Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Chapter Twenty-One

Ryan had been awake for a while.  There were no more ham sandwiches.  It was warm in the Circle Room, but still he felt cold.  He’d been thinking about Emily.  How the clerics had taken them to the mountains once, and he and his sister played in the snow for the whole day.  Although the clerics watched over them they almost forgot about the Colony, as if it were only a stupid dream.  He’d wished that day continued forever.  It hadn’t.  Now he waited to die, doubting that the loving angels even knew he existed.  Surely Em had been abandoned by them?  He’d have that in common with her when they were finally reunited.  He just hoped it wouldn’t hurt…he hoped they killed him before they began to eat him.
     Amidst his tears he glanced to his right and saw that the door was wide open.
     There was a man leaning casually against the frame, watching him.  A naked man with milk-white skin, eyes like silver, and long blonde hair. 
    Ryan felt himself go taut with apprehension.  The man watching him was incredibly tall and painfully thin.  The shape of a cross had been cut into the base of his throat.  He didn’t cover his genitals as he stared at the boy.  He stepped into the Circle Room, closing the door behind him.  Ryan felt his body quicken and he scrambled backwards on his hands and heels, up against the wall.  The bright white man turned and pressed his back against the door.
     “Please don’t hurt me!” Ryan heard himself cry, “I’m begging you!”
     The man’s blonde hair fell forward, obscuring his face.  Ryan heard him speak.   
     “They took down the Sun.” 
     In a wave of dark chill, Ryan realised the man had spoken in his own voice; the voice of a twelve year old boy. 
     “They took down the Sun, in Man’s eyes, and replaced it with the false star of annihilation.  They seek to flood the mind of Man with this false light, merciless and isolating, so that none of them remembers what they were.”
     He walked carefully towards Ryan like an ivory tower, his bright white skin almost aglow.  Ryan raised trembling hands before his face, “Please don’t hurt me…”
     The man kneeled nearby, speaking again in Ryan’s voice.  “I’m incapable of hurting you, Ryan the Boy.  I’m only a guardian, a keeper of keys and corridors.  But you’re right to fear me, I suppose, for anything that speaks in the voices of others must have something to protect or hide.  Yes, yes.”
     They shared each others gazes for a time.  “What are you…?” Ryan muttered finally.  The naked man cupped his hands, nodding at something. 
     “Yes,” he said, in Emily’s voice now, “I am a monster.”  He moved forward across the floor on his hands and knees, like a huge white lion.  The boy locked into his mirrored stare.  “Do you remember me, Ryan?”  Celia Gray’s voice. 
     Ryan couldn’t shut his eyes.  “No.”
     “I am forgotten then, lost to the false chaos of time.”  The man blinked and Ryan was able to press his eyes shut, keeping them shut.
     “You’re not gonna help me…”
     “They would have me draw you down the Well, fatten you up with their boring wishes, yes, yes.  Do you remember when the stars fell?  I know I do.”
     Ryan shook his head, eyes closed.  “They’re going to eat me.”
     “Gobble you up.”
     There was silence for a few moments.  Eventually, Ryan opened his eyes and inhaled sharply.  The bright white man was lying beside him, blonde hair fanned on the stone floor of the Circle Room. 
     “An entire realm consumed by black fire.”  He glanced up at the boy.  “An entire race blinded.  Eyes of glass now.” 
     Ryan was afraid but his heart wasn’t racing.  He listened to the lilting words spoken in his sister’s voice.  “They’d have you believe they are gods, but they had eyes, you see. Horror…yes, it’s the only thing they really remember.  They would have it as the fate of your kind as well.  Because your kind is their kind and you both grow so bored.”
    Ryan stared down pleadingly at him.  “Please, don’t let them eat me.  Help!
    “I can’t free you but I will help you, Ryan the Boy.”
    “How…?”
     As he watched the man sat up, reaching into his own mouth, and pulled something from his throat.  He opened his wet, white palm.  A small iron key lay there.  Ryan stared wide-eyed at it. 
     The man held out his palm, offering it to him.  For a moment Ryan was frozen but then he snatched it, gripped it tight in his fist and held it close to his chest.  When the man spoke again it didn’t seem to be in a borrowed voice, it seemed to be his own; quiet, rasping, laboured.
     “That key…it opens all the doors to all the corridors here…Try to reach the main doors…beyond the black hall…only through them can you escape this place.”  The man coughed, clearing his throat.  “If you don’t reach those doors and break the seal, well, they will drink your blood and consume your flesh.”
     With the key held tight in his fist Ryan said, “What about you…?”
     The bright white man closed his silver eyes.  “I’ll be destroyed and redesigned.  Lost once again to the false chaos of time, I suppose.  There are worse things, as you no doubt suspect.”
     Ryan stared.  “He made you, didn’t he?  Mr Finn; he created you...”
     “His beloved,” muttered the man.  “Once, a long time ago, she did that very thing.  And I was born to this House, born to its rules.  They seek to erase the Sun, the true memory of Man.  But they are merely reflected pain; lost, hopeless, hateful.  This I’ve learned of my creators and the clerics who serve them.  When the stars fell I watched the old city burn, thinking that this must be what it was like for them; to see your world destroyed in a holocaust of cruelty.  They plan it for this circle too.”  The bright white man rose to his feet.  “I must leave now, or I will soon be mist.”  He laughed as if he had made a private joke.
     Ryan felt a chill in his throat.  “Why are you helping me?  Is this…a trap?”
     The man shook his head and went to the door, opening it and glancing back at him.  “I knew you as Va’el.  A thief and fugitive.  A long time ago.  We were friends.  You would roll me tobacco and your wife would stitch my clothes.  We were good friends.  They burned the libraries and you told me that they intended to control knowledge.”  He smiled at the boy.  “You were right, Va’el.”
     The door slammed shut and Ryan was alone again in the Circle Room, afraid, clutching the key in his hand.

