“There’s no getting used to this. Now, Ms. Holloway, I have followed you into some zany scenarios. I’ve kept an open mind, and now I want some answers. I think I’m owed that,” Duke demanded, his mind going a million miles a minute, trying to figure out what exactly is going on. This was supposed to be a normal day. It started off normal enough.
He had gotten a call from two concerned parents about their 20-year-old daughter, Rose, who had smashed a bunch of speakers at GuitarZone. The way she described it reminded him of other cases of people dying from odd causes a week after listening to this supposed Killer Track. So, in odd cases like this, he does what he usually does- he calls Ms. Holloway. He brought Rose to the diner, hoping Ms. Holloway could help. But that’s when things went wrong.
The problems started when she cast the spell. The issue wasn’t that the spell didn’t work, the issue was that it did. The spell ended up transferring the Killer Track’s target from Rose to her. She was going to die instead of Rose. He tried to pull her aside and express his concerns, but she emphasizes how important it is she does this, acknowledging there are indeed some things above her pay grade, and gives him a sealed envelope if anything happens to her. He prays to whatever god or higher being may be up there that he never has to open the envelope.
The rest of the evening is spent packing up any and all equipment that could produce sound until it’s only a couple of minutes till the Killer Track is due. And then it comes. He doesn’t hear it, but he knows, as Ms. Holloway falls to the floor, screaming in agony, desperately covering her ears. Seeing her in pain like this hurts Duke in a way he can’t describe. He has no idea where the sound is coming from and has no idea how to stop it. He so desperately wants to help her, but she smacks him and glares at him through bloodshot eyes. He can only watch in horror as she lifts a heavy metal stool above her head, aiming at him, before using every ounce of her willpower to throw it away, right into the jukebox. Distantly, he notes how upset she’ll be that the jukebox is destroyed, but he has more significant issues right now.
Her hands have flown back to her ears, trying to block out the sound, before a moment of silence and she lets out a soft “I understand,” before dropping to the floor.
It all seemed to happen in slow motion, as Duke watches Ms. Holloway fall to the ground. He stands there in shocked silence before running towards her and holding her in his arms.
This couldn’t be happening.
This shouldn’t be happening.
She wasn’t supposed to die.
But she is. A quick check of her pulse told him as much.
The next hour passes in a blur, and he’s only barely aware of the ambulance that arrives, and the EMT that comes to collect her body (oh god he nearly gags at that thought).
He tries to pull it together enough to drive Rose home, his instincts as a social worker taking over, wanting to make sure she gets home safe. She apologizes, he reassures her that none of this is her fault, and he drives home. It’s only once he gets home that it really starts to sink in. She’s dead. And she’s not coming back.
The emotions come in waves, and he goes to sit down, but that’s when he notices something. A sealed envelope that falls out of his pocket. He remembers. Ms. Holloway had said to read this if something ever happened, and he would definitely qualify this as “something happening”
Well, guess I’m dead. It’s ok. Relax. Have some pie, and wait about 2 hours. Whatever you do, don’t call an ambulance, and do not under any circumstance, send me to the morgue.
He re-read the letter furiously, starting to wonder if he made a mistake, and dashed off to the morgue as quick as he could, sneaking in as the last of the staff went home, all the while wondering what in the world he was doing.
He arrived to find a pale, and very much dead-looking Ms. Holloway covered by a white sheet he pulled back. Just as he was about to pull the sheet back and head back home, Ms. Holloway’s eyes burst open, and she let out a gasp before lurching up, causing Duke to stumble back into the metal tray behind him.
This shouldn’t be possible.
This couldn’t be possible.
She was dead.
Past tense. Because now she’s not dead. Apparently.
Ms. Holloway, however, did not share his shock. She hopped off the table and pulled on a lab coat, before making her way out, annoyed that the whole town thinks she’s dead now, and Duke followed her, thoroughly confused.
Which is what brings him to the present back at the diner, with Ms. Holloway bringing out pans to make hotcakes.
She pauses at his demand for an explanation, and her expression softens. This had to have been the 5th time, at least, that he’s asked for this. She knew what would happen if she tried, but she paused what she was doing anyway, and started to explain.
Duke took it as well as she expected him to. She described her past personas, her deal with him, her past battles, and everything in between. He was angry for her and worried for her, and as the story reached its end, she started tripping over her words, anxious to get to the end, and more importantly, his reaction.
After nearly four hours of talking, Ms. Holloway concluded her tale, and she started at Duke with anticipation, hoping for a look of recognition. Unfortunately, all she got was, “What story? You didn’t say anything.”
Her heart sank. She knew she shouldn’t have gotten her hopes up. After all, she knew how the deal with him worked. She knew the terms. There wasn’t anything different about this time that could suggest he’d remember.
But that didn’t stop her from hoping. Hoping that one day she could share her past with the most important person in her life. Hoping that she could share the burden of all she had gone through with someone else.
Sometimes it was fine. She had been alone for years, it didn’t bother her that she couldn’t tell anyone. But sometimes it wasn’t. Sometimes she longed to tell someone all that she had been through, all that she had seen, and there was no one she wanted to tell more than Duke.
Sweet, supportive Duke. A man who had kept an open mind and heart from the beginning. He didn’t deserve this. He wanted answers, and she so desperately wanted to give them to him.
