This was on Hallow's Eve.
Everything was quiet in Steelhead. I had spent the week asking people around, trying to find Margo December, with no luck.
Tired and hungry, I had decided to find a place to spend the night, as it was getting dark. I would resume my quest later. I approached the entrance of the tunnels, not far from the city centre, thinking it would make a good hideout to sleep quietly.
The tunnels were looking quite dark and eerie in the night, and I hesitated.
A sound resonated in the silence, like the cry of an owl, startling me. I was ready to turn back and head towards the deserted city centre, when a huge fireball of flame lit up the entrance of the tunnel, splashing up and around the arch, like a firebomb going off. Blown away by the explosion, I fell on the side, in the grass.
The flames were already flickering away, but the atmosphere was filled with smoke, rising from the ground, and between two fits of cough, I spotted a smothered shape at the tunnel entrance.
"What... what was that?" I stuttered, while squinting to distinguish the tunnel entrance.
Slowly, the smoke cleared out, to reveal a short human shape, dressed in urchin clothes and wearing a big bakerboy hat. As he stepped forward towards me, I noticed his bare feet, and, looking up to his face, I recognized the black mask with a pointy beak that was covering it.
My heart missed a beat.
I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Him? Him! Right in front of me!
"T... T..." I hiccuped.
"Are you ok?" asked the boy. "What you doing in the mud?"
Suddenly, all the feelings that had been building up during those last two years exploded inside me and I ran to him to hug him, shouting his name.
"Hey wotchit!!'" he screamed, as I was smothering him. "You missed me then?"
My eyes were blurred with happy tears. I stepped back from him but still holding onto his arm to make sure he would not disappear again.
"Not a bit, you idiot!", I replied, sweeping away the humidity in my eyes with the back of my free hand. "How on Earth is that possible???? How are you here???"
Triky stepped back, his cheeky grin changing to a smile of thoughtful adult demeanor.
"I dont know, I... She... All I know is that I'm allowed one hour with you. A gift... I guess it's important somehow."
"One hour?" I repeated, arching an eyebrow. "That's not much!" I glanced at him, suddenly concerned. "Do you mean that you are a kind of... ghost?"
But Tricky was already darting off towards the town centre, giggling. He turned to shout back: "I GUESS THAT'S WHY THEY CALL IT THE WITCHING HOUR!"
"Dammit!" I muttered before running after him as fast as I could. "WAIT FOR ME!!!"
"COME ON I WONNA BURN SOMETHING!" he shouted back.
I couldn't help a smirk, remembering all the things that had been burnt in the past when Triky was around.
We spent the next half hour running around town, me mostly trying to stop him from burning stuff, and laughing as he was knocking on doors before running away, but in the end, we somehow found ourselves near the watermill and decided to take a break and sit by the riverside.
The moon was out and full, lighting up the river side in silver light.
I put a hand on Triky's shoulder and gave him a serious look. "Now we need to talk."
"Talk?", he replied, "What about? Arnt you having fun? Did you see the look on that guy's face when his cat ran in with its tail on fire... PFFT hahaha... i crack myself up."
I couldn't help smiling at the thought, but tried to recompose my serious face. "That was very funny and we had a really great time, but time alas is going quickly and you will soon disappear again... I would like you to tell me what you remember, what happened before you met me in front of this tunnel. You were saying "she" gave you one hour back here. Do you know who that is?"
" Oh man, ..." sighed Triky..."I dunno, it was just a feeling. I just woke up and that's the feeling i had."
I stayed quiet a few moments, to observe him closely, before asking :
"There is something else... Triky, do you remember Willard Steamweaver?"
Triky reacted at once : "But that's my name, how did you know my name?"
"Because I met you when you were an old man." I explained.
" No one calls me Willard, thats a duffuss name", he stated.
"I couldn't agree more", I nodded.
Triky frowned slightly : "Myrtil you are being strange, what's wrong with you?"
I sighed. "I would like to just play all day like you, but my friends' lives are in danger. The whole of Babbage town is in danger. And I think you could stop that, just by telling me something, but I don't know what..."
Triky paused for a moment. "This is like a dream, I'm not dreaming am I, you say I'm a ghost?"
