Excerpt for Cold Summer Love by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Cold Summer Love

G Johanson

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2018 by G Johanson

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


This short story deals with characters and ideas previously explored in some of my other works centred around the magician Georges Steil (A Temporary Death in particular) and is intended to lead into a book that I will be publishing later this year. Maximiliene Poirier has a decent excuse for being absent from other stories featuring Georges and her family set prior to this... This tale is intended to help establish the character before her promotion to protagonist and resistance group leader in Pagan Resistance: Marseille, a novel in which Georges occupies a smaller role than usual. I hope you enjoy the story.

Georges Steil returned to France after an extended absence determined to be mad with his home country. It was French courts and a French judge that sentenced his best friend to 10 years in French Guiana, the first few months of that spent on Devil’s Island. He had been away for three years himself, sharing the exile in sympathy with Auguste, seeing him around Cayenne when he could as Auguste cleaned the streets under the watch of the officers. To see an old man debased so for the harmless offence of opium addiction – it was a disgrace.

Such harsh punishments (and Auguste was far from the only person unfairly sentenced) would have seemed barbaric and backwards in 1729; there were no excuses now, France showing herself up to the world and her own people that civilisation was still not fully achieved in 1929. Another fucking revolution was required pronto. No guillotines or guns this time, just a revolution of thought, for the judiciary to discover the novel concepts of empathy and compassion. He could achieve this through flash hypnosis or, more satisfyingly, he could take the moral high ground and talk it over so that they achieved genuine enlightenment. Maybe the guillotines would be easier.

Georges’ anger dissipated even before he set foot on French soil, on the long journey home. He could have practically kissed the ground as he disembarked, not even deterred by his reason for being home. He’d missed his nephew’s funeral by some margin. The most he could do now was visit his grave to pay his respects and help his sister as she prepared to sell up. Luise still had her eldest, Etienne, who she was going to live with in Yanam. Georges was unsure if Etienne owned a farm or if it was a plantation. Whatever it was it had to be big, with Etienne and Isadora having nine children and another on the way. The Steil bloodline was well and truly carrying on if not the family name.

Georges had not been around when Luise went into mourning for her husband. He had been with her sons at the front then during the Great War, consoling them through their loss and other issues. Burying a child was different again and, accordingly, Georges was gentle when he arrived at her family home in Dijon. Teasing her was such fun; the perk of being her twin was he had been able to do this from a very young age, possibly even in the womb. That had to go on hold for now, Georges even staying off his soapbox about Auguste’s plight and the unfair system. Luise was as reactionary as he was liberal and, for now, her ‘sensitivities’ (a misnomer for sure considering she was a formidable battleaxe even back in the playground) had to take priority over his need to rant.

Luise had no such qualms and landed a few passing blows upon his person in regard to where he had been, sniffily commenting that he missed his dear nephew’s funeral due to blackening his skin aiding and abetting convicts. Yes, he had a deep tan that was head to toe, not that she would want to know that, and he was in regular contact with his ‘criminal’ friend, and helped him as much as he could when the guards weren’t watching. That did not diminish his love for Lucien and his sorrow at his untimely loss. The precise details were very clandestine. Lucien had been in the Foreign Legion for years, rising to midlevel command. He had died during an operation. Luise knew no more than that, nor did his wife, Simone. They seemed willing to leave it at that and Georges would not rock the boat if they didn’t want him to. Georges himself believed that whatever happened was unfortunate – perhaps preventable, perhaps even committed with malice, but it could not – correction, should not – be changed. There were certain occasions when the blame game was mandatory. This did not appear to be such an occasion, at least from the outside.

Luise chose to have faith in the system and was forced to have faith in him. She had sold many of the possessions in the house already, with a large amount packed up ready to be shipped off. Georges was summoned for a farewell, quite possibly their last, and to act as caretaker until the house was sold. She had a set price which he could not go under and it was a high one. With no room to negotiate Georges was unsure how long he’d be back for. He trusted that this was not her design, forcing him to stay longer than he liked, though she made it abundantly clear she felt he would be better off staying in mainland France. He agreed with that and would have been living here now if not for Auguste’s plight.

Luise’s ground rules before she left were even worse than the ones dictated to him back in 1904 by Léon Bastien and Prospere de Vars, his brothers-in-law setting strict conditions before he was allowed back into his own home town. Hell, they were comparable to some of the prison rules he’d heard at various institutions, and not being able to make wisecracks in return was pure torture. No women allowed inside, not even for a viewing unless they were with their husband. He was prohibited from practising magic, even in the form of his harmless tricks, in the house or the town for fear the house would be negatively associated. The restrictive list went on and on, Luise encouraged by his agreeable turn and taking full advantage of it. He got free lodgings out of it, though the majority of the furniture was gone. She was not so cruel as to leave him without basics, Luise selling her bed and buying him an economy replacement, single. Minimalism had its charms and the decor remained very tasteful, the four bedroomed house a very desirable property. Léon would bound out of his grave if he knew that Georges would be the last member of the family to occupy his prized residence. Stranger things had happened in this very town; very similar things too...

“If there’s no interest I may drop the price after six months. Until then don’t drop a centime,” Luise said authoritatively.

“You’re the boss. I do think it’s a couple of thousand too high, personally.”

“Bearing in mind what we paid and the improvements that have been made, coupled with the current market… it doesn’t matter, you wouldn’t understand. If you have any pertinent problems, write me.”

“I knew the travelling bug that infected me would claim my twin in the end,” Georges commented pithily. He added seriously, “For all the time I’m here I’ll see to his grave.”

