Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Chapter Twenty-Four

Impossibly tall trees, their tangled branches like a black maze draped across the sky. Jobe was sitting amongst dead pages in a dark hollow as the trees swept forever upwards, branches outstretched like mountainous scarecrows.
His breath was only a shimmer. A waking dream; the most vivid, lucid dream. He began shaking terribly and glanced around, tears spilling from his eyes, expecting to find some kind of window or portal where Serima and the girl would be seen, still on the floor of his living-room.
There was no portal. Just him, alone, in this place. ‘Oh…no…
He pressed his lips together, afraid, terribly afraid.
This was the place of his dream, these story-trees. But this was nothing like the dream. He was here, actually here, as if transported physically. But that was impossible, he knew. And yet he could feel the wind on his cheek, neither warm nor cold. He could feel his back pressed against the hollow. He could feel these leaves that were pages. He grabbed a handful.
This was an illusion. There was no other explanation that his mind was currently willing to except. If this was a highly sophisticated form of smoke & mirrors, then he could exercise some control over his surroundings. Jobe kept breathing deeply, trying to collapse the eddy churning in his gut.
Eventually he felt himself grow a little calmer. He closed his eyes and opened them again. The monstrous forest was still all around him. He was still afraid to move. Before, he had sensed things out amongst those trees; dark, lawless things that collected these pages for some unknowable purpose. He was here with those things now.
He remembered the one in particular. The one he sensed knew this place better than all the others who walked and traded here. Jobe was alone with these hidden things.
‘…Oh God…’
A young boy was kneeled in the half-light, watching Jobe. All his calm fled from him, the eddy churning fierce in his belly. The boy called out to him, rising to his feet. Jobe watched him approach, tears still rolling down his cheeks. He braced himself for a violent, imminent death. It was absurd that he would die here, of all places; a world that had no right to exist.
‘So you didn’t turn back, Jobe. That’s good…that’s very solvent of you. I like it.’
The boy kneeled again, a few feet away. He was perhaps ten or eleven years old, barefoot, dressed in jeans and a black t-shirt with the words Nova Athletics on it in bright red. A normal young boy. Jobe realised he was not to be disembowelled, dismembered, or broken in two.
‘It was you,’ Jobe murmured, more to himself than to the boy, ‘talking to me, a second ago…You were here with me before.’ The boy nodded. Jobe felt something inside himself sinking, as though his thoughts were being pulled downward through inner soil. ‘What…in God’s name…is this place?’
The boy glanced up at the leviathan trees. ‘This is the First Edifice. Womb of Mysteries. God’s Window. The Emerald City.’ He grinned, scooped a handful of pages from the hollow and then let them fall again. ‘And me? I’m a traveller, I suppose. A writer, like yourself. Rather quaint if you let it be, don’t you think?’
This was not a boy, Jobe sensed immediately, this was not any kind of Man.
‘A writer? From where…?’
‘I come from Rebecca at the moment, and through Sean Reece, vicariously.’
Jobe pulled himself into a kneeling crouch amidst the pages. He stared carefully, meeting this boy’s line of sight. His fear seemed to scatter on the strange wind and he realised he was now more disturbed than afraid. He took a breath.
‘Who’s Sean Reece…?’
‘A young man who died. He took a first dose of some very bad heroin, in a hell-for-leather moment, and it killed him. He left people behind who love him.’ It gestured at the face it wore. ‘This is an image of him at eleven years old.’
Jobe stared, then glanced at the earth around them. ‘What are these pages?’
‘Possibilities. I gather them so I can communicate. I have no intelligible voice of my own. That’s why I need Sean…and Prayer…and you.’
It wanted him; it wanted to claim him for some purpose. ‘I don’t understand…’ Jobe murmured uneasily.
‘It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you came.’
‘I’m dreaming?’
The boy glanced around. ‘Yes. I should hope so.’
‘But this is real, isn’t it?’
‘It’s as real as you lying unconscious in Prayer’s arms, on your living room floor. It’s definitely as real as that, if not a little more so. I brought you here so we could talk, so our voices don’t get too garbled and fuzzy.’
Jobe clenched his hands into fists, glad that most of his fear had left him. ‘I think you need to get the fuck away from me…’
‘Didn’t you hear what I just told you?’
Jobe rose from his kneeling crouch. If this thing thought it could control him with mere words it was mistaken. His fear wasn’t completely gone but he wasn’t going to let this thing get at what remained of it.
‘We’re done here, whatever you are…’
It seemed angry and it rose too, cocking it’s head. ‘This is disappointing.’
‘You can’t keep me here…’
It laughed, sounding strangely jaded. ‘Of course I can.’ It lunged at Jobe like a blur of movement, hurling him up against the smooth bark wall of the hollow and a beat of sharp fear went through him, renewed. ‘I’m real, Jobe. A different kind of blood flows in my veins but I’m as real and imperfect as you are. You’ve got a head full of straw. If you only had a brain. Don’t turn away when I’m trying to talk to you, arrogant fool…’
Jobe laughed, stunned and numb; held immobile by a seeming child.
‘Get the fuck away from me,’ he managed after a breath.
The boy stared hard. ‘Jobe, we don’t have time for this…Prayer made you come here for a good reason, because a massive shift is nearing. There’s others behind me, they’ll make contact soon. Not all of them are as democratic as I am. Pathlights are opening. Some naturally, others have to be triggered. If they’re not, then when it comes, none of you will live to tell the tale.’
‘When what comes?’
‘The End, Jobe. The End of the World. War of Miracles.’ Finally, it released its hold on him.
‘I don’t…I can’t believe you…’
‘You don’t have to believe. It’ll come. You doubt it, but it’ll come as sure as night stalks the day. This is something you cannot stop, you can only be prepared. I can give you some of myself, heighten certain abilities in you. It’s the only way you’ll survive what’s coming. There’s keys in your life, chords, that I need in order to orchestrate an invocation. I have other notes from Sean and from my sweetheart, Prayer. I need to bring something through. All you need to do is kiss me.’
Jobe was afraid, confounded and helpless. And yet despite the high-strangeness of this encounter, a darker, more perverse part of him admitted something. He wanted to know the feeling of cold, hard power. A tactile freedom like this fake boy seemed to possess, a freedom it had given to Prayer; even if it was only an illusion, even if Prayer was actually just its whore.
Another part of Jobe, an equally dark but more sacrosanct measure of him, wanted to know of the implications that this thing’s very existence insured. It meant there was an almost poetic basis for reality.
How else could he be talking with this thing?
“What the hell do you want to bring through…?” he asked it.
The boy laughed and said, ‘I want to show people how to fall in love.”
Jobe felt a flutter of excitement go through him despite his unease. In the boy’s eyes he saw the suggestion of intricate domains of knowledge, worlds that were wildly seductive to the deeper tenets of his soul. For a moment, Jobe felt the echo of some violent and consuming hunger, an ancient phantasm circling the depths within himself. He wanted to know.
‘To know,’ said the boy, ‘is the natural state of consciousness. It was intended as the natural state of Man also, but the collective human mind was hijacked long ago, reconfigured. You’re not a civil thing, Jobe…discard the shackles you’ve placed on yourself. It’s the only genuine resource you possess. Man once knew that Love is Imagination. Does that sound far-fetched to you? Man once knew this. You were free. You can be free again. All worlds are possible…and inevitable.’
The boy grabbed the sides of his head and kissed him.
Like a web of fire flaring into existence, stretching further than he could feel.

…opening eyes…darkness…
To remain sharp, chose these bloated relics of suffering as their vessels? Disavow themselves, trying to crown a ghost of the sun. Lost their sense of play. Given everything names, trying to engineer a world. Made it hurt them so much.
Perhaps forgotten how to cry. Beautiful. Like stars that become suns when worshipped, as though afraid to look away. Wondering how they ran. Saw it, sometimes. Chilling. Forgotten they were naked. Now living this arduous privacy; concealment and deceit. Tame ghosts; silent and terrible things. Called themselves people now. Afraid of them. Couldn’t stop watching them.
…closing eyes…nothing but light…

Jobe awoke in bloodstained arms, lying beside his sister. Prayer was cradling him on the floor of the living-room, Serima’s head in her lap. He took a deep breath. His stomach felt hot and churning. His head was pounding.
The girl nodded at his sister. “I think she’s passed out, poor girl.”
“I…” He couldn’t manage another word.
Prayer closed her eyes. “I knew you would. He kissed you didn’t he? He kissed me too, once. I’ve been in love with him ever since.”
Jobe pulled himself from the girl’s embrace, moving slowly away across the floor, the pain throbbing through his head and slightly blurring his vision. “No…”
“It’ll pass. The synapses in your brain are firing, linking, creating new patterns. Creating neural pathways for the gift he’s given you. You wouldn’t have taken it any other way.” Prayer laughed at an in-joke only she understood.
Jobe stared, shaken and shaking, at the girl, and at his sister asleep in her arms. And then it was like a bolt of lightning had arced through his brain. He sagged unconscious on the floor, his face in the carpet.

