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Chapter Six

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Chapter Six
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"I'm alive!"

She had been wrapped carefully, shrouded in burlap or something very similar. Possibly the material left over from their balloon, before Challenger had developed a new, stronger fabric? Challenger had held onto the old material, stating he would find a use for it again one day ... She pushed upward against the slightly giving but still well compacted and claustrophobic earth.

Marguerite bit her bottom lip, trying valiantly not to panic in the cool darkness, but losing the battle when she sensed her friends were about to leave. A prayer was being said, possibly by Veronica. "Help me!" Marguerite cried,

No response from up above. Veronica was still praying. Why was it she could hear them but they could not hear her? *Someone* had to hear her ... Someone ...

"Help me!" Marguerite cried again, this time in alarm. She heard something odd. A shuffle perhaps? Voices being raised? Roxton's voice. "Roxton!" More shouts. Marguerite could swear she was hearing screams ... from Roxton? "Roxton, I'm alive! Get me out of here!" She could almost feel a weight above her then it was gone.

Feet moving. Feet dragging ... They were leaving her.

"ROXTON!" Marguerite cried again.

****

Roxton lay in his bed, his head spinning from the drugged drink the others forced down his throat. His eyes were closed, his mind trapped in a nightmare, but he could see her laying in the grave, alive and struggling, wanting him to set her free. Begging and pleading ...

Marguerite was alive!

They had almost made him believe she was really gone. He knew it wasn't true. She lived! He had heard her calling to him. Why didn't they believe it? Why couldn't they understand that if Marguerite were truly dead, never to return, he - her soulmate - would know it?

Malone and Challenger had carried her down to the garden. Roxton and Veronica followed. The hunter watched them, digging the grave as her body, in its heavy shroud, lay motionless to the side. Roxton was unable to help and no one expected it. He just stood and watched. Veronica came up beside him, taking one of his hands in hers. She sang a small hymn probably learned as a child. Or was it Zanga? Roxton really didn't care.

Even after all he had been through, after the evidence lay before him: Marguerite's immobile body. No breath. No heartbeat. No possible way for her to live again -- a small part of Roxton couldn't believe it. Yes, she was gone. His brain told him this was a fact but his heart could not accept it. A voice in his head egged him on, telling him that what he was seeing wasn't true. He looked accepting on the outside but slowly Roxton began to wonder if everything he was witnessing was real.

She's dead. She's dead. She's dead ... but maybe not.

Then Challenger and Malone picked Marguerite up and lay her very gently in the grave.

Roxton watched in silence. However, when they threw the first few shovels of earth over his love he could feel his heart race, could feel each cold slap of moist soil as if they were throwing it down on his own body. Roxton wanted nothing more than to race over to the the men and tell them to stop. But he didn't. He had to face this tragedy. She was gone (*she's dead*) ... but she *couldn't* be. Roxton felt Veronica's hand tighten in his and he looked down at her. Tears were trailing freely down her cheeks. Roxton then looked to Challenger and Malone and realized, as they shoveled, that they too were overcome with emotion.

It seemed only moments later that the grave was nearly filled and Malone was telling them, in a voice heavy with grief, that they were nearly done.

'What now?' Roxton thought. 'What do we do now?'

Then he heard it: 'I'M ALIVE!'. Marguerite's voice.

Veronica released Roxton's hand and kneeled over the grave, placing a bouquet of jungle flowers atop the dirt. Her eyes were closed and she was praying, saying good-bye. Challenger and Malone stood near her, leaning on their shovels, heads bowed with respect.

'HELP ME.'

"Marguerite?" Roxton whispered so gently he wasn't certain if he had said it aloud. He moved quickly to the pile of dirt before them and collapsed to his knees, "Marguerite?!" he called and began, with his hands, to move the loose dirt aside.

"Roxton, what are you doing?" Challenger rounded the grave and grasped his arm.

"Challenger, she's alive! I can hear her!"

'ROXTON!'

"Get a hold of yourself, man. She's gone. We don't want her to be dead but she is ..." Challenger's voice was firm but choked with feeling.

"No!" Roxton shoved Challenger away and grasped more soil in his hands.

