Anita began having dreams three days after returning from Indiana. In the dreams, she is walking along the trails at Point State Park with someone she can’t see, but whose presence is a strong comfort to her. The dreams continued for over a week, as the person beside her became slightly more solid each day, as though they were struggling to say something, to be heard. Around day six, she felt a hand intertwined with hers. Again, comforting but also desperate, as though holding onto her lest they be sucked away.
Finally, on day 10, an all-too-familiar voice whispered in her ear: “Hello, Love.”
Anita froze, her wonderful dream suddenly teetering on the brink of a nightmare. She fell back, staggered away, looked, and there he was—still blurry, indistinct, but definitely Alan.
“Can’t…talk…yet,” he said. “A few more nights.”
Anita spent the next week in a semi-stupor, trying desperately not to sleep again, afraid to tell anyone, afraid she was going mad again. It had to just be her subconscious. She’d unraveled him. He didn’t exist anymore. She popped caffeine pills to hide it, but inevitably, the people around her noticed she was even more on edge than usual.
Eventually, as it does, lack of sleep caught up with her, and she slept through a day of work…and there he was.
Again, she was at Point State Park, and he was there. Not holding her hand, this time. Keeping his distance. He was standing in front of the second stage, hands buried in his pockets.
“This is where it happened,” he said. “Where I came to my senses, where I realized what I’d…” his voice broke, and he swallowed, hard. He turned to her, tears in his eyes.
“I can’t express how good it is to see you again, Love,” he said. “But I haven’t much time.”
“You are not here,” Anita breathed. “I unraveled you. You’re not you. You can’t be. What the fuck is going on and what the fuck do you want with me?” She felt her necromantic power welling up inside her, ready to direct it against whatever this thing was. Through it all, though, she could sense it: this was Alan.
A dream, then. It had to just be a dream.
He reached out to her. “If it’s just a dream, then,” he said, “what’s the harm in us walking together one last time, the way we were?”
Anita fought back the lump in her throat and forced herself to see this through. She stepped forward and took his hand. After all, she deserved a gods-damned good dream for a change.
They walked together, and it felt real. He felt real. Warm. Alive.
“I’m not, though,” he said.
She looked at him.
“Alive. I’ve been dead for years, Love.”
“Stop reading my mind,” she said. “It’s god-damned disconcerting.”
He smiled. “Sorry. It’s part of this whole process.”
“What the Hell is this ‘process,’ Alan? Closure for me? Some new kind of torture from the PtB? or Cassilda? Well, I don’t need it. Fuck all of them.” She turned away.
He put his hand on her shoulder, “And now we come to it.”
He gently turned her around. “You didn’t unravel me, Love. That…thing, on Hastur. It wasn’t me.” He gestured to the sky. “They’ve let me come back, just temporarily, to let you know that. Because you’ve earned it.”
“Hold on just one goddamn minute,” Anita said. “If it wasn’t you, who the fuck was it? It was YOU, Alan. He knew everything about you. He FELT like you.”
Alan nodded. “He was good that way. All of her children are. Her heralds.”
“So you’re telling me, someone—something else—what, hijacked your body?”
He shrugged. “After a fashion. I can’t explain it. I’m not omniscient, but I’m telling the truth.”
She looked hard at him. “I…know,” she said. “I don’t want to believe you, but I do.”
“I don’t blame you,” he said. “For what it’s worth, I’m not asking anything. I’ve come back to let you know, because you deserve it. Look, Love. I’ve paid my dues. Paid with my life, and moved on. To a better place.”
She felt a lump in her throat, tears in her eyes, despite herself. “So…it worked? You…redeemed?”
He smirked. “Wasn’t easy. A thousand years of Hell to burn it out of me. But I took it like a man. I really wish I could tell you more, but this is all I’ve got here. You need to know two things. First, you didn’t unravel anything. That…thing that was using my form. It wasn’t human. It can’t BE unraveled. But you did defeat it and you sent it packing. Back to wherever it came from.”
“And where’s that, and do I have to worry about it coming back?”
“I don’t know. Somewhere I can’t go. And no, I don’t think you have to worry about it coming back.”
“And what’s the other thing?”
He smiled. “I love you, Anita. I always have, and I always will. And I’m so very sorry for the Hell I brought down on you and the Rosicrucians and Darrek and Dr. Armedt and Daniel and…the whole bloody city. That’s about as lame as it comes, isn’t it?”
She laughed despite herself. “It’s pretty lame.”
He took a deep, sharp breath. “Well, then,” He said. “I guess that’s about it. Time to be moving on again. Have a good life, my love, and know that you’ve done well. You’ve earned a happy ending for once, and I’m sure you’ll get it…some day.”
“That’s fucking comforting,” she said.
“Supposed to be,” he said, and turned to walk away.