“People slip away,” Howard said. “You have to hold on to them, or they slip away.” He walked through the vaulted archway of the gate-house into the dazzling afternoon light.
“You can’t hold on to them,” Matty said, hanging back inside the key-hole of the arch. “They slip away anyway.” There was a slight resonance in her voice, a hollow echo. Howard turned, looking back into the darkness.
“Don’t say that,” he said. “Sometimes you get a second chance; you can choose a different path through the woods.”
Matty touched the side wall of the vault; the brickwork was cool and smooth. Howard was framed in the archway, as brilliantly lit as on a stage. “Morgan said you were like Aladdin,” she said. “You found the magic lamp, and all of this appeared.” She gestured invisibly in the dark. “The gorgeous palaces, the princes and princesses, the caverns full of treasure. But none of it’s real. It all melts into air, into thin air.”
“The cloud-capped towers,” Howard said, looking up to where the watch tower rose above the battlements. “Not for Dave Leaper, though. He’s in an antechamber of Hell; it’s real enough for him.” He drew a breath, shifting the weight of his pack. “Anyway, Morgan is real; in Paris, admittedly, but real all the same.”
“He said we could start all over again,” Matty said. “But that’s just what you can’t do. You can adjust, you can change direction, but you can’t get the past back.”
“Not the same past,” Howard said. “A different one.” He waited, the cicadas counting time around him. “Are you still there?” he said.
“You can’t repeat the past,” Matty said. “Look at Dave Leaper, trying to re-play the revolution. Look what happened to him.” Her voice was faint and hollow, as though she had stepped further back into the vault. “I’m living my life for the last time,” she said.