Celia had removed both their clothes and Louise hadn’t stopped her. She pulled her into the shower. The water was hot and they held each other, their bodies pressed together. Amidst the rushing water, in Celia’s ear, defeated, “I just wanted you to love me completely, without reservation.”
“Shhh, don’t lie to me, Cee. Please don’t. Just hold me, okay?”
Celia was silent. She held Louise beneath the pounding spray.
The Simpsons flashed brightly coloured images on the television screen. Louise had it on mute so the images were silent and garish; a schizophrenic, elastic world. Louise had an empty smile on her lips. Her eyes looked tired.
“God, I love this show,” she said quietly, “You love it too, right Cee?”
Celia was sitting in the armchair, a copy of The Clockhost in her hands, weighing it absently like a tome. “I do. I do love it.”
“Homer Simpson is a great dad.”
Celia hurled the paperback novel across the room. The rustle of moving pages and a dull slap as it hit the wall. Louise looked blankly at her. Celia stared back. “I’ll prove it to you,” she almost hissed, “You understand? I’ll prove it…”
Louise nodded. “How? How are you going to do that?”
Celia glanced away, pressing her lips together tightly. “When all this is over, I’ll prove it to you.”
Louise returned her gaze to the primary-coloured silence of The Simpsons. “When’s it going to be over, Cee?”
“How soon is soon? I matter that much to you, do I?”
“Yes,” Celia told her. “I’ll prove it to you, completely, without reservation.”
Louise closed her eyes to the television screen. “Ever since we first met, Celia, all I’ve wanted was you. You’ve wanted more than me, you know. Fame. Recognition. Alice Gray. And release. You fuck me but you never come to me for that…and it hurts…it hurts like a bitch.”
This is all falling apart. Right in front of my face. I’m going to lose everything. I’m going to lose her. She’s going to walk away.
“I’m sorry, Lou. It’s all I can say…”
“I’m so sorry.” More tears threatened to break free but Celia held them back, nearly trembling in the armchair. Louise opened her eyes and looked at her.
“I don’t get to live in a dream, even if it’s real. I have to live here…in the world. It’s cold in the world.”
Celia nodded, fighting the tears. “Cold here too.”
Louise sighed and Celia watched her clench her fists. She looked at her again, eyes almost as dark as Celia’s own. “Why aren’t you in love with me, Cee?”
For a long time Celia was quiet. Finally she replied, “I’m afraid.”
“Of not having the words.”
Louise closed her eyes. “You’re killing me, Celia,” she whispered shakily, “Jesus wept, you’re killing me…”
Celia opened her mouth to speak but the words caught in her throat. Her nostrils flared. She wanted to gag. With clenched teeth and a heart that felt like it was boiling, Celia rose to her feet and walked steadily from the room, trying desperately not to look at Louise. In the corridor she pulled on her jacket and took her bag. The gun was inside. Her belly felt hollowed. Her chest heaved with sorrow, anger, and a disturbing hatred for Louise. She fled from the flat.
She was standing at the Wishing Well, peering down into black pitch, endless darkness. It was the Abyss, towards the City of
. She could feel them. They were patient, yes, but so hungry for the green and blue, just as she hungered for him. It was her pretty little weakness. Lights
“Lillibeth.” She turned and saw he was standing in the vault doorway.
“Come to chastise me, Namahey?”
Miss Renn turned away, glancing back down the Well. “I thought you’d come to break my bones. Shame on me.”
“No, Lillibeth. You tried to hide your thoughts from me.”
She nodded, “I knew I’d be unsuccessful.”
He approached her but she didn’t turn to face him. He slipped his hands around her waist, speaking softly in her ear. “Then why hide?”
She laughed without humour. “Ashamed, I suppose. Afraid that you’d think I was weak, foolish. That you’d think I don’t trust you.”
He kissed the back of her neck. “Do you trust me?”
“Yes,” she muttered, “Sometimes.”
“I grow jealous.”
He tightened his embrace, resting his head on her shoulder. “Come, Lillibeth, it’s me. Namahey. Not a priest, not a god. The one you love.”
A smile crept into her lips. Sharing of fire and dust, thus bound beyond the veil. “I hate her,” she told him.
“I hate her.”
He placed his hands on her shoulders. “She reminds you.”
She nodded and turned, taking his hands, staring into his face. “Yes. I remember now. I went to her and she made me remember. I despise everything I was. Everything. I was so vain, so guarded. Blindness is my only refuge, but when I look at her…I see again. I don’t wish to see. Memory is torture. She told me she can love. She lies, Namahey…she fucking lies.”
He kissed her softly.