Chapter Twenty-Three

It was like they were stripped of their minds, raw, utterly vulnerable. The murdered girl had risen up on her heels and walked a semicircle around them, blood still wet on her clothes. They sat hunched on the kitchen floor, holding each other. Prayer hadn’t said anything for a while. She was sitting on the living-room sofa now, staring at the wall. Serima was still crying softly on her brother’s shoulder.
Jobe understood that nothing could be the same again. They had stepped across. They had witnessed a scene of resurrection, undeniably so. There was no way to avoid that now. Like the world had suddenly shifted on its axis of reality. Like they had peered through an invisible window at a sight they shouldn’t have seen. It literally chilled Jobe’s blood. He imagined his mother’s soft, cold laughter, chastising them for creating armour out of reason, and doubting the supremacy of what she’d taught them both. Serima’s mouth was near his ear, her breath panting softly.
“We have to get away from her…” Her voice was a pleading whisper.
“I think we need her.”
She glanced wildly at him, eyes filled with tears. “What?”
“She says she’s a messenger. That she needs us. You and me. We can use her to find Maya. I think it was Maya that told her to come here.”
“No. No, this isn’t happening. It’s not possible. I stabbed her…and…she just got up…how the fuck…how is that possible…”
From the living-room sofa, Prayer glanced at them through the kitchen archway.
Jobe held Serima, tightly, pressing his cheek to hers. “I don’t know, Seri. Something’s protecting her. Some kind of force.”
“The beautiful boy, right? He’s guarding her.”
Jobe nodded. “I think so.”
Serima pressed herself as close as she could to her brother. “A nightmare, man. Shit, I knew something like this was coming…I felt it. What’s gonna happen to us?”
He didn’t give her an answer. She couldn’t look at him. “You haven’t seen what she can do, Jobe. Christ, I felt it. I was enjoying it like she was enjoying it. They weren’t people to her. Just obstacles. Like in a computer game.”
Jobe stared at her and then at the blood on the linoleum. “We can’t run,” he said quietly, with certainty. He pulled away and kissed her forehead, got up and pulled her reluctantly to her feet. He held her hand tightly, feeling her squeeze back, and led her slowly into the living-room.
Prayer glanced at them, her eyes human again. She touched at her throat. A scar appeared momentarily and then melted like an ugly snowflake.
“I don’t blame you. I’d probably have done the same thing. See how easy it was to stick it into me? It hurt though, and I was scared. I thought maybe this time he’d let me die. Funny how you can doubt even your closest friends.”
Serima pulled her hand from Jobe’s grasp and took a few steps towards the sofa. “You should be dead.”
“Yeah.”
“I thought I killed you…”
Prayer nodded. “But you can’t. He takes care of me.”
“The beautiful boy.”
Prayer seemed stunned. “You’ve seen him? You’ve seen Akin? He’s a vision, isn’t he?” She got up from the sofa and Serima flinched. Jobe snatched his sister’s hand and stepped in front of her.
“Neither of you have to be afraid of me.”
“You’re a murderer,” said Jobe. “And you just came back to life on my kitchen floor. The blood’s still drying there…”
“Death is only a transport metaphor. Over the Rainbow.”
“I saw you kill those people,” Serima hissed from over her brother’s shoulder. “You have no concept do you? You snatched them from the world. Ripped them apart like they were dolls. I felt it. Whatever magic you have…you murdered them.”
“Yeah, and I enjoyed every moment.”
Serima back-stepped, pulling Jobe away but he stared relentlessly at the girl. “I don’t know what you did to me when you walked into my shop, but I was crazy to bring you here. I think you should leave. Now.”
Prayer rubbed at her neck again, taking a step towards him. The ugly snowflake appeared and melted on her throat. Jobe saw tears in her eyes.
“It’s got nothing to do with better or worse. I did what I had to do to get out of there. You have no idea the things they did to me. They poked and prodded me. Cut me open and stitched me up, then cut me open and stitched me up again. Sent scouts into my mind to wander around in my subconscious. Do you know what that feels like…? I do, in more ways than one.”
She looked down at her hands. “It feels like you’re playing hide and seek with corrupted shadows. Like things are touching you, groping you…and you can’t do anything to stop them. I did what I had to do. You’re gonna have to do the same, eventually.”
Serima stared silently, her face twisting into a grimace. Clumsily, she dropped cross-legged to the floor. “Where’s our mother?” she murmured, “Is she dead? Is she dead? Is she dead?”
Prayer was kneeled in front of her like a blur. Jobe’s heart nearly skipped a beat. He hadn’t even seen her move. He watched as the murdered girl took his sister’s hands. Serima didn’t flinch this time, she simply stared down at the carpet, a look of astonishment creeping across her face.
Jobe was afraid to touch the bloodied girl. “Please…I’m begging you, don’t hurt her.”
“They took her somewhere, Serima. I don’t know where. I wish I did. All I know is that she’s alive. We shared a lot, Maya and me. She kept me sane in that horrible place.”
Serima looked up at her, “Sane? Oh God…your hands are so warm. Don’t hate me…it’s just that I didn’t have a Dorothy. It was a month until debut and I didn’t even have a Dorothy…” She began laughing, a laughter mixed with tears.
Jobe stared fearfully at Prayer, thinking that his sister’s mind had finally snapped. “Are you going to let us go?” She shrugged at his question. “Are you going to kill us? Because if you are…just do it now, don’t toy with us.”
“I’m not gonna hurt you, Mr Vesson.” She smiled at him, her hands clasping Serima’s. “I need your help to open a pathlight. I can take you to see Akin. He can show you things, explain things better than I ever could. He said you’ve seen where he lives. He said you knew he was there. That makes you even more special than we thought.”
The leviathan story-trees. Dead pages scattered like leaves. Things moving and collecting. Harvesting those dead pages.
“That was a dream.”
“Everything is a dream. Everything. It doesn’t make it any less real. Maya said you know all this. You think my boy is evil…but you’re wrong. You need to meet him so you can know for yourself.”
Serima slowly doubled over, holding Prayer’s hands tightly, resting her head in the girl’s lap. “I’m sorry,” she muttered, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry…”
Prayer stroked her cheek and brushed the hair from her eyes. “It’s okay. I told you it’s okay. I know you guys are frightened, but this is something you can’t run away from. You and your brother are very important. It’s why you are the way you are. It’s why you’re so close, so similar…you have a shared job to do.”
Jobe could only watch as Prayer cradled his little sister, who was suddenly so passive and resigned. It frightened him, more than what he’d witnessed only fifteen minutes ago.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you,” Serima said softly, “It’s just that we’re a month away and I don’t even have a Dorothy…”
Prayer glanced at Jobe. “I know, honey, I know.”
Jobe took a very slow, very deep breath.
It scared him, but he felt something familiar in the air, like the silent hum of an orchestra after the echo of the closing notes; a feeling, an imprint that he could reach out and taste if he only knew how. Serima had her eyes closed now, there on the living-room floor, pressed against this impossible girl and the drying blood on her clothes.
Prayer stared expectantly at Jobe. “What do you want me to do?”
“I want you to kiss me.”
“What?”
She leaned across slightly, still cradling Serima. “You need to kiss me. I’ll do the rest.”
Jobe didn’t know what to think, or what to expect. This was a naked madness. The girl had admitted to killing those people. He’d been a reckless fool in bringing her into his home. He stared into her face, looking for something, some quiet glimmer of compassion to trust. He doubted he could trust this beautiful, blood-soaked stranger. An eddy of fear and confusion churned up in his gut. He felt as though his sense of balance was failing. “Oh man,” he murmured.
“We don’t have much time, Jobe. This is only the first step.”
“And then you’ll help us? You’ll help us find Maya?”
“You have to help me first. A leap of faith.”
He’d never been much for faith, he just liked the artwork. With a breath he leaned forward and kissed her, truly nothing more than a leap. Prayer roughly grabbed the back of his head, crushing his lips against hers. He felt her tongue in his mouth, and then his tongue in hers. It began to burn. A flare of terror went through him, and he thought suddenly that he’d made a huge mistake. But he couldn’t pull away. She held him locked in the kiss. And then the burning seemed to thrust backwards through the roof of his mouth and into his brain. He tried to scream, but had no space to do so.