I tilted my head , looking at him sadly, before slowly nodding. "Yes, I think you are... You must be... "
"Two years ago, you see", I continued quietly, "Willard, your other half, came back from the moon and found you. You were reunited, and you died together... I thought I would never see you again..."
"This is Hallow's Eve, and here you are, but just for one hour..." I finished, my voice trembling.
"I dont remember" said Triky softly, "but now I feel something else...I miss you, and I miss other people. I can't remember them but I miss them so much... I didn't want to go... but I had to?"
I shook my head : "No, no you didn't want to go and I don't think you HAD to! This Willard, HE wanted to die, and the only way he had to was to take you with him..."
I tried to fight back the need to cry again. "Everyone misses you Triky. I miss you every day. Every day I regret not having managed to stop that..."
"Everything has its time and place", said Tricky with a half cocked smile. "Don't be upset for me, where ever it is that I am... It feels nice, I don't feel alone."
I looked up at him, trying to find out what he was really thinking. "I... just wish it didn't happen, I don't know why it had to..."
I could not fight it any longer and started to sob silently, my shoulders going up and down, uncontrollably : "It is just so hard to lose a friend..."
I let those words die in the silence of the night.
"But..." I tried to smile, wiping my tears with the back of my hand. "But I am happy if you feel nice where you are. Just never forget that you will never be alone."
Triky smiled. "Dont be sad Myrtil, you can't change the past because the truth is you live now, right now, and right now today you and I, we had fun, because when we are together we have fun, and everytime we ever meet, we will have fun. And in the future we will have fun and burn stuff, that's if we meet in the future, because I don't know if where I am now future exists, it's all a dream to me Myrtil, it's all a dream."
As he was talking, the meaning of his words was slowly penetrating my mind, and starting to lift me out of my sadness.
I smiled back to him spontaneously and nodded softly: "You are right Triky, we will always have fun, wherever, whenever... Everytime you are here. And I am sure I will see you again, even if it is in a dream."
Triky paused, suddenly looking distant. "My time now is almost over... I can feel her."
I put a hand on his shoulder in reflex, as if to keep him back from "her".
"Wait, let me see if..." Triky lifted his hand up to his face. And for the first time, he removed his mask.
His face was very pale, with rose red lips, a small round button nose between two pitch black eyes, from within which sparkled the brightest unnatural light.
Triky leaned close to my face, innocently peering into my eyes before whispering "Look."
My own eyes widened and it was as if I was under a spell, unable to move away from his look.
As I was looking deep into Triky's eyes, my gaze went further than I ever thought possible. I felt strange, but calm, while traveling into his eyes, from the darkness towards the light. The closer I got, the brighter the light was, until it broke up into smaller globes of light. My gaze traveled closer and closer to one of the globes, to the point where I could see within the floating ball of light, what looked like a small unborn child. All around me were other globes of light, and an overall sense of calm. A sense of female compassion.
I felt like all sadness and angst had vanished, to be replaced by serenity.
Then I heard his voice surrounding me. Triky's voice, soft and loving :
"There is a time and a place for everything Myrtil, but you still got choices, the future is not set in stone."
And with a gasp, the lights lifted and I found myself alone by the river side.
I stayed sitting there for a while, thinking about it all, over and over. I knew those globes of light, I had seen them before. I smiled to the moon. After two years of confused mourning, I had eventually seen Triky again. I had been able to tell him how much I missed him, how guilty I felt for not preventing what had happened. And he had brought peace in my heart at last.
Finally rising up on my feet, I walked towards the tree my pigeon had elected as a temporary home and called softly, waking the bird from his sleep : "I have a job for you, Bob."
Dipping into my pocket, my hand found a piece of paper and a small pencil, and I scribbled a few words before rolling the paper into a really tiny tube. The pigeon stepped onto my open palm, and I installed the roll of parchment inside the small metal canister attached to his leg. "Here, bring that to the others!"
Bob took off and my eyes followed his little silhouette, growing smaller and smaller against the full moon.
I smiled again.
Tomorrow at dawn, the first airship departing for New Babbage will have a stowaway.