“He thought the world of you. He didn’t like you being over there either. Once I’m settled we can discuss a visit.”

Sure, I’ve room in my hut in Cayenne for one more. “That would be nice, to see the brood. Tell Etienne… tell him I will see him again one day to bore him with army stories.” Georges had something else in mind to say regarding Etienne and Isadora’s hobby and censored himself. He let her have things her way mainly due to the great loss she had suffered. She was not made out of stone, even if she liked to present herself that way, Georges imagining there would have been plenty of tears shed before he returned. This was also potentially the last time they would ever see each other. It was clear she had no intention of ever returning to France. Though she would never say it Georges felt this was the real reason she asked him to come home; this was the logical place for them to say their goodbyes, their home town, where many close family members were interred.

Luise begrudgingly allowed Georges to hug her goodbye at the station, though did mutter a racial epithet as he did so, at what others might think due to his colouring. Let it go, let it go. If he did go out to visit Luise and Etienne he would be biting his tongue plenty more. No one had said as much yet he had the impression that Etienne employed local workers in an exploitative manner. That was quite possibly unfair, Georges making that up from whole cloth – for all he knew his children may have performed most of the work on the land. The oldest were teenagers now – it was remiss of him that he did not know their birthdays and only sent them token presents at Christmas. Families often drifted apart and this schism was partly down to him not putting in the effort.

An interested party viewed the house in the first week of Georges’ caretaking. The visitor played his cards close to his chest though was very thorough, which Georges took as a good sign. It would feel good to surprise Luise with a quick sale. Her finances were such she did not need the money right away, especially as she was moving in with Etienne. It would still be a bonus. Lesser women and men would feel trepidation at moving to a new continent at her time in life, Georges admiring her for taking the plunge. The move made sense, Luise wanting to spend her final years with her loved ones – which was precisely why he had made Cayenne his home, to be with his best friend in his hour of need. Luise didn’t like his choice of continent but she had to like the fact that he actually had a home now, a fixed abode, no more sleeping in the great outdoors, his whims and alcohol notwithstanding.

Sadly, Luise’s departure meant that he had zero loved ones in Dijon. Some acquaintances remained and the familiar sights and shops offered residual comfort. The fact remained that Dijon had not been the same since his mother’s passing and the sale of his family home. It was a place of fond memories now; he did not need to be here to access those memories. Not all memories were happy, Georges giving the site of his thwarted wedding a wide, wide berth. If that day had gone ahead as planned his life would have been very different and he could have been the one fathering football teams. There was no point dwelling on what might have been. He had seen first-hand the dangers of that path.

Georges knew that Luise expected him to remain rooted in Dijon until the sale of her home was signed and sealed. In the three weeks since she had left there had been five visits, one couple looking round twice. With no offers forthcoming Georges opted to take a short break to Paris, where he had far more contacts, acquaintances and potential paramours than he had in Dijon. His first port of call was Deveral Meyer’s theatre. They went back a long way, 29 years, Georges and Deveral having collaborated on paranormal shows during the 1900 World Fair. Good times, mostly. Deveral’s work now was more commercial, tailored to his audience, though there were still subtle touches of his own personal style.

Deveral’s theatre was modest in size and not in a premium location but Deveral rose to the challenge; if it was too easy he would have got bored and walked away long ago. One way he kept things profitable was by soliciting interaction, participation and feedback from his crowds, which encouraged them to return and helped him compete against the big shows with their star players and enticing exclusives. These shows were for the people and were accessible to the people and Georges approved of this approach. It was all very professional, just not as guarded and pompous as some shows. Georges paid to see a matinee performance of a farce and stuck around afterwards and drank with Deveral, who introduced him to his cast. Georges already knew Algernon and Vicq, the rest of the repertory company all new to him.

“So where are you staying while you’re here?” Deveral asked. Georges had almost always stayed at Auguste’s townhouse whenever he visited Paris and then subsequently at his lover’s Passy apartment. Neither option was available now.

“I have a nice place. Four walls, a floor and a ceiling!” Georges said exuberantly. That was about the best he could say for it, not that it mattered a jot. He was only here for a few days and would not be in his room much.

“I can put you up,” Deveral offered.

“I’ve paid for the weekend. If I extend my stay I’ll take you up on that,” Georges said gratefully. He had need of the privacy of his hotel room for the purposes of the evening’s activities, Georges attempting to track down an old acquaintance with whom there had been a frisson back in ’24. It had not developed further due to Georges meeting the Contessa. Five years was a long time and he expected she would have moved on. He hoped she had. But if she was still single what was the harm in trying?

Georges did not find his potential lady love though found other activities to keep him out all night, attending a magic show of such sordidness he could not help but be impressed. He swerved a Satanist after-party – he was raised a Catholic, even if he had deviated – and found tamer companions. Two days in Paris would not be enough. A week would suffice. With any luck it would compel the interested parties to act and make offers on Luise’s house, spurred on by being unable to contact him. Just like with the missing lady, being unable to do something made it so much more desirable.

Georges spent Sunday just outside of town, visiting the only other surviving member of his old lodge, Karlis Hamon. Karlis touched his skin and reminisced about a black leather bag Jess had owned. He was still besotted with her and still mourning 23 years later. Luise could teach him a lot. Pack up, move on. The difference was she had somewhere to go to, family she loved as much as the person she lost. For Karlis there had been Jessamyn Page and then, a million levels below, the rest of the human race. That was why the relationship he craved never materialised, because of the pedestal he put her on. He would brook no replacement, for there could never be another Jess. Dying young just added to her mystique, which she would have approved of. If she had her way they would all mourn her so.