Blackness.
And then-
I know you’re afraid and kind of excited. You think you’re about to witness a miracle. Really, there’s nothing divine here. Just things you don’t understand yet. These are your thoughts, Jobe, not mine. These are your words. It’s the only way we can speak together, for now. It’s complicated but I’m trying to make it sound simple, for clarity’s sake-
-Of course I have a name. My name is Akin. You’re smiling, it amuses you. Good. What’s a name if it can’t make us smile, right? -Yes…it was me in the trees. It was me that was watching you. We’ll go there again. It’s where you can see me as a shape. I have a face of mine for you to meet.

Chapter Twenty-Two

There was a large oil painting on her office wall, from a time when Angelina Rose and its creator were lovers, the best of friends, a time when Footsteps still had the use of both eyes. Though intricately detailed the painting had an innocent, childlike quality to its depiction. It was titled ‘Celia’s dream’; an homage to the Host of Clock and all their tireless efforts towards harnessing angel wine. A little dark-eyed girl in a field, pushing her head through a rainbow, finding a strange symbolic landscape on the other side. The girl’s face was tired, not enraptured as one might expect.
Angelina Rose pressed her hands together, staring down at the cell phone on her desk. She glanced at Deacon who was standing at the bookcase. He had his back to her, but she didn’t need to see his face to sense his fear. He had come for some semblance of the truth. She would give him a little of what he so brazenly desired.
Deacon finally turned away from the books. “So this gestalt, it has remarkable intelligence. Who else knows about this entity?”
She smiled at him and lit a cigarette. “Only the seeker-cells at NSA and FEMA in the States. To my knowledge even CIA doesn’t know. Listen, Deacon, do you want me to just cut to the reason I called you here?”
The old man frowned, “Are you going to?”
“Yeah.”
“Then go ahead.”
She reached out and offered him the cigarette. He declined it with a gesture and she stubbed it out in the ashtray.
“She’s not the only one.”
There was silence in the room for a moment. She gave him a few seconds to process the statement. He stared at her; a look of genuine alarm deepening the lines of his face. She ran a gloved hand through her white hair.
“There’s three others just like her that the Americans are tracking, all girls. One in Atlanta, Georgia. One in Redhill, Wisconsin. Another one secured in the California desert, at China Lake. Extraction teams are poised to take the other two. You’re now one of maybe sixty people on the planet that actually knows about this.”
“Jesus H Christ…”
She got up from behind her desk, went and opened the blinds, flooding the room with grey light. It was raining outside, thin rivulets snaking the glass.
“She’s not an anomaly. Going on the intelligence they’ve gathered, Interregnum estimates there’s five others; two somewhere in Africa, possibly one in India, and another two unaccounted for. Nine very dangerous girls. It’s a madhouse right now, as you can imagine.”
Deacon was speechless. Miss Rose smiled. “My own feeling, what I get inside me, is that something’s being triggered. A global event of some kind.”
The old man touched a hand to his cheek. “How long have you known?”
“Officially they’ve known for two years. Unofficially they’ve known since 1996. But in reality…they’ve been drawing up scenarios since 1947.”
He scowled. “What? How on earth…that’s not even possible! Rebecca wasn't even alive back then!”
She stared at him, feeling quite tired. “The end of the war changed everything, Deacon. Everything. Also, the detonation at the Trinity site in New Mexico, in July 1943. Do you know what the Manhattan Project secretly nicknamed that device? They called it the ‘Son of God.’ Interregnum isn’t what you think it is.”
She sighed and glanced from the window, thinking of how lonely truth could feel. Sometimes she felt so desperate, but she would never let this man see it. She wanted power to numb everything, crushing the hubris of her heart, but her heart kept beating and bleeding despite the magic in her veins.
“The people I work for consider themselves to be the unofficial guardians of Man. Stewards of human evolution. Interregnum is far, far older than most could ever conceive.”
Deacon stared up at Virginia Footstep’s painting on the wall. “Right,” he murmured.
“Surely you’ve heard the wild rumours at the lodge?”
“Of course, but…we never took it seriously, I mean…everyone has their own personal horror story. It’s just dressing up, putting on the big man’s shoes. You cannot be serious, Angelina…”
Miss Rose frowned at his earnest face. “I’m deadly serious. The detonation at Trinity in ’43 proved what the best occult minds have known for centuries. The Apex of Negation considered it a success, a total vindication. Groups all over the world saw it for what it truly was. Do you know what it truly was, Deacon?”
The old man was silent.
“It was a herald. A symbolic passing of one age into another; the first true manifestation of the divine, on Earth, in over six and a half thousand years.” Miss Rose laughed at her own words. “The Holy Grail of quantum physics is a reality. Cold-Fusion, Anti-Gravity propulsion; both have already been perfected. As hard as it’ll be for you to believe, these technologies existed, crude but operational prototypes, back in the early 1940’s.”
“No…impossible.”
“The highest classified projects of the war; saucer-technology that’s still denied even today. Hitler was led to believe he could win the war with this mythical hardware. The Nazis, trend-setters that they were, understood one simple truth; that anything is permissible in the pursuit of power. But the greatest step is the knowledge that built the entire universe. That knowledge is in our hands now.”
“Impossible,” the old man said again, “Science-fiction. We’re at least a hundred years away from developing a zero-point energy source.”
“We have it now, unlimited energy. People only know what they need-to-know. The idea is always larger than the man, and we serve something that grants us access to the original language, the root metaphor; the language of light.”
Deacon stared at her, feeling spectacularly insignificant, a child cruelly distracted from the world with a shiny toy.
“The Word of God…” he muttered, more to himself than to Miss Rose.
“Unquestionably. We’re only five years away from becoming him.”
“This is insane.”
“Yes it is. The truth’s often like that. They don’t need fossil fuels, or even nuclear energy, except as insurance. Interregnum has the power of creation at its fingertips. The ancients understood how to do it. They were diligent scribes to the language of light. This is all recovered knowledge; magic dressed up as cutting-edge science. See, the only real tool one needs is the mind. Technology is secondary.”
“I don’t believe this.”
“Back then,” she said reasonably, “no one believed a thermonuclear bomb could be conceived, let alone actually created in their lifetimes. But the Trinity test, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and others; only a decade before them it was considered science-fiction, along with supercomputers, lasers, and sending men to the moon. Then in 1969 men officially landed on the moon. Science-fiction is usually some form of denied science-fact, as any true fool will tell you. Black-Light is the most advanced thing you can imagine, with literally thousands of social and military implications. We stand now at a place when science is again becoming sorcery. The thing you have to understand, Francis…”
The old man cringed, eyes closed, at the sound of his real name.
“…is that humans are far too valuable to be allowed to destroy themselves. This is why Interregnum decided a long, long time ago that man’s interaction with the divine must be carefully controlled. This is why the language of light is withheld from the majority. There can be no evolution without patience, pure intent. Spiritually, mankind is still a race of children obsessed with tribal war; Lord of the Flies. That’s why Interregnum exists. They let us have our wars, they let us fight our own shadow, but they manage our wars, they tailor our terrorism, so that we might still one day collectively receive the Singular Light, making language obsolete. The cosmos is filled with life.”
Miss Rose stepped towards him and the old man finally opened his eyes.
“There are things present in this room with us right now, entities beyond description. There are cities in this room too. Suns and stars everywhere. Each breath you take is filled with the histories of a million worlds. You see the painting on the wall…?”
He glanced at Virginia’s painting again; the girl-child called Celia, pushing sadly through the rainbow and into another realm. “Yes, Angelina, I see it…”
“That painting is real. You can go there. You can kneel beside that girl, that pretty little girl just brimming with angel wine, and you can feel her breath on your painted skin.”
At that moment, her cell-phone began its digital bleep-bleep-bleep. She went to the desk and answered it, giving the old man a pink-eyed glance. “Yes?” Deacon watched her. She sighed into the phone, “Really…? What? Yes, go there…they’ll set your wrist. Call me back in six hours if I don’t call before then. Do nothing, just wait with them.”
She ended the call, glancing at Deacon. “Your doctor resisted house arrest, she’s escaped.”
“It’s not a problem. All Locus vehicles are fitted with micro-transmitters…you can track her.”
“I think you underestimate your own operative, Deacon. I need some time to think. She doesn’t know about Maya Kistori, right? Tell me she doesn’t know.”
Deacon nodded uncertainly. “We began streaming the process from the moment you gave the word. I doubt Katherine even remembers she exists.”
“What about the recordings? Cole would have mentioned her on them.” The old man was silent, giving a fearful shrug. “Fuck,” she hissed.
Deacon turned to the bookcase again, unable to stare at her ghostlike complexion anymore. He traced his hand across the books.
“Why did you give me the file on Katherine’s dead son? It said today would have been his birthday. How is that supposed to fit into this tale you’re telling me?”
“It’s very complicated. This intelligence; it wears the boy’s face, according to Rebecca Cole. The ‘why’ of the situation is harder to fathom.”
“I can’t accept any of this. I’m sorry. I don’t know what you’re trying to imply. You’re saying that, what, Rebecca Cole and the others are harbingers of…a nuclear apocalypse?”
Miss Rose slipped the cell phone into her coat pocket. “Did I say anything about a nuclear apocalypse? They’re harbingers of change, at the very least. But it depends on your perception. Most things do.” She walked over to the office door. “Go back to Regent’s Park. Wait for my phone call.”
“Wait? That’s it? You’ve told me next to nothing of how any of this is even possible. If you’ve known about this for so long…if all this is true…why order me to leave Cole in a psychiatric-unit, and not at a secure facility where she didn’t pose a threat? It’s madness.”
Miss Rose opened the door and turned to face him a final time. “We knew she was an extremely sensitive pathway. After Dr Reece’s tenure we had our own people study her at Ensler. We only had her listed as a probable. We should’ve foreseen it but we didn’t, thanks to Reece falsifying the original data. And now it might be too late. Listen, in the top drawer of the desk there’s a file for you. It’s Eating-Tree; SCI. It’ll explain some things. You’ll need security clearance before you leave. Show it to no one else at Locus. After you’ve read it, burn it personally.”
Deacon nodded slowly. She fixed him with a final stare.
“You were in the Falklands, right? A covert JQ special-attachment. You know what real life is like. A unit of the best young men depended on you, for their sanity and survival. It was crucial what you told them…or concealed from them, right?” Deacon continued nodding. “What I’m saying is that you shouldn’t really be surprised by any of this.”
“Angelina,” he said shakily, “I don’t…I don’t know if I can be a part of this.”
“You have no choice.”
“I do…I do have a choice.”
Miss Rose gave a cold, sharp laugh. “The Home Office would roast you alive, leave you with nothing. And me, I’ll kill everyone you love. Friends and family. I’ll leave Meredith and Lucy until last of course. I wouldn’t kill them for years. No, something more creative. I’d get soldiers and ex-prisoners to gang-rape them both. A mother-daughter team would pique a lot of interest. Then I’d sell them to the Brazilians, or possibly the Israelis.”
Deacon was trembling, tears streaming silently, as he waged to keep the pathetic sobbing in his throat from bursting free. It would cripple him forever.
“Do you know how much your granddaughter would fetch in Israel, or Nigeria, or even in Manhattan, god forbid? A lot. Do the smart thing, don’t ever dare to fuck with me again. Get used to the real world quickly, old man, before it gobbles you up.”
She left him standing alone at the bookcase, in the grey light, watching the rain making art in the windows. He had never been more afraid in his life.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Chapter Twenty-One

