"Hoke, something’s wrong with my mother,” Jolie said. Her frantic urgency felt like a rip in the peace around them.
“You can only do one thing at a time,” Hoke tried to steady her. “Decide what it’s going to be.”
“She’s in trouble. I have to call nine-one-one!”
Hoke’s lip curled “There is no cell service here. You’ll never accomplish anything if you lose the threads between what you set out to do and the doing of it, Wicincala Witko.”
“But my mom.... She’s not moving.”
“Everything is connected. Finish the task,” Hoke commanded, gently.
Jolie closed her eyes and re-focused, bringing her awareness back to the figure of Jessie Lynn lying by the side of a road. The demon was with her.
“You beast. What have you done to her?” Jolie accused him.
The demon cringed. “It wasn’t me. I couldn’t stop her. What you should ask is: what she has done to herself? She took something. It scrambled her mind and now her body is--it’s just shutting down. Everything inside her is going too fast, and too slow, and is functioning all wrong. Oh, what will become of me? If she dies, where will I go?"
“Don’t expect me to feel sorry for you,” Jolie retorted.
"The form of my life may not be like yours, Jolie Figg, but it is a life." The distraught demon seemed less terrifying and more like an unwanted puppy, dumped on the side of a high-speed freeway.
“You’re a parasite living off others’,” she insisted. “The only life you have is what you steal.”
"You are young and do not understand as much as you think you do. I am not the evil you make me out to be,” it protested.
"You were trying to control me,” Jolie countered.
"You needed to be controlled. You had no direction. I provided what you needed.”
It was a frightening hypothesis with at least a twist of truth to it. Jolie set aside her anger, centering herself again.
"I’m not here to argue with you. I have brought you something.” She moved closer to the demon, opening her hands to reveal the incandescent ball of energy cupped there.
The demon blinked and shrunk away. Jolie just stood, waiting for the invitation to draw it. Cautiously, the creature inched forward.
“Go on, take it,” Jolie encouraged. “It’s for you.”
“What will you demand in return?” it asked, ever suspicious.
“Nothing. It’s a gift.” Jolie placed the ball before the demon and stepped back, forcing herself not to look at Jessie Lynn lying unconscious a few feet away.
The demon poked at the ball then rolled it around, examining it from every angle before he picked it up.
“It really is quite wonderful, isn’t it?” Love and peace folded around him and his face morphed into Axel’s wrinkled visage.
“Helen?” Axel looked around disoriented as if all the events between the moment of his death and now had not happened. “Where is Helen?” He asked.
“Helen has gone home to her family,” Jolie explained.
“I need to see her.” he began to fidget, agitated. “I need to tell her that I’m sorry.”
“It is okay. She knows,” Jolie comforted the grief-twisted man. “Come with me. I will take you to her.”
“And my boy,” Axel pleaded. “I want to see my boy. He died, you know, years ago, too young...too young.”
“Come with me. I will show you where he’s gone.” Jolie offered him her hand.
It was much easier to travel towards the ridge walker’s invitation than to go away from it. Jolie let go of the will she used to get to her mother, relaxed and allowed her spirit to be drawn back to the swirling multicolored sail, bringing the demon and Axel along with her.
From far across the skies, spirits were converging on the ridge. Some entered the vortex quietly, as if in a peaceful trance. Others remained in their fear and needed encouragement. The Ridge Walkers helped the reluctant, guiding them forward to where the spirits of departed friends and family waited, watching hopefully for their lost loved ones to finally join them.
“Robbie! It’s my boy, Robbie.” Axel’s spirit cried out, recognizing those from his own life.
“It’s a trick,” the demon growled, pulling him back. “Don’t fall for it. She wants to separate us--to weaken us.”
Axel hesitated, uncertain what to do.
“Don’t listen to him,” Jolie encouraged. “He is right there, waiting for you. You do not belong in this world anymore. There is nothing left for you here but bitterness and hate. Go to your boy. The path is open to you.”
Axel stepped out of the demon and walked toward the whirling vortex. Immediately, the demon shrank to the size of a dog, becoming a pale amorphous blob with no resemblance to anything human.
“Don’t go. Don’t go.” It waddled across the ground, its face hidden in the folds of its wrinkled skin like a Basset Hound, as Axel disappeared into the vortex.
“You could go, too,” Jolie told the demon, finding that seeing it in its distress, she did not loath it, or wish it ill as she once had.
“No, I cannot. This call is not for my kind," the demon told her, sadly.
“That’s your fear talking,” Jolie insisted. “You’ve been living this borrowed life so long that you don’t remember anything else, but there must have been something else once. You don’t have to stay like this forever. Go forward and be free.”
“You don’t understand,” the little demon’s ugly, round body trembled. ”In my world, you are the controller or the controlled. She isn’t going to let me go.”
“Who?” Jolie demanded.
“The black heart.” The gray blob began to twist and roll, this way and that, moaning as if in pain.
Jolie looked around at the walkers gathered on the ridge top.