"Roxton, stop!" Veronica cried in horror and heartbreak.

Malone joined Challenger, the men moving up on either side of the hunter. They tried to pull him away but with little success.

"You've got to hear her!" Roxton shouted, still digging. "Marguerite!" he roared at the grave.

'GET ME OUT OF HERE!'

"I'm coming for you!" Then Roxton felt pain to the back of his skull. Someone had struck him. "I'm so sorry my friend ..." he heard from Challenger before unconsciousness overcame him.

Now he lay here, awakening moments before just to have his well meaning friends slip a potion down his throat. Something to make him sleep. 'We gave somthing to Marguerite to make her sleep....' He could hear Veronica: "Please Roxton, accept she's gone. We all loved Marguerite but ..." And Malone: "She wouldn't want you to be doing this to yourself ..." And Challenger: "I promise to make this up to you, old boy. Some how ... Some way ...."

That had been hours ago. Twilight. It was dark now.

Roxton could see the full moon outside his window. Turning slowly, he watched Malone, sitting in a chair, unawake. He had a book resting against his chest and must have dozed off while on watch. Roxton sat up and licked his lips.

How long has it been? His mind raced.

Marguerite was still down there, buried. He had to rescue her even if the others didn't believe and thought him insane. He had to ... But what if she was truly gone to him now? What if he was too late? If his stupidity had caused her to ...

'JOHN ...'

Roxton could hear her. Weaker now. Running out of air. No time to lose.

Silently Roxton threw his legs over the side of the bed, his mind still reeling from the sleep aid, and slid on his boots. He stood and rounded the bed, watching Malone, praying he wouldn't wake up. The young reporter remained asleep. Roxton then slipped out of the room, looked about - noting everyone had turned in - and moved to the elevator. He almost touched the release that would make the box ascend but thought better of it. He jumped onto the vine cable, slid down and shimmed until he had pushed himself between the shaft and box.

Outside, Roxton instantly went to work. A shovel had been left behind and with a full, bright moon he could see everything. Roxton knocked Veronica's flowers unceremoniously aside and began digging, "I'm coming for you, Marguerite. Hang on, my love." he whispered.

'My love ...' came a whisper in return.

But it was weak. Oh, so weak. She was dying. No air ...

Frantically, Roxton dug faster. He didn't hear the elevator in motion. Nor did he see his friends round the tree. He didn't hear their whispers.

"What do we do?" Malone asked.

"What can we do?" Challenger replied, drained. "He's determined. Perhaps if Roxton sees Marguerite one last time, if he can finally understand she is gone, never to revive, he'll come back to us."

"It just seems so disrespectful." Veronica murmured, a hand to her throat, disturbed by how macabre the whole situation was.

"He keeps saying he can hear her." Malone pondered.

"It's all in his mind." Challenger assured.

"Are you certain?" Veronica asked and looked at both men when they stared at her, "Odder things have happened on the plateau. What if Roxton is right? What if, by some crazy stretch of all our imaginations, Marguerite *is* alive and we've ..."

"We should help him." Malone stated, nonplused but determined, and moved to do just that.

Roxton, sensing someone was near, lifted his shovel as if to strike out. They wouldn't stop him this time. Marguerite's life depended on him. Roxton was stunned to see his friends - his family - as they fell on their knees and began to pull dirt from the grave. Challenger grasped the spare shovel and, like Roxton, began to dig. "Did you hear her?" he asked them.

No one responded.

*****

A chant echoed in her head. It was old ... from the time of the druids.

"Roxton ..." Marguerite whispered the name of her one and only love.

She was so sleepy. But to sleep would mean her end. It wasn't her time. She could not sleep. But it was so tempting.

Then Marguerite beheld a strange sensation. She felt as if a great pressure had been released from her chest. She was being slowly lifted then placed gently again on solid ground. She could hear voices, mumbles really, and the fabric about her was being parted and torn away. Marguerite could feel the cool night air against her skin. It was wonderful. Liberating really.

"Breathe, Marguerite. Breathe!"

She heard his call. Roxton? So close he was ... Roxton!

