Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Louise sat in the blue Vauxhall, drumming her fingers on the steering wheel, glancing every other minute at her mobile phone, expecting it to ring.  A police car had passed by and her heart nearly leapt into her mouth. 
     She thought about the dead man lying in the corridor of her flat.  Everything was different now.  She couldn’t take it back.  She wouldn’t lose Celia because of it, because of this madness.  Celia was all she had now.  Celia was her world now.  She could never let it go.  Even if there was no real love there was friendship, companionship…and now that would have to suffice.  In time she would make Celia love her.  She would force her to.  She’d be the whore, the mistress, and anything else that Celia wanted.  She’d dedicate her life to satisfying Celia’s desires.  What else was there to do now?
     Louise slung the duffel bag across her shoulder and stepped from the car, closing the door and walking away, pointing the alarm-key. The Vauxhall bleeped and locked itself.  She hurried across the street, to the glass doors of Hades House Publishing.  She tugged at them but they were locked.  She glanced at the intercom and saw a tiny camera watching her.  She pressed the buzzer and waited.  There was no reply.  She held her thumb to the button and it began to buzz continuously.
     “Hang on,” came a man’s voice, slightly strained.  She took her thumb away. The glass doors buzzed and clicked open. 
     Louise ventured inside and went to the elevator.
     In the carriage she kneeled, dropped the bag, removed the gun, and slung the bag back across her shoulder.  She was scared, although not as scared as she should’ve been.  The weapon was comforting.  She clicked off the safety.  The doors opened and she stepped cautiously into the well-lit hall, sweeping the gun like she had seen cops do in the movies.  Her mouth felt dry.  The hall was empty but there were spots of blood on the polished floor.  Something had gone wrong.
     There was only one explanation.
     Louise glanced left and right, unsure which way to tread.  Instinctively, she went right and began walking quietly down the hall, gun aimed, held tightly with both hands.  She strained her ears for sounds.  She heard nothing but the silence.  She half expected to see the young twins she had witnessed at Litchfield, but she blanked it from her mind.  It was a man that was the problem.
     “Celia,” she called out tentatively.  “Celia…where are you?  Jesus Christ, Cee, where are you…?”
     Nothing.  And then a doorknob rattled faintly.  Louise spun to face it, gun aimed.  She swallowed and took a step towards it.  “Cee?  Baby girl, you in there?”  Staring at the doorknob, she slowly lowered the gun, inching carefully forward. 
     She pressed her free hand against the smooth wood and put her ear to the door, listening for wounded sounds on the other side.
     Something was driven clean through the door and into her shoulder, piercing her back.  Like a lance of white hot steel.  Her mind seemed to implode and she tried to cry out in the worst agony.  The release didn’t come and she gagged.  Like a vortex of flame spinning in her shoulder.  She tried to cry out again, eyes bulging.  Her voice lodged in her chest.  Louise began to spasm, gun slipping from her hand, bag slipping from her shoulder.  She was impaled, pinned to the office door.  Images in her mind came too quick to process, each one tumbling over the other and bleeding together.  Her voice dislodged itself and she let out a guttural scream.
     Agony.  Confusion.  Horror.  Her hands shot up and gripped the thing in the inch between herself and the door – the coldness of a blade.  Oh Christ…!” she managed, each tiny movement sending trails and spirals of pain through her shoulder.  Like acid in her flesh.  Through the pain she heard the lock disengage, lolling forward as the door was opened, pinned to the smooth wood.  Louise gasped and gagged. 
     Someone pulled the blade from her shoulder and back through the door in one clean motion.  She cried out and collapsed to the floor, just inside the dark office.  She managed to look up and see a man, probably Paul Drazer.  He was staring down at her, grimacing, dressed in a shirt and tie, holding a bloodied hand to the side of his head, a long dagger in his other hand.  A dagger smeared with her own blood.
     “Please…don’t kill me,” she managed to beg before her mind began to ebb and shift unsteadily.  He stepped past Louise and out into the hallway, closing the door behind him.  The darkness in the room was soon overcome by the darkness that began to swell in her brain.  She prayed that Celia was alive before she blacked out.

