, indeed. Sir Jonathan Chatsworth's orders, of course. If the man ordered her to hurl herself from the roof of Whitehall, Phileas had no doubt but that she would do it.
Had she not watched him count the cost that orders had exacted upon him?
Phileas abruptly stopped walking and breathed deeply, surveying his surroundings. His brisk and heedless pace had carried him some distance from Saville Row, into darker and narrower streets.
What was done was done, and there was no point shouting about it now. He always came round to that, even if the next time he would end up shouting again anyway.
The next time…
Please God, let there be a next time.
Meanwhile, there was absolutely no way he could preserve his dignity if he crept back into the house so much as one minute before an hour had passed. There was proper custom to be observed in fits of temper, as with everything else.
A sudden gust of wind cut like a knife down the narrow street, and Phileas shivered, wishing he had not been too angry to snatch up his overcoat as he left. He sighed and reached for his pocketwatch.
A terrific blow smashed into his left ribs from behind, and the world spun away as he fell crashing into the darkness of a trash-littered alley.
Instinctively Phileas swung out at the dark shape looming over him. His right fist connected firmly with flesh and bone, eliciting a grunt from his assailant, but his left went wide as an unexpected red fire of pain blossomed along his side—red fire that turned white as his ribs sustained another blow. A kick, this time. Shouldn't have been enough to stop Phileas… but it did.
The white fire mingled with a black ache in his head, and as he courted unconsciousness, Phileas knew he had suffered more damage than an unskilled pair of fists should have caused. He felt the spreading warmth of blood—and he knew.
The first blow had been struck by something very, very sharp.
Rough hands were groping over his inert form, dragging greedily at his pockets. He felt the chain of his pocketwatch being snapped loose.
Alright, then, Phileas thought dimly. Have anything except…
Clawlike fingers seized his wrist, prying away his golden bracelet.
Phileas surged upward with a sudden, raging force. His right fist landed solidly. With a muffled oath, his attacker flailed backward—but before Phileas could summon the strength for an offensive strike, another brutal kick landed against his side.
As he crumpled to the hard uneven bricks, Phileas heard fleeing footsteps; but he saw only the white fire, felt its heat transmuted to searing cold…
"For God's sake, shut the door, Erasmus. It's freezing out there. Anyway, I still think you're out of your mind."
With a cavalier shrug, Erasmus Fogg turned from the bleak white landscape outside the hunting shack, shutting the door behind him. He was smiling, as he shambled across the dirt floor to the rough wooden table and sat down, and his eyes were ridiculously dreamy as he dangled his new trinket before them. The gold locket sparkled in the light of the fire from the makeshift hearth.
It was so typically Erasmus, Phileas thought with exasperation. Here they were, camping out in a hovel somewhere on the side of a desolate snowbound waste of a Prussian mountain, hours away from a vital rendezvous with a double agent—and Erasmus had decided it was time to discuss family issues.
With a frustrated sigh, Phileas rose from the fireside and stalked over to the table, leaning across it to stare firmly at Erasmus. "I'm serious, Ras. You can't go through with it."
His brother pointedly ignored him, continuing to admire the skilled craftsmanship of the locket. Without Phileas' knowledge, he had purchased it from a goldsmith in the village at the foot of the mountain, intent upon making a gift of it to the woman he was convinced he was in love with.
"Why not?" The younger Fogg looked up at Phileas, an abrupt demand in his expression and voice. "Phil, I love Rebecca. In fact, when we're home from this mission… I intend to ask her to marry me."
"Oh, good Lord…"
"What? You had no complaints when I asked her before."
"Ras, on that particular occasion, you were spectacularly drunk. You know as well as I do that Rebecca didn't take you seriously." Phileas sat down across from Erasmus. "Listen to me. If you do this… it will only cause a great deal of harm."
Erasmus stared at him blankly for a long moment. Then, slowly, an odd smile flitted across his boyish face.
"I think you're jealous, Phil."
"I am not—" Phileas began, only to cut himself off sharply. He paused, sighed, and drew a deep breath. Now, of all times, was a horrible occasion to trample his brother's feelings—but Erasmus was not giving him any way around it.
"Rebecca… doesn't share your feelings," he said quietly.