“Lillibeth, there’s nothing to fear. She’s only reflected pain; lost and hopeless. Whilst they are starved of purpose we are bloated with it. It matters little that we were once as they are. Whilst they play desiccated men we shall play their decadent gods, yes? Let Celia and Louise chase their romantic fictions. Let all of Man do the same. Our love is real. So hear me now, okay? Our love is real. When we make them suffer, it’s real.”
She was smiling now, gripping his hands tightly. “Your tongue convinced me long ago…that I do remember.”
He laughed, a glorious laugh, something he rarely did.
“But I still hate her, Namahey. It sickens me to think of it. We can never be like that again. And you gave her a pen this time. You always give her a pen. She always writes with that fucking pen…”
“She’s always written, but with words. You, Lillibeth, have learned to write with your heart. Come on, her sickness will be your release. It’s our myth. Such things, beyond contradiction, always find a way to return.”
Miss Renn smiled at her lover. “Of course,” she muttered, “Yes…of course.”
Louise sat alone, weeping silently – stupid, pathetic tears. She wanted and needed but she was denied, in nature’s absurd wisdom, and it hurt, Christ, it hurt more than she thought possible. She felt like a foolish, wounded child. And yet, she would have spared Celia all of this if she’d known how.
Through her sweatshirt she rubbed at the scar beneath her left breast. She would’ve proudly displayed a dozen of these scars if Celia could only…but no. They were too far apart. Her need, it wasn’t Celia’s need. She shuddered and doubled over on the sofa.
I’d give you everything, anything…and I’ll wait. God forgive me, I’ll wait. Just to be near you, with you. Even if your heart rejects me; your hands, your lips…those can still find me. I’ll offer myself up to you like a plaything…I’ll be your mistress. I’ll be your whore.
“Please…” she murmured, alone with her bitter tears.
The sister-twins watched from behind the crucifix-eyes of the Eidola, concealed inside their hollow images. They could see the boy down on his knees. Crimson & Ebony were side by side, in a circle of blinding black. The boy seemed to be there with them, bathed in red light, though he was not. High above them a
soared, revolving in the space without windows. The Phoenix too was counterfeit, an image plucked from the recesses of Va’el, the deepest strata of his imagination. They watched it keep vigil above them. Phoenix
Ebony glanced at her sister. “Mr Finn will know, Crimson…he will seek us out. Punish us for out terrible transgression…I am afraid.”
Crimson took her hand. “We cannot die…our mortality has long since departed. We are more like them than ourselves now.”
Ebony nodded, fear in her large, clear eyes. “Yes, we are like them…they are our kin, we cannot betray them.”
“No, Ebony, they are not kin, they are our jailers. Do you not wish to be free?”
Ebony smiled sadly, in the blinding black. “We can never be free, my sister…that I know. We can never be free.”
Crimson stared at the boy before them, on his knees, bathed in red light. “Our freedom can be found in another…in the boy, Va’el.”
Ebony looked away, frightened, unconvinced. “He is a murderer and a thief…before this boy-flesh he betrayed his friend to save his wife; gave his friend to the Scarlet Council. He knew they would torture him and still he let it happen. I see no honour there.”
Crimson turned to face her sister as the
revolved above. “He loved Seriah. I would have done the same for you, Ebony. Besides, his friend has forgiven him. That is why they are friends. It would be easier to see Ryan the Boy as one not worth helping, as a cruel man…but he is not. He is a lover.” Phoenix
Ebony sighed and nodded, turning back towards the boy before them.
On the Silent Gallery, Ryan waited. His knees hurt badly but he didn’t dare to try and rise to his feet. The metal cross-eyes continued to watch him from the semicircle they had formed. How much longer? The candle flames seemed to grow brighter suddenly, rising from the candles themselves and floating up above him in the darkness. His eyes went wide as he watched it.
The Eidola raised their heads, watching too. The flames seemed to swirl above them in a circle, like many fireflies in the dark. Like magic, it seemed. The tiny flames dipped low then, growing into swelling orange spheres and spinning around the Eidola. The metal cross-eyes opened their mouths as the lights brushed past them, moving faster and faster. Ryan knew immediately that this was not meant to happen. This was something Mr Finn hadn’t made to happen. A surge of panic filled his throat.
He watched as the spheres of light plunged into the chests of the many Eidola, bursting into firestorms that enveloped them instantly; a mindless shriek of clicks and taps that drove straight into his brain like spikes of sound. He thrust his hands to his ears. Many of the metal cross-eyes leapt to their feet, stumbling around him in flames.
Fire. The fire was everywhere, but Ryan could feel no heat. He dropped prostrate to the floor, pressing his eyes shut, hands clamped to his ears. He could still hear them, clicking and tapping, screaming and shrieking, for what felt like forever.
