“They made me so afraid,” said the old man, “To know it, not to simply believe. It drives a person literally crazy.” She just nodded, standing there. “What’s it worth, Celia, if the love goes away?”
“It’s worth something…answers are always worth something.”
The old man smiled. “It drove Richard to his death. I miss him.” The car horn beeped twice and Celia turned, glancing at Louise scowling from the passenger seat. “Come back inside,” said Shaw, “I have something to give you.”
“What is it?”
“Come back inside.”
She glanced again at Louise in the car and stepped into the house.
Ryan stared at her as Shaw went to his bookcase and removed one, wandered back and handed it to her. It was an old copy of The Clockhost by Richard Hobbes.
Inside the front cover of the book there was an old photograph, of a five year old girl with dark hair and eyes, a photograph of Celia.
“…what is this?” she muttered, “How did you get this…?”
Irwin Shaw stared into Celia’s face, his eyes filled with tears. “Your mother gave it to Richard before he left, and he gave it to me. It was the only photo he had of you…he said it was too painful.”
Celia’s mind was swept blank. “No…”
“He asked me if you really were that beautiful. He loved you, both of you. That’s why he left. I know it’s not what you wanted to hear.”
The world was suddenly made ice, and she, stone. “No, you’re lying. My mum never knew my father, she told me. I was a one-night stand…a man called Michael. She didn’t even know his last name…”
The old man shook his head, sadly. “No, Celia.
lied to you, to protect you. Richard left to protect both of you, but he failed. He was haunted by what they did to you as a child…” Alice
“…it destroyed him that he couldn’t help you.”
Celia hurled the book across the living-room and struck the old man with a balled fist, hard across the cheek. “Liar! You cheap fucking liar!”
“Stop!” Ryan cried, stepping between the two of them. He looked up at Celia, pleading, “I know you’re upset, I get upset all the time! But it’s true, you can’t hide!” He hugged her suddenly. “They won’t let you hide, Celia. I’m a boy and even I know that.”
She realised tears were streaming down her face and she could do nothing to stop them, like she wasn’t breathing. She dropped cross-legged to the floor. She wanted her mother now. Strange letters, always foreign. She can never read them.
Irwin Shaw sat down on the carpet beside her, nursing his cheek.
“I’m so sorry…he begged me to try and push you away from knowing, Celia. He begged
too. He wasn’t psychologically stable. They’d ruined his mind and he lived in fear of them. He was only trying to protect you.” Alice
Ryan kneeled behind Celia and embraced her shoulders. “This isn’t happening,” she murmured, “None of this…how can I live like this? How can I?”
Shadows…Shadows in my mind…Oh…Christ…help me…
The old man touched her knee. “I didn’t know
well, but I know she loved you. I’m sure she did all she could…to stop what they did.” Alice
In a tiny voice Celia asked, “What did they do…?”
“You were an experiment. ‘Angel Wine’. To what ends I can’t say. Richard tried to find out but he was blocked at every turn. I’m sorry, Celia…”
“The wine that angels drink,” offered Ryan. “Bad angels. Dollmen.”
Irwin Shaw left Celia on the living-room floor, Ryan draped around her shoulders. When the old man returned he was holding a black envelope.
“Richard prayed you’d be spared this insanity, but when he learned of your mother’s death…well, he knew you were already a part of it.”
Celia glanced up at him with eyes of a little girl. “Did they kill her?” He closed his own eyes and nodded. “Thought so,” she muttered.
Mum…Mum, I wish I could’ve joined you.
Shaw kneeled beside her. “Richard said writing this was the hardest thing he’d ever had to do. But he loved you. I know that. You need to know it too.” He handed her the black envelope.
It felt like death but it wasn’t. It felt like she couldn’t do it again, suffer, open wide and suffer again, finding that the truth was not the truth, again. She opened the envelope and removed the letter. Eventually, she began to read it.
Dearest Celia, my beautiful daughter,
I know you ask why and I know that now you hate. I could say so many things in my defence, tell you so many stories. I could write until there was no ink left in the world. And still, it would never be as it should have been. My only excuse is the solace of sorrow; binding myself to what I have witnessed, and in doing so, binding you to me. That’s all I’ve ever wanted.
Alice and I tried to keep you safe and we failed. She paid for that failure with her life.
Celia, please don’t become consumed by hatred and fear. The darkness is real and it has built our world, and many more besides – but they can be fought. They are not gods, they only believe themselves to be. Rather they are militant illusionists. They don’t understand the spider of the heart, only the spider of the mind. You can use this against them.
They may hide behind the world but don’t let them hide behind your fear. You’re not powerless. It seems they are limitless, that they control everything – but in truth they control nothing. We give them power, our power. Only through this means can they rule over us. Truth be seen; there is no ‘world’. So you and I share a knowing, that which we dare not speak, but must. A revelation; that they are figments of our imaginations.
I love you so much, Celia. Please forgive me for what I have done and for what I will do. Please forgive me.
Your father, Richard Andrew Hobbes.
He ached for it again, the black flame. It burned without heat and consumed without pain. It had taken away his suffering. He was aching to show his beloved how it had been, for she couldn’t remember. She closed her blindness to all that once was for them. He understood why. She feared things; a vestige of another form, her native dream. It was cold there and she begged to be delivered, even as in her fear she would turn from him. He ached to show her his love. He was patient.
Mr Finn was kneeled before the Telling Stones, listening, in the dark. Pressing his hands to them, he called to his memories. Isolation, anger and hatred, lack of sleep yet too much dreaming. A desperate embrace of the winged eclipse. Touching flesh. Flesh as dust.
