“I know it’s late. I had to see you. I came on the tube.” Louise padded down the stairs as Celia ushered him into the house. He smiled forcibly at Louise, noticing tears and bruises on her swollen cheek. “Hello.”
“Does your grandfather know you’re here?” she asked him. “It’s a quarter to ten. You’re too young to be roaming the streets at night.” The boy only nodded at Louise’s comment, took off his Parker and sat down on the sofa.
“I know you don’t believe about the Dollmen, but it’s for real. Your dad really did write you that letter.”
Louise glanced at Celia. “What letter…what’s he talking about?”
Celia stared back and said, “Richard Hobbes. He was my real father.”
Louise shook her head as her eyes went wide. “For fuck sakes…this is bullshit. How can you believe that old man…baby, are you really that blind?”
“It’s true,” Ryan said quietly. Louise glared desperately at Celia.
“No, honey, it’s not true. Your grandfather is an irresponsible guardian – and a pathological liar.”
“He’s not. You don’t know anything. Or maybe you do but you’re too scared.”
Celia broke Louise’s gaze and sat beside Ryan on the sofa. “How old are you, Ryan?”
“I’m twelve. But I’m smart. I have an IQ of 196. Irwin says I’m a child genius.” He looked up at Louise. “So I don’t care what you do or don’t believe.”
Louise sat in the armchair, wiped her cheeks and lit a cigarette, coughing on it, staring at the tired, desperate boy.
“Celia,” Ryan said quietly, “Mr Shaw isn’t really my granddad. He worked for the Colony.”
There was silence, then Louise asked blankly, “And what’s ‘The Colony’?”
He sighed, staring at his hands. “It’s a special boarding-school in
, in the hills. It’s for orphans. It’s a fucking horrible place. Me and Emily, we weren’t even really orphans. My dad sold us to them. He wasn’t a nice man…” France
Celia glanced at Louise, who looked away and smoked her cigarette. “He used to beat me,” Ryan continued, “And he used to do stuff to Emily. You know….sex stuff. I hated him.”
Celia was silent for a moment. This boy…this sweet, handsome young boy…
“Ryan, where is your dad now?”
He looked up at her with a sad half-smile. “He’s dead. I killed him. He’s dead now.” Celia glanced at Louise and saw tears in her eyes again. “He wanted me to be a slave but I’m stronger and cleverer than he thought.”
“What did you do?”
The boy looked down at his hands again. “He tried to kill me so I shot him…with his own gun. It was really heavy. It was only luck really. There was lots of blood. More than you’d think. They never show enough blood in the movies.”
Celia took his hand. “Where did this happen?”
. At the Colony. After that we ran. But they got Emily. I love my sister. You don’t have a sister do you, Celia? Irwin never talked about one.” France
Louise glanced tearfully at her, pulling on the cigarette. “No Ryan, I don’t.”
“Must be lonely. I always felt sorry for the kids at the Colony who had no brothers or sisters.” Celia nodded. Ryan closed his eyes. “Emily was my favourite thing in the whole world. You don’t know how much I miss her. Keep seeing horrible things in my mind; what they might’ve done to her. Me and Irwin, we tried to save her…I miss her so much, every day I’m alive.”
How the hell…how is he not completely…God, this is horrible…
“Angel Wine,” Ryan intoned softly. He glanced at Louise and then up at Celia. “The scientists think it’s about science, but really it’s about black magic. ‘Inside the Clock the Dollmen work the gears’. Irwin taught me that.”
Celia stared into the boy’s face, but she couldn’t even begin to fathom what was going on behind his young eyes.
“They tell stories about secrets they know. In the Colony they don’t exactly lie to you. Your world is make-believe, Celia. When you dream they follow you. I know because they’ve been inside my head. Irwin says that even when you die they can still find a way to follow you. It’s all about energy, he says. He used to be a secret scientist for the German Navy. He’s the only grown-up I trust. He saved my life but…he’s dying of cancer.”
Louise was listening from the armchair, her eyes closed. Celia touched Ryan’s chin. “Did the Dollmen give Irwin the cancer?” He shook his head.