Finally, silence seemed to take hold around him. He lay prostrate on the cool stone floor, terrified to open his eyes. When eventually he did, he saw that he was in complete darkness, candles extinguished, alone.
The metal cross-eyes were gone. Apart from his breathing it was utterly silent. For a moment he thought he might be dead.
“Emily…?” he called out. Stupid. He wasn’t dead. He could hear his own breath. “Emily?” he called again, “Em?” There was no reply. Someone would come for him. Now was his opportunity to run, to find some way of escape, but there was darkness everywhere. He couldn’t see his own hand before his face. Ryan felt tears on his cheeks. “Em? Are you there?”
He felt hands take both of his own and he flinched, two people on either side of him. He couldn’t see them. He tried to pull away but their grips were tight. “Who’s there…?”
“Crimson,” whispered a voice to his left. “Ebony,” whispered the voice to his right. It was the sister twins that had lulled him to sleep on the floor of the Circle Room, the girls that got inside his dream somehow and showed him a garden.
“Help me!” he pleaded.
“We will,” the voice to his left told him, “But you mustn’t let go of our hands. Without light to guide you there is no time or space. Run with us but don’t let go of our hands. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” he blurted, trembling. He wanted to get of here.
“What have we said?”
“Don’t let go of your hands.”
“Why?” the voice barked.
“Because there’s no time and space.”
The voice to the right of Ryan said, “Whatever you see while we run…it’s in your mind…something drawn from your pain to trick you. So don’t let go.”
“Okay,” he said, nodding in the blackness.
“Good,” said the voice to his left, “Now we run.”
They ran, through darkness, through blinding blackness. Ryan moved as fast as he could. At one point it was almost as if he were flying, wind whipping and howling around him. He sensed the girls either side of him, careful not to let go of their hands. The darkness seemed infinite. And then, ahead of him in the distance, he saw the huge complex of the Colony. The trees and hills that surrounded it were gone and it floated there in the dark, growing bigger and bigger as they raced towards it.
“No!” he cried, “No, please!” He tried to pull his hands free from their tight grips but was unable. The Colony filled his vision and the main doors swung open of their own accord. “No!” he screamed as they raced through. The image of the Colony shimmered and then there was nothing but darkness again.
They continued to run. To his left he saw his father in the distance, running towards him with a gun in his hand. “Ryan! Ryan you son of a bitch! You’re dead, boy! You fucking hear me? You’re dead! How could you do that to me…I’ll kill you!” He was closing in and Ryan felt his heart begin to pound beneath his ribs. His father fired a shot and he felt the bullet whistle past his ear. Then his father leapt at him, sailing through the black, dissolving just as he snatched at Ryan’s throat, face looming and twisted with rage.
He heard one of the girls scream at him, “Close your eyes, now! Close your mind!”
But Ryan could do neither.
To his right he saw his sister. Emily. She was in chains, weeping. She looked up at him and cried out, “Ryan! Help me, please! I love you!” His stomach twisted and dropped. A cold fist closed around his heart. Ryan tore his hands free…
…skidding on his side across cold stone, Emily vanished, a massive door ahead of him. He slid to a stop. A cold blue light swelled from nowhere. He sat up, eyes darting about. He was inside a cathedral; a womb of spider-webbed stonework.
There were statues of Celia and Louise, everywhere.
His eyes went wide. “Oh no…”
Beneath a stone arch he saw Mr Finn, holding one of the sisters with a dagger to her throat. He turned and saw a bald black woman in the opposite arch, doing the same with the other sister.
“Don’t hurt them!” he cried out, but it was too late. In a synchronous motion they slit both the sister’s throats. There were twin flashes of light near the blades. Mr Finn and the black woman simply let the girls bodies fall to the floor.
Ryan burst into sobs, climbing to his feet and racing to the massive door. A metallic seal that looked like two naked women, entwined. He slammed his fists uselessly against it. “Let me out! Let me out!” He turned suddenly, pressing his back up against the seal.
They were standing only a few feet away now. “Va’el, we’re sorry…”
“Just do it!” screamed Ryan, tearfully. “Just fucking do it!” He ran forward and slammed his fist into Mr Finn’s belly. “Stop talking and do it!”
They fell upon him, embraced him.
Ryan kept his eyes open. There was pain, bursting across his throat and up into his head, but it didn’t last. A soft sleepiness overcame him. The cold blue light seemed to receede into darkness, taking the cathedral along with it.
They drank him dry, as Ryan slowly died…
…Beyond. Ryan reached out. Someone took his hand.