When Jobe ushered the girl into his flat he watched silently as she raced straight into the kitchen, dumped her duffel bag and began raiding the refrigerator. She cut thick wedges of cheese and scooped dozens of slices of ham, stuffing them between slices of bread, cramming bites of it into her mouth as fast as she could chew and swallow. She ate like someone who was dying of starvation, ravenous and equally consumed.
Jobe watched the beautiful girl, with narrow eyes.
“Careful you don’t choke,” he told her but she was barely listening. She only glanced at him before grabbing a carton of apple juice and gulping it down. She raided the cabinets next, finding packs of biscuits and crisps that she tore open, crushed in her hands and stuffed into her face.
“Jesus,” he muttered, watching her. Eventually she seemed sated and sat at the kitchen table, crumbs and bits coating her mouth and chin. Jobe couldn’t take his eyes off her.
“Didn’t realise I was so hungry,” she said with an almost embarrassed smile, wiping the stuff from her face with the cuff of her suede jacket.
“How do I find her?”
“What?”
He continued to stare. “My mother. How do I find her?”
She rubbed at her midriff and frowned. “I don’t know that you can.”
“That’s not good enough.”
“I’m sorry. I know it’s not what you want to hear. You’re dealing with very powerful ideologies, and I don’t know that these acolytes can be stopped.”
Jobe sat down at the table. “Look, Rebecca…Prayer…what happened to her?”
“You need to focus on the task at hand. If they learn anything from Maya they might send men to kill you and your sister. I’m not joking. I’ll sense them if they come…when they come. This isn’t a movie, you won’t be able to survive. They’ll kill you before you even realise what’s happening.”
Jobe felt a coldness drape his shoulders. He leaned back in the chair and let out a careful sigh. This girl. A vision; sweet and seemingly harmless. Telling him about death and messages.
“Don’t worry, Jobe.”
“This is fucked up,” he murmured, placing clenched fists on the table top. “I need to find her. You’re going to help me. At least if you want my help.” He stared hard at her.
Eventually she nodded and glanced up over his shoulder. He turned in the chair and saw Serima standing in the kitchen archway, eyes wild. “Seri-”
It’s her…”
“Seri, listen –”
Serima bolted from the archway and lunged across the table at Prayer, striking her hard across the face. Prayer’s chair tipped backwards and they fell to the linoleum, entangled. Serima struck her again and Jobe shot from his chair, hooking his sister under the arms and dragging her away. She stared like a laser at the other girl. “I saw you, bitch! I saw what you did!”
Prayer nursed her cheek. “I saw you too…”
“You’re fucked…I felt what you felt! It sickened me!” She pulled herself from Jobe’s grasp and snatched a knife from the sharpening-block on the counter. Jobe backed away.
“Seri, this is crazy…just stop!”
She raised the knife without glancing at her brother, staring at Prayer with feral eyes. “Get out of my home before I cut your fucking throat!”
Prayer winced and pulled herself to her feet. “You liked it almost as much as I did. You can’t lie to me. Certainly not to yourself. I’m a guest in your home, Seri.”
Serima turned her gaze to Jobe. “You let her in here? Are you insane?” Jobe was made speechless by what he saw in his little sister’s face. She looked away in disgust, taking a few steps towards Prayer. “Get out of here, now! Or I’ll do to you what you did to those people!”
“I didn’t kill your mother.”
Serima cocked her head. “No? Well you killed someone’s mother! Right? And someone’s brother! Someone’s son! Am I wrong…? Am I wrong!”
“Seri, just – ”
“Shut the fuck up, Jobe,” she warned in a hissed whisper, “You didn’t see what she did. She tore them apart! Tore them apart like they were dolls!”
Serima lunged at the other girl – driving the kitchen knife into her throat. A ragged fountain of scarlet. At first Jobe couldn’t process what he was seeing, then a wave of paralysing horror engulfed him. The girl snatched at the knife handle with both hands, stumbling backwards, blood spilling down her chest, across her little black t-shirt and suede jacket. She tore out the blade, tossing it across the room in a single motion. Jobe could only stare as she tried to keep the wound closed, spilling red life between her fingers. She glanced up at Serima, tried to speak, and then fell sideways to the floor.
Jobe sagged to his knees. “Oh my God, Seri…what the fuck have you done…”
“Oh shit,” Serima mouthed, the rage draining quickly, feeling a streak of warmth rolling down her cheek, “Oh shit…”
You killed her!” Jobe screamed. Serima dropped to her knees and pressed a blood spattered fist to her forehead, mumbling something inaudible. Jobe stared at the beautiful girl lying sideways on the bloodied linoleum. Even amongst the dark red, her face was still a picture. Wave after wave of greasy horror rolled through him. The universe had suddenly collapsed in on them, burying them alive, entombing them without so much as a warning.
“That’s it,” he muttered, “we’re fucked…”
“Shit,” Serima said again, rocking slowly on her knees, “I didn’t know what I was doing…I didn’t know…oh my God…Jobe, you have to believe me…”
Jobe felt all the strength leave him in an instant, like he’d been frozen in a gruesome tableau, a sickening image etched in stone. “We’re fucked,” he murmured again. He couldn’t take his eyes off the dead girl.
And then she blinked.
Jobe opened his mouth but there were no words.
She lurched up quickly, hands still gripping at her throat. Jobe heard himself laugh with naked confusion. Serima looked and saw the girl sitting upright, bathed in her own blood. The look in Prayer’s eyes was something neither of them had seen before. Wincing, she carefully pulled her hands away from her neck. There was no wound in her throat.
Jobe scrambled away across the linoleum, sliding up beside Serima. “God help us…” he murmured, but he knew that God didn’t live here anymore.
Prayer stared into the middle-distance for what seemed an eternity, opening and closing her mouth soundlessly like a dying fish. Eventually, she turned her blank gaze to the two of them. Her eyes seemed to shimmer as though caught behind a heat haze, and then they darkened to black – as deep as an empty, sunless corner of the universe.