But she couldn’t. She shook her head, trying to clear her mind. It was fine. She was fine. She just had to focus on stopping the Killer Track before it killed anyone else. (She was also trying hard to not think about the fact that after this, she would have to create another persona and leave Duke. She’d have to make him forget her and pretend she didn’t know him. If she thought too hard about this she knew she’d get distracted, and wouldn’t be able to make it through this, and she couldn’t let that happen)
So, she just filled Duke in on the next target for the Killer Track- the Honey Festival. She was worried they were too late when the Killer Track started to blare by the time they got there, but she spotted a guitar on stage and got an idea.
As she strummed the opening chords to the song, she felt it all come back to her, the magic, music, and memories all flowing through her. This wasn't a song she had written in her glory days, but something she had scratched out on napkins in Ms. Retros when she had first met Duke. It was about him and the love she had gained for him, and she poured all her heart and emotions into each note and lyric she sang.
She knew that Duke wouldn't remember it after she played it, but she hoped that he could hear what she was pouring into this song right now, and hear her intent now before it's erased from his memory.
The song concluded and the audience was filled with confused faces, her song was completely erased, but luckily, the Killer Track went with it, and no one would die of mysterious causes in a week.
Ms. Holloway dropped the guitar back where she discovered it and started to make it back to the sound tent where she knew Duke was. She found him checking over Rose to make sure he was ok and she smiled. She loved how his first priority always seemed to be the kids he looked after.
Once he was sure Rose was okay and heading back to her band, Duke and Ms. Holloway made their way to the paddleboats and rowed out to the middle of the lake as Duke started recounting his tale of the night’s events.
He described how the song was about to play, how he smashed the phone, how Kale had exploded in a ball of electricity.
A sad smile crossed her face as he proudly proclaimed his role in the night’s happenings. He wouldn’t remember this. The threat is gone now and that means she would have to erase his memory of Ms. Holloway and her magical powers.
“So how are you planning on explaining to the town that you’re back? News travels fast in this town, I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone knows at this point,” Duke wondered
“I don’t think we will explain it,” She smiled. “Ms. Holloway had a good run. Maybe it’s time to move on to the next persona. They’re only good for about 15 years anyways, then people start to notice.”
Duke nodded. “Ok, so you pick a new name, change your hair-”
“Oh, I’m not touching my hair! It’s been like this since the 80s!”
Duke smiled. “It’s not gonna fool anybody. People aren’t gonna forget you.”
Ms. Holloway’s teasing smile fell. And there it was. The dreaded comment. This comment required one of the hardest answers she would have to give Duke. Sweet Duke, who didn’t deserve this. But she had to. It was part of the deal. One she couldn’t back out of now.
“Actually Duke, they will. And so will you.”
“What?” Duke’s face still had a smile, not fully comprehending what she just said.
“You’ll remember Ms. Holloway. You’ll remember she died that night in the diner. You won’t remember how exactly, and you’ll forget she has powers. You’ll forget the book. Soon, you’ll just remember she was your friend.”
By now, Duke’s smile had fallen and he was shaking his head in denial.
“No, n-no, that’s not fair, you can’t make me forget you, I- you can’t make me forget you, I couldn’t forget you, even if I tried, God- you know how I feel about you!”
“Duke,” Ms. Holloway shushes him. “Relax. I’m trying to say goodbye. Can I?”
Ms. Holloway leans in, and the two share a kiss. As their lips meet, she can feel her magic moving from her lips to his, and certain memories fading from his mind, while others were edited to remove any indication of magic. Their lips part and Duke opens his eyes, confused, as Ms. Holiday watches distantly on the dock.
She watches as he tries to figure out what he’s doing out on the lake.
She watches as he puts together that he came out to see the fireworks.
She watches as a look of content crosses his face as he watches the colorful explosions above, and a silent tear rolls down her cheek.
She knew this was going to happen. From the moment she met Duke and fell for him, she knew something like this had to happen. Too often, she was mixed up in things that he really shouldn’t, and 15 years wasn’t too far off; something was bound to happen where she’d need to create a new persona.
But she hadn’t cared. She had fallen for him, and she'd fallen hard. She’d fallen for the way he cared so much for the kids he was put in charge of, she’d fallen for his smile that always seemed to light up a room, she’d fallen for the way he called her “darlin,’” she’d fallen for his loyalty that held steadfastly, and she’d fallen for the fierce protective nature he displayed for his kids, whether it be in front of a parent or a supernatural entity.
She wipes away the tear that had been sliding silently down her cheek and started walking away from the docks. She whispers a short but powerful spell as she walks away, and with each step she takes, a wave of magic spreads through Hatchetfield, altering everyone’s memories, removing any indication of magic from a few, and erasing the memory of what Ms. Holloway looks like from all. Anyone walking through the festival wouldn’t spot Ms. Holloway, but instead, a mysterious new woman in town, who would introduce herself as Ms. Holliday.
Despite the way that she carried herself, Ms. Holliday didn’t know everything; there were plenty of things out of her league. She didn’t know when this timeline would reset. She didn’t know what would change, or what would happen between now and when the reset happens. But what she does know is that she’ll find Duke. She somehow always does, and the selfish part of her is excited for it, despite everything that could happen to him.
So she pauses and turns back toward the lake, Duke now nothing more than a dot on the lake lit up by the fireworks above and quietly whispered into the night before leaving the festival for good.
“Bya Duke, I’ll find you in the next timeline. I promise.”