Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Chapter Nine

A pale morning light flooded the kitchen.  Celia sat at the table, picking at a bowl of cereal.  She was thinking again about selling the house, getting away from the place that she loved and despised in equal measure – a chance at a new beginning. 
     But she could only do that once she had real answers, not fragmented images and vague delusions.  Doctors who had hurt her terribly as a child.  Was it just fantasy, a hallucination that had taken root because of the blackouts? 
     Maybe they created the blackouts as a cover for what they did to me? No. Jesus, Celia, get a grip on that head. 
     These thoughts would end up making her very ill.  She remembered having these thoughts even before mum died.  This had been with her nearly all her life.  In the living-room she dialled the number for the Iris Medical Institute. 
     “I.M.I., how can I help you?”
     “It’s Celia Gray, one of Ben Foster’s clients.  Can you put me through?”
     “I’m afraid that Dr Foster passed away last night, Miss Gray.”
     Celia swallowed, gripping the handset tightly.  “What…?  How?”
     “He suffered a heart-attack,” the receptionist said bluntly.  “He was a very large man, with a history of…”  Celia gently placed the handset back in its cradle, unable to hear any more of it.  She stood silently, thinking. 
     She couldn’t really believe it. 
     Ben was a huge guy, but he was so full of compassion and laughter that Celia thought he would live forever.  It felt wrong.  It seemed so damn wrong.  A creeping fear, almost preternatural, was overtaking her; a feeling that this was not a coincidence.  Ben Foster had been the best man in her life.  She picked up The Clockhost from the coffee table, staring at the cover.  Celia hurried into the hallway, slipped on her shoes and jacket, and left the house.

As she drove she passed the tall iron railings that enclosed the cemetery, glimpsing crosses, angels and tombs through the brambles. 
     She parked the car and followed the corridors of St Patrick’s through to the I.C.  She half expected to see a charnel house, a scene from a horror movie; Lou eviscerated on the hospital bed, the walls splashed with crimson, but Louise was sitting up, watching a television high in the left corner of the bay.  There was a half-eaten tray of breakfast in front of her.  She smiled at Celia.  “Baby girl, miss me already?”
     Celia went and sat beside her.  “I was worried.”
     “Nah, the doctors say I can leave today, whenever I’m up for it.  Filled out a whole bunch of forms.”
     Celia brushed a few strands of strawberry-blonde from Louise’s face.  “In that case you’re leaving now.  I’m not losing you.” 
     Louise’s expression hardened.  “What happened?”
     “My old psychologist – he died last night.  A heart-attack they said, but, I think he was…murdered.  I hadn’t spoken to him in ten years, Lou.  I saw him the day after you…and then, then he dies.  I’m getting you checked out of here.”
     Louise was silent.  Finally she said, “This is fucked.”

In the black Ford, Celia started the engine.  She glanced at Louise who was now wearing the same white t-shirt and blue jogging-bottoms that Celia had been given when she’d left St Patrick’s.  Lou had a clear plastic sleeve containing a bottle of blood-pressure medication that she was supposed to take if she felt faint.  She sighed and closed her eyes.
     “I’m sorry I let him hurt you,” Celia told her.
     Without opening her eyes Louise said, “It’s not your fault, babes.  Just drive.”
     They drove, in silence, to Louise’s flat. 
     Celia sat on the bed, staring at the movie images on her walls while Louise had a long, hot shower.  Beneath the pounding water, where Celia could neither see nor hear, Louise cried half-heartedly, kneeling in the cubicle, the spray on the back of her neck.  Her hand pressed the ugly scar just beneath her left breast.  Her tears were invisible amidst the hot running water.
    