“Just cigarettes. If he dies I’ll be alone. I won’t have anybody to protect me.”
Celia kissed the boy’s hand. “If it comes to that, Ryan, I’ll protect you.”
“I know,” he said quietly, “I know that you would try.” Celia closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “A man will come for you,” the boy added suddenly. “His name is Mr Finn. He’s the manager of this Angel Wine project. I’ve seen him at the Colony lots of times. He’s got a secret. He’s not a human sorcerer…he’s a Dollman, a demon.”
“Christ,” muttered Celia, in the tiniest voice. Ryan grabbed her hands.
“Listen to me now; this man is older than the whole world. Angel Wine has been done lots of times in history, for real. You’re right in the middle, Celia. You’re the key. You are Angel Wine.”
She looked darkly at the boy. “And what does that mean…?”
“I don’t know. But whatever they did to you, I can bet you’re not like us anymore. You’re not like any of us now. Irwin was afraid you’d kill yourself when you found out. He said you tried once when you were younger. Did you really?” Celia stared at him and then nodded. He narrowed his eyes. “What did you see – tunnels and light?”
“No. I bled…but my heart didn’t stop. I didn’t see anything.”
Ryan grabbed Celia’s hands again. “But do you believe in Heaven? Or any kind of better place after we die?”
Celia tried to smile, and nodded, “Sure…why not.”
He leaned in close to her. “I do, because if there was no Light there’d be no Darkness, and so things like Mr Finn couldn’t exist. But he does exist. That’s how I know there’s a better place.”
“It’s a nice idea,” Louise said from the armchair, her eyes still closed.
“It’s the truth. Even some scientists think so. Energy can never die. My sister is probably there now, in the loving energy.” Celia saw Louise smile and shake her head.
She cooked some frozen pasta & chicken for Ryan and was watching him as he ate the food, a copy of The Clockhost beside her. Louise sat in silence, watching The Simpsons with the volume down low, the murmurs of Homer, Bart, Lisa and Marge emanating from the television.
Ryan was tall for his age, young in the face, but with broad shoulders. She noticed a scar on his top lip. “I like this cartoon,” he said, swirling the pasta on his plate. “They used to let us watch it sometimes at the Colony.”
“Who’s your favourite character?” Celia asked him. He shrugged and so she said, “Mine’s Homer. He’s Louise’s favourite too.” Louise nodded without looking at them.
“Were they really like a real family?”
“Sometimes. They had more adventures than most families though.”
Ryan laughed with coldness in his voice. “Adventures…”
Celia watched him mess around with his food, apparently not as hungry as he’d claimed. She asked him, “How did you get that scar on your lip?”
He put a forkful of pasta in his mouth, chewed and said, “I fell one day, nothing too exciting.”
Celia opened the book beside her, flicking through randomly. “I need to ask you something, Ryan.”
“This man, Mr Finn…is he the same person as the villain in this book?”
“Yeah, he is.”
“Where did he come from?”
Ryan glanced at The Simpsons on the television screen. Homer was being blasted into space as an astronaut. “Nowhere. He’s a made-up story.”
Celia lit a cigarette, exhaling a thin stream of smoke. “I don’t understand.”
“He’s magic,” Ryan told her. “He can do what the hell he likes. He’s a hateful type of energy.”
Celia pursed her lips. “A hateful type of energy?”
Louise finally turned from the television and stared at them. There was a tired, perplexed expression on her face.
“This is nonsense. Sorry, Ryan, but I can’t believe there are monsters, real monsters, creeping around
in the dark. Your grandfather has a lot to answer for.” London
Ryan just laughed and shrugged. “Don’t care what you think. I’m here for Celia, not for you. Doesn’t matter what you think, but it’s real, you know…and if you wait too long to understand, bad things will happen to both of you.” He looked pointedly at Celia. “To both of you.”
He pushed the plate away and rose to his feet. “I’m going now.”
“No. I’m going.”
“Wait – do you need any money?”
