This story appears as part of The Albino’s Dancer from Honoré’s point of view only between the second and third sections of Chapter Ten. The code to read it as part of Honoré’s timeline is H16.5.
It was something past midnight, and the sky was clear. The moon and the stars cast a cold glow over the proceedings, the only light that they allowed themselves. They had chosen the darkest corner of the graveyard, tucked away between two great spreading oak trees and well out of sight of the Rectory. Hedges hid them from the road, which was little more than a dirt track anyway but they obviously didn’t think they could be too careful: you’d think they were robbing the grave, rather than filling it.
One of the figures stepped towards the head of the grave, and took a small book from his pocket: he was dressed entirely in black, but that was only to be expected. Even at midnight, a funeral was a funeral. The others dutifully took their places by the graveside, hands in their laps and heads bowed. The moonlight didn’t touch their faces: they could have been anyone. Except they all had one thing in common.
‘We are gathered here,’ intoned the figure at the head of the grave, ‘to remember the life -‘
‘Hold on, Symey,’ hissed one of the others. ‘We’re missing one.’
‘We are?’ the older man asked archly.
‘You know we are,’ the figure said. He had a broad cockney accent, and was a good foot shorter than “Symey”. ‘We can’t do this without him.’
“Symey” looked up from his Bible with a slight sigh. As his face moved, the starlight caught in silver hair and leant his face a ghastly pallor, as if he might be a recent evacuee of one of the nearby graves himself. A large dark hat cast a shadow across his eyes, leaving him just a hook nose and sad, thin lips. He nodded gently in the direction of a nearby bush.
‘And who do you think that is?’ he said.
The mourners all turned as one to stare into the undergrowth. One pulled an antique revolver, whilst another unsheathed two curved blades from his waist. The diminutive cockney merely raised his left arm, but instead of a hand the arm ended in a chunky looking silver weapon. Each of the weapons was trained on the bushes, ready to cause maximum harm to whatever was lurking within.
Honoré Lechasseur gave up on his plan to keep a discrete distance, and stood up. He put his hands in the air, but the weapons didn’t waver.
‘That is not Lechasseur,’ growled one of the mourners.
There was a moment. Honoré considered his reply.
‘Not from this time zone, no,’ “Symey” replied calmly. ‘But our Honoré nonetheless.’
‘How’d he get here without her?’ the little cockney spat.
Honoré let his hands fall very slowly to his waist, and pulled his trenchcoat open: around his waist was a thin leather belt with a silver buckle. The moonlight glinted on it, and each of the mourners could make out a circular symbol engraved onto the metal.
‘It’s the belt,’ Honoré said, redundantly. ‘It makes it so I can travel without Emily.’
The cockney spat something thick and dark onto the grass.
‘Oh,’ he said dismissively. ‘You’re that one.’
“Symey” cleared his throat pointedly.
‘So if we’re all satisfied?’
The cockney grumbled under his breath, but turned back to the grave without any coherent comment. Weapons disappeared as quickly as they had appeared, and suddenly the midnight funeral was underway again. Honoré silently stepped forward and joined them by the graveside, looking down into the dark earth.
‘We are gathered here,’ “Symey” began again, ‘to remember the life and sacrifice of Emily Blandish, God rest her immortal soul.’
After the ceremony - such as it was - the other mourners disappeared into the night, only the little cockney stopping to pass even a few brief words with Honoré. None of those had been particularly complementary. Honoré made his apologies as best he could to a complete stranger who seemed to know his whole life story, and then turned back to the grave.
It wasn’t that he couldn’t believe it. In its way, he supposed it was appropriate for the woman who had appeared without a past in the middle of London to leave the world equally quietly and mysteriously. It was more that he shouldn’t believe it: he was, however marginally, standing in his own future. He knew all the intellectual arguments - all of the “this is just one of a multitude of possible futures” stuff - but it was hard not to think that this was her inevitable destiny when he could smell the midnight air of her funeral and touch the earth on her grave with his fingers.
‘I have a few minutes,’ Symes had said. ‘Let’s get ourselves a drink, shall we?’
Honoré had nodded mutely, and let Symes lead him away.
