It made Celia feel in control to protect her; then she didn’t have to face anything. Celia talked to her like a goddamn writer, and made love to her like a writer.
Louise stepped from the shower and dressed in the bedroom; tracksuit bottoms and a Chainley school t-shirt. She stared at her reflection in the mirror, at her swollen cheek from Celia’s scared little fist. She began combing her wet hair; careful strokes with the brush.
In her minds eye the girl-twins appeared again, a weird duality of red and black. She remembered their knives. It seemed so completely fucking real, but she wouldn’t stretch her mind to where Celia lived much of the time. It was too tiring, ultimately too far. Human evil was what she could understand, the lust for power and control, exploiting the weak and vulnerable. She saw it on the news every day, a power-elite creating a society of profitable victims.
Before she met Celia her life had been so much simpler. Yet she would never take it back, despite sometimes telling herself she would if she could. No, she wanted Celia for too long, teased unbearably by her intelligence, her warmth, her coldness, her uncanny intuition. That quality she possessed, through which she seemed to escape definition. It was the fusion of the alertness and creativity of a child, and the sly grace of an almost wanton woman. It had made her a wonderful teacher. Celia had been enough of a child to inspire the teenagers, and enough of an adult to direct it effortlessly.
It didn’t hurt that many of the boys and some of the girls held secret crushes for her. A number of them held torches for Louise but Celia had always been the silent star, the genuine object of fascination. It was the capability and almost spectral vulnerability that made Louise begin to fall for her.
And yet Celia didn’t need or want her half as much. Just thinking of it pitched her forward towards that place again, where she would rather cut out Celia’s tongue than hear her whisper during the night. Cut them both open and hold her down, until their blood began to mix.
There was a heavy thudding at the front door.
Louise hurried down the corridor and glanced through the spy-hole. It was Celia, clad in a leather jacket, bare breasted beneath. Face and hands smeared a reddish brown. Quickly, she unbolted and unchained the door, opening it. Louise’s baby girl fell sobbing to her knees, covered in dried blood.
Miss Renn was waiting in the Silent Gallery. Crimson & Ebony were in the Circle Room. A cleric was reading to them. Mr Haven, they called him. He had been their chief storyteller when they were younger. They loved and feared him. They were intelligent, the sister twins. She glanced out across the black hall, seeing nothing but feeling so much. Many had gathered, unseen, waiting patiently for their Initiate to come.
She wondered absently of the times before, and whether Namahey had grown to love this writer girl. A sliver of hatred cut through her. Namahey cared too much, she felt. He cared too much for the girl’s ‘pain’. He admired her, the bleeding princess.
Lillibeth Renn was priesthood, of Pathlight. She loved him since before and after the birth-death of this world. She slapped a candle across the gallery with the back of her hand. It was always this girl…Angel Wine. She was perishable, fading, and yet so beguiling, so enchanting to him. He was also a writer, a maker of dreams, death and mythology. That was why Lillibeth loved him so much. She had once hurt him, long ago, and so he bound them beyond illusions of selfhood and identity. He would weave them their own private myth; the eternal returning, always deeper into love. She would make up for how she hurt him. She’d followed him into hell, and in it she found the only peace she ever knew.
He had made Celia a creator like himself; a stroke of incomprehensible genius to edify the returning. He cared for the princess because she dies. She dies again and again like a fading angel. She was so young, so theatrically tragic, such a beauty to behold.
Mr Finn stepped through an arch and into the Silent Gallery with her. She went to him and grasped his hands. “They’re waiting for you, as eager as innocents are...”
He didn’t meet her gaze but he said, “I hear your thoughts, you know. Trust in me. Such jealousy is for the perishable. It’s unbecoming of you, Lillibeth.”
A smile touched her lips and he traced a hand across the dark, bald skin of her skull. “Suppose you, I’ve been here too long?”
He grinned at that, something he rarely did. “What’s ‘too long’? Trust in me.”
She nodded modestly, wondering if she beguiled him as much as the bleeding princess. Angel Wine was the work of his life, thus it was unsurprising if he was obsessed by it. He put his mind and soul into all of his books; she would do well to remember such insight. She kissed him gently. “Go on. The legions have gathered from the lower depths.” She smiled. “Inform them, Initiate. Tell them the good news.”
He nodded and stepped out of the portico, overlooking the empty hall. His dolls eyes searched the bright shadows.
“It’s done. Blood and stones, the seeker’s bones. My predilection for poetry. Legions of Khaldis, serpents of the lower depths; I’ve cast the rites. The labour and design is almost completed. Rest assured, now it can begin. Yes, I have a personal stake in this; my own little romance. But for you the hour is near. No more Man as God. The tick-tock is almost ended. Soon enough the War of Miracles will consume this dream, and Gaia will know what we have long known. Notre Dame de Sous-terre will open our window and lead us all. She will guide us into the
New World, reborn…” Arcadia
Mr Finn glanced back at Miss Renn. “…And we will be refugees no longer, burning the world.”