Karlis was coherent and in a reasonable mood. Georges had seen him much worse than this. The presence of a male nurse suggested that problems still remained; it was likely they always would. It was fortunate that Karlis was isolated from the old scene otherwise he might have heard about Elias Tillotson’s crackpot resurrection scheme, a life for a life, which he would have signed up for immediately. Georges would visit Francois and Jacob Freche next week to see how they were faring, Jacob a beneficiary of said scheme, to Francois’ detriment for some time. Georges corresponded with Francois on an irregular basis. The last he knew Jacob was doing better at school, finally cracking the alphabet. That was an achievement that deserved a present.

It was getting late by the time Georges made it back to town. Due to the light nights he decided it was just about acceptable to still pay a visit to an old friend. He had not seen much of Hilaire Poirier over the years. The shadow of her brother’s end hung over them. The last he knew she was still living in the small terraced cottage she was born in and Georges could not envision her moving. There was an irony there, Hilaire the most gifted telekinetic he had ever come across, who could move anything yet stayed in the same spot. He would not share this thought with her – she was hard to amuse and it came across as more uncharitable than intended. He was no better a person for being a wanderer than she was for staying in the same place – though he would have very few stories to tell if he had taken her path – not that it was even a path as such…

Georges realised he would have to take it all back when the door was answered by someone else. Hilaire was not here or she had company. The woman was older than Hilaire. Shorter too, so it was not as if she had just aged prematurely. This woman looked to be in her 60s while Hilaire was a young pup next to them in her 40s. Impressively, her hair was still blonde, unlike Georges’, which had turned white long ago, the scraps he had left, and it looked as though she still had her own teeth, which were revealed in an inviting smile. He was instantly attracted to her, the first time he had looked at a woman his own age in this manner for a long time, and he found himself just standing there staring, his tongue letting him down for once.

But not for long. “Forgive me for knocking so late – I go by Sol instead of Chronos, though I know most abide by the reverse. Does Hilaire Poirier still reside here?”

“She does and she’s inside. So do I though!” the woman replied, faking umbrage at his question. She wrapped her arms around him, giving him an embrace unlike anything Luise could muster – and he would not have wanted his sister to hug him in this way to be fair, as something else was going on here. This seemed familiar for a stranger but he was tactile by nature and did not mind. “It’s been too long, Georges!”

“Indeed, indeed,” Georges agreed, completely clueless as to who she was. He followed her inside where Hilaire was sitting, Hilaire quickly taking her spectacles off and placing a newspaper on the floor to her side. Hilaire looked a little larger since the last time he saw her – the older woman, her lodger, was more attractive to him. The Rollo situation had created tension between the two of them, terminating a brief affair that seemed impossible to rekindle. Even the friendship was tense and fraught with misunderstandings, Hilaire very quick to take offence at everything he said. “Three years in French Guiana will do this to your skin. Not on Devil’s Island, believe it or not.”

“They couldn’t hold you, could they, with your escapology skills?” Hilaire replied. Was that a dig? The delivery suggested so.

“I sometimes think the Pharaohs’ tombs were just that, escapology exercises, the shows a reward to the slaves for their hard work. My friend Auguste got sent over there for smoking opium. You know how it goes; victimless crimes are often the most harshly punished.” Georges knew that Hilaire had toyed with politics, particularly the red variety, and hoped that this might provide some common ground. Auguste was a self-made man who had entered a world where name and breeding meant more than ability – as such he was punished harsher than others would have been with better contacts. Georges was the calibre of Auguste’s contacts, no use to him at all when it came to sentencing.

“You’re joking!” the lodger said, aghast at this news, placing a consolatory palm on Georges’ forearm. “Auguste is such a gentle soul too.”

“You know him then.”

“I haven’t changed that much. Are you okay?” she asked, clearly concerned for his mental state due to his failure to recognise a total stranger. If that made him crazy then the whole planet needed sectioning. She guided him down to the couch next to Hilaire as she sat the other side of him. “It’s Maxi.”

Poker face, poker face. Georges wasn’t sure he pulled it off. He turned to Hilaire who stared blankly back at him, unable to pick up the silent questioning in his eyes, Georges forgetting just how blind she was without her glasses. It could be a stickman next to her for all she knew, and next to that an imposter masquerading as her sister. Georges had taken her as a relative of Hilaire because she had a look of Maximiliene about her, merely a look as 40 years separated this elderly lady from the young, vivacious woman he had loved. She was a similar height, just over 5ft (a nice change to tower over his lover) and slim. The shoulder length dark blonde hair may well once have been platinum and flowing as Maxi’s had been. The voice had similarities, as did her mannerisms. Maximiliene had been dead since 1888 but things changed, especially in the world Georges inhabited. “You’re right, it has been a while. My eyes have degenerated. I accuse the sun again. The sun is a source of vitality and vigour… and can damage the body worse than a thousand monsoons. I must still be feeling the effects of sunstroke to not recognise you at first glance, Maxi. A million apologies.”

Georges took her hand to his mouth and kissed it, Maxi smiling again now as she said gently, “A dozen will do.” Laura would have wanted a million if he ever forgot her and he would give her them. Maxi was made from different cloth, low maintenance. Psychometrists never forgot but she specialised in forgiveness, both minor and major offences. “In your defence I haven’t aged well.”

“That you defend me after that shows you haven’t changed at all, inside or out,” Georges said affectionately. “Ladies do tend to age better, whereas me and Auguste, through his travails, are turning into old ringed wrinkled trees.”