Chapter Twenty

Suicide had never been a real option. Katherine Reece stared from her living-room window at the Thames, smoking yet another cigarette. The London sky was a pale grey, with angrier greys hugging the south. An arbitrary decision, but she’d made it; consigned herself to the roulette wheel now. She had no choice but to play it out, this sticky game of chance; staring into possible oblivion. If she died it wouldn’t be by her own hand.
She wouldn’t give them the satisfaction.
She was afraid to stay in the flat and wanted to leave, wondering if there would be a containment agent knocking on her door in the next few hours. Or worse; a sprightly Tracer bringing a message of death laced with bad puns.
She toyed with the idea of letting herself get executed, and for some reason the idea thrilled her. It felt like she’d stepped off the edge of something, numbed yet delighted by what she saw; all that she had let herself become. She was afraid at what they might have in store for her, afraid that maybe she deserved it, and she grinned in a way that scared her further. Into her bedroom, glancing at the gun and photo still lying on the duvet. She snatched up her mobile phone, flipped it open and dialled a number.
“Yes?”
“So you’re answering my calls, Wesley?”
“Yes. You have superb timing.”
She pulled on the cigarette. “I’ve been thinking about what you said, babe. I think you’re right. They’re leaving me with nothing, aren’t they? What’s happening there?” She could almost hear him thinking.
“Deacon’s already given the word. All your key-cards have been blanked. You won’t be able to get into Locus. You don’t have a job anymore. They’re going to have you arrested. The pale woman you met; Angelina Rose – she’s heading this now. They’ve sent someone over. He’ll tell you the score, but it’s up to you.”
“Are you screwing that lab-rat?”
She heard him laugh, “Kathy…you sound jealous.”
Katherine took another drag of the cigarette, glancing at the gun on her bed. “What if I don’t go peaceably?”
She heard him laugh again. “Then you’re dead. It’s up to you.”
“So what you’re saying is…that this is a whole new game. Rules of engagement don’t apply. I’m on my own. A career trashed.”
“It isn’t a game, Kath. It’s business. They’ll want you to serve a prison sentence. For treason. Lock you up and throw away the key. Failing that they’ll kill you. Especially if you run. I just don’t understand why you were protecting her. She got you believing in all this apocalypse nonsense, didn’t she? I thought…well, I thought you were smarter than that. Did you really think you would get away with it? How old are you?”
Katherine wandered to the window. “She’s just a girl, Wes. She didn’t agree to any of this. She was a prisoner.”
He laughed again. “But there’s the rub…she’s not just a girl, is she? And we’re all prisoners. Why her, Kath? You know how valuable she is. You think your hands are clean? The blood never washes away. It’s an inevitable part of what we do. I’ve seen you with a gun, darling. You’re a natural.”
Katherine winced, swallowing hatred – acknowledgement. She laughed bitterly. “You think you got me on my knees, right? You better watch your back, Wes. I’m going to put a bullet in it. I’ll end you…and I’ll relish it.”
There was silence on the line. Eventually Dr Wesley Morgan said, “You’re going to run, aren’t you? This man is under orders to kill you if you resist. Like yourself, he’s good at what he does.”
She whispered into the phone, “I’m going to fuck you up, Wesley.” She heard him lighting a cigarette.
“I don’t think you’ll lie down without a fight. I know you a bit better than that. You don’t have much time – he might already be there. Still, it’s your call.”
“Call’s over.” She hung up and hurled her expensive mobile phone through the open window in what was almost a reflex action, watching it sail lazily through the air for a moment as if defying gravity then plummeting seven floors towards the Thames Embankment.

She quickly gathered some clothes together, and the MP3 of Prayer, throwing them all into an old Adidas sports bag. Her heart was now beating like the call of an interior tribe. She snatched up the sleeved photo of Sean and glanced at it. “Happy birthday, baby,” she muttered, slipping it into her jeans back pocket.
She took the gun from her duvet, holding it tightly in her palm. It was the only thing that felt real now. She shoved it into the waistband of her jeans, took the bag, and hurried out into the living-room.
She dialled Robert’s number on the home phone and sat gingerly on the edge of the couch. She got the answering service and slammed the handset back into its cradle. Out in the hallway she pulled on her hooded trench coat, pressing her lips together with resignation. She slung the bag over her shoulders.
The seventh floor corridor was empty. She strode towards the elevators, entered the carriage, quietly ringing her hands together. She descended.
The elevator opened its doors in the basement car park.
She moved swiftly across the brightly-lit space, amongst the other expensive, shiny cars, towards her BMW. She glanced around but saw no one. She pointed her alarm key and the headlights flashed, the car bleeped and unlocked. She pulled the door open and tossed her bag inside. As she did so, the reflection in the wing mirror settled on a moving blur.
“You’ll have to come with me…”
Katherine snapped round on her heels immediately as someone lunged at her. A fist glanced her chin, barely catching. She grabbed her attacker and pivoted in a fluid motion, using their momentum to hurl them into the side of the BMW.
For a brief moment she saw a man’s face; younger than her, with a close-cropped haircut. She buried her fist in his gut but it was like rock. In the same instant he grabbed at her coat and tugged her off balance, slamming his forehead into her face.
Her vision lost its sharpness. She felt blood in her nose. No, NO...
She lashed out with a fist. The silver flash of a gun pulled from somewhere quick as lightning. She glanced his arm away, and then his other arm, too fast to know what she was doing. She heard a gunshot. She grabbed him, slipped, and they both crashed to the floor. Katherine’s gun snagged free of her waistband and skittered away across the concrete.
He lunged up immediately, his elbow raised like a jackhammer, bringing it down a moment after she turned her head. She hooked his arm and pulled as hard as she could. His face hit the concrete beside her. She brought her fist down on the back of his neck, scrambling to her feet and diving into the open door of the BMW, throwing herself across the front seats.
The gear-stick caught her in the abdomen and she winced, flipping over, reaching to close the driver-side door. She saw him raising the gun in his hand, shoving it into the car, inches from her face. In a reflex action she slammed the door on his wrist, hearing him scream as the gun jerked in his hand and went off, like thunder that close. The shot streaked past her cheek, slicing into the dashboard. Chiming, quivering bells in her ears.
He had no aim and she slammed the door on his wrist again, screaming like he screamed. She heard a ragged howl of agony. He dropped the gun at her feet. His hand recoiled as he fell away, cradling his broken wrist, moaning on the concrete floor.
Katherine locked the doors and snatched up his gun. It felt like salvation when she gripped it. She glanced and saw him stumble quickly behind another car. She stabbed at the ignition and the engine growled. She reversed with her foot on the accelerator.
He rose up from amongst the cars, her own gun in his good hand. They’d inadvertently traded weapons. She was already pulling at the wheel, and had enough distance to see his face clearly for a moment. Teeth clenched. A curious look in his eyes beneath his pain. He raised the gun almost casually, and fired three times. The shots streaked the driver-side door but didn’t penetrate.
Katherine sliced across the car park, easing off the accelerator only as she hit the ramp. She struggled to control the car from sliding out as she took the left into the road.
Her ears were still ringing painfully from the nearness of the shot. Her heart was pounding. In the rear-view mirror she saw blood from her nose smeared across her lips. She suddenly took a deep, ragged breath, tears spilling across her cheeks.