Beneath them, there was something akin to the echo of silent applause.
In the soft lamplight, Celia was sitting naked with her back to Louise. The fire there had reduced itself to a quiet smouldering. She knew the tall bald man had marked her, cut into her with the knife as though she were a piece of clay.
She heard Louise inhale incredulously, “…Oh Cee, my God…” Celia glanced at her and saw tears rolling down her face. “Does it hurt…? Of course it hurts. Celia, my God…”
“What is it, Lou…? Is it a symbol?” Louise could only shake her head, wide-eyed and silent. “Babes, what is it?”
Louise closed her eyes and said, “Seeker.”
Celia pressed a trembling hand between her breasts. “What…?”
“It says ‘Seeker’. He cut it into your back.”
They fell into silence. Celia tucked in her knees and pulled her arms around them, sitting on the bed like a naked child. Seeker? He marked me. She felt Louise touch gently at the cuts on her back.
“Jesus…Oh God, Celia, I’m so sorry…I should’ve never left you alone…” Louise was trembling now. “I’m so sorry…”
Celia couldn’t think of anything to say so she said nothing. More silence. She glanced down at the leather jacket on the floor, and the gun nestling there. “Irwin Shaw is dead,” she said finally, “I saw him. They cut his throat.”
“The blood on your jeans, on your cheek…?” Celia nodded. “I’m calling the police, this is crazy…”
Celia snatched her wrist, “No police. They’re not going to help me.”
“I don’t care! This is madness – I’m not going to wait for them to murder you!”
“No police! Have you heard what I said? They’re not going to hurt me…they need me for something. I’m alone in this.” She stared at her friend. “We are alone in this…” Louise couldn’t say anything. She shook her head in silence. Celia glanced away, staring through the bedroom window. “I think – I think they also killed Ryan. We tried to fight. Too strong. You know, I shot him in the face. It didn’t kill him. Glass eyes, baby…he had two fucking glass eyes. How insane is that?”
She turned and stared at Louise, dropping the large diamond on the sheets between them. Louise opened her mouth but there were no words. Celia pressed a hand to her crotch. “He put it inside me. I don’t know why.”
She could see the look in Louise’s face. Finally it was dwarfing her. “He put it inside you…?” Celia nodded. A hunted gaze, intense and burning, descended on Louise. In a tiny voice she said, “This is real…”
Celia lay carefully on the bed, turning away from the strawberry-blonde. “I don’t know what’s real…do you?”
Louise lay quickly beside her, kissing her shoulder. Celia was completely still, unflinching. Her friend was kissing the cuts on her back, careful and soft, gentle lips against wounded flesh. Blood touched at Louise’s mouth as she kissed and she could taste it on her tongue.
“Lou, maybe you shouldn’t try to love me so much. It might end up destroying you.”
Louise pulled sharply away, careful to not let Celia’s words crush her completely. They lay together on her bed, not facing, not touching.
Celia fell into a sleep. Louise listened to her breathing, shallow and perturbed. Maybe her fears about love and trust were true; that ultimately they were useless against pain, that human suffering would always eclipse human compassion. She would have spared Celia all this, if somehow she possessed that power.
She tries hard, little Celia, to resist it, to resist the veil of lies; story after story after story, but she cannot. She is an imaginative girl, afraid that the darkness harbours villainous secrets, strange images that, in her fear and excitement, speak to her of herself; the weave and turn of her carefully crafted soul. She is drawn, written, nearer, like clock-work.
There are Men of Renown, Men of the Crown, Men of the hidden; the Sight and the Sound. Suppose you, knowing such, to glance upon a true angel? Witness to an ancient monarchy? To dream and bleed as fools do…as an emissary of the divine. Such is your witness, amidst fire and ice. Such is your heart’s desire. Speak for us. Seek, for us…for we are the imagined Shadow of
Such is my witness… Man.
The handsome man had been watching a crow circling above the bunker. He’d seen it spiral from the sky and fall dead on the grass. He took it, slipped its wings back against its body and put it inside his coat. It was still warm against his chest as he walked across Hollander Green. There at his feet he found another one. This one had fallen from a greater height; its head and wings twisted in unnatural ways. He put it in his coat next to the other.
Two symbolic Carriers were dead. He alone had found them. Why? Something was happening, a message of sorts. He was smiling as he wandered Claremont Road. His eyes greedily searched the sky for stars and found none. Only the Clock could be capable of such things. His eyes were lit with quickening fantasies of what might be coming. Celia.
He felt suddenly like a boy, waiting eagerly to hear the greatest story ever told.
The newest cat was a small tabby that he injected and took from a back garden. He’d caged it soon after. Now he wondered if it would be dead too. Mr Haven would know the truth; he had seen the Clock with his own obsidian eyes. Haven would contact him soon enough. He feared Haven yet considered the man his mentor; murderer and teacher, always an apt combination for a supplicant. What he enjoyed most was that Haven wasn’t without a sense of humour and hadn’t lied to him yet.