***

Hiding in her dark corner, behind the desk, Celia heard Louise calling out to her.  She was too afraid to run to her baby girl, knowing that Paulie was out there.  She heard Louise cry out in agony and fear that drove deep into her head, but she still couldn’t go out there. 
     Why is he doing this…?  It’s not Paulie.  It can’t be. 
     It couldn’t be the Paulie she knew, the Paul Drazer she’d known for six years, the man she dated and very nearly slept with.  But of course, it was.  Celia could think of nothing but the feeling of the dagger slicing into her flesh.  Another sob burst from her lips. 
     Louise wasn’t screaming anymore.  A fist slammed against the door and she wailed involuntarily.
     “Why are you doing this!  Paulie…please!  I’m begging you – don’t do this!  I’ll do whatever you want!”
     Fists slammed the door again and she saw shadows in the slip of light beneath it.  She couldn’t just cower there.  Get up.  Celia scrambled from her hiding place and pulled open the desk drawer so hard that it crashed to the floor, scattering pens and papers and paperclips around her knees.
     “Oh God oh God oh God…”  She snatched a fountain pen, yanked off the lid and surged towards the office door.  It blasted inwards suddenly, and Celia saw Paulie stumble through, shoulder first. 
     She leapt at him and he didn’t have time to orient himself.  Slamming into him, her forward momentum sent them both back through the door and into the hallway.  She struck out with both hands balled into one fist, catching him in the face with the nib of the fountain pen.  It sliced open his cheek as he stumbled back against the wall, blinking rapidly, trying to raise the dagger in his hand.  She struck out again, screaming.  This time the nib of the pen caught him deep across his neck.
     It sliced open his throat in a thin red smile.
     Celia heaved herself backwards against the opposite wall, hands still balled in a subconscious attack posture.  Paul Drazer stared at her, the dagger slipping from his hand and clattering on the hallway floor.  He opened his mouth, trying to speak. 
     His knees buckled and he fell suddenly, gagging on his blood, hands pressed desperately to his throat.  He made wet sucking sounds, writhing and then shuddering, then twitching, then finally, stillness. 
     Celia let herself slide against the wall to the ground.  Her fists were shaking, like they had a life of their own.  Her stomach felt empty and burning.
     “Where…” she murmured, “Where…”
     She looked again at Paul Drazer.  A pool of crimson was collecting on the floor around his head.  She wanted to wretch but didn’t.  Looking down at her hands, she realised she was still holding the bloodied fountain pen in a tightly clenched fist. She dropped it and screamed, “Lou…!  Lou, where are you!  Louise!  Louise!” 
     Against the wall she struggled to her feet and began to run, haphazard, down the hallway.  She rounded the corner and stopped, falling to her knees again in defeat at what she saw.
     Mr Finn. 
     He was standing there in the hallway, without eyes.  Empty black sockets. 
     Celia slammed her fists uselessly on the floor.  “No, it’s not fair…it’s not fucking fair...”  This was never going to end. 
     “None of this is fair,” Mr Finn said, “To any of us.”
     Celia began to laugh.  A vacant, shaking laughter that seemed to rise up from somewhere deep inside her.  “No,” she muttered, tears rolling down her blood smeared cheek, “No, no, no.”  She laughed again, her face shifting from sobs to grins.  She pressed her hands to the sides of her head.  “No.  No.  No.  No.  No.”
     From a side office stepped the tall, bald black woman.  Lillibeth Renn; clad in a long indigo gown.  No eyes either, just dark sockets in her face.  Celia doubled over on her knees, pressing her forehead to the polished floor. 
     “Is it the end of the world…?” Celia asked softly.
     “No…not yet,” she heard the woman say.  “Soon enough, but not yet.  You’ll have to wait for that, for the War of Miracles, when your mind is opened and the Elders flood through.  The true serpents.”
     Celia looked up from the floor, so tired, wanting nothing more than to sleep.  The black woman was holding a gun, casually, in her left hand.  She weighed it in her palm like it was an alien thing. 
     “This is an ingenious device, designed for the sole purpose of taking life.  I remember these machines.”  She glanced then at Mr Finn.  “Namahey, do you remember these machines?”
     He nodded.  Lillibeth returned her amused gaze to Celia, who stared up pitifully.  The black woman extended a hand and Celia took it, pulled to her feet like tightly-spun static gripping her forearm.  Lillibeth pushed her to the wall and stroked her face, brushed aside the edge of her jacket and cupped her breasts through her shirt, peering without eyes to see.  Celia didn’t resist it. 
     “I remember this body…I remember this flesh.”