***

It was still raining, silvery needles hitting the wet ground. Serima and Anna were standing on the steps of Wells Gate College of Arts. They were sharing a cigarette as other students milled around them. The rain felt good on Serima. Anna stood cupping the cigarette and dipping her head as she took a pull.
“So you’re gonna call me, yeah? Don’t be a stranger.”
Serima frowned. “I won’t. We’ll do something.”
“Don’t worry. Okay?”
“Who’s worried?”
Anna gave her the cigarette and took her hand in the rain. “Your mum will be fine.” Serima nodded and forced a brave smile.
Jamie’s car pulled up on the other side of the street. Anna gave Serima a little wink and hurried down the steps and across the road through the silvery rain. Jamie waved at Serima from the car and she waved back as they drove away.
She waited for a few minutes, letting the rain hit her face, grateful for it really. She finished the cigarette and tossed it into the bushes.
Michael came out of the exit and saw her, a big smile spreading across his face. He gave her a hug and planted a kiss on her lips. “I didn’t see you in the canteen today.”
“Yeah, I had some stuff to take care of.”
“Did you see the news?”
“Yeah, I did.”
He shook his head, “Man, crazy isn’t it? The hospital’s only fifteen minutes away from my place. I’d seen all the police there but I didn’t think anything of it. Then when I saw the news I was like ‘bloody hell’. Literally. I tried calling you but you had your phone switched off.”
“I know. Sorry.”
“You waiting for your brother?”
“Yeah.”
Michael stared at the ground. “Okay. I’ll make myself scarce then, shall I?”
Serima didn’t need this right now. She wanted to tuck this boy away in a box somewhere, until she was feeling lustful again. The thought filled her with self-disgust as she stared up at his almost-innocent eyes.
“I’d like to meet him,” he said, staring at her.
“You wouldn’t like him, Michael. He’s a morbid freak.”
He frowned. “You told me he’s all artistic, that he’s a writer. Anna says he’s really cool. I think we’d get on fine. We’ve probably got a lot in common.”
“He’s nine years older than us, baby. You’d just be a kid to him. He’d talk down to you.”
“Okay,” he sighed, “Whatever you say.”
“He’ll be here soon.”
Michael smiled humourlessly. “You haven’t told him about me, have you?”
She didn’t answer at first. Eventually she said, “No…I haven’t. But I will. It’s just, he’s overprotective of me. He thinks I’m a little girl. He acts like he’s my father sometimes.”
“It sounds like he’s got a hard job.”
Serima stared. “What the fuck is that supposed to mean?”
He raised his hands defensively, “Hey, I’m just saying. Your not the easiest person to read.” She couldn’t think of anything to say so she looked away. “Am I gonna see you over the weekend?”
“Maybe. I told Anna we’d meet up for drinks. You can come if you want.”
Michael raised an eyebrow. “I think you can find some time to fit me in to your busy schedule. At least I hope so.”
She gave him the evil-eye. “Don’t be a prick…”
“I’m not the one being a prick,” he said, with an edge in his voice that she hadn’t heard before. “I just want to spend some time with my girlfriend. Damn, maybe I’m asking too much. Forget about it. I’ll see you on Monday.” He turned from her and walked down the steps.
“Michael…” she called half-heartedly. He didn’t look back as he walked away. Serima didn’t hurry after him. She remained on the steps of the college, in the rain. “Shit,” she muttered to herself.
She’d lied to Michael’s face and took the bus home, sitting on the top deck, watching the reflections from car headlights on the wet roads, listening to an Aretha Franklin track on her iPod. She’d really pissed him off this time. Images from the news had been flitting around in her head all day. Everyone at college had been talking about it. A little excitement in their dull lives. She couldn’t handle not knowing. She punched angrily at the seat in front, hurting her hand.