He entered his house, disengaging the expensive alarm system, and went straight to the sub-basement. Lighting the candles, he saw it. The cat lay dead in its cage. There was a feeling like an icicle in his throat, piercing his lungs. He pulled open his coat, placed the two crows on the table, and hurried to the cage, gripping it, staring down at the dead animal inside. There was a dawning realisation in the handsome man’s eyes.
The Clock…They’ve come for me…
He hurled the cage across the basement and it hit the wall, breaking open, the cat’s corpse sliding onto the floor. Its eyes were open, as if it were watching his childish rage. He turned away from it.
Mr Haven was standing at the foot of the wooden staircase, in the flickering candlelight.
“Hello Paul. You look terrified.”
Paul Drazer pressed himself up against the wall, an arm before his handsome face in the hope of shielding himself. Mr Haven stepped over the corpse of the feline, looking at him with ink-black eyes.
“So you’re here,” Drazer said quickly, averting his gaze. “You’ll kill me? You’ll kill me now? I thought, I thought we had…you know, an allegiance? Knowledge for service…”
Mr Haven only smiled.
“Why, why kill me? Please…you taught me things…a successor. Yes?”
“I used you,” said Haven, “Like they use me. Life begets life…the reverse is also true.” He took a casual step towards Drazer. “These are old, old ways. My eyes may suggest differently but I’m a Man, like you. I’ve a greater power, but I do as I’m told. Light does fade in the eyes of genuine monsters, Paul. They guard this knowledge without human mercy because it’s the fire of illumination. They think, in their arrogance, that your soul would be blinded by such a revelation. Consciousness alters blood-chemistry…you knew that, right?”
Paul Drazer watched as Mr Haven held a hand over the table where the dead crows lay. He flexed his fingers slowly. One of the birds trembled and began flapping. It came upright and beat its wings and left the table, landing on Haven’s offered fist.
The breath left Drazer’s lungs in an almost silent gasp.
Never in all his darkened fantasising did he think such a thing was actually possible. “My God…” He dropped to the ground against the wall, “My God…”
Mr Haven stroked the crow, glancing down at him. “The bird was dead, Paul. Now it lives. And I’m just a mortal man, but the Clock; they possess greater magic than this. They make me tell stories, you know. They love their fucking stories…tales of romance, tragedy and comedy, drama…and horror. Oh, they’re fascinated by our capacity for horror.”
Pressed against the wall, Paul Drazer was crying now – strangely bitter tears. He knew what Haven had come to do to him. And he wanted to live. There was more to know, much more. He had been craving it all since his self-styled initiation. Faith and Self and World; he had only just tasted it and already it would consume him.
“I wanted Celia,” he trembled with anger, “I wanted to split her wide open with my cock, rape her into the next world. Broken, like her ridiculous father…” He looked up at Mr Haven with wildness in his face. “You know he thought he could save her?” His voice hissed with violence. “Fine! Let them carry me away if they demand it! Slave…you fear them but they’re the foolish ones.”
He laughed with jagged abandon as Mr Haven stared from behind black eyes. “They want to go home, right? Ha! There’ll be no fucking need for priesthood. Home will consume them, can’t you see? Like they consume Man; it’s perfect. It’s fucking poetry! The serpents are going to devour them all!”
At that moment he lunged madly at Mr Haven, striking him with a fist, striking him again, quicker and harder than the first. Haven lost his balance in the onslaught and they crashed to the cement floor. Paul Drazer was screaming, clawing at Haven’s obsidian eyes. The crow cried and beat circles above them in the candlelight. Haven thrashed beneath Drazer’s weight, muttering an incantation on his breath, but Drazer clamped a hand over the man’s mouth and head-butt him.
Suddenly he snatched a screwdriver that had fallen from the table. He closed his eyes, lifted it high over his head and brought it down deep into Haven’s face. He stabbed again and again – the face, throat and eyes. The face was soft and yielding. His heart was beating fast beneath his ribs. Drazer could hear his pulse throbbing in his ears. The hot blood of another man was on his face and neck and hands…knowledge of the gods, running through the veins of men. He opened his eyes.
The mutilated visage of Mr Haven lay beneath him.
Death had claimed another slaughtered fool. He inhaled deep and long. It took such little time to kill a man, a matter of moments. Drazer’s pulse eventually slowed. The blood on his hands soon cooled.
In the dead man’s ear he murmured, “Can you resurrect yourself, mentor? Do you have that kind of power? Do you…?”
The crow continued to beat circles near the basement ceiling, and then it fell suddenly to the blood-spattered floor; dead once again.
He rose to his feet and chuckled, throwing his head back and spreading his arms like a Christ, the screwdriver still clenched in his bloodied fist. “Damn charlatan…trickster! Let the monsters come…I want to see the morning light fade in their genuine eyes…”
If the Clock came for him themselves, so be it. It would be as he stared into the face of a divine eclipse. Maybe then he would earn their belated respect.