Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Chapter Eighteen

In the darkness of the Circle Room two shafts of moonlight intersected, creating a cross of silver above them.  Ebony was kneeled and praying, head tilted, hands behind her back.  Crimson went to sit beside her twin.  Their hands found each other, interlacing.
    “We went to the Garden, didn’t we?” Ebony asked with her inner voice.  “We saw what we had never seen.  A Chapel was built in the midst?”
     Their faces turned and met.  There were tears on Ebony’s cheek.  Crimson touched them silently. 
     “We are a part of them, aren’t we, my sister…?” 
     Crimson closed her eyes.  “Yes, but…we are together.  Small solaces.”  She touched her own forehead.  “Here we are free.  You believe it don’t you?”
     Ebony smiled.  She looked tired and doubtful.  “Yes, I believe.  But I fear.  I fear so much.” Crimson stroked her sister’s blood-red hair then crossed her hands, making the motion of a bird in flight. 
     “Remember the Phoenix, even from the ashes of death?”
     Ebony nodded and spoke with her mortal voice now, frail and whispered.  “But this chapel is a ruined place, a tomb.  Perhaps even the Phoenix cannot soar into the skies from such a tomb…”
     Crimson shook her head, gently.  “No, sister, it is written.  Death is not death.  It is as Mr Haven once told us: Inside every skull grows a flower.”
     “Yes,” muttered Ebony.
     Crimson rose to her feet, turning towards the boy that was hiding  She moved towards him like a ghost of black and red, and then at once she was like a girl again.  She could hear him crying, nestling in a wraith of shadow.
     “My sister, Ebony, she prays for you.  She prays for the three of us.”
     The boy’s breath was an unsteady tremble.  “Leave me alone…”
     Crimson glanced at her twin and kneeled beside the hiding boy. “Boy?” she whispered, “Boy, please tell me your name.”
     For a moment there was silence, then, “Ryan…Ryan Fisher.”
     She traced a hand near the boy’s face.  “Yes,” she murmured, “Your sister is dead.”
     In the wraith of shadow the boy doubled over.  “I know.  They ate her; the Dollmen.”
     Crimson looked up at the cross of moonlight high in the Circle Room.  “You are wrong.  She was taken by the prayer ones.  She is safe.”
     The boy shook his head in the darkness.  “They still ate her.  Ate her body…”
     “No,” she told him softly, “The prayer ones made it such that her flesh was consecrated.  If they had consumed it they would have grown very ill.  That is why you are here; to be consumed in her place.  To be for them what she was intended to be.  A feast of flesh and blood.”
     His face surfaced from the shadow in which he hid; wild eyes, a hateful, fearful thing, caged and powerless.  “Help me…Help me…Please…”  Crimson passed her hand before his face again.
     “We cannot.  We are slaves; my twin and I.  Don’t fear, Ryan the Boy.  When you finally die you will welcome it like a real father.  You will be saved.  You will be slaughtered and eaten, yes, but you will pass through the circle of your death intact.  And fearless.  Imagine such a thing, or do you lack the required imagination?  Surrounded by love, by possibility.”
     From across the room Ebony turned, looking at the boy. 
     “There will be no pain.”  She rose to her feet, moving towards them like a ghost of red and black, and then at once like a girl again.  She kneeled beside Crimson and the boy. “Unlike this coil, you will see that all things are possible.  You will meet your sister.  She will embrace you.”
     Ryan began to weep.  Crimson & Ebony held him.  They lay him on the floor of the Circle Room, resting on either side of him.  He lay between them, staring up at the cross of silver light above them in the dark.  The sister twins stroked his hair, kissing his face gently, kissing his tears, lulling him to sleep.