Chapter Nineteen

They drove. The faded red Escort navigated the streets beneath a pale grey sky. It began to rain again, lightly spattering the windscreen. Jobe stared occasionally at ‘Prayer’, wondering about why he was doing this, why this girl was in his car now. She had her head leant against the window. He lit a cigarette, feeling strangely numb now that he was behind the wheel.
“Can I try one of those?” she asked, glancing at him. He shoved the cigarette pack and she took it. She removed one and held it between her fingers, staring down at it, then pressed the car lighter and waited for it to heat up. Jobe saw a vague smile on her face. She rolled the cigarette around in her hand and he watched.
“My dad raped me when I was a girl,” she murmured, “Many, many times…”
“Yeah?” said Jobe, “I bet that was no fun.”
She grinned. “You’d be wrong, Jobe. My mum said it was because I was too pretty, not in so many words, but she thought I’d tempted him somehow. Apparently I look like my grandmother. When dad did it to me he kept telling me how beautiful I was. Mum thought he was attracted to my physical beauty, and she hated me for it. But it wasn’t my face or my vagina that mattered the most. It was what he was doing to me psychologically. That was what we enjoyed best. We would play games, the most intricate games. As much as it kills me to admit, I grew to love it. I think it opened a window in my head.”
“A gate, you mean,” Jobe said unevenly. “Right?”
“Yeah.” She stared through the window at the buildings that passed them, at the grey sky. The rain began to patter down heavier on the glass. Jobe glanced at her.
“You are beautiful.”
“So they say.”
He switched on the windscreen wipers again. “I’m sorry.”
“For what?”
“I’m sorry he raped you.”
Prayer shrugged and pulled at the car lighter; a glowing orange circle. “Shit happens, Jobe. Price I pay for this life, I guess.” She lit the cigarette, taking a deep pull. Exhaling smoke, she said, “It’s like pushing through a rainbow, through all visible light, and finding a whole world on the other side. Darker and stranger, but just as real and ‘solid’ as this one. Our government calls it Black-Light. The invisible spectrums. They tested me for years, with my father’s approval no less. They tried growing synaptic cultures out of samples they took from my right temporal lobe.”
She pushed her hair back to reveal a tiny scar. “Trying to pin down frequency. You can’t pin down frequency. You can’t catch lightning in a bottle. Not forever at least. They’ve got these phasing-chambers in underground bunkers out in Wales. I think it works a bit like a particle accelerator. Somehow they disassociate atoms from their electrons and it causes a shift. A burst of high-density electromagnetism. After that, it’s almost like the electrons go into a state of probability. And then a glimpse of the invisible spectrums. A glimpse of black light. They put me in those chambers more than once. I’ve never wanted to die so much, even with Victor.”
“Victor?” asked Jobe, “Your father, right?” She nodded, and Jobe thought about Frankenstein. The thought disturbed him.
“It’s what my dad’s associates used to call him. His real name was Nathan, he worked for a classified unit out of the Home Office – Black Flag. He knew some people that knew some other people. You can’t imagine the pain, Jobe. And I suspect you’ve got a good imagination. Phasing is like disembowelling the soul. I wanted to die…”
She glanced at Jobe, who said nothing and continued to drive.
“Anyway…this world isn’t truly solid. There’s things that interpenetrate it that can’t be seen. All sorts of hidden things. Cities and bridges and spirits of every kind.”
“You talk like you’re reading from a storybook,” Jobe said quietly.
“I am. More or less.”
“You think murdering those people was spiritual?”
“They weren’t innocent, Jobe. They hurt me, or they stood by while others hurt me. They didn’t care. They didn’t want to take responsibility…so fuck them. Let me try to break it down for you. If a madman gave you a set of secret keys, keys you’d been looking for all your life, wouldn’t you take them?” Jobe said nothing. “Wouldn’t you…?”
He swallowed and eventually he nodded, “Yeah. I suppose I would.”
“That’s all that I did. You knew I was coming. Some part of you isn’t surprised that I’m here. That’s why you’re helping me.”
She stared from the window again, “There’s a group linked to global Intelligence, a group that practically controls it in secret. A company called the Interregnum. I don’t know much about them – but I do know that they’re profoundly perverse, dangerous people. They’re controlling things through an interconnected hierarchy; illegal military-ops, rogue cells, foreign terrorist groups, and even occult groups like the Apex of Negation, the Maiden Hand, the Host of Clock.
“These things are real, Jobe…ancient and powerful, these groups do not fuck around. They mean business and I have the scars to prove it. These people have no conscience whatsoever. To them, rape and murder and torture are forms of sport. They know that messengers are coming. Faces through rainbows. They’re trying to hijack it and twist it to their vision of a New World. Can you understand that…?”
Jobe nodded, frightened at her words and the way she said them. “My mum used to say the same thing. Cusp of some great change. A new perception. Yeah, I think I’ve got a pretty good grasp of it. She lost her mind because of what she believed. It ate her alive.”
“No, Jobe. All it did was make her stronger.”
“I don’t believe that. Her eyes that night. Like holes cut in paper.”
“I know what you think. But she loves you. She told me that you were a miracle child, your sister too. She miscarried twice, you know. You’re here for a reason. We all are.”
Jobe laughed suddenly, staring at Prayer. This stunning girl with an open, intelligent face. “I’ve never doubted that,” he murmured.
She closed her eyes, head lolled against the passenger window.
“Okay, Jobe…this is the only way I can begin. There’s a reoccurring legend, about a crystal city, where priests of the oldest gods would weave the destinies of Man. It’s described differently in all the ancient cultures, but the themes are always the same. The City of Lights it’s translated as sometimes. In some others it’s called the Window of God or the Womb of Mysteries. You know of the French poet Michel De Nostradame? Nostradamus?”
“Yeah.”
“He wrote something in a personal journal, in the fifteen hundreds – the title translates as ‘Dreams of Emerald Glass.’ A creation myth, an entire cosmology.”
“Why are you telling me this?” asked Jobe, thinking fearfully of green stars. “I’ve given up on all that nonsense.”
“On what?”
“The Emerald City. There’s no Wizard of Oz.” Jobe looked hard at her, “Have you been watching my sister? Tell me. Just tell me, please…”
“I-”
“The Wizard of Oz,” he said. “She’s doing it at her college.”
He quickly pulled the car over onto the curb and braked suddenly, snagging their seat-belts a little. He stared sideways at her. “You’ve been following us, haven’t you?”
“No, for the past-”
“Why are you doing this?” he asked, almost hissing. Prayer suddenly shoved him in the chest to get his attention, closing her eyes.
“Jobe, listen to me. I know these things, I’ve seen them. I’ve been told things by men and women that live like gods on earth, do you hear what I’m saying? Gods on Earth. They’re more powerful than kings or queens, because people don’t want to believe they really exist.”
She opened her eyes and stared hard at him. “But they do exist and they’re playing global chess with peoples lives, scripting wars so we can massacre each other for their entertainment. The stories of the crystal city; they’re symbolic representations of very powerful events in consciousness. Cathedrals of knowledge stored in the human imagination. What’s being described is a pathlight. There’s many of them. I’ve seen visions. Jobe, listen, these things are being triggered everywhere. An influx of black light. Living energies, a lot of them alien to you. Each pathlight is a living intelligence. The world is changing even as you deny it. Happening now, man. Right now.”
For a few moments Jobe was silent. He turned off the engine. He couldn’t look at the girl beside him who claimed to be a killer and messenger.
“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz…that book, sometimes it’s used as a model for various types of mind-control, the film too. These people pervert everything. In the more advanced stuff they can fragment a human mind and create multiple personalities. They’ve been doing this for a long time. Monarch, Sliver, MK Ultra. They can engineer the mind to do the most horrific acts without even blinking.”
She laughed in a way that clutched Jobe and drove a chill through him.
“The Illuminati,” he muttered. “An occult conspiracy to control the imagination of the human race, stretching back into ancient times. Elite game-players with infinite resources, right?”
Prayer nodded, completely deadpan.
“Jobe, they are the self-appointed ‘guardians’ of this world and everything in it. Including me and you and everyone else. They set our limits for us. They give us our minds. Don’t let them lead you around by your innocence. They have us all blinded; in love with chaos on the one hand, and living in absolute fear on the other. People are controlled from cradle to grave and they can be made to do anything. We’re tools of the illumined. We always have been. They want to debase the truth of the emerald city because it scares them. They want to turn it into something hideous and diseased. You know all this. I’m preaching to the choir, aren’t I?”
For a few moments he was silent, thinking of the best way to respond. How do I respond to this? Why the fuck is she here?
“I know how seductive those ideas can be,” he said softly, “But in the end it’s all just a hi-tech fairytale. It’s the dark side of modern consciousness, like aliens and conspiracies and Satanism – when our dreams blur with our fears about reality. A self-sustaining parable. It’s not real, darling. It’s more of an addiction. I speak from painful experience.”
“Nothing is real,” said Prayer, “Which makes everything real. Everything is addiction. Or diction. That’s the whole fucking point, Jobe. It’s energy. Energy can be anything. We don’t just live in the world, we damn well create it. Every tedious day of our lives.”
Eventually Jobe muttered, “This battle then…this epic struggle of good and evil…it’ll be waged in the mind or the world?”
She smiled, shaking her head, “The mind is the world. There’s no genuine separation.”
“Right, right…I keep forgetting. As above so below. Everything is One. Cosmic unity. Light and love, and such…”
“No,” she said sharply, “No, I’m not talking about ‘unity’ as you perceive it. That’s just a pretty distortion of something far, far deeper. Everything is One, and this is Man seeing himself as he really is. Stripped of all fear, all bondage. Given the magic and the words at last. It’s what we crave.”
Jobe stared at her, feeling tears rolling down his cheek. He wiped them away with the back of his hand. The magic and the words. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he told her. It was a lie, maybe the worst lie he’d ever told in his dark young life.
Prayer smiled at him. “Men have always been tools of their gods, whilst aching to be the gods. And now finally we will be. All of us.”

