EPILOGUE FOUR

Chapter

18

You wake up.

JOHN: wh-what?

You open your eyes. Actually, you’re not sure they’re open. Everything is intolerably bright, like it was inside the juju, but worse. Did you go blind? Are you dead? Is your... ghost dead?

You spend a couple seconds filing through miserable worst-case scenarios, but then you see it: your own blood, floating around you in a nimbus of shiny, taut bubbles. You reach out to touch one and it bursts around your finger.

You finally process the true magnitude of what has happened. The Furthest Ring has been completely destroyed. And you’re all alone.

Everything hits you all at once. The light, your memories of the battle, the untethered sensation of weightlessness. It’s a hammer stroke that hits you in the center of the head. It splits like rivers through your gray matter. That pain and disorientation goes all the way down your throat. You double over and...

Well, you’re vomiting up everything in your stomach. Rest assured, it’s pretty gross, and I don’t think anyone needs an explicit account of the way you’re disgorging your entire gut in zero gravity or the way it’s coating your entire torso in puke, from your long blue hood to your silly yellow slip-ons.

You seriously need to get it together. You look like absolute shit right now, my man. In fact, you really should strongly consider issuing an apology for the mess you’re making.

JOHN: i’m...

JOHN: i’m sorry.

Who are you talking to, dude? Nobody’s around for miles. Everyone’s dead. Well, almost everyone.

But certainly the vast majority of what qualifies as “everyone” in your current frame of reference. Every single person and every single thing, nearly literally, has been sucked into that monstrous black hole up there. Including every single fragment of black, empty space that used to provide the canvas for this bleak continuum. And most of your friends—Rose, Dave, absurd Cat Dave, and hundreds of ghosts, who all valiantly contributed to a victory which you’re only now beginning to question the functional necessity of.

JOHN: functional... necessity?

JOHN: that... that doesn’t sound like something i would think.

That’s because it’s not.

JOHN: what the fuck...

You’ve finally noticed.

No, not me. You go back to ignoring the fact that I’m the voice in your head. You noticed how it hurts when you breathe. Suddenly you remember: Lord English’s tooth is still embedded in your chest. You panic, wrap your hands around the base, and give it a little tug. It’s excruciating. The tooth makes an awful grating sound as it grinds along one of your ribs. You gasp and lose your grip, biting the inside of your mouth so hard that you taste blood.

Can’t blame you for trying, but I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Without someone to administer proper medical care, you’ll bleed to death pretty much instantly. On the other hand, the tooth is poisoned. So you’re pretty much fucked either way, and that’s really all there is to say on the matter.

JOHN: sigh.

You sigh in painful resignation, and wonder what to do next. English is dead, so you suppose you can go home, right? It’s tempting. You consider zapping back to Earth C, being done with this nightmare for good, and never breathing a word of it to anyone ever again. But you can’t yet, can you?

Why not, you wonder? What’s the harm? You’re right, it would probably be a harmless decision, in the grand scheme of things. Certainly the easiest thing to do. But what about your friends? You saw Rose and Dave die with your own eyes. You saw countless ghosts getting swallowed whole by a voracious singularity. How about Jade though? She could still be out there somewhere, injured, alone, scared. And it’s your fault, isn’t it?

JOHN: it’s...

JOHN: it’s all my fault.

You decide that no matter how terrible you feel, you should look around first before you leave. You were the one who dragged her here. You owe her at least that much. Plus, there’s someone else on your mind, isn’t there?

JOHN: ...

You proceed to wander for a long fucking time. Time passes differently here than it does for everyone else. Here, I’ll simulate it for you. I just left to go take a piss. Then I microwaved myself a hot pocket. Then I came back. In the time it took me to do that, you just spent hours drifting around the entire circumference of the black hole thinking sad-sack thoughts about the years of inaction that led you to this point, intermittently humming the Ghostbusters theme to yourself. You get so worked up about one of your GB freestyles that you almost miss it.

There. Eleven o’clock. Do you see it? It’s that tiny dot floating over there.

JOHN: huh?

You scramble to catch it before it drifts any closer to the event horizon. Got it. What the hell?

It feels familiar, but you want to make sure you’re not imagining it. A wallet. Your dad’s wallet. You chew your lip and press your fingers into the soft leather. Space is an infinitely large expanse and a wallet is a tiny, insignificant object. Sure, there have been crazier coincidences in the course of this wacky adventure you’ve been having for the past ten years, but this one feels very precisely aimed at your heart.

You take a deep breath, unfold the wallet, and open it.

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