Chapter Twenty-Six

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When I opened my eyes, I was lying on the cold, damp ground of the pit beneath a gigantic, silent Aurelia Belle.

What had happened to me was no dream, but it was a nightmare. I was wide awake again, and I remembered it all in vivid, living color.

I finally forced my legs to comply with my brain's command to move. I reached into the pocket at the front of my backpack and found the master key Seymour had given me. At least I hadn't lost that; I'd be able to get out of here, somehow.

I made my way up through the roundhouse and to the back door. The key fit flawlessly, and soon I was standing outside.

I pulled my long coat tighter around me; I was still dressed for 1880, and I'd never felt so cold. Freezing, alone, and lonelier than I had ever been in my life.

I tried my phone to check the date and time but found it had been permanently fried—and melted—by the energy of the wormhole on the return trip.

I walked slowly, in uneven steps, past the benches on the platform.

For just a moment, I thought I saw a woman sitting there. The light from the dim streetlamps reflected off of her in a most unnatural way.

I stepped closer, so sure of what I thought I saw...

"Marigold?" I called softly, but she didn't move.

It was almost as if she were made of metal...a piece of artwork.

A monument.

I ran over to the bench, and there she was, a life-size replica of my beautiful snow angel. Seated forever, eyes fixed upon the infinite horizon.

"Can't be..." I choked, but it was.

I knew every curve and line of that face, the long, feminine neck, and above all, I knew her expression, so mournful and pure, frozen forever in time and cast in bronze. With my flashlight shaking in my hand, I analyzed the statue in every detail, wondering how it could be possible to experience so much pain and yet at the same time feel so numb.

I lifted my hand and caressed her cheek, her chin, her full lips. There was no softness, no comfort to be found there, of course, in the cold metal representation of someone who had once been so alive. Just hours ago, it seemed, in my arms, though a hundred and thirty-five years had passed.

I looked down and found a plaque at the base of the sculpture. I fell to my knees and cleared away the snow piled up against it.

My voice broke as I tried, unsuccessfully, to read the inscription aloud. Instead, the words echoed painfully in my head as they revealed Marigold's fate.

"Waiting", the sculpture of a young woman seated at the depot of Wishing Cross Heritage Railroad, is a reproduction of a statue made originally in stone in 1881.

Commissioned by a man known as William Best, it was said Best drew the sketch the original sculptor worked from. Both were a tribute to the life and death of a local girl, the daughter of a small town Stationmaster, who perished from hypothermia in February of 1881 after wandering outside in the dead of night.

She had a habit, Best said, of sitting at the train station day in and day out, speaking to no one, staring as if waiting for something. When the weather turned, her family would come and take her inside, but often they'd discover she had stolen away again as darkness fell.

On one such winter night, they found her too late.

Clutched in her left hand was a silver pocket watch. A small suitcase rested at her feet.

What it was, exactly, that Marigold Belle Sutton waited for, no one will ever know.

I stopped reading.

I knew.

Marigold had died, waiting still, for me to return...just as she promised she would.

Just as I begged her not to.

What was she thinking, all the time she sat at the station, hoping I'd appear?

What in the world was I supposed to do now?

My questions would never have answers.

I stayed where I was for a long time. Kneeling before her image, worshipping her in my heart just as I would with my body, given the chance.

Still I wouldn't cry. I couldn't.

I finally struggled to stand, and as I rose, I heard something fall out of my coat and hit the statue. It had come from my pocket, but it wasn't something I'd put there.

"Oh God..." I realized immediately what it was.

Marigold had hidden her necklace in my pocket when I hadn't been paying attention.

"No," I whispered, holding my head in my hands. "No, Marigold, no..." A part of me had secretly hoped that if she kept the necklace, there might be a way back to her, still.

Now the necklace was on its proper side of history, the book had been returned to the past and, if she kept her word, destroyed. There should be no more 'doorstops' to hold open the wormhole.

Marigold was dead. The Aurelia Belle, silent.

Grief overtook every other emotion; there was no room left in my head, or my heart, for dreaming now.

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