“Awful, awful. I mean...” Georges nodded and smiled at her, letting her know she didn’t have to explain further – he knew she meant Auguste’s plight, not that his leathery skin was repellent. “We have some leftovers if you’d like something to eat.”

“Not if you’ve already eaten. I’m only in town for a few days. Luise has left me in charge of selling her house. Yes, you heard that right,” Georges said, acknowledging how unlikely it was for Luise to entrust anything important to him. She had entrusted something far more valuable into his hands back in 1914 and he had passed that test with flying colours – he only just realised now that this was why she delegated this duty to him.

“How is she?” she asked, expressing an interest that Hilaire, the object of his visit (and a real person to boot, unlike Fake Maxi) could not muster.

“Good. She’s moved to Yanam. She should be there now. That’s where her eldest and his tribe live.”

“What are they doing there?” Hilaire asked, finding her voice.

“Working the locals to death and then feasting on their remains. Or is it a plantation? One of the two.”

Hilaire flashed her eyes upward at this reply, her ‘sister’ jumping in to keep things amicable. “You look well, Georges. I remember you’ve always liked the sun on your skin.”

“And you’ve always hated it. It made holidays difficult. Finding somewhere that suited us both, I mean.”

“I knew what you meant,” she said affably. A supporter on one side and a critic on the other, this was a strange reunion indeed. Hilaire had worked through the prickly stage previously and now reverted to thinly veiled hostility. So he had not kept in touch as frequently as he had implied he would – why was that such an issue now?

Georges played along with this charade and ended up having a turkey sandwich at Maxi’s insistence, Georges staying with the ‘sisters’ for a little over an hour. Georges was quiet by his standards as Maxi spoke about the real traumas of aging, her words self-deprecating and emphasising her own frailties and how she made sure she had regular check-ups before advising he do the same. Georges quickly twigged where this concern was coming from. His failure to recognise her had her worrying about his mind, diagnosing him with dementia, while he attempted to diagnose what she was. A near perfect likeness, she was not the real thing. She appeared to be the same as Jacob Freche, a facsimile. Elias Tillotson strikes again.

When he left he took a long walk and sat outside as the night drew in. This was not a dream, this had actually happened. Yet was it so bad? Maximiliene Poirier had been the kindest of women, the woman he had loved the most in his life up to that point. His first fellow gifted lover, their romance had been revelatory in so many ways. This was the second chance that Elias’ clients all craved and he got it for free. Was there really no catch?

The main problem Georges faced during his reunion with the Poirier sisters was he did not have access to their false memories. As such he did not know how his history with them was supposed to have played out. He had to catch them alone to discuss their pasts further to work out the best way forward for both of them. Francois Freche was prepared to live a lie and pretend that young Jacob was his son and not a supernatural replacement. That was an informed decision that he chose to make. He would have to give Hilaire the information to make her choice. Probably. Possibly. Okay, it depended how things went between him and the doppel… replacement, doppelganger was the wrong word. That was a whole other bag of tricks. This was a cinch next to that game.

With Maxi and Hilaire both working together from home (Hilaire had kept up the home laundry, which Maxi now assisted her with) getting them alone was a challenge. They could not talk freely about their convoluted relationships in front of each other. In reality Georges had slept with Hilaire 18 years after the bereavement. How did it transpire in this version? It clearly still did, else Hilaire would not be so off with him. There was a special contempt that some women seemed to exhibit towards ex-lovers and he felt that strongly from her. Georges visited them again and took the bull by the horns, inviting Hilaire out for lunch and Maxi out for dinner. Both sisters seemed wary at this, as though he were trying to blatantly two-time them, and Georges had his work cut out getting Hilaire to agree. Maxi proved key in persuading her. In her absence, at the meal in a nearby estaminet, Hilaire had no need to pretend to be impressed, her face like thunder.

“Okay, please tell me what I’ve done,” Georges said, cutting to the chase. She hated the way he usually meandered on and he talked straight for her benefit.

“Nothing at all. It’s what you will do. You can’t let things go, that’s why there’s no red carpet this time. Don’t spoil this,” Hilaire said firmly.

“What do you mean by that?”

“Play the fool if you like. It’s a good fit. Don’t play dumb though. That doesn’t suit you.”

“So you know she doesn’t belong here?”

“The memories don’t line up perfectly. Most don’t see it and the ones that do surprise you. The fishmonger knows something’s up. He went to say something and corrected himself. Couldn’t you have put on a better front? She’s worried sick about you now.”

“While she’s analysing my behaviour she’s not analysing herself and that’s got to be good, right? I may have to tell her if I decide it’s in her best interests though, Hilaire.”

“Every bomb must be exploded, warmonger that you are. Tread carefully, Georges. I’ll react worse if I lose this sibling,” Hilaire warned him. She’d have him dangling off the Eiffel Tower if this went wrong, not that such a threat would make any difference. He would do what was in Maxi’s best interests, if he could bear to burst her bubble.

“I thought it was my duty to inform you – arrogance on my part, thinking you wouldn’t already know.” Of course she would sense it. The gifted were often immune to the effects of other practitioners. Even without powers she would know. Maxi was so special to her that no imposter could fool her unless she wanted to be fooled. He could not blame her for accepting the new status quo. Live a happy lie or a lonely, miserable truth. There was no decision to make. The cuckoo occupied the nest with her express invitation. It was not as if Maxi was a sinister changeling with a devious masterplan – she was the one the most in the dark, a true innocent in all of this.