     The black woman leaned forward and kissed Celia.  It was like falling through sweet, dark smoke.  Her hands reached down, one holding a hip, the other pushing itself between Celia’s thighs, rubbing at the crotch of her jeans.  Celia didn’t resist.
     “I remember this.  This was very important to me.  To you.”  Celia closed her eyes and listened.  “We were watching what you did.  A savage display.  I don’t remember it being at all like that.  You need your brutality, don’t you?  It’s not a journey unless you Come…?  For me it was slower.  I hungered too, but my Celia was played less forcefully than yours.  Isn’t it strange how we can be the same and yet different?  You take this role more seriously than I did, I’m sure.  But then…who’s to say?  The way I remember it…my beautiful Louise was so hungry.  I put a gun to her head.  I never forgot her, but I was angry that she’d moved on…and that I was too afraid to follow suit.  She was my baby girl and I thought I’d lost her.  But death is an open circle.  Death is just a door.  Now we’re united forever and we take any form we choose, without morality, without the confusions of flesh.  I fuck Namahey’s mind, his spirit, his soul.  His very heart.  I don’t sup at his cunt anymore…”
     An image came to Celia, cold like ice.  Staring at a reflection through silver water.  Lillibeth nodded, up close. 
     “The dead moon, Miss Gray.  Although I was never so vain.”
     “You were,” said Mr Finn from behind her. 
     Lillibeth smiled.  “Perhaps.” 
     Celia understood, recognising herself.  She exhaled, long and deep.  She felt darkness inside, deep and blinding.
     “Now you sense the edges of enlightenment, yes?”
     Celia stared at the bald black woman.  “Yes.  The white crosses for eyes…where are they?  I always loved the white crosses…”
     Lillibeth glanced at Mr Finn, half-smiling as if sharing a private joke.  “Our sight was taken.  In the war that is to come, your sight will be taken also.  And after your physical death…you will be forced to see through the eyes of another.” 
     Mr Finn stepped forward and Lillibeth took his hand.
     “Celia,” Finn said quietly, “I love you.  I always have.  Beyond the physical world you’ll learn how much Louise loves you.  It’s the circle.  The returning.  Our private myth…and later, after many quests and wars, when you have seen many worlds – it will become your myth.”
     “Where’s Louise…?” Celia asked vacantly.
     Lillibeth raised the gun in her hand, glancing again at Mr Finn.  “I need to do this, Namahey. Celia needs to do this.  The proving of love.”  She went to Celia again, leaning forward, whispering in her ear: “Take away the fire, the dust…and what is left?  I told you I would kill her.  You’re a murderer, Miss Gray.”
     “No…” Celia murmured, with what remained of her strength, “No, please…”
     Lillibeth turned and began walking down the hallway.  Celia watched her go.  Mr Finn watched Celia’s desperation. 
     “I can’t let you leave me,” he told her quietly, “I can’t, baby girl.  Alice came to see me.  I put her in a box but she got out.  She says I don’t love you.  That if I did I would set you free…but you’re all I have.”
     Celia shook her head, disbelieving, trying to deny the truth that was dawning. 
     “Lou…?” she whispered, staring lazily at him.
     Mr Finn stared back with empty black sockets.  “The returning.  Breathe smoke forever.  Burn the world and save what can be saved.  This snake-suit protects me from harm, this demon lie.  The blood allows me to create these worlds for you, baby girl.  For her.  Try to understand…I’m not really a monster.  I crave the freedom.  We both do, Cee.  We can’t escape our hearts desires.  We can’t outrun the workings of the soul.  Even if…even if we don’t have the words.” 
     “Lou…?” Celia murmured again, her heart as cold as death.
     “Baby girl,” he replied quietly.
     Celia turned and ran, stumbling back down the hallway after Lillibeth.  An office door stood wide open.  Celia stopped in front of it, her mind filled with sweet, dark smoke.  Louise was lying unconscious on the floor. 
     Lillibeth was standing over her, the gun aimed at her head.
     Please,” Celia begged, spreading her palms wide, “Please…I don’t want this to happen…I don’t…I won’t be able to live without her…Don’t do this…
     Lillibeth turned to Celia, cocking the hammer of the gun.  “You will – you’ll be able to live without her.  I did.  You’re a murderer.”
     Celia dropped to her knees in the office doorway, face twisted into a ravaged grimace.  She pressed her hands together, slowly, as if in prayer.  Please, Lillibeth, I’ll do anything!  Anything!” 
     Gun aimed, Lillibeth said softly, “Define Love.”
     Don’t do this to me!”
     “To you?” asked Lillibeth, “Or to me?”
     Louise began to stir.  Her head turned.  She opened her eyes and saw Celia kneeled in the doorway.  She smiled.  Please.  But Lillibeth pulled the trigger.  A pulse of darkest red across the office floor.
     Louise; eyes wide, still smiling. 
     Celia screamed and screamed and screamed…