“I have money,” he said, pulling on his hooded Parker, walking towards the front door.
Ryan turned and stared at her. “I told you everything.”
“I’ll give you a lift back, okay? I’m not letting you go home on your own.”
He thought about it and then finally nodded. Celia quickly pulled on her leather jacket, glancing sideways at Louise. “Babes…?”
Louise looked exhausted, tears in her eyes. “I’m tired. Drive me home.”
Celia folded back the collar of her jacket and said, “Not abandoning you.”
Louise smiled, touching at the swollen bruise on her cheek. “You really hurt me.”
“I know,” Celia replied, feeling the jacket pocket for car keys. Louise rose from the armchair and walked across, staring her in the face.
“You really did hurt me.”
Celia had to look away this time. “I know.” Louise reached out and ran her fingers through Celia’s dark hair. She leaned in and kissed her, but as Celia began to lean into it she pulled away.
“Drive me home.”
Louise was clutching Lola, the black doll with the white crosses for eyes. Ryan sat in the back, not saying a word. All three drove in silence. The black Ford eventually pulled up in front of Louise’s building. Ryan waited in the car as the two women walked up the steps together.
Louise glanced at the night sky. “No stars,” she muttered. Celia couldn’t look at her.
“Lock the doors and windows. Have something nearby. I’m serious, okay?”
Celia knew Louise was thinking of the girl-twins they had seen in the darkened halls of
. “I’ll…I’ll call you tomorrow morning…yeah?” Litchfield College
“Absolutely.” Louise disappeared into the building.
Celia went back to the car and got in. She lit another cigarette. Ryan leaned forward from the back.
“You two are girlfriends, aren’t you?” She glanced at the boy in the rear-view mirror and nodded. “I thought so. How do two girls have sex…?”
Celia closed her eyes and began laughing sadly. “Come sit up front.” Ryan climbed over to the passenger seat, squirming until he was comfortable.
“So…how do two girls have sex?”
She looked up at Louise’s bedroom window. “I don’t know, Ryan.”
He watched her smoke absently. “Cigarettes are bad for you.”
“I know that, little man.” She started the car and pulled out onto the road. Her mind wandered as they drove.
She knew how much it hurt for Louise. It hurt her too. I need her. I can’t fuck this up. Do I think she’s unclean – spiritually? Alice Gray, despite her deep Catholicism, had never made Celia believe those ideas. Louise wasn’t dirty to Celia. She was radiant in a way Celia could never be. Maybe I’m the unclean one. Maybe if I let Lou inside, really inside, I might…
No, just self-created anxieties; to distract her from the painful business of being alive.
“The world’s not all bad,” said Ryan, as if reading her thoughts.
“No. There are angels here too, you know, loving angels.”
Weak lights…scarce on the ground…asses should get made redundant…
She smiled thinly. “Tell me about them.” Ryan frowned, his young face tightening with concentration.
“Well, it’s like a mirror made from energy; the angels and the Dollmen. They’re both made up stories but they’re also both real.”
Celia nodded. “They’re like magical reflections of each other.”
“Yeah, exactly! Magical reflections…they need each other to exist. It’s like in that film, Star Wars. You ever see it?” Celia laughed but Ryan just shook his head. “I’m explaining it as best as I can. It’s just like in Star Wars. The Force. The Force is the same but it’s how it’s used that makes it good or bad. So you get angels and you get demons. You know what I mean?”
“So who am I? Luke Skywalker?”
“It’s not a joke, Celia. You know that. But yeah, you’re like a Jedi, training to be a Jedi. Or maybe you’re remembering your training from before.”
She glanced at him. “Before when?”
“Before you were born. Before you came here.”
Celia stared at him. “Why do you think that?”
“I don’t know,” he muttered and shrugged, “You seem like a hero, like you wouldn’t give up. Heroes are magical; they bring messages, like angels do.”
Celia parked the Ford in the driveway beside Irwin Shaw’s Jaguar. They got out and Ryan put a finger to his lips, keys dangling in his hand. “He’s asleep, so don’t make any noise when…” The boy’s words trailed off.