“I have a favour to ask, which is going to sound nastier than intended. Go back to Auguste. Don’t stick around here.“

“This wasn’t my doing, you know?”

“I know you’re not responsible for this. You’d have been around before now basking in it, admiring your handiwork.” She found a way to condemn him even in his innocence!

“I thought we reached a point where your opinion of me was okay – not great, not bad, just okay. How has it deteriorated when I haven’t even been around?”

“You’ve come between us. It upsets her that we slept together and that then upsets me. Plus you may take her away from me.”

“Raise up your anchor and you can come too. French Guiana for all three of us, a land of adventure, interesting locals and sunstroke on a regular basis. If Luise can leave France behind for the first time at 64 a youngster like you…”

“Look, you’re not a bad person, Georges, but I do think you’re a bad person to be around us. I recall how it ended last time. That can’t happen again. Don’t get up,” Hilaire said, leaving the table, the meal and the establishment. To ensure he fulfilled her request she made him feel like an anchor was attached to his whole body securing him rigidly in place. Telekinesis as restraint – there were erotic possibilities there, negated by being attached to the wrong sister. He couldn’t even lift his head, Hilaire ensuring he could not hypnotise her to free himself. The only way out was to attempt a dramatic movement and try to force his way out of it, though that threatened to damage bones and ligaments. He’d give her a minute to come to her senses before he did this, Georges only waiting this long out of concern for Hilaire, who would feel guilty at causing potentially serious injuries. He liked to think she would feel bad, anyway.

After less than 30 seconds Georges was able to move again. She had released her hold or moved outside of the sphere of influence. She’d made her point. Unfortunately for her it was a redundant gesture – the threat could have been much worse and would have posed no deterrent. Adventurers always entered the Forbidden Zone, the prohibited virtually an invitation. He shared her sentiment for wishing to keep Maxi safe from harm, a task that was much easier in her new state. Almost indestructible still carried a risk, which was minimal compared to those that Georges and Hilaire lived under due to the virtue of their human condition. A bad dose of influenza could wipe them out while it would take much, much more to see Maxi vanish. No, the only harm he could cause Maxi was emotionally, and if he did that then he would welcome her wrath as it would be warranted.

The atmosphere was much better at the meal he shared with Maxi, the venue superior too. The only awkwardness here was the multitude of questions floating around her brain, which were less pointed than Hilaire’s, thankfully.

“Why did we split up? It’s genuinely not clear to me.”

“Maybe you thought you could do better, which you could and can. Maybe the world was spinning a funny way that day and saw fit to separate Georges and Maximiliene. Maybe a million things. It’s ancient history now and it doesn’t matter.”

“There’s so many lost years though. Not just lost, wasted. It is profound how empty my life has been, as if Eudy’s cursed me specifically. Rollo killing everybody… it’s all crazy. Something isn’t right.”

“A lot of things aren’t right.”

“If you do know something you can tell me, no matter how bad it is. I already know it’s bad – I’ve seen flashes through our items,” Maxi gulped. This version shared the original’s power, clearly. She was so close, so so close to being the real thing.

“I understand your concerns. Selfishly, I’m just pleased that you’re here with me now. I couldn’t ask for more than that. Can that be enough for you too, for now? Give me some time to enjoy your company first before I have to answer the big questions.”

“Okay. You’ll have to do the talking, Georges – I have no stories.” Her self-effacing modesty was so endearing. She put herself down and nurtured others, her kindness limitless.

“The lodge, the hunt for the Ripper, the murders you solved – you’ve got plenty of tales that stand up against anyone’s. But I’m happy to talk! Belgian Congo, 1899. Still tripping from malaria, I arrived with only the clothes on my back…”

Georges had already decided he was staying in town a little longer before meeting his long dead lover ensured he had no choice. He headed back to the theatre on Tuesday afternoon where he sat with Deveral during rehearsals. He was not the only spectator. The theatre now had two backers, their support based upon two members of the cast, Vicq and Stephanie, receiving major parts. Both of their lovers were in attendance, each in their own private box. Georges had met Vicq’s lover previously. Stephanie and her lover were new to him, the age gap there even bigger than the gulf between Vicq and Anne. To each their own – how could he judge when he was attracted to a dead woman, and not for the first time?

Deveral had no qualms about indulging his financiers, finding ways of doing so without compromising his artistic visions. Deveral confessed that there was an enjoyment to working within set conditions, of finding a way of bringing passable performances from deadwood. Both Vicq and Stephanie were young and attractive, looking the part at least. Stephanie was more attractive than any of the previous female cast, including the femme fatale Odessa D’eath. Deveral asked Georges what he thought of her. Deveral often hit on his cast, taking great pride in seducing every one of the demonesses cast with him back in the days when he took to the stage clad as the devil. This once he refrained due to the amount of money that could be lost. That did not have to stop Georges and Deveral seemed keen for him to indulge, to have the vicarious thrill of hearing if she lived up to his expectations.

Georges’ attentions lay elsewhere and he confided the details to Deveral back at his humble abode (his profits went straight into his artistic endeavours rather than home comforts) after the evening show over a bottle of scotch.

“Last night I had dinner with someone who’s been dead for 40 years.”

“I guess you picked up the tab,” Deveral replied dryly.

“Not just some random acquaintance either. A former lover. One that meant something.”


“She’s not been dead that long. Maxi.”

“I don’t remember you saying she died.”

“It wasn’t a topic I brought up much. You remember the name though?”