Yanna Maria stood on the ridge line to the south; her eyes closed, her lips moving. Did they utter quick prayers or curses?
Anger rose inside Jolie. “What is she doing here?”
Hoke’s mouth was a grim line. “Trying to subjugate him.”
The demon began to sway back and forth as if being tugged between two points.
“It was her, Hoke. She did this to Remy. She caused the accident. I saw it.”
“Your mother still anchors the demon,” Hoke said. “Yanna cannot take control.”
Jolie felt a surge of relief. Jessie Lynn was alive. She turned to face the vortex. Bodhi’s spirit was walking toward it.
“No. Oh no,” she muttered as Hugo came up beside her.
“What is it, Jo?”
“Bodhi is dead,” she told him numbly, happiness leaving her as quickly as it had come. “He didn’t make it. He’s crossing over.”
“How do you--?”
“I can see him,” Jolie admitted. “That’s what I do, Hugo. I ‘see’ and ‘hear’ things in the spirit world.” Their hands once again found each other, for the small comfort a friend’s support offered. “I’m sorry, Remy,” Jolie whispered.
And then another spirit appeared from the darkness. Jolie’s face blanched.
“No, Remy. Not you.”
“Jo?” Hugo looked confused, unable to see what she saw.
Hoke’s hands dropped to his sides, his face sagging with the weight of his grief.
“Remy,” he repeated his nephew’s name as if it were a prayer. “It’s over.”
Bodhi turned at the edge of the vortex’s funnel and saw his friend. Remy ran to embrace him.
“The hell it is.” Jolie jumped down off the boulder, rising from the twelve-foot drop with superhuman speed. “Don’t do this, Bodhi.” She ran toward the spirits of the two boys, shouting against the storm of energy churning in the vortex. “For once in your life, think about someone besides yourself.”
Bodhi looked at her, his dark elf features transformed by an inner glow. “He loves me,” the tortured boy said, astounded. “I’m the one he chooses.”
“Yes,” Jolie agreed. “Congratulations. You win. But now, does he have to die to prove it?”
“Die?” Bodhi looked at Remy, the two of them lit by their two spirits.
"I want to be with you, Bodhi. I want to share your life," Remy vowed.
Bodhi hesitated. “I have no life,” he remembered.
"You could have,” Remy insisted. “You could have a life with me.”
Bodhi shook his head. “I can’t go back, Rem. It’s too late for me.”
"Then I’ll go with you. I want to go where you go,” Remy’s spirit persisted.
Bodhi looked at Jolie, then Hugo. One by one he took in the skeleton Fus, his brothers, gathered on the ridge to help do this work.
He turned to Remy. ”You should not die. It’s not your time. You have things that you need to do for the people. You have a family that loves you.” He put a hand to Remy’s cheek. “Don’t die for me, Rem; live for me.” Bodhi stepped back into the vortex and evaporated into the swirls of energy.
Remy’s spirit fluctuated and wavered, becoming less substantial.
“Madison is waiting for you, Remy,” Jolie told him. “She’s at the hospital, trying to hold onto you. She needs you. Go back to her. Go back to your family.”
Remy looked up at Hoke standing on the boulder above them.
Hoke nodded subtly. “I will be there soon.”
Remy’s spirit rotated, floating east toward the valley and the glittering gold city below.
Jolie looked around, sucking air as if she had been underwater.
It was all right. It was over. Remy was safe. He had decided.
We did it. Remy will live, she thought, relief warming the cold that fear had breathed into her.
The ridge walkers were ushering the last stragglers toward the opening of the vortex.
Jolie stumbled back toward Hoke. Hugo met her at the foot of the boulder.
“We did it. We saved him.” She blinked the tears from her eyes. She was moving to hug Hugo when she saw Jessie Lynn.
Jessie Lynn’s spirit floated toward the opening of the vortex.
Jolie’s heart sank like heavy metal.
“Mom, no!” She ran forward, reaching out for her mother’s spirit. Her hands passed through the image; there was nothing solid to hang onto. “Hoke, do something!” Jolie begged.
A thread of Jessie Lynn’s spirit was still attached to the blob of a demon, rolling back and forth at Yanna Maria’s feet.
“Stop it, Yanna Maria. Stop it, now,” Jolie commanded her.
“I’m trying to separate them.” Yanna Maria pushed the girl aside. “If you love your mother, shut up and let me focus.”
Inside the vortex, the faces of people from Jessie’s life who had crossed over were appearing: Mem, Lucien, others Jolie did not recognize.
The demon twisted and rolled on the ground, tugging Jessie Lynn’s spirit this way and that, but always it inched forward.
“Leave her alone,” Jolie shouted, not sure who she was screaming at. “Let her go!”
With a snap, Jessie Lynn’s spirit broke free of the demon and surged forward.
The vortex whirred and hissed and the opening closed.
Jessie Lynn Figg was gone.
“No!” Jolie turned and ran blindly down the hill.