***

In the morning light Louise pretended to be asleep, when in fact she’d barely slept all night.  Celia wanted to disconnect completely and forever.  Bye-bye to hell on earth.  But she couldn’t do that.  She was forced to take part in some vast and cruel game that she didn’t even understand.  The cuts on her back weren’t throbbing anymore. 
     She went to the closet, dressing in a black t-shirt and a pair of blue jeans that were loose on her slender hips but fit.  Louise was far curvier than her.
     “Skinny,” she heard Louise say from the bed.  Celia glanced at her. 
     “Don’t have the sexy figure like you do, babes…”
     Louise pressed her cheek into the pillow, bleary-eyed.  “Mi casa, tu casa.”
     “Then I guess, what; my boyish good looks are yours too?”
     Louise raised her head from the pillow.  “You don’t have to say things like that.  You’re a woman.  You’re beautiful.  I don’t think of you as a dyke.”
     Celia stared at her, nodding, “But I guess I am though, right?”
     “Are you?  What does it matter?” 
     There was silence.  Celia closed her eyes and remembered the blood. 
     “Do you hate me?” asked Louise from under the sheets.  She had said it so matter-of-fact that it stunned Celia, despite the nightmare images swirling in her head from the previous night.  Blood everywhere.  Throat slit from ear to ear.
     Why is she doing this to me?  Why now?
     “Lou, how can you even ask me that?”
     Louise yawned and shrugged like it was any other morning, “Do you?  Or do you hate the fact that you care about me?  Think you should be some other kind of person?”
     Celia didn’t look at her.  “I saw someone die…for fuck sakes don’t do this, Lou.  This is so crude.  I don’t want to entertain you like this.  Not now.  I’m hanging on by a damn thread…”
     Louise ignored her pleading.  “Entertain me?  Well I’m sorry if it’s clumsy.  I’m not a writer like you.”
     “Sure you are,” said Celia through clenched teeth.
     Louise was staring intently, fierceness in her face framed by strawberry-blonde.  “Why do you hide all the time, Cee?  It’s not like you’ve got anything you can keep from me anyway. After what happened last night, you should be throwing yourself into my arms…”
     Celia sat on the edge of the bed and touched at Louise’s hidden feet.  “I’m not a child, Lou.  I’m not a damn child.”
     Louise scowled, “I never said you were!  Just forget it – do what ever the fuck you want, bathe in blood!”  She threw back the sheets, left the bed and stalked past Celia towards the bathroom.
     Celia shouted suddenly, “I thought he was going kill me last night and I’d never see your fucking face again!  You know how much that hurt…?  It hurt like hell!”
     Louise shut the bathroom door behind her and locked it.

She smoked a cigarette out on the balcony, holding the letter from Richard Hobbes in her hand.  Irwin Shaw wanted her to believe that Hobbes was her father.  She pressed the black envelope to her forehead.  Dearest Celia, my beautiful daughter.
     She couldn’t trust.  She wanted to but she dare not believe these were the words of her father.  In her mind her real father was defined only by his complete absence.  And now that negative space was filled with – what?  The image of a schizophrenic writer, a keeper of dark secrets?  No, such a revelation didn’t offer itself up naturally.  She felt tricked, manipulated.  Something was trying to confuse her.   
     It was that branded Celia Gray double-speak again; circles and rhetoric, a form of dubious self-control.  She laughed.  George Orwell would be proud. 
     This Mr Finn wasn’t a delusion…he’d cut into her back with a blade.  She’d shot him again and again.  Dollmen.  Clockhost.  They felt like delusions though, like they were living inside her head.
     She would either die eventually, or she would be crawling on her hands and knees through the smoke forever.
     Seeker…there are no answers…thus, you’re beautiful.
     When the tall bald man placed the knife to her back like divine silver, Celia felt like her fate had been sealed; thrust headfirst into a destiny that was going to crush her completely.  Louise would never grasp this, nor would Celia want her to.  No choice in this now.  Written. 
     He called me Angel Wine.  I know they’re going to drink me dry…
     Bright shadows in her mind.
     A hand drew around her waist.  Louise kissed her cheek.  Celia could smell the rose-scented shower gel on her.  “It scares me, Celia…it really scares me.”
     “It’s still me, Lou.  She of the pen and cigarette.”
     Louise laughed from behind her and said, hesitantly, “I still think you need the police. They might find out you were there and get the wrong idea…”
     “No.”
     Louise gripped her shoulders and turned her, staring.  “What if this guy comes back?  Odds are that he will.  What then?  I mean, you said you shot him and he didn’t die.  How are you going to…?”
     Celia pressed her hands to the sides of Louise’s face.  “I shot him in the eye.  Bits of glass should have shredded his brain but it only knocked him unconscious…no man could survive that.  I shot him again and again and he didn’t even flinch…”  Louise stared.  “Come on, Lou, I need to hear you say it.  Please, I need to know that you believe me.  I can’t be the only one who knows…I can’t.”  Celia took her hands away and Louise hugged her.  “Lou, a man couldn’t survive that, could he…?”  Celia’s voice trailed away into nothingness.  She sagged into her lover’s embrace.
     “No,” said Louise, holding her.  “A man couldn’t.  He has to be something else.  Not a man.”  She held back tears again and was silent, rocking Celia gently from side to side.