“Of course. The psychometrist. She did a bit at Dupont’s show.” As he said this the penny seemed to drop for him, that this was less than 30 years ago. By Dupont’s show Georges knew he meant one of their communal Paris World Fair shows from 1900, at which point Maxi’s body had decomposed to skeletal remains. Now that would be some bit, just as this new trick was.

“One of us has false memories. She perished in ’88. Murdered.”

“Valentina looked good for a corpse too. More of the same,” Meyer said, taking the revelation in his stride. He accepted at once that Georges’ memories were the truth and his were false, believing him instantly when Georges assured him that Maximiliene Poirier had been dead for 41 years. Georges filled him in on the details of Elias Tillotson’s endeavour, the trade where the dead could be reborn if one of the living would die for them to return. A woman had spoken up for Georges’ lodge at one of the meetings, a clarion call for these ‘heroes’ (how misguided she was!) to be returned to accomplish future glories. Perhaps she had walked the walk as well as talking the talk. There had been a very brief window between that meeting and Elias’ death, time enough for him to lob a few more hand grenades.

“So Elias could bring them back to life and make everyone forget that they died?” Deveral said, trying to understand how this worked.

“Correct, and make everyone remember them being around when they weren’t. Fake people, fake memories for all. Some of us with our own strange mystic mojo going on still remember the truth. We’d be the ones considered mad if we spoke it. The thing is, we can prove we’re right. The graves still exist, records of death still exist – it’s messy.”

“So Maxi Poirier’s grave is still there?”

“Come with me and I’ll show you. Actually, don’t – you’ve got an early start. Each person brought back is completely blameless. My dilemma is I intend to see her again, in that way. Do I tell her the truth or not?”

“That depends whether she’s likely to find out independently. Are they dangerous?”

“We’re all capable of being dangerous. By nature, no, she’s not. Though that’s Maxi’s nature, of course.” The replacements didn’t always stick to the script when the truth came out, as history proved.

Georges invited Maxi to the theatre to see the rep company’s next project. Just like in days of yore she was able to dress to impress on a budget – class had nothing to do with status, it was all about bearing. Georges queried whether he should have shaved – the change in climate meant that he was cooler of late, hence why he had sprouted whiskers. He leant close to her in the private box, another freebie from Deveral, and he said, “Should I leave my seat for five minutes and get rid of this?”

“No!” Maxi scoffed, feeling he was being silly. “It makes no difference to me. I quite like it.” That was the only problem with her being so nice; Georges was unsure if her compliments were real or white lies to make him feel better. If it was a lie she was convincing, stroking his chin and upper lip, an act of familiarity that felt pleasant. She withdrew her hand only for Georges to recall it to kiss it. Money had always been tight during their relationship and trips out like this were unheard of. This was something he and the Contessa enjoyed; he knew at once that Maxi would enjoy it too. Even if she disliked it she would be diplomatic in any criticism. She was as perfect as ever. All of that could change if he told her the truth. Would her altruistic disposition go the same way as the psychotic Welsh miners, who lashed out in all directions when the truth was revealed?

Georges ‘reintroduced’ Maxi to Deveral after the show, the pair of them reminiscing about their previous meetings in preparations and at the performance for Dupont’s show. Deveral stayed on script, Georges fascinated at hearing them discuss shared false memories. She performed a psychometric reading at Deveral’s request, Deveral handing her a treasured artefact he kept in his office. She passed the test with flying colours, sharing details Deveral knew to be true along with further information that was fresh to him, predating his ownership of the bronze nymph statuette.

“He has me sing for my supper at the house too,” Georges quipped once she was done. Maxi did not know Deveral that well and was not completely relaxed around him, insisting she was happy to share her gift with all. Deveral extended the invitation to his home to her too before he took his leave, having somewhere else he planned to spend the night.

It was only when they sat in the Metro Station that Georges made the same offer. He intended to escort her home but if Deveral was not going to be home then they could sit up all night talking. That was how the offer was made and how it was accepted. They changed platforms and as the train approached Maxi remained rooted to the spot as she said, “Hilaire will worry.”

“We can go there first and then on to Deveral’s.”

“Will the trains still be running?”

“I have another way of telling her, remember? I can still be in two places at the same time.”

“You used to say astral projection was tricky. Has it got easier? I find most things haven’t for me with age,” Maxi said softly and self-deprecatingly, hopeful that he was improving like a fine wine rather than deteriorating like herself.

“Astral projection has become more challenging since my body was replaced with that of an old man. Thankfully I like a challenge! Come back with me, please. We have a lot to talk about.” Georges stood poised to enter the open door of the train, waiting for her to board before he took the next step.

“Fine,” Maxi said, walking onto the train followed by Georges just before it pulled away. Georges pointed out some seats along the carriage, stewarding her towards them. She turned to him and said quietly due to the busy (and loutish) conditions, “The conversation will be one way.”

“I’ll get my ear trumpet ready,” Georges said, pretending to misinterpret which of them would be gabbing. Trouble loomed as they took their seats, some rowdy youths amused at seeing such old relics out so late, as though the night only belonged to the young.

“Shouldn’t you be in bed, Grandpa?”

Georges engaged with them, addressing their comments with tolerance while still challenging them. Three of the four youths were entertained by him. The fourth seemed to be a bad apple and Maxi whispered a question into Georges’ ear, asking if he could still hypnotise with a glance.

Georges nodded. “That’s intact, though if I have to use it here then I’ve fallen a long way.”

“What did she say, Grandpa?”

