Kate’s eyes couldn’t stand the brightness of the light, but as she closed them she swore she saw white wings where once there were black. When she opened them again, she wasn’t in the church. It took her a moment to adjust, but as she looked about, she was horrified by what she saw.
She felt chains around her body, restraining her against a thick wooden pole and she could already feel the heat of the flames around her feet. Thick smoke drifted up around her and caught in her throat. It made her cough and her eyes stung with it.
There were people watching her. She recognised their faces, knew their names, but at the same time was aware she had never known these people in her own lifetime. She panicked, her eyes pleaded with those people to help her and she cried out in terror. She hadn’t expected it would be like this. But it had to be, this was the point at which she’d died, the act for which she must forgive her father. Her hands pulled at the ropes, chafing the skin of her arms, and just as she was about to scream he came to her.
Ashrafel. Her own guardian angel once more. His aura wrapped around her like a protective bubble. He stood in the flames with her, but they did not touch him. There was no pain, no crackle of burning flesh, no sound at all, except his voice, soothing and comforting her.
“Do you know where you are, Kate?”
“Yes,” she replied. “Back where it started.”
“That’s right. There’s one more thing you have to do. Hurry before it’s too late.”
Kate scanned the faces in the crowd. At first she couldn’t find him, but as she searched further back she saw him, standing alone, almost hidden in the shadow of a tree. He hugged himself as though sick with stomach cramps and cried silent tears for his daughter. He was ashamed at what he’d done, but he knew he couldn’t stop it now and he forced himself to watch as punishment.
“Hurry Kate, there’s not much time.”
Ash’s voice broke through the sleepy feeling that was overcoming Kate. She roused herself, she pitied the man beneath the tree, the man who had been her father. It wasn’t his fault she was going to die either. She smiled at him and his mouth dropped open in shock.
“I forgive you, Father!” she called, hoping he could hear her over the crackling flames.
He had, for he fell to his knees in prayer. Kate closed her eyes once more, she wanted to sleep now. She was ready to die, if that’s what she needed to do, and she drifted into darkness.
* * *
The cold brought her back to her senses. Where was she? In moments her eyes adjusted to the darkness. She was laying on the floor of the church, with only the light of a single guttering candle to see by. Her breath fogged on the air and she shivered. The silence was heavy. She felt so alone. If Ash was still with her, why couldn’t she feel him? She looked around and saw Peter’s still form curled on the floor.
Oh God!” she thought. What if I’ve killed him?
She rushed over and bent down, pressing the fingers of her right hand to his throat. Thank goodness there was a pulse. Scrabbling through Peter’s pockets, she found a mobile phone and dialled for an ambulance. How was she going to explain this?
While she waited she slipped Ash’s diary and Catherine’s ashes into her coat. The new flagstone had been cemented in place, there was no way she could return them to their original hiding place and she didn’t want to anyway. They were all she had of Ash.
She took a last look at the church and walked back to her car, knowing Peter would be found when the ambulance arrived. She felt numb as she turned the key in the ignition and pulled away from the wall. She drove home, taking care on the bends, knowing there would be no ghostly apparition appearing in front of her car on the pitch dark road.
The front door of her home was still unlocked. There hadn’t seemed much point given that the wall of her living room was missing. It was freezing in the house, but Kate didn’t feel anything anymore. Ash was gone, nothing mattered now. She walked to the living room, crunching broken glass and the remains of the Christmas tree underfoot and looked around at the devastation.
The dining room was a mess too, but Kate didn’t care, all she wanted was to see Ash, standing at the bookshelves, flicking through her books and photo albums. She turned in the middle of the mess, surveying the damage and caught sight of something that hadn’t been there before. Poking out from beneath a splayed book was a small oblong package, wrapped up in shiny Christmas paper. She stepped over the fallen debris, picked it up and read the small tag that dangled from it.
To my beloved, Kate
I’ll always be with you.
She dropped to her knees, clutching the precious gift to her heart. She peeled the paper off and sobbed as the object came free of its wrapping. She didn’t know when he had hidden the iPod beneath the Christmas tree, it must have been days ago, before the demons ransacked the house. It was a miracle it had survived intact.
She couldn’t hold it in anymore, her voice rising to a wail as the pain of losing him threatened to drown her. She lay down in the debris and pressed play on the circular dial below the screen.
Her heart ached at the familiar tune she’d heard on her alarm clock and on her car radio and in Selena’s flat before she’d even met Ash. She knew now that he had somehow engineered her hearing the song each time. She curled up and listened to the whole of the song, letting the tears roll down her face and neck. When it had finished, she played it again and again until she fell into an exhausted sleep.