***

Shrouded darkness, chains at her arms and legs – her voice and strength stolen.  Emily Fisher was silent and still like the dead.  It was so humid she could barely breathe, and in the darkness she wondered if she was blind.  They wanted to kill her, but not yet; the Dollmen, walking around with fake faces.  They were waiting for something very important. 
     She was only a little girl, she couldn’t fight these things.  They were stronger and smarter than her.  And they were unbelievably cruel, like her bastard father.  She knew that from the Colony.  She was yet again overcome with anger and hatred, at a world that would pit her against these things when she had no way to fight them.  It wasn’t fair.  Her anger faded, replaced by the familiar draining fear.  
     And then Emily thought she saw butterflies in the darkness, with faintly luminous wings, leaving fluttering trails of light.  It was so pretty but there was no way it could be real.  The butterflies danced in and out of blackness, strangely lit, then fading away and fluttering back into sight.  One of them seemed to dance down near her face, growing brighter.  In its wings Emily saw shimmering patterns of colour, each blending with the others in a rapid infinity of light.  And then the butterflies faded and were gone. 
     “No…come back…please…”
     Darkness, shrouded all around.  She didn’t even know if her brother was still alive.  He tried to save her but they were just children.  She loved him and he loved her.  But it wasn’t enough.  It wasn’t enough against the monsters of the world.  She was going to die, she knew that.  She was going to die alone.

***

As they drove towards her house Celia glanced at Louise in the passenger seat.  She held a black sports bag filled with clothes on her lap, staring vacantly from the window.  She looked exhausted.  “Lou, you sure you’re okay?”
     “I just feel a bit wobbly.  Need some real food.”  There was silence between them, and then, “You really think someone killed your psychiatrist?”
     “I don’t know.  Sounds stupid?”
     “No, not really.  Someone broke into your house, twice, stabbed me to get a fucking diary.  That’s plenty stupid.” 
     More silence.
     “Lou, I think that someone abused me…when I was younger.  A group of doctors.  I know that sounds crazy, but…I swear I used to have dreams about it even before mum died.  I thought it was just psychological trauma, nightmares, you know?  Now I’m not so sure.  Something’s happening.  I’m officially insane, right?”  Louise said nothing.  “Lou, please talk to me.”
     Louise looked at her.  “Sounds like something you’d write.”
     “I know…believe me, I know.”
     At the house Celia packed a bag, stuffing jeans and tops and another pair of trainers inside, taking the hundred pounds folded in the demitasse.  Louise was sitting on the bed, arms loosely crossed.  “So…where’re we going now, baby?”
     “Somewhere to eat.  You’re hungry.  We’ll get some food, a real nice place.”     

Celia didn’t tell Louise about David; that she’d had sex with a stranger while Louise lay hooked to a respirator.  There was no way she could tell her.  They drove to an Italian restaurant, ordering at a table by the window.  Louise ate quickly but Celia could only pick at her food.  She was thinking about keys of destiny, wheels of fate.  She flicked through her copy of The Clockhost by Richard Hobbes.  Louise watched her.
     “I got this from the library, Lou.  It’s about a secret society within the government that use black magic to control the world.”
     “So what?”
     “A reference to it was in my mum’s diary.”
     “So…?”
     “So nothing…it’s just creepy.”
     “You’ll make yourself sick if you take nightmares seriously.”
     “What he did to you was a nightmare,” Celia said plainly.  “I think I’ve got to take that pretty seriously.  I think we both do.  Lou, I’m telling you, this is bigger than us, bigger than what he did to you.  Bigger than what they did to me.”
     “You’ve never told me about this before…doctors and secret tests.”
     “What could I say?”  Louise didn’t reply.  Celia traced the cover of The Clockhost with her fingertips.  “What if this novel – what if it has a truth at the heart of it?  What if Richard Hobbes knew these people?  What if my mum knew these people?”
     “Stop it, Cee, don’t do this.”
     “I’m trying to understand, babes.  They nearly killed you.”
     Louise looked hard at her.  “Him, not They.  You’re talking about voodoo and satanic shit, right?  You’re talking about conspiracy theories.  Think about it.”
     Celia shook her head.  “It’s connected.  And I need answers.”
     Louise threw her fork onto her plate.  “Look, I just got out of the hospital, with a damn perforated lung…just – just tell me straight, baby girl.”
     “I’m telling you straight.”
     Louise grabbed Celia’s face in her hand, making her flinch.  “When are you going to let her go?  Just tell me…”  Celia pulled Louise’s hand away, scowling at her. 
     “It’s not about that.”
     “No?”
     No.”
     “So what’s it about?  Enlighten me.”  Celia said nothing.  Louise reached across the table and snatched the novel, holding it up.  “You won’t find your answers in here.  Are you bloody listening to me?”  Celia remained silent.  “I know why you’re doing this…to get close to her.  All this is an excuse to get close to her.  What about me, Celia?  I need you.  Especially now.  Please hear me, babes, please.”  Celia closed her eyes and nodded silently.  “It’s a cycle of grief, Cee.  Even when I first met you, I could feel it.  Questioning why and creating answers that make you question why again…creating a never-ending story so you can stay addicted to the pain.  I need you here.”
     “It’s the only thing that makes me feel more than worthless,” admitted Celia.  Louise watched her, empathy and hurt mingled in her expression.
     “We could have a life together, Celia, you and me…”
     “I know.”
     “Don’t you…?”
     “Of course I do,” Celia pleaded.  There were tears in Louise’s eyes, and she took a deep trembling breath.