***

Take it back.  Take it back.  Turn back the Clock and love her like she deserved.  Hold her.  Make her laugh.  Do as she demands, do everything.  Bite her shoulder gently and tickle her until she goes crazy, until she is content.  Kiss her.  Kiss her whenever she seems sad.  Love her like she deserved.  Go to her for release.  Take it back, take it back.  Take it back.

***

Home again, the same night.  The cathedral was bathed in a blue half-light.  On the altar they were naked, Lillibeth resting her head on the shoulder of her beloved.  Namahey was singing to her, whispering things from their native dream and other things that Lillibeth had yet to remember.  She smiled as she was held by him, trusting, knowing.  Finally knowing. 
     The little ghost had vanished, disappearing somewhere between here and there.  It hardly mattered now.  She would devour Namahey when the time was right.  That longing in him would be sated.  It was the only gift that meant anything.  The only gift she could give him.
     She thought about Celia; her fear, her pain and hatred.  Lillibeth Renn understood Celia’s love now.  She grasped why she had done the things she had done, why she once shunned her baby girl the way she did.  Namahey squeezed her shoulder, hearing her thoughts. 
     Namahey Finn felt for the princess, for Angel Wine.  The things she would seek out.  The revelations that she did not believe could find her, but would.  The illumination she would one day hold in the palm of her hand.  Seeker.  She thought he cursed her that day…but he had given her a gift.  There were things that Lillibeth still did not understand.  Celia was tainted, but she would seek.  She would find it.  And perhaps she would birth a new myth; a new returning, a new Lillibeth and Namahey.  Was that too lush a promise?
     Circles were never really circles.  They were something beyond.  He smiled somewhat hopefully to himself, and held his beloved tight.

***

They had let her walk out of there, parting for her.  They let her stumble, sobbing, into the outer darkness.  She was kneeled in the courtyard behind Corpus Christi.  It was deep into the night now, near dawn.  She had wept.  She had wailed.  She had screamed at the useless moon.  Her body had been wracked with convulsions. 
     A black duffel bag was slung across her shoulder.  She was so tired.  She wanted to sleep, just for a while, to escape this shock and numbness, slipping into something deep, dreamless.  But not yet.  She would sleep on the plane.  She glanced up at the dark sky.  It would be dawn soon, another November day.
     I can’t let you leave me…we leave tonight and never come back…
     She knew undoubtedly what her baby girl would have wanted.  She would have wanted her to go on.  To fight; stubborn like she was.  Celia thought she’d cried all her tears tonight, but more of them began to roll down her face.  She glanced at the stone cross. 
     “Hey, mum…I don’t have much time.  Long night.  Came to say goodbye.  I’m…leaving you.  I’ll try to remember.”
     She climbed to her feet and hurried through the courtyard, to her car.
     As she drove she cried again, silently this time.  Her file from the Iris Medical Institute was open on the passenger seat.  Angel Wine.  She stared at the fake passport in her hand; a photo of herself with the name ‘Lilly Geller’.  The name didn’t turn her cold.  She wasn’t as afraid as she might have been, too numb to feel terror.  She fiercely wiped the tears from her cheek and pressed a little harder on the accelerator.  She would take it all back if she could…but she couldn’t. 
     Lou was gone.  Her broken body lay on the floor of Hades House.  Would she never get to hold her again?  She would find a way.  She would seek it out, move heaven and dream and earth.  Celia burst into tears.  She didn’t know what was coming.  Baby girl…my sleeping beauty.  As she stared at the road ahead, she saw that a fine shimmer of snow was beginning to fall from the dark sky – the first snow of the winter.