The front door of the house was ajar.
Ryan glanced wide-eyed at Celia. “Oh no…No, no, no…” He darted into the house before she could pull him back. She hurried in behind him and the door slammed shut. The open lounge was dark and silent. Celia had a sudden feeling of nausea. She could smell blood, lots of it, fat and coppery.
“Irwin? Irwin!” Ryan took a few paces forward. Celia grabbed the hood of his Parker.
She pulled him close and slipped a hand across his mouth, whispering in his ear to be quiet. She turned and pulled at the door handle. It wouldn’t move. A distinct kind of fear was beginning to rise up inside, closing her throat. She could hear the trembling terror in Ryan’s breathing.
Celia hurried with him across the darkened lounge, their shoes squelching on the rug. It was blood. There was blood everywhere. She raced with him into the kitchen and her stomach dropped. Ryan cried out with strangled recognition. The light from the open refrigerator was illuminating Irwin Shaw. The old man was lying on his back across the kitchen table.
His throat had been slit from ear to ear. Blood washed the kitchen floor too. Celia had to press a fist to her lips to stop from gagging.
“Knew it,” murmured Ryan, “Can’t run from bad dreams…”
Everything was different now. It wasn’t in her head anymore, the ghosts and pain and fear. It was right there, written in red. She dragged Ryan past the old man on the table and tugged at the handle of the back door. It wouldn’t move.
“Fuck!” Celia shrieked, slamming a fist against it.
The boy’s face twisted with tears. “We’re gonna die now.”
She snatched his arm and hurried back into the living-room. Celia caught a glimpse of someone standing in the corner, half concealed by shadow. She didn’t break her stride and raced up the staircase with Ryan. The second floor was a long, wide hallway. She finally glanced back and saw a figure step into view at the foot of the staircase, a tall bald man.
“Princess,” he called up to her.
What did you think was going to happen?
Ryan quickly led her down the hallway and into Irwin Shaw’s bedroom. Her eyes searched the dark and she grabbed at a chest of drawers, Ryan too, gritting their teeth as they dragged it in front of the bedroom door. Her mind was spinning away from her. Murder. The Sin. Ryan pulled at her arm.
“There’s a gun! In a shoe-box on top of the closet! Go, go!”
Celia instinctively snatched the box down and clutched inside it. An automatic pistol with a silencer attached; more frightening than a normal gun.
She clicked the safety off and whirled, aiming at the bedroom door. Her hands were trembling amateurishly, like the air was alive. Her pulse sounded like a manic drumbeat in her ears. There was a voice from the other side of the door.
“Princess, I don’t want to hurt you.”
Celia squeezed the trigger and her shoulders jerked, blowing a tiny hole through the door with a compressed fffttt sound.
“Princess,” the voice continued unabated, “I need you to be afraid, that’s true. But I need you alive. It’s the boy I want, for the feast, to quicken my calling. I know it horrifies you but I need him.”
Her eyes met Ryan’s and she saw tears streaming down his thin young face.
“Please…don’t let him hurt me…”
“This isn’t a trick, Celia. You’re the key, baby girl, a key that took us a long time to craft. I wouldn’t damage you now. Just let me have the child. Celia, please, I’m begging you. I’ll take him, regardless…”
She fired two silenced shots through the bedroom door, leaning into the recoil this time and pacing forward. She glimpsed an eye through one of the holes in the door and shoved the barrel through, immediately squeezing another shot. Her arm jerked back to the sound of shattered glass, a twisted moan, and then silence.
Slowly her pulse levelled out as she listened for sounds beyond the room. With the gun still in hand, she dragged the chest of drawers away. Ryan helped her, breathing fast. She flung open the door and inhaled sharply. The tall bald man had fallen, slumped against the wall.
His right eye was a gaping black hole. The other was open and still.
“He’s alive,” Ryan whispered beside her. “They can’t die. Come on!”
She nodded, grabbed the boy’s hand and they raced past the fallen man. They scrambled down the staircase, across the open lounge. Celia tugged madly at the front door. She cried out and shoulder-barged it to no effect.