Louise only wanted her to be well.  She’d taken a knife for her.  They drove in silence on the way back to Lou’s flat.  Celia could think of nothing to say to her, nothing to reassure her.  She couldn’t deny what she was beginning to believe just to comfort her, although Louise was in need of comfort.  Celia wanted answers for everything.  She wanted to stare fear and loss in the face.  Was it all just some morbid theatre for a cruel divinity?  Was she destined to always live as only half…?
     God, she hated it all.  How could she embrace anything if it was fated to be taken?  There were no bullshit metaphysics to explain why people had to suffer the way they did.  Breathe smoke forever.  Burn the world and save what could be saved.

They lay in Louise’s indigo bedroom.  Neither of them wanted to be there but Celia didn’t want to go back to her house.  She stroked Louise’s hair, feeling her all tense against her own body.  She thought briefly about David Myers.  Louise would die inside if she knew.  Celia could never tell her.
     “I don’t want Alice Gray to take you away from me, Cee.”
     “She won’t.”
     “You want to watch The Simpsons?  Got some on DVD.”
     “So have I.”
     “I’ve got loads of great old shows on DVD, babe.”
     “Lou, please...”
     “Let’s watch a movie then, one of our stupid favourites.”
     “I don’t want to watch anything, Lou.”
     Louise jerked away from her on the bed, got up, went to her dresser and removed a pack of cigarettes.  She lit one.
     “You shouldn’t be smoking, not after what happened.  Give it some time.”
     “Fuck that,” Louise muttered.  She took a long drag and began coughing immediately.  Celia frowned and Louise walked back to the bed, handing her the cigarette, pressing a hand to her chest.  “That was stupid of me.”  She sat on the edge of the bed while Celia smoked for both of them.  “Who…who hurt you then?”
     “Christ, I don’t know.  Doctors…I remember doctors.  I’m not even sure it was real but, Jesus…it seemed real.  It still seems real.”    
     “You’re thinking someone murdered Alice?  Ran her off the lane into the lorry?  Is that what you’re thinking?”
     “It occurred to me.  They never found the other car.”
     “And if you can find a reason for it, then what – you’ll sleep better at night?”
     “I doubt it…but it’ll give me something to fight.”
     Louise coughed again, staring at her.  “That’s what you want?  Something to fight?”
     “I don’t know…it just feels like there’s something happening.  Something set in motion, tied to my past.  I know it’s hard to understand.”
     Louise looked away.  “Hmmm, I can’t walk around inside your head, Cee.”
     “You wouldn’t want to.”
     “Yeah…”  Louise took the cigarette from her, another drag, coughing again.
     “What the hell are you doing?  You’re going to make yourself ill.”  Without looking at her Louise handed back the cigarette and said nothing.  “Lou, I think I’m going to go to the college,” Celia added softly.  “We’ve got a writers database with some universities, a collection of books on-loan.  Maybe I can find out something about this guy Richard Hobbes.  I've already tried online. Virtually nothing.”
     “Jesus, Cee…”
     Celia shook her head defiantly.  “I don’t want to stay here, and I need to do something constructive.  If I can find out at least something about why that diary was so bloody important…”
     “How’s researching him going to do that?”
     She got up from the bed.  “Mum quoted it in the diary, you read it to me.  I want to know why.  It makes no sense.”
     “Babes…”
     Celia began pulling on her trainers.  “You coming?  Maybe you should stay here and rest.” 
     Louise peered sadly at her.  “I’ve been resting too long.  Of course I’m coming. You expect anything less?”

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