The smile was gone instantly from Erasmus' face. He sat for a long moment in stony silence, and Phileas could feel the storm brewing. That was the way of it with Foggs.
"How should you know?" Erasmus jerked suddenly to his feet. "You haven't spent half the time with her that I have, Phileas. You don't know her at all. How could you be the judge of what she feels or doesn't feel about me?"
There was truth in that, as far as it went. Erasmus was, and had always been, closer than Phileas to their cousin Rebecca. They were two of a kind: hot-tempered, recklessly adventurous, indifferent to the accepted ideas about what was decent and proper in English society. No one, Phileas included, treated Rebecca the way Erasmus did, and for that she loved him—as an equal and a friend. She wanted nothing more, and in her eyes, to ask her hand in marriage would be asking her to become something less.
It was because Phileas stood removed from that friendship between his brother and cousin that he could see clearly the way Rebecca felt.
Slowly rising as well, Phileas spoke gently. "I simply know, Ras."
"It's no affair of yours!"
"Watching over my family is my affair. Seeing that you don't make a very foolish mistake is my affair." Resolutely Phileas reached out and took away the locket, its delicate gold chain slipping from the grasp of Erasmus' tightened fist. "I'm not going to see you destroy your friendship with Rebecca. She adores you, Ras… but not that way."
For a long moment his brother stared at him, shock and anger etched into that ruddy youthful face which was so much more suited to cheerfulness and laughter. Then, with a sharp huff of breath, he turned away and folded his arms.
Phileas closed his eyes in a moment of silent heartache. Then he tucked away the locket beneath his coat, and took out his pocketwatch.
"We have to start moving if we're to reach the rendezvous point in time," he announced, turning to douse the fire on the hearth. "Come on."
Not without some reluctance, personal tension gave way to official obedience. Erasmus slowly turned and preceded Phileas out the door of the hunting shack, trudging off into the diamond-bright snow. With a final sigh, the elder Fogg shook his head and followed.
Half a dozen paces into that cold whiteness, two gunshots ripped the air.
As many times as that moment played itself out in his memory in the years to come, Phileas would never determine whether he first heard the sound, or felt the heavy blow that knocked the breath from his lungs. He dropped to the frozen ground, calculated thought giving way to raw instinct.
Uphill of the hunting shack, two dark figures moved between the leafless trees. Prussian marksmen, closing in to confirm the kill; human wolves drawn to the scent of blood.
Phileas drew a breath, and drew his pistol, feeling the bitter cold of that forsaken place gather squarely within his soul.
He repaid two bullets for theirs, and the marksmen moved no more.
The word, and all of its monstrous implications, pounded in Phileas' mind. Yet the danger was immediate; he pushed away thoughts of the cause for a later reckoning. Allotting himself two seconds to gasp for breath, he clawed at the ache in his chest. His fingers closed over the locket and brought it up, to find the remains of a bullet sunk deep into its gilded surface—a bullet that had been meant for his heart.
Erasmus, with his youthful conviction of his own immortality, should have long since popped up out of the snow with some flippant remark. His heart skipping a beat, Phileas pushed himself halfway to his feet and tumbled over the edge of the snowbank.
Erasmus lay unmoving in a small valley between the white drifts.
Unconsciously Phileas thrust the locket beneath the folds of his coat as he stumbled toward his brother. He had covered half the distance before Erasmus raised his head, his face taut with pain—yet there was something quizzical and surprised, too, about his expression.
He was clutching his stomach, and Phileas could see the bright redness welling up between his fingers.
You see? You're mortal after all, you idiot.
As Phileas reached his side, Erasmus looked up, the bafflement changing to a determination which filled the elder brother's heart with a moment of incredible wonder. He held out his right hand—the one not presently employed in staunching his bleeding. "Help me up."
"You're not going to insist that I go on without you?" The nervous humor was unthinkably perverse, and Phileas could not recognize the strained, hoarse voice as his own.
Erasmus grimaced, a pale shadow of a smile. "Would you?"
The thunder of hoofbeats was rising from farther down the mountain. Ten horses. Fifteen.
"When Hell freezes over," Phileas growled, and put his arm around Erasmus, lifting him to his feet. He closed his eyes to the drops of scarlet dripping onto the snow, and with his brother leaning heavily on his shoulder, they set out to meet their divergent fates: the uncertain, and the final.