“If it was intended for your ears it would have been directed towards you.” Georges reached out and took Maxi’s palm in his. “Not everything is for public consumption. Treasure such private moments, boys, don’t take them for granted. And watch the years. Before you know it you’ll be the old man on the train. I hope you have company as delightful as this one.”

While Georges would never admit it, even to himself, engaging with the lout was a mistake. Georges had been civil, his reproach very mild, and he remained so under verbal attack and when directly threatened. Only one comment came close to striking a nerve, a quip about their crypt having a curfew. The lout’s parting shot was to throw his drink at Georges as the gang reached their stop and moved on to cause trouble elsewhere. Georges could have caught any solid object through his juggler’s reflexes or his lesser version of Hilaire’s ability. Liquid was beyond him. Thankfully there was not much left in his glass and he mopped up the mess with a handkerchief, smiling at Maxi as he said, “Going bald has its advantages. Wipe clean.”

“You could have destroyed them and you didn’t. Well done.” His forbearance in the face of provocation, of rising above it and being the better man, impressed her greatly.

“If the drink had gone over you it would have gone a different way.” Georges had believed that the lippy one of the four was the main malcontent of the group, and he had been the one to accost him, yet over the course of their interaction Georges noticed that it was one of the quieter ones that directed traffic, subtly encouraging his acolyte with prompts. Georges did not like that and it made him more tolerant towards the junior bully, who would find himself getting into big trouble down the line which would only amuse the orchestrator.

Another passenger came across to register his disgust at what he had seen and seemed to want to make a big deal of it, encouraging Georges to report the incident when Georges had much bigger things on his mind. Sleeping with one dead woman could be construed as misadventure; sleeping with two was definitely entering necrophiliac territory.

“Sorry for letting myself in. This form doesn’t look as convincing as it used to.” Hilaire removed her glasses and placed the book she was reading on the floor. Georges had spoken quietly as he entered the living room, mindful not to disturb her due to the late hour and the shock many people would experience at what appeared to be a ghost. Hilaire gave no outward recognition of shock or fear, likely due to the enormity of her power now. Those that were more powerful than her were few and far between and outside of her limited circles. “Good, leave them off. The blur you see now might pass muster.”

Hilaire rested her head on her palm, lowering her legs down from the couch too (for which there was no need, as this was her home where she was free to make herself comfortable) as she said, “I see things in terms of weight. To me you’re barely here, which is immaterial. No puns!” she added sharply. “Where is she?”

“That’s why I’m here. She won’t be coming home tonight. She wanted you to know to spare you sitting up all night worrying.”

“I’ll worry more now. Bring her home.”

“I’m not here seeking permission. Or a quarrel.”

“You can’t sleep with her.”

“That’s not up to you. That’s our decision to make. That’s not why she’s come back with me. At this point I can’t say how the night will pan out.”

“Georges, please listen to me. I lost her once and I didn’t get over it. It wasn’t your fault, not really. I accept that. Can you accept that she means more to me than she does to you? She’s just one in a long line to you…”

“Would that I was this stud you make me out to be!”

“That’s your interpretation, not the word I’d use,” Hilaire said, contemptuous that he found something flattering in her critique. Their whole relationship, brief as it was, had been initiated through her flattery, back in the day when she had held him in high regard. A couple of fucks soon put paid to that! That and all of the other baggage... “If I lose her I won’t go on a rampage like Rollo. I won’t even kill you. I’ll kill myself and it’ll be on you.”

“Calm down. Whatever happens you won’t lose her. She’ll always be your sister – that’s not the way I want her. I’ve got a sister and if I need another I’ll look at bringing Maryl and Helene back – which I obviously won’t do.”

“Why not? I’d recommend it,” Hilaire said, a dark joke with truth attached. He didn’t care for his sisters as she did for hers.

“Whatever happens between me and Maxi you won’t be frozen out – after all, I am planning on seeing you in the flesh again one day and I’m mindful of repercussions!”

Hilaire sighed and said, “Do what you have to do. Can you at least promise not to tell her?” She did not wait for an answer, her eyesight possibly better than he believed or she had deduced his reaction and imagined he pulled a face reflecting that. “Not even that? You just show up on your steed to whisk her off her feet and I have to suffer the damage powerless to do a thing. Thanks for nothing.”

“You’re jumping the gun here. If we get to the point of living together I accept that means the three of us. I’m all for olive branches, not white flags. You’d think less of me if I gave up on her so easy.”

“I really wouldn’t,” Hilaire said. Georges fancied she was right, that that outcome would suit her best. He still felt like he had made progress, Hilaire coming to terms with having to accept them as a couple anew. Silent objections and begrudging acceptance were better than active opposition from a telekinetic of her power. The next step was seducing Maxi. She was his for the taking but he would only woo her if he felt it was in her best interests. And how could it not be? No, convincing her was the easy part, no bait required. Wrestling with his reservations was the challenge, a challenge which seemed destined to have only one outcome…

“Grandpa ended up in bed after all,” Georges said with a chuckle. The young upstart who had mocked him would not have envisioned him capable of such feats. They did not break. She pretty much couldn’t and he was tougher than he looked. Georges lay reclining with his elbows outstretched in proud reflection. He would spoon her soon enough when it was time to sleep. For now the old dog was content to bask in his own glory – a cigar to smoke, or toothpick to play with, would feel good right now.

“Less strange than other déjà vu,” Maxi said, adjusting the sheet to cover her breasts. Georges used telekinesis to lower it, doing this only the once when she fought against it. She had apologised to him when she disrobed, as though aging was a mortal sin. He hoped that his words and actions had demonstrated his renewed attraction. It was not as if he was a spring chicken. The difference was he still had his strut and would be walking with an added spring in his step after this. He still had it.