************************

Chapter Twenty-Six

She was searching, seeking, but there was no meaning in this world.  Seeking truth meant discovering madness, chaos.  If there was a divine world beyond what she could see, then it was a world of chaos, in which there was no use for compassion or an understanding of human suffering.  Celia wanted to bear her frailty with pride to that world, and to Louise, but she knew it would crush her.  How was she any different from the women that came before her?  Alice Gray, the women before that, all the way back to the first.  Eve; tempted by a fucking apple.  She laughed and closed her eyes. 
     When she thought about any of it; her life, her failings, she was overcome with anger, overcome with hatred.  These demons, or whatever they were, they wanted to take away any hope she might dig up from the cold, bitter ground.  They wanted to ruin her completely.  And wasn’t that what she herself wanted?  To be damned.  To be enlightened.  To be anything but what she was; weak and afraid, hurting like a scared, confused child. 
     Why seek, why search?  There were no answers to be found, especially when she could barely define the questions.  Was it easier for other people, or were they just better at hiding from themselves?  Perhaps they were cruel.  Perhaps cruelty was the only salvation, the only truth to be found.  She saw it on the news every day.  She saw it in her life.  She felt it in her mind and she wanted to know it in her heart.
     Apart from death, it was the only protection she could think of.  Complete isolation.  Sacrificed to darkness.  Celia would do that if she could; give herself willingly to the demons, to the hatred, but only if there was no more pain, never any confusion.  Then she would waltz through what came like a stage-play, and treat it all as it really was – an illusion.
     Just take this away from me…and I’ll be whatever you want me to be.
     She thought about Ryan, wondering if he was dead or alive.  Had those things eaten him?  She laughed, sitting in the driver seat of her black Ford, staring through the windscreen up at the dark facade of Hades House Publishing.  She glanced at her watch.  .  She could only see two office lights glowing in the windows.  Paul had said to meet at Eight.  She wondered what she would learn from him, if he was still alive. 
     She thought about Ben Foster and the Iris Medical Institute.  Angel Wine.  She’d trusted Ben completely.  She loved him, the way he brought her out of herself.  And all the time he’d been the one behind it.  How could she trust when life gave her examples like that?  How could she trust anyone, even Louise?
     A ghost chasing ghosts…you’re disgusting…and you know it.
     Celia opened the driver-side window and lit another cigarette.  She reached into the bag and felt the cold steel of the gun again.  She should blow her brains all over the upholstery and end this nonsense – a click of the trigger, nothing more or less.  But she couldn’t.  Better the devil you know, right?  She laughed. 
     Her mobile phone rang.  She answered it.  “Yeah…?”
     “It’s me…”  There was a tremor in Louise’s voice that Celia didn’t recognise.
     “I’m sorry, Lou.”
     “You’re sorry…of course you’re sorry.”
     Celia inhaled sharply.  “What do you want me to say?”
     “Nothing.  Where are you?”
     She glanced up at the building.  “I’m outside Hades House Publishing.  I’m meeting Paul in an hour.  I’m not backing down on this.  I need to know.”
     There was silence on the line, then, “I’m coming to meet you.  I’ll be there in half an hour…”
     “Lou, no.  I need to do this on my own.”
     “No change there then, Cee.”
     Celia closed her eyes again.  “Lou, I don’t want to get you killed.”
     “I’m coming to meet you…I don’t care what you need right now.  Afterwards we’re getting on a plane to Paris.”
     “What?  What the hell are you talking about…?”
     “It’s not safe for you here and you know it.  It’s not safe for me either.  You said they wanted to kill me because of you.” 
     Louise sounded different and Celia felt a stab of panic.  “What’s happened, Lou?  Tell me what’s going on.”
     “Not over the phone.  Do you love me, baby girl?”
     Celia swallowed and tossed the cigarette from the window.  “Tell me what happened.”
     “Do you love me, baby girl?”
     “I do.”
     “So you’ve found the words…?”
     Celia felt tears in her eyes but she forced them back.  “I don’t need words.”
     For a moment there was silence on the line.  “I’ll meet you in half an hour.  You can prove it to me.”  Louise hung up. 
     Celia snapped the phone shut and pressed it to her mouth.  Something bad had happened. She could feel it.
  
