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.
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.
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.” Alice
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
. 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. Corpus Christi
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.