There were a few different reasons behind his satisfaction. This was not just another notch on the bedpost. This was a rekindled relationship and it was effortless. Maxi had always been low maintenance and loving, one of his great loves. Not quite the greatest, no, but the only one of the surviving pantheon that would still allow such intimate contact. He had lost her in the worst way and this opportunity helped heal old wounds. This was the ending they should have had, not that it had to end.

A secret source of pleasure was the idea of her true identity. Georges’ relationship with ‘Valentina Hardy’ had only really revved up when he learnt that she was not the real Valentina and was instead some deathly substitute. She was ice-cold to the touch. That presented some obstacles which he surmounted. Laura’s status as an immortal witch added immeasurably to her allure. Her birthday gift of a night with two voracious succubae was forever etched into his fantasies, dark, dangerous and erotic beyond description. Maximiliene Poirier the woman had some mysticism which bled into the bedroom but this new form pushed other buttons. Men satisfied women. Supermen satisfied these creatures that were more than human. His erections were not as potent now as in his youth but tonight he had delivered without even using his powers.

Georges woke up in the small hours after a fitful night’s sleep. The great debate he had been planning to have with himself had dematerialised and libido and ego took over. Hilaire would loathe him for his vanity trip. Georges would probably agree with her had he articulated it to Maxi. Some sentiments were best left unexpressed. Sleeping with her did not make him a bad guy and he did not regret what they had done; he just wished the night could have been a product of unselfish love rather than a mix of female desperation and male ego.

During the crisis with Elias he felt he had been responsible. The bloodshed at the end was not down to him and he did the best he could to diffuse the situation to minimise the casualties. Where was that responsible man now? Every one of Elias’ confirmed ‘children’ that he had met back then had all been male (though there was one definite potential female amongst the Americans). If he’d met a confirmed female returnee back then would he have sexualised these creatures back then? No need to exorcise them when he could fuck them instead. He had no need to exorcise Maxi as she was harmless. No, she was more than that, she was lovely. Was? Is? The figure next to him in bed was not Maximiliene but she was such a perfect replica that it didn’t matter. Valentina had been like an angel before she learnt the truth about who she really was and turned homicidal. Surely Maxi would not react in the same way? Georges stared at his sleeping beauty and smiled at her as he answered his own question. She could react in any possible way. Women… correction, females, were unpredictable and that was the fascination.

It was a tossup as to which of their sisters would be more horrified by this coupling. Hilaire knew about it and was gritting her teeth and grimly accepting it for now. Luise… ‘You’re meant to be there selling my house, not fucking phantoms’.

He could do both. He would do both. This wasn’t over. The first fuck had been for him and it was pointless twisting himself up in knots about it. He’d needed it and it didn’t make him a bad person. Their next encounter would be for her. He’d made her reach peaks of pleasure only he’d done it for himself whereas he’d make sure to do it just for her next time. After that the encounters would be for both of them, a healthier path, a path with a future.

Luise’s instructions had been clear. No women allowed inside the house alone with him. Prospective buyers, if female, required a chaperone. She rated his chances better than he did; even at his peak he was not that irresistible.

He was still abiding by her rules, technically. Maxi was more than a woman and therefore exempt from the ban. It was just as well that both Luise and Hilaire were not acquainted with one of his new friends in Cayenne, Veronique, who was a fan of voodoo dolls, as both of them would be after one in his likeness. She even gave the male effigies nuts, Georges teasing her for her cruelty.

Hilaire was furious about Georges taking her sister away to Dijon for a short break and tried to hide it. He opened up his mouth more in his ventriloquism bit than she did wishing them well through gritted, grinding teeth. She could probably have coped with him taking her away to fuck her brains out (which was certainly part of the plan) if he would discard her afterwards. Nope, this was an ongoing affair, a relationship picked up where it had been so cruelly interrupted. She would get her sister back, Georges having no intention of permanently separating them, but he would continue to occupy some of her time. The problem was she didn’t want to share her with him, which meant that conflict was looming.

After a pleasant day shopping around town the couple sat down at the bare bones kitchen table where Georges eagerly sliced a particularly sugar-laden cake he had bought for them. His mother had provided cakes for the shop he purchased it from and while it couldn’t compare to hers (not even if it was nicer) the tenuous connection would make it taste even sweeter. He exaggerated his desire to eat the cake and Maxi played along, accepting her big portion gratefully and waiting for him to sit down next to her before she tucked in. It was a shame she was acting – so was he, up to a point, but she was doing a worse job, her smile failing to hide her sorrow.

“Hilaire will be fine, I promise. We’ll be back in Paris next week. I can check on her after I’ve eaten this if you like.”

“It’s not that. Though I am worried about her too.”

“You know you can say anything to me.”

“If you have hypnotised me to forget something I know it would have been for noble reasons. I wouldn’t blame you. I just want clarity.”

“I promise you that beyond the past, when you were my willing subject, I haven’t hypnotised you. And those times I did, with your consent, I never altered a thing, and never would.”

“Then someone else has because things don’t add up. I still don’t fully comprehend why we ended. It doesn’t ring true. I loved you and I know you loved me. Your other great loves came later. I don’t understand a lot, like you and Hilaire. I’m not mad about it. I recognise I should be, yet I’m not, because I sense something more beneath the surface. It’s not the betrayal it seems. Anyway, whatever the reason for our split, that’s the past.”

Georges reached for her hand and said earnestly, staring deep into her eyes, “I never got over losing you.”

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