***

On the Silent Gallery, Lillibeth was clothed in a long indigo gown.  She wore it for Namahey.  Indigo had always been his favourite colour.  She stood re-lighting the candles, thinking about her visit from the little ghost that found a way to escape her box. 
     Alice tried to frighten her, tried to make her doubt what she was.  A pathetic attempt to break the circle.  Circles couldn’t be broken.  Alice knew this and still she would try.  Did the little ghost think she could touch her with a mother’s hands, with a mother’s love?  She had been trapped in her box for too long, fantasising about returning her once daughter to creative light, dreaming of her masterstroke.
     From the shadows beyond the candlelight, Namahey stepped onto the Gallery.  “She came to me, Lillibeth.”
     She turned and regarded him.  He was dressed now in his favourite black suit.  “I know.  She came to me too.” 
     Namahey went and stepped out onto the portico, overlooking the hall.  Lillibeth sensed frustration in him, and anger.  Very rarely was he angry.  “We sealed her box tight.  And still she got out.”
     “They always do.  No ritual can hold a soul forever, you know that.”
     He turned and looked at her.  “It’s the prayer ones.  They whisper sweet nothings in the little ghost’s ears.  She hitches rides on their butterfly wings.  So much for supplication.”
     “It doesn’t matter,” Lillibeth told him.  “Butterflies.  A childlike thing, poorly conceived.  Are we meant to see innocence there?  Beauty?  Unconditional love?  The prayer ones know they fight a losing battle, Namahey…that’s why they’re forced to take such obvious forms.  Their self-styled ‘purity’ means that they lack the depth or darkness for genuine imagination.”  She grinned and laughed.  “Their images mean nothing.  They’re weak and ineffectual.  A butterfly can be crushed in the palm of a hand, do that to a snake and it will bite the same hand.”  
     Namahey stared with his blank dolls eyes, thinking.  “But each revolution of the circle is different.  Our myth is always threatened.  We cannot be killed, that much is true, but we can be buried, burned, or frozen.  That’s what concerns me now.  We can still be lost to ourselves.”
     Lillibeth shrugged in the candlelight.  “Then we’ll dig our way to the surface.  We’ll let our burns heal.  We’ll wait patiently to thaw.  My memories have returned, mostly, and I recall that we’ve done such things before.”
     Namahey went to her and whispered, “I once doubted your love for me and it broke my bones. It hurt me greatly, but you were unconcerned.”
     “I know…”
     “You hurt me, but I don’t doubt you anymore, and I will not let my certainty be taken from me.  I will not lose you again.”
     Lillibeth touched his cheek.  “You were always a die-hard romantic, always.”
     “Yes…and now someone threatens our romance.”
     “Celia will not…”
     “No, not Celia.  A supplicant…a man.  A man who thrives in darkness but aches to be seen.  He wants to understand our myth…and he’s willing to take Celia from us to do it.”
     Lillibeth closed her dolls eyes.  “A supplicant would never defy us like that…”
     “This one has.  He took the life of a cleric, the life of Mr Haven.”
     “That’s impossible,” she almost hissed.
     “I know,” said her beloved.

***

In his office, Paul Drazer sat in the leather chair behind his desk.  He’d switched off the overhead lights.  Only a single lamp was illuminated, throwing a small arc of yellow across the wall.  He was thinking about Celia.  He lit a cigarette.
     Once his work was completed he wondered if the Clock would descend on him like the winged eclipse.  He hoped so.  He wanted to see them.  Not their monster masks, but their true faces.  They might glance at what was left of Angel Wine and then tear him apart.  He would laugh and spit in their faces as they slaughtered him, welcoming them to Hades House. 
     It would be good.  It would be very good.  While he smoked he drummed his fingers on the desktop.  He waited silently for her to come.