Miss Renn stepped from nowhere, into the shadows behind him. “Why don’t you remember, Lillibeth?”
“The Telling Stones don’t speak for me the way they do for you. I don’t pine for the memory, nor do I regret burying it in you. You’re my beloved, Namahey. I hate all of them, but I trust in you.”
Mr Finn turned his head in the darkness. “Do you?” he asked, “Do you trust in me?”
She kneeled at his side. “Mostly.”
“I trust in you, Lillibeth…even though you once broke my bones.”
“Why did I do such a…horrid thing?”
He glanced at her, only her dolls eyes visible in the dark. “You were afraid.”
There was silence. Finally she spoke in careful tones. “There’s been a problem. The little girl, Emily…”
“No,” said Finn, “She’s down in the Citadel. What possible problem could there have been?” Miss Renn said nothing and he sighed, his palms gripping the Telling Stones. “They took her didn’t they, the others? Came for her, yes? Snatched her away…took her off on their butterfly wings to the land of the fucking fairies.”
She touched his hands in the dark. “An Eidolon found her, dead, in the oubliette. I’m sorry, beloved, but they came for her. Took her before we could have our wicked ways…”
“This isn’t happening,” he murmured.
“The young are protected, but they’re pitiful victories, Namahey. We have Christ on our side, and
is full of children.” London
Mr Finn eased into her embrace beside the Telling Stones. “We needed her, Lillibeth. We needed her strength, to open the door in the coming years. We needed her courage. You know that.”
She held him in the shadow. “Her brother, Ryan. He’ll suffice.”
He smiled, nodding to himself. “Yes, Ryan. Va’el the Fugitive…yes, he’ll suffice.”
Miss Renn stroked his bald head, hunched over him in the dark, whispering in his ear. “See, I don’t need memory when I have you, when we’re together. The others can’t save them all; they’re bound by form like we are. But you and I, Namahey, we’re older than the light.”
No words had been spoken. They drove in silence. Celia told Louise nothing about the letter. She stared blankly at the road, hands gripping the steering wheel.
“What did he say?” Louise asked eventually. Celia didn’t respond. “Cee, talk to me. What did he say to you?”
Louise slammed her fist against the dash. “Just tell me…”
“He said I should leave it alone.”
She glanced sideways at Celia. “You’re lying to me…why?”
“Just leave it alone, okay?”
“No. I won’t – tell me the truth for fuck sakes!”
“I can’t do this anymore,” Celia muttered.
Celia looked her in the eye as they drove. “I don’t want to be here anymore.”
“What the hell did he say to you?”
“He said I’m not going to escape this. Lou, this is going to kill me. I don’t want this anymore. This life, I don’t want it.”
Celia parked the Ford in the gravelled driveway, switching off the engine. She pressed her forehead against the steering wheel and closed her eyes. She felt Louise’s hand on her back but said nothing.
“Did you ever want to be here…?”
“What about me?”
“I don’t care about you,” muttered Celia and then looked up at her. “I don’t mean that, Lou. I don’t mean that. You’re the only thing I want.”
Louise looked away and nodded. She got out of the car, leaving Celia sitting in the driver seat. She sat there for a few moments, feeling sick.
Inside the house the last hour of sunlight cast ribbons across the walls, through the blinds. There were bloodied bits of glass on the living-room floor. Celia picked one up, feeling her heart plummet. It cut her. She winced, sucking at her finger. “Someone’s been here.”
Louise traced a circle around a tiny hole in the wall. “Cee, there’s a bullet here in the wall. Right here. Jesus...”
No more of this.
Celia shuddered slightly and then screamed, “Fuck! For fuck sakes!” She snatched at the Degas reproduction and pulled it from the wall. It fell and she kicked holes through it.
“Cee! Stop it…!”
Celia tore another painting from the wall and tried to throw it but it fell awkwardly from her grasp. Louise tried to grab her. Celia punched her hard in the face. Louise staggered backwards into the hallway, stumbling over the chair. “Cee! No…!”
Celia stalked towards her, leaning forward and striking her again, eyes wide and dark, pulse racing through her ears. She raised her fist to strike Louise again. Lou had her hands covering her face, cowering on the floor, sobbing beside the hallway chair.
For a moment Celia stared at nothing, before slumping to the floor beside Louise. “…baby girl,” was all she could say.
Louise shot forward and grabbed Celia’s face with both hands, turning her, slamming the back of her head into the wall. “You can’t do this!” she cried and slammed Celia’s head again. “Bitch! You can’t do this to us! I love you!” Louise was gripping her face, staring into her eyes. “You can’t!”
“I’m sorry…” managed Celia, as if she were staring through Louise.
Silence between them. Louise slammed Celia’s head against the wall again. Celia did nothing to stop her, merely wincing in pain. Louise let her go and jerked away, scrambling across the hallway floor. She pressed her face to the hardwood, sobbing, trying but failing to stem it.
“I’m sorry…” Celia said, again.
They remained that way. Celia listened silently to Louise’s tears. She stared at the stained-glass eyes that framed the front door. The light played through them, casting shimmering patterns near Louise’s feet.
How much of this is real…? How much of me is real? Burn the world. Breath, like smoke. Breath, like smoke, forever. There is no revelation…there is no recovery. There is no healing for me…
Celia wasn’t sure how long they had been that way, until the light in the hallway began to turn an ethereal blue. Twilight was here. They had been sitting like that for almost an hour.
“Baby Girl,” said Celia, finally, breaking the silence.
Louise looked up at her. For almost a minute she just stared. Then she nodded. “It’s not enough. I don’t…care anymore. I’m too tired, Celia. It’s just not enough…for me.”
Celia nodded and began to cry.