Marguerite's eyes opened wide, terrified. She coughed, sat up and cried. She gulped air and heard Veronica shriek. Challenger cried, "Oh my God!" and Malone ... Poor Ned was saying her name over and over again, apologizing for something she could not yet understand.

"Roxton!" She felt him by her side before she saw him, "I heard you ..." She spoke with a croak. Afraid yet comforted beyond all comprehension, she lifted her hands to hold him, resting her head against his shoulder then, gradually, felt their roles reverse.

Lord John Roxton, that brave hunter, man's man and all around impressive he-man adventurer, began to cry like a baby and crumpled into her embrace. She was holding him, telling Roxton everything was all right. She was with him and the nightmare was over. Marguerite kissed Roxton's forehead and cheeks, and he felt her tears mingle with his own.

"This time!" both Marguerite and Roxton could hear the voice echo in their heads. "But next time, Lord Roxton, you shall not be so lucky!"

"Take a hike!" Marguerite whispered to the voice and she could tell by the way Roxton looked up into her eyes that he heard it and her. Marguerite felt warmed by Roxton's easy smile.

"What would I do without you?" he asked.

"You'll never have to find out." she replied.

****

"Would you like another blanket, John?" Malone asked, passing Marguerite a mug of honeyed tea.

"No, I'm fine."

"How about a fan, Marguerite?" he asked but before she could reply, "I'll go get you one."

"Would either of you like another pillow?" Veronica came up behind the couple and gently touched them on the shoulders.

"Thank you but no. I'm fine." Marguerite said.

"Me too." Roxton said.

"Dinner will be ready in five minutes. I've cut the meat small so you can chew it easily." The jungle girl said with a bright, sincere smile then return to the kitchen.

Unseen by Veronica, Marguerite looked at Roxton and rolled her eyes comically.

The couple sat beside one another on the living area sofa, both wrapped in blankets and, despite a few minor inconveniences, enjoying the abundance of attention. Two days had passed and their plateau family had yet to show signs of feeling taken advantage of or even the slightest sign of discontent.

Challenger appeared, "Roxton, Marguerite ... Would you like the phonograph turned on?" he asked.

"Maybe a little later." Roxton replied.

"Okay," the professor paused, looking as if he might have missed something. "If you need *anything* just call."

"We will, George. Thank you." Marguerite said.

Roxton and Marguerite looked at one another and chuckled.

"We really shouldn't be enjoying this so much." Roxton said.

"They feel the need to make the whole mess up to us." Marguerite reminded, "I say sit back and have a good time. It won't last much longer. Soon we'll be trudging through the jungle after our own meals and doing more than our fair share of household chores."

Roxton reconsidered, "You have a point."

Marguerite had told them all about Death and her experiences in that foggy nether void. She also told Roxton, with a few missing details, how she was made the key to his undoing in her bizarre fantasy world where everything was perfect and all were happy.

"You must have been tempted to stay." Roxton said, regretfully.

"That's what was odd." she reflected, "As wonderful as it was I knew it wasn't right. I wanted to be here, in the real world with you and the others. That's what is most important to me."

"Why Marguerite," Roxton smiled in good humor, "that's so *accessible* of you."

"Yes, well don't let it go to your head." she reminded, "I had had a rough night, dying and all."

Roxton couldn't quite bring himself to laugh at the mention of her demise. He took Marguerite's hand in his. "It was bad enough we thought you were gone but when it seemed we might have had something to do with it ..."

"Sh." Marguerite lifted gentle fingers to his lips, "Don't ever speak of it again, John. I won't."

Roxton could only gaze at Marguerite, looking deeply into her eyes. Was there any wonder why he felt the way he did about this woman? One moment she could be selfish and bull headed and a moment later she was an angel. Never predictable. He loved that about her.

Slowly, Roxton leaned down and captured her willing lips with his own.

Veronica, turned around, preparing to call everyone to supper when she saw the couple kissing. 'Oh no,' she thought with a wry smile, 'the evening meal can wait.'

This time there would be no interruption.

****

"You owe me big for this deception." the death demon looked upward, a snarl on her face.

"Like the lady said," an ethereal voice spoke from up above, "Go take a hike."

***


The End
April 22, 2002