***

Morning light sheared between the wooden planks across the windows of the burnt-out flat.  Amidst the blackened walls, Myers had his legs crossed and his laptop open.  Documents were scattered in a semicircle around him; transcripts, university details, photos of Celia, photos of Louise Simmons.  Work details from Hades House Publishing.
     He knew enough to recognise that Hades was an ancient Greek name for…the god of the underworld?  He frowned, put the pen in his mouth and flipped through the pages. 
     Hades House was formerly Tempest Press, established in 1948.  He flipped back again.  Paul Drazer, Celia’s assistant editor.  Myers trawled his mind but couldn’t remember Mr Finn ever refer to him. 
     It was the same company that had published the books by the mysterious Richard Hobbes.  Myers often heard his name traded in whispers at B-Chapter.  Roman-a-Clef, they muttered occasionally.  Novel of a Key.  Hiding in plain sight.  His novels were underground classics, with entire chat-rooms on the Internet devoted to them.  The literary community once regarded him a self-publicising hermit trying to cloak himself in an enigma to help his horror fiction to sell better. 
     At B-Chapter, Hobbes was regarded as a visionary.  However, no one spoke his name too loudly.  Myers wondered; a house of Hades, lord of the hidden.  If taken literally it would be a very dark place indeed. 
     He lit a cigarette amidst the rank scent of old smoke. 
     Someone at Hades House obviously knew of the Clockhost.  Someone had grasped the fractured mythology and seen beyond the fiction to the truth.  He wondered how many amateur students of the occult a publishing house would produce.  Not many who would have the patience and desire to take it beyond poetry and into science.  Also, he wagered that studying the hidden was a far different thing to touching the hidden; feeling its power, its own reality.
     Mr Finn was this kind of man – or would have been if he were a man at all.
     He was the hidden itself, playing priest.  Finn wasn’t simply a cleric of the Clockhost.   He was an object of their worship because they feared he was actually some kind of demon, or angel, a god hiding in flesh.  And to this secret society, to these men so addicted to power; to have a genuine angel walking amongst them…? 
     Myers almost shivered as he inhaled the smoke from the cigarette, hearing the screaming in his mind again, almost smelling the burning flesh.  Smoke in his throat, his eyes, his nose, even his ears.  Did the Clockhost engineer that tragic night; his separation from real life and into the ghost-light realm of the Colony?  He already knew the answer, though nobody would ever confirm it for him.  In truth he knew the answer soon after arriving in France as a boy, and realising quickly what the Colony had in store for him.
     As a proof-reader from eighteen years of age, he’d been fed lies about democracy, idealism, protecting freedom and sovereignty at any costs.  Of course he never believed those lies, he’d seen them for what they were, but they were there as an essential skeleton to perform his function with his sanity intact.  The lies allowed him the option of disbelief, escaping into books and films for comfort and the only real contentment he had known.  All of that was gone now.  No benchmarks, no rules of thumb.           
     Myers felt himself staring into the awesome face of his own imagination.  He wanted the ebb, flow, and eventual salvation that fiction had taught him.  He felt none of that.  He felt alone.  Perhaps he should’ve killed Celia, even if it wasn’t what the Clock wanted.  If he had cut her throat in bed, Louise’s too, then maybe he could have gone on living in blissful ignorance, as a slave.  But he couldn’t hide from this anymore.  Now he felt responsible for Celia.  He closed his eyes and laughed.

***

Ryan woke on cold stone, squinting up at afternoon light that filled the Circle Room from two small windows high up.  His back ached and he rubbed at it. 
     The twin girls, they were gone.  But in the night they’d entered his dream somehow, hadn’t they?  He closed his eyes and saw fractured images – a garden, a small church, the girls amongst the gravestones, Emily, her lips moving without words.  Ryan shook his head, quickly tucking his knees up under his arms. 
     This would be the hardest part, the waiting to die.  “Em…oh, Em, I miss you…”
     By the huge oak door he realised there was a silver plate on the ground.  On it was a tall glass of water and what looked like a big, tasty ham-salad sandwich.  Ryan started laughing, and then his laughter became tears.  He shuddered and wept, there on the floor of the Circle Room.

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