***

Celia had smoked five cigarettes in a row, sitting in the driver seat.  She frowned when she saw a blue Vauxhall pull up behind her car.  She glanced again in the rear-view and realised it was Louise behind the wheel, motioning to her.  She took her handbag with the gun inside, climbed from the Ford, locked it and walked to the Vauxhall. 
     She pulled open the door and got in, glancing at Louise.  “Where did you get this car…?”
     Louise looked vacant, staring wide-eyed at nothing, a slight patina of sweat on her brow.  She pulled open a black duffel bag on her lap and removed a clear zip-lock pouch.  It was filled with cash.  She took a gun from the bag. 
     “I loaded it.”
     Fuck…what did you do?”
     Louise stared at her, almost through her.  “I can’t let you leave me…”
     “What the hell have you done?  Tell me!”
     “At the flat…someone came, David, your one night of passion.  Celia, he’s some sort of secret government agent.  He said we have to get out of the country.  He’s the one that took the diary…the one that stabbed me.  I think he’s been following you…”
     Celia shook her head, her mind reeling at what Louise had just told her.  She tried to speak but couldn’t.
     “He said he was trying to do something special,” muttered Louise, laughing.
     Celia stared down at the cash and the gun in Louise’s hands.  Louise put the zip-lock and the pistol back in the bag and suddenly grabbed Celia by the sides of the head.  Celia could only peer into Louise’s dark blue eyes. 
     “I can’t let you leave me.”
     “Lou, you’re scaring me…”
     “That’s good.  We have to leave.  There’s two fake passports in this bag, with our photos on them.  We get out of the country…wherever you want to go.  Far away.  Somewhere far away.”
     Celia pulled Louise’s hands from the sides of her face.   “Where is David now?”
     Louise looked away.  “He’s gone.”
     “Where?”
     “He didn’t say.”  She turned and regarded Celia again.  “We leave tonight.  We don’t ever come back.”
     Celia felt a sickening heaviness inside herself.  She couldn’t think properly.  Leaving London, leaving Britain.  Never coming back.  Her mind was spinning.  David.  She let him fuck her. 
     “I don’t know, Lou…I don’t know.”  She felt Louise grip her under the chin.
     “You were right in the beginning, Cee.  These demon creatures are real…and if you stay here, if we stay here, they’ll kill us.”
     Celia pushed Louise’s hand away.  “Wait, wait…I need to speak to Paulie.  I need to see whatever he’s got.  I need to know as much as I can first.  Then I’ll think about what to do next…” 
     Louise said nothing.  Celia inhaled deeply, wiping away tears that had crept stealthily from her eyes.  She looked up at the facade of Hades House.  “Stay here.  If anything goes wrong we’ll call each other on our mobiles.  I’ll…I’ll have my phone on vibrate.  If I call you then you come up and get me.  If I’m not back in twenty minutes, you come and get me.”  Louise nodded silently.  “Bring that gun with you.”
     Celia climbed from the blue Vauxhall.   Louise snagged at her jacket and she turned.  “I love you, baby girl, almost as much as you love me.”
     Celia stared for a brief moment and shut the door.  She hurried across the road.
     The entrance to Hades House Publishing was plush but small, carpeted with deep reds and walled with dark blues.  She stood outside the main glass doors and buzzed the intercom for the fifth floor, wondering if the receptionist would still be working.  She waited, moving nervously on her heels. 
     “Come on, Paulie…”
     Without hearing a voice through the speaker, the glass doors buzzed and unlocked.  She pushed them open and stepped inside.  The doors closed and locked behind her.  She walked across the well-lit foyer and glanced at the company logo on the wall.  An eye slashed with a red cross.  She pressed the elevator button and waited, stepping inside when it arrived.  She pressed for the fifth floor.  The carriage began to ascend.  Celia reached into her handbag, gripping the gun inside it.
     Paul Drazer was standing in front of the reception desk when the doors opened.  He sighed and smiled, shaking his head. 
     “Oh, thank God.”  He was holding a manila folder in his hands.  “It’s fucking good to see you, sweetie.”
     She went and threw her arms around him, grinning.  “It’s good to see you, Paulie…You don’t know how good.”
     He smiled nervously.  “I can imagine…come on.”  They hurried down the hall and he handed her the folder as they went.  “Someone tried to run me off the road,” he told her as they slipped into his darkened office.  Only a lamp on the desk was lit.
     “I thought they might’ve got to you,” she told him, pulling up a chair and holding the folder under the light of the lamp. 
     Black-Light. Eating-Tree SCI; CG116- Gray, Celia.
     She opened it whilst Drazer was perched on the edge of the desk.  There were transcripts of conversations between she and Ben Foster; conversations she didn’t remember taking place.  She scanned quickly, her pulse beginning to rise.  Conversations recorded under hypnosis.
     “You’re not going to like what you find,” Drazer told her.
     “Where did you get this…?”
     “From a guy.”
     Celia stared up at him, “Which guy?”
     “A friend, a supplicant.”
     Celia shook her head, not understanding.  “Supplicant…?”
     “A follower of the Clock.”
     Celia felt her blood go like ice-water.  Her stomach seemed to twist. Oh shit, no, no, please, not you…
     “Paulie…you’re scaring me.”