***

Louise was staring at her as they drove.  Celia was silent, shaking her head and laughing lightly.  “Are you going to tell me what the hell happened, Cee?”
     Celia laughed again.  “You wouldn’t believe me.”
     “Fuck you.”  Celia stared at her, at the bruises she had put on her friend’s cheek.  She said nothing.  “I saw the cuts on your back vanish like they’d never been there.  I saw those girls in Litchfield.  Tell me what happened, Cee.  You were freezing...like someone dropped you in an ice bath.”
     “She came to me.”
     “Who?  Alice…?”
     “No.”
     Louise clasped her hands with frustration.  “Then who came to you?”
     “A woman…a black woman.  I never saw her face, just her hands.”  Celia shook her head and laughed again.  “I thought she was you at first.  She’s one of these Dollmen creatures, I think.  I know.  She was there, Lou, I swear to Christ she was there, on the balcony with me.  But it felt weird, almost like a dream.”
     Louise raised her eyebrows, pressing her hands to her mouth. “Oh, man...”
     “She sucked the heat right out of me…”
     Louise looked at Celia, shaking her head, fingers trembling on her lips.  “I don’t know what to say to this…I believe you, but…how the hell can you protect yourself against this – I mean, fuck…”
     Celia changed gears on the Ford, feeling tears in her eyes.  She was so tired of tears. “She didn’t want me…”
     Louise lay back against the head rest.  “What’re you saying?”
     “She said she wanted you…to kill you.”  Louise closed her eyes, murmuring something that Celia didn’t catch.   “She said she wanted to kill you to understand if I loved you…she called you my mistress…”  Louise kept her eyes closed, saying nothing.  “You’re not my mistress…okay?  I’m not going to let anything...I’m not.”
     Louise was crying now, eyes pressed tightly shut.  “Come on, Cee!  How the hell are you going to stop her?  They’re demons…you said it yourself…what the fuck!”  Celia could only stare at the road ahead, as Louise trembled and cried in the passenger seat, turning away from her, beating a fist against the dashboard, screaming suddenly.  “Fuck!  Fuck this, Cee!  Jesus Christ, what the fuck!  Why! All I’ve done is love you!  What the fuck…!”
     “Lou, stop…please.”
     Louise pressed her lips together, shaking, her eyes wide and full of rage.  She breathed deeply, forcing herself to remain silent.  Tears streamed down the bruises around her right eye, down her swollen cheek.  “What the fuck,” she muttered finally.  “This is bullshit…”
     Celia’s hands gripped the steering wheel.  They drove in silence for a while. 
     Let’s get this done…soon…just spare her all this…please?  I’ll be whatever you want me to be.  I’ll be a vessel for you.  Just spare her.
     “Why did you want this, Celia?”
     She glanced at Louise.  “I didn’t want this.  Not this.”
     “Seeker,” Louise said quietly, “What the hell have you done, Cee?  Why did you bring them here?” 
     A morbid scowl cut Celia’s girlish face.  “I didn’t bring them here…I didn’t create this.  They did it to me.  I had no damn choice in this.”
     Louise closed her eyes again, absently wiping the tears from her face.  She winced when she touched the bruises too hard.  “These things want to kill me?  Kill me because of you?  You’re not worth that – you’re not worth my life.”
     Celia took a hand from the steering wheel, pressing it to her forehead.  “In the hospital you said you’d do it all again for me, in a heartbeat.” 
     Louise took an open pack of Lincoln Silver that lay on the dash and lit one, inhaling the smoke as deep as she could.  “I was talking shit,” she said as she exhaled, “Romantic shit.”
     “Don’t do this, Lou.” 
     More silence in the car.   Eventually Louise spoke.  “You know, my mum used to go to church all the time before I was born, but after me she didn’t go so much.   I remember riding in the car though.”  She glanced at Celia.  “Dad there.  Me here.  Mum and Alex in the back.”  She was silent again for a few minutes, touching a hand to her mouth, gently rubbing her lips.    “World seems big now,” she said at last.