He had expected to be taken to some local bar that stayed open after hours - the British liked to complain about their licensing laws not being revoked after Hitler fell, but there was always somewhere you could go for a drink, no matter what the hour. But instead, Symes led Honoré away from Emily’s grave and towards a small bench overlooking the graveyard. In turn, they were watched by a stone angel, mute in her grief.
Symes took a swig from a silver hip flask and then passed it to Honoré.
‘How’s Matthew?’ Honoré asked, not taking a sip.
Honoré had known Symes for a good few years: the old man ran an antiquarian bookshop, and sometimes came across information that proved useful in Honoré’s line of work. He tried to think when he had last seen the bookseller, but the only time that came to mind was when Honoré had been searching for the Doctor. Symes had told Honoré that the Doctor was a figment of the collective imagination. Sometimes Honoré wished he’d been right: meeting the Doctor had led him to Emily, and meeting Emily had brought him here.
‘He’s dead,’ Symes answered quietly.
Honoré didn’t know what to say.
‘I’m sorry,’ he settled for.
Matthew had been Symes’ companion for more years than Honoré could even begin to remember: fifty years the bookseller’s junior, and bleeding him dry to pay for a drug habit.
‘I forget there’s so much you don’t know yet,’ Symes said, sadly. He took the flask back from Honoré and took another shallow sip. ‘The bookshop’s gone, too, and here I am on the lam, at my time of life.’
‘Because of me?’ Honoré asked.
Symes didn’t answer immediately.
‘Because of my connections to you,’ he said eventually, ‘yes.’
According to local rumour, Symes had been a spy during the first world war. By the next, he had semi-retired and sat out every air-raid in his shop in Shoreditch, no matter how close the bombs got. Honoré didn’t want to think about what kind of thing could spook the old man into hiding. Something dangerous. Something Honoré would have to face, soon enough.
But he had another question on his mind.
‘Why aren’t I here, Symes?’
Symes looked away.
‘You are,’ he said, avoiding the question.
Honoré took a breath.
‘Am I dead too?’ he asked.
Symes took another swig from the flask, and then dropped it back into the pocket of his long black coat. He stood up abruptly, and turned to Honoré.
‘Walk with me a while, Honoré,’ he said.
Honoré stood, and followed. His heart was pounding.
They followed a winding gravel path that led them through the heart of the graveyard. Somewhere up above, an owl hooted and something rustled the bushes beside them.
‘How did you find your way here, Honoré?’ Symes asked eventually.
‘Just passing through,’ he lied. Symes fixed him with a stern glare. ‘Alright: I asked Li Po, ten years from now. He told me about Emily. But he wouldn’t say about me.’
‘You not dead, Honoré,’ Symes said. Honoré let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. ‘Not yet.’
‘Then where am I?’ he asked.
‘Somewhere else, obviously,’ Symes clicked his tongue, irritated. ‘The reason you’re not here is because you knew you’d be here. If you see what I mean. You thought it might be . . . disconcerting.’
‘And I didn’t want to say goodbye to Emily?’ Honoré asked.
‘Indeed,’ he agreed. Honoré scowled. ‘I don’t think you’ll ever be ready to say goodbye to Emily, Honoré. Do you?’
Honoré didn’t answer. He was starting to understand.
‘What do I need to do?’ he asked.
Symes stopped walking and looked up to the moon.
‘You know the theory,’ the bookseller said. ‘From your point of view, this is just one of any number of possible futures for the two of you. With the right information, you should be able to navigate yourself to a more acceptable outcome. All of this horror will be nothing but a bad dream.’
‘And if I don’t get the right information?’
Symes didn’t answer.
‘I’d better be going,’ the old man said instead. ‘Be careful, Honoré. If it was up to me, I’d tell you to leave it be. People die. We can’t always be there to stop it, even if we can travel in time.’
And then he was gone.
Honoré nodded. He knew exactly what the old man meant: this felt wrong - more wrong than anything he’d ever known. War was wrong, but the universe shrugged and carried on without some much as a care when it broke out. But this . . . this felt like something that even the universe would despise him for. He could understand Symes wanting to avoid such consequences.
But he knew it wasn’t up to Symes.
Honoré activated the belt, and fell back.