Celia turned her face and shot at the lock. The entire door seemed to shimmer briefly, faintly rippling like water.
They were trapped like words on a page, but with none of the eloquence and beauty that her pen could sometimes instil. This was the life that the boy knew, chaotic and brutal. It was Celia’s life now. Ryan hugged her suddenly and she felt the quick rise and fall of his chest against hers.
“I’m sorry!” she wailed with Ryan’s face crushed against her breast. She beat her fists uselessly against the door and sank to her knees, cradling the boy. In the dark they heard movement from upstairs.
No, oh Christ, please…don’t let this happen…
The tall bald man padded softly down the staircase, stopping halfway. His remaining eye glinted in the shadow like a Halloween jewel. Celia pounced at the light switch to her left and sank to the floor again. “Let me see you!”
In the brightness he was watching them from the stairs, his right eye-socket empty and black. He tilted his head at Celia. The lights flickered and died, plunging them again into even darker shadows. He sat on the stairs and sighed, regarding them both.
“You’re making this more complicated than it needs to be,” he told her quietly. “You’ve always done that, spun a drama out of everything.”
On her knees by the front door, clutching Ryan close to her, she raised the gun. “Stay the fuck away!” she screamed like a banshee. She pulled the trigger and the silencer spat a bright orange flare in the dark.
“You won’t let yourself remember, like your mother.
was the same; fighting tooth and nail. Come on, Princess, think about it. This isn’t the first world. It won’t be the last. Your mind exists outside of time and space, but this resistance – it’ll tear you apart. You’ve very nearly ripped yourself clean down the centre.” Alice
“Fuck yourself!” Celia screamed, pulling the trigger of the gun again.
? Remember when we spoke of myth and madness and revelation? Angel Wine; you wrote it this way. It needn’t seem so dark to you.” Arcadia
He rose to his feet and descended the remaining steps, looking down at Celia and Ryan hunched by the door.
“You so love your stories, Miss Gray.”
Ryan screamed at the bald man, “You’re a liar! That’s all you are!”
Mr Finn stepped close and sat on the floor beside them, crossing his legs. The silencer of Celia’s gun was inches from his face, like an accusing black finger. He brushed it aside. She dropped the weapon and embraced Ryan, tightly.
“Stay away!” she hissed, “You fucking stay away from me! I know what you did to me! I won’t let you hurt him!”
He leaned across, brushing a few strands of hair from her eyes. She shuddered when she felt his fingers touch at her forehead like tightly-spun static.
“You wrote me this way,” he told her. “You wanted me to be like this and so I am like this. This form was to please you. You forget this.” He laughed. “Even Lillibeth forgets. You bury your memories in me, both of you. So it’s no wonder that you beg and plead. I had no choice in taking this shape.”
Celia stared into his face, into his remaining glassy eye. “Fuck you. You tortured me and I was a child…this boy is an innocent child. I don’t know what you are but you’re no part of me…”
Mr Finn nodded. “Humans cannot bear too much reality. No, it’s better to live in a fantasy of heroes and villains, salvation and damnation. It’s just – I suppose I expected more from you, Princess. Notre Dame de Sous-terre. Our Lady of the Underworld.”
Celia said nothing, gripping Ryan tightly, staring at this thing’s absurd one-eyed face, fearing and hating him.
“Search then. Search high and low for what you already understand, if you will it so. But we both know who you are, Celia. We both know who I am.”
Like an optical illusion, lightning fast, he struck her face with his fist. A whirlpool of pain opened up in her head and she felt another fist in her gut. Ryan was torn screaming from her embrace. And then suddenly Ryan was silenced.
A hand was at her throat, squeezing mercilessly, slamming her to the floor. Shifting black spots seemed to slide around her vision like photo-negative fireflies.
“I need to turn you on now…”
Her jacket was pulled easily from her body and tossed into the shadows. Her shirt was ripped wide, buttons popping all at once. There was the flash of a silver blade. The knife cut away her bra, exposing her breasts.