They were parked up at a McDonald’s Restaurant. Families and eager kids with Happy Meals crossed the tarmac.  Celia took a long, slow breath, watching the children. 
     “Anything?” asked Louise without looking at her.
     “Some fries maybe.”
     Louise shut the car door and Celia watched her walk towards the building, disappearing inside.  Celia opened a window and lit a cigarette, smoking in silence.   Smoke too much, way too much…it’s not glamorous and it’s not cool.  Just another vice for the vice-girl.  She laughed vacantly. 
     She should have expected Louise to react the way she did.  But it was a sign that at least now she believed in the reality of what was happening.  That was something wasn’t it?  Although, Louise didn’t want to die.  Who in their right mind would? 
     Celia jumped at the electronic beeping that came suddenly from nowhere. 
     Her mobile phone. 
     She reached over and snatched it from underneath some folders on the back seat.  She’d thought she’d lost it in all the madness.  She flipped it open.  “Hello…?”
     “Jesus, where the hell have you been!  I’ve been trying to reach you since yesterday morning!  I thought you were…dead.”
     Celia frowned, “Paulie?”
     “Yeah, listen to me Celia…”  Paul Drazer sounded twitchy and afraid.  “Have you seen the news?”
     “No.”
     “They guy you asked me about, Irwin Shaw – he’s dead.  It’s on the news, Celia.  They cut his fucking throat.”  She listened to the fear in the voice of her assistant editor.  She said nothing.  “You were there, weren’t you?”
     “No,” she said, a little too quickly.
     There was desperation in his voice.  “Look, I know more about this than I told you…” 
     Celia started laughing, shaking her head, anger beneath the laughter.  “Oh I’ll bet you do, Paulie.  Everyone seems to know more about this than me.”  She’d known Paul Drazer for six years.  She’d considered him a friend.  “So tell me what you know.  Tell me now.  You want a piece of me too?  Everybody does.”
    “No, Celia, for fuck sakes, a man is dead!  Has that registered with you?  Just listen to me…I’m pretty sure that Richard Hobbes was your father.”
     It cut her like a scythe.  She winced.  “I know,” she murmured into the phone.  She glanced and saw Louise returning with a McDonald’s bag.
     “Listen, Celia…he might still be alive.
     Louise opened the passenger door and got inside the car.  Celia was numb, momentarily frozen.  The thought had paralysed her.  “Cee?” Louise said, frowning.  Celia could only stare wide-eyed at her lover, the phone pressed to her ear.
     “Did you hear me, Celia?  He might still be alive.  I have files you need to see.  Documentation of something called ‘Angel Wine’; an illegal project by the Ministry of Defence, run by a Dr Benjamin Foster…your name is in these damn files…”
     Tears slid across Celia’s pale cheeks as she looked at Louise, anxiety written across her lover’s face.
     Ben, Ben you fucking bastard…Ben I trusted you.  You of all people…how could you do that to me…?  Oh…damn you…I hope you fucking burn.  How could you do that to me?  I loved you…
     In a pinched monotone Celia said quietly, “How the hell do you know all this, Paulie?”
     “I know this is going to sound like bullshit, but…there’s a guy, and…I don’t think he’s human…I swear I’m telling you the truth.  You’ll have to trust me.  He said he’d kill me if I spoke to you, said he’d kill my mum too.  There are things you need to see.  The world isn’t like we thought it was.”
     Celia closed her eyes, overcome.  “Why didn’t you tell me any of this before, you spineless, gutless…”
     She heard his voice tighten, “Look, I only met him the day before yesterday – he wanted me to lure you into some kind of trap…I was scared, okay?  I was scared.  The things in these files, Jesus Christ…it’s like something out of an acid flashback.  He’s going to kill me whether I talk to you or not.  Celia, he’s not human…”
     She was silent for a moment, then, “We need to meet, now.  Where are you?”
     “No, not now.  It’s not safe for me.  Later.  Tonight.  I’ll be in my office at Hades House.  At Eight.  Celia…if I’m not there then I’m dead.  Be careful.”  The line was disconnected.  She snapped shut the mobile, glancing at Louise who was staring expectantly.  Celia didn’t say anything.
     “You trust him?”
     “I don’t know…”
     Louise only nodded, opening the bag and removing a cheeseburger, glancing away from Celia.  “I forgot the fries.”

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