     He nodded seriously, “Sometimes I scare myself.”
     Celia felt cold tendrils of fear touch at her neck.  “You’re one of them…” she murmured, feeling the fear become terror, pinning her to the chair on which she sat.
     “Not even close, sweetie.  I’ll never be one of them.”  He leaned in to her, whispering in her ear, “Angel Wine.”
     “I trusted you, Paulie…I fucking trusted you.  I laughed with you…oh…”  Her breath trembled, “…you bastard…”
     He’s gonna kill you, girl…he’s gonna hurt you really bad…
     Her hand moved to the bag hanging from her shoulder.  Paul Drazer clamped down on her wrist.  She flinched at his strength.  “You got something for me?” he asked.  “Is it a musical thank-you card?”
     In a sudden, violent move, Celia swung the bag at the side of his head.  The weight of the gun inside was cushioned by the suede, but it connected at his temple with a hard, flat crack.  The gun went off; a sharp spike of sound, orange muzzle flare tearing through the bag – a spray of blood back-lit by the lamp.
     Paul Drazer’s right ear was blown apart.
     His hand snapped to the side of his head, blood spilling immediately from between his fingers.  He stared wide-eyed at Celia for the briefest moment before screaming and staggering backwards, tumbling over the corner of his desk.  He screamed and screamed, writhing on the floor.  Celia didn’t think to run, transfixed by the suddenness of what had happened.  Her breath trembled in her throat.
     His screaming became a twisted moaning and he lunged up suddenly, grabbing at the side of the desk, trying to pull himself to his feet.  An oily sensation was surging through Celia.  She shivered in the chair.  Her mind then told her to run, just run, but she was unable, watching Paul Drazer grappling at the desk. 
     Go…move, move now…
     In his left hand he suddenly had a syringe, jabbing it quickly into his own throat.  He pressed his face to the desk, breathing tremulously with blood trickling across the polished wood from his ruined ear. 
     Celia finally bolted upright from the chair and snatched inside her bag, tearing the gun free, swinging it in his direction and pulling the trigger.  Another sharp spike of sound that cracked through the office.  A hole was blown in the desktop beside his left hand.  He flinched but continued hugging the edges of the desk, on his knees, moaning softly.  Celia pulled the trigger again.  It clicked on empty.
     She let it fall to the office floor with the bag and raced to the door, flinging it open and fleeing down the corridor. 
     She slammed up against the metal doors of the elevator, smacking her fist against the button.  Fuck!” she cried, “Fuck…!” 
     This was fear, this was terror.  Like being nineteen.  Like finding your mother was dead.  Like finding that your life, as you once knew it, was over.  Her heart was beating forcefully against her breastbone.
     Celia, you bitch!”
     At the end of the corridor she saw Paul Drazer, propped up in the doorway of his office, a bloodied hand pressed to the side of his head, a syringe jutting from his throat.  He was gripping a long-bladed dagger in his fist.  A fucking dagger.  He reached round, pulled free the syringe, tossed it to the floor, and clamped his hand back to where his ear had once been. 
     “Bitch, I’m deaf!  I’m fucking deaf!”  He slashed his dagger-clenching fist at the air.  “You fucking whore!  I’m gonna fuck you senseless with this knife…!”
     Tears rolled like streams down Celia’s face and she turned and ran flat out, down the hallway, around the corner towards the stairwell.
     “Where the fuck are you going!”
     She slammed up against the stairwell door.  It didn’t move.  She glanced down and saw it was padlocked.  No, no, no.  She was going to die.  She was going to die in here.  She could hear him moaning and screaming intermittently. 
     “Celia, do you know what I’m gonna do to you?  First I’ll fuck you with this knife, then I’ll slide myself inside you…”
     Celia lost all cohesion.  She wailed and sobbed, tugging at the door even though she could see it was padlocked.  She beat her fists against it, forced herself away and ran towards an office door.  It opened.  She swept inside and slammed it shut, twisting the lock on the knob.  Backing away from the door, her pulse beating like a tribal drum, she nearly stumbled over the chair near the desk.  Bolting around it she dropped to the ground, wedging herself into a corner.  She hooked her knees up under her arms.
     She waited in the darkness.  His mad screaming had stopped. 
     From behind the desk she shivered and trembled, watching the thin slip of light from under the office door.  Her phone…she’d left her phone in her bag.  Her bag was on the floor of Paulie’s office.  
     Oh Jesus…Oh Jesus God…please let me live, please let me live…Lou, baby girl…where are you…?
     Paul Drazer started screaming and moaning again.  Celia heard him in the corridor outside, rattling at the office doorknobs.
     “It’s not about evil.  You hear me, bitch?  It’s never about evil.  That’s a bullshit lie so you don’t have to face what people can really do.”  Celia pressed her eyes tightly shut in the darkness, trying to fade away.  “Supplication is an Art.  Poetry and Philosophy and even Biology…It’s written in the blood.  It’s in your genes, Angel Wine.  Compared to you…I’m nothing, I’m a bad joke.  Where the fuck are you!”
     Celia didn’t know she had so many tears, but she did.  She whimpered and flailed in her dark corner.  Like a troubled child.