She felt her knees being forced apart.
Please no…I’m begging you, don’t let him…
She felt a hand on her crotch, sliding into her jeans, into her underwear, forcing itself inside her. There was something cold and hard in the hand, left inside of her. The hand withdrew from her sex and suddenly she was flipped easily onto her front, her face pressed against wet blood on the rug.
He was too strong to struggle against. She remembered then, that once she’d been raped like this before. She heard his voice in her ear.
“Shhh, I need to turn you on, baby girl. Just a flick of the switch…” And then she felt the cold blade begin to cut into her bare back. A shock-wave of blackness detonated in her mind, trailing silver stars. Silver stars like heaven. Mum…? Help me…
Alice Gray, my mother, is sitting at the kitchen table, watching her daughter pulling up plants in the garden. Through the window she sees her little girl fall against a broken stone. She stands immediately, squinting.
I am not crying. In fact I run from the garden into the bright kitchen. I am Celia. Celia is grinning, hiding a hand behind her back. What surprise have you got for me, sweetheart?
Look, says Celia, showing her mother the hidden hand. The little girl’s palm is bleeding. Look Mummy…blood, my blood. Celia stares at her palm.
wipes away the blood and puts a bandage on her daughter’s hand. Mummy, does everyone bleed? Alice
Alice regards her child and nods, with a smile. Yes, baby…everyone bleeds.
There is lightning and silver scalpels, doctors and machines that burn her mind. Technological rape, then deep down into a place where light cannot reach. It is safer there. It hurts, it hurts, it hurts. If only she could kill all the bad men. Breathe smoke and burn away the world. Like a storybook girl; strong, strong, strong.
There is a burning torch and she moves close. The flames nod and grin and whisper, leaping down her throat. She swallows the flames. A shock-wave of light detonates inside her, trailing black shadows. Shadows, like death.
I have her eyes…
Celia woke with a twisted gasp, taking the deepest breath possible. She felt her pulse thudding in her ears like exploding bombs. Lying on the floor, topless, she was pressing her hands to her head in agony. Pain contorted her girlish face. She struggled and shivered against it, subsiding slowly but surely, her mind coming to rest. She grimaced.
My back is on fire…
She could feel the wounds; cut at, lacerated with a knife. Celia rolled awkwardly onto her side, gritting her teeth. Eventually the fire on her back cooled into an intense throbbing. Tears spilled silently down her cheeks.
Mr Finn had left something inside her, between her thighs, something cold and hard. She crawled carefully across the floor, through the thin wash of sticky, drying blood. Through the kitchen doorway she saw that the old man was still there with his throat open in a mess. She kept crawling, agonisingly slow, towards the sofa and hauled herself up onto it. She slid a hand into the front of her jeans and removed the cold, hard thing from her vagina. Her breath seemed to ice up in her throat as she stared down at it.
A large, perfectly cut diamond.
Fear and disbelief made her stomach twist.
No, this is…absurd…no…
Celia closed her fist around the gem, feeling it press into the soft skin of her palm, and climbed carefully to her feet. She swayed slightly in the darkness, stumbling back across the room, arms crossed against her bare breasts. She found her jacket on the floor and put it on gently, but her back began to sting as the leather touched her skin. She winced and took a deep breath.
Irwin Shaw is dead…Ryan too, probably. Get out, now…
The silenced pistol was lying beside the door where she had dropped it. She took it, throwing open the door and stepping into the night. The street was empty. Her Ford was still parked in the driveway beside Shaw’s Jaguar. The November air was cold.
Sitting in the driver seat, she inhaled deeply. Celia could feel blood trickling down her back against the leather of the jacket. When she leaned against the seat her back was on fire again. She clenched her teeth and stabbed the ignition, starting the engine and pulling away rapidly into the empty road. She drove carefully but fast, silent tears washing her cheeks and rolling down her neck.
She had shot him in the face. She was more alone than ever now. He didn’t die. How was it that he didn’t die? She screamed suddenly, gripping the steering wheel until her voice cracked, at this new real world. Resurrection and the Life…