Chapter Eighteen

MasterKey hadn’t been too busy and Jobe was grateful for it. The shop was empty now. He found he was thinking yet again about the Aquinas – stylised images in his mind of scenes resembling Dante’s Inferno, Hyronimous Bosch paintings, a cinema fire swollen to nightmarish proportions.
Not healing flames intended to cleanse, intended simply to burn.
Everything had its own allure, but fire was different. Like intuition it seemed to possess its own set of poetics, living only to consume, eating up the oxygen, snatching away what would be the breath of organic beings, and burning so brightly while it did. It stole human breath, blackened human flesh, and yet it illuminated the world. It provided light.
He found it strange that Christians still assumed that Hell was a realm of fire. Were there no fires burning in Heaven? Was it illuminated by the awesome power of the Holy Spirit, or were the streets of Heaven decked with electric lamps as well as paved with gold? Perhaps Heaven, like this world, was filled with synthesised light.
He laughed and thought it appropriate to spark a cigarette.
People had barely tamed the flames, with campfires and candlewicks. But the genuine fires still burned. He didn’t care what lies people told themselves, everyone was afraid of fire. It had no morality but it couldn’t be denied or ignored because it irrevocably transformed everything it touched. Like the legend of real love. In a way, it would be truly easier if mum was dead. Being alive like this made her seem like a sick joke. He was an even sicker joke.
Maybe she really is dead, he mused almost hopefully to himself. I miss her.
He put the cigarette in the ashtray and took a deep breath, clasping his hands and leaning over the counter slightly. He thought about Emma and all the bullshit lies he told her, lies that seemed almost like truths at the time. Fake fire. He felt a flush of shame and self-hate.
Emma Sieber had been his pretty blonde tomboy, who painted and sculpted, had a cute obsession with Oscar Wilde, worked in a travel agent’s, smoked at least twenty cigarettes a day, and who loved giving ‘comical blow-jobs’ for some bizarre reason.
He grinned sadly, and thought he might start to cry.
Emma adored him despite all his psychic handicaps. One of the very few women that pursued him. She’d asked him out, with an unexpected kiss in the line at Aquinas, telling him she’d been watching for the past few weeks when he frequented her local pub; the girl that stared at him when he occasionally went in for a beer. She would sit there with her orange juice or Coke, chain-smoking and reading. He took up her offer of a date together. They fucked that same night, and he’d caught Serima peeking from her door, grinning approvingly as they went to his room.
Emma had a wild sense of humour and virtually no inhibitions.
Jobe felt threatened at first, before gladly realising how cool this eccentric girl was, and so he allowed her to tease a genuine affection. But even after nearly a year together, some of the wildest times of his life, he’d never seen fit to tell her anything but a highly garbled version of the truth – fake passion administered like a watchful ghost. In the beginning he was her dark prince; intelligent, mysterious, creative and kind – all superlatives she showered him with.
She told him on many occasions that he was the kind of man she’d hoped to meet in her teens but had given up trying to find. He supposed he couldn’t handle all that praise, that sense of responsibility, terrified of being unmasked as the awkward, spiteful thing that he really was. He only remained a turn-on for a short period. Emma slowly began to distrust Jobe, coming to the conclusion that he couldn’t really treasure her like she believed at first, because he seemed incapable of honesty. Everything he shared with her was a carefully engineered half-truth.
Eventually she could smell the deceit on him. Her deep affection for him slowly turned to mistrust, anger, and then – most painful of all – indifference. He couldn’t blame her. She was right to walk away, telling him bluntly what she’d come to realise. He was little more than a machine that was imitating life almost perfectly. He remembered every word.
The dancing and the sex isn’t enough, Jobe. As much as I love the way you move. When you go home I’m still left wondering who you really are. You don’t love me. You never will. You’re everything that you say you hate, and you know what - it’s really sad, because you could’ve been a king. Instead you’re nothing. I’m sorry I wasted my fucking time with you…
He wasn’t prepared to deal with what felt like such an acutely observed truth. Later he broke down in tears, promptly making himself more pathetic by phoning her many times, leaving numerous text-messages. Begging, pleading, practically sobbing. He grasped it now. She wanted a pocketful of sweet ashes, like miracles, burned and loved and warped forever by his fire, but she left with nothing, intact and unchanged.
Serima had adored Emma. Though Monica always said she disliked the eccentric girl, that there was something ugly behind her fluffy smile and harmless demeanour, Serima thought the blonde artist was the best thing that ever happened to him. She was disgusted with the way he so wilfully ruined their relationship, eternally composed and distant. Emma had seen through it, quick like she was, and had been disturbed.
Jobe knew Serima pitied him. He felt ashamed now to think of it.
Trying to banish Emma, he thought about the dream again; story-trees scraping the sky with their branches.
An alien thing watching him through the darkness.
Whatever it was, Jobe sensed that it found him highly intriguing. If it was only a dream why did he feel so watched, so carefully observed? Why did it seem like there were keys of vibration tuning deep in the earth? Why does it seem, why does it seem – you sad, whining punchline. He felt emasculated, impotent, like reading a novel that he despised in principle but couldn’t put down.
The bell chimed as the door opened again. A girl in blue jeans and a little suede jacket stepped into MasterKey.
She was stunning, almost frighteningly beautiful.
“Wow…” he murmured to himself, “Damn, girl.”
All Jobe could do for the moment was stare, drinking her in. She had to be a model with a figure and a face like that. He could already picture her in trite, glossy lifestyle magazines, or on a Calvin Klein billboard. She glanced around with an urgent wide-eyed expression, a black duffel bag across her shoulder. She caught Jobe’s gaze and marched to the counter.
“Love, can I help you…?”
She lunged over incredibly fast, crossing her arms on his shoulders, locking her hands behind his head. He flinched but somehow she held him that way, up close, staring him in the face.
“So you’re the son, right? Maya’s son. I need to see you.”
“What the fuck are you doing?” Jobe tried to pull out of the strange embrace but she had him locked insanely tight. “Get the fuck off me…!”
He saw something in her eyes then, and felt something he couldn’t conceptualise.
It can’t be…
She leaned in closer. And then he knew.
“It was you,” he murmured, his lips inches from hers, “It was you…”
“Yeah, it was me. I was there. I did those people.”
She unlocked her hands and uncrossed her arms from his shoulders, stepping away from the counter. Jobe stared wildly at her, shaken and disturbed. No, I’m making a mistake. Seri’s wrong. She has to be wrong.
“Who are you, girl?”
“Well, who are you, Mr Vesson?” she asked, staring back.
“Don’t fuck around with me. Who are you?”
She smiled and nodded, glancing at the shop floor. “I’m a messenger of God, if you really want to know.”
“Everyone is these days,” he said coldly, “Either that or an atheist.”
The smile faded from her lips. “I see you, Jobe. I see your soul, and what’s more you feel it. You’re a beautiful guy. Nearly not as dark as you’d like to think.”
“Is that right?” said Jobe, trying and failing to envision what Seri had seen.
The girl laughed. “You’re kind of sexy but you’re a crazy fool. I don’t want to hurt you. I was a patient at the psych-unit. I’m your mum’s best friend.”
This gorgeous girl with dark brown hair and bright red lipstick. He lunged into the counter drawer and withdrew a heavy-looking wrench into his palm. “You must live in fear,” she murmured sadly at the sight of it.
He held the wrench casually in his left hand, resting it on the countertop. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. Christ, she was beautiful. He looked sideways at her, trying to appear menacing. “You really kill those people? Did you?”
“Sure did. Loved every moment of it.”
“Why is that?” he hissed, wondering what it must have felt like – the power in it.
“They locked me up. Tortured me. I got out.”
“Well, get out of my shop. Now, please.”
“They chose to die. I know that sounds like bullshit but it’s true. We live in a universe of conspiracies. Things talk. Messages are sent. I’m not accountable.”
“Yeah?” said Jobe, “Then why is the military looking for you? Why are there soldiers at St Francis Hospital? Answer me.”
The girl closed her eyes. “They think I’m a harbinger of some sort. They think they can learn the meaning of life by tapping my blood. I’m a secret celebrity and they want me as their unwilling sponsor.”
Her words hung heavy in the air.
So this is it? This is what it’s all been leading up to? This beautiful murderess walking into my life? He dropped the wrench onto the countertop, feeling suddenly hollowed.
“Fine, fine…so what do you want, babes?” He pressed his eyes shut and sat back down on his chair. “Want a book? We have a wide selection of books. It’s a bookshop after all.”
“I need a place to think.”
He chuckled and stared at her. It felt quite bizarre.
She was maybe nineteen or twenty years old, about 5,11”, only three inches shorter than Jobe, which seemed tall for a girl. A slender but perfect frame. She didn’t look like she was capable of any acts of violence. And yet Jobe could feel it there in the shop, in the air between them. It was a taut sensation, like something being twisted and pulled under immense pressure. He knew it, he could feel it; he just couldn’t rationalise it.
“My sister dreamt about you,” he muttered, acknowledging her finally.
“I know,” the girl replied and dropped her duffel bag to the floor. “I dreamt about her too. She’s quite powerful.” She looked Jobe up and down, carefully. “Not as powerful as you though. You remind me of him.”
Jobe stared at her face, kind yet almost sculpted. “Remind you of who?”
“A friend of mine.”
Jobe continued to stare, and felt a wave of sadness slowly engulf him. “Is my mother alive?”
“Yeah, but they took her. I didn’t see it happen but I sense it.”
Tears welled in his eyes. Suddenly he felt helpless, damned forever to exist in a kaleidoscope that he would never fully comprehend, no matter how smart he might be.
“Are you even…human?” he asked fearfully.
She giggled like a little girl, “Of course I’m human. I’m a messenger, not a monster.”
Jobe realised he had begun to weep, shaky and breathless, like laughing, like he’d stepped into a dimension of dark subtext. Like the air was fat and scented and alive. He slowly leaned across the counter. Perfection was so horrible, and it did seem perfect. Suddenly he felt that perhaps he was beginning to burn inside.
“Don’t worry.” He felt her hand on the back of his head, her fingers running through his hair. “There’s new worlds to explore. I’m going to teach you to read.”
He lunged up, shoving her away.
Don’t fucking touch me!” he roared, and the girl looked genuinely frightened. “You killed those people. You slaughtered them…and you liked it.” He stared wildly at her. “You are a monster…you’re sick in the head.”
“Okay, I’m sorry,” the girl said quickly, looking suddenly wounded. “I’m sorry, Jobe. I didn’t mean to freak you out, but they were bastards…every one of them. I never touched an innocent…I’d never hurt someone with love in their heart.”
He snatched up the wrench again. There was a glazed intensity in his eyes now. He stared at the girl, seeing a realm of almost demonic possibilities.
“Jobe, I-”
“Who taught you these things?” he muttered. “Was it a special someone?” The girl stared back, looking disconcerted. “Whatever it told you is a lie.”
He could sense something there, behind her. Not literally. But a feeling, a negative multiplicity. He remembered it from the night he’d seen his mum with the knife in her hand. And before that, the night he’d held a knife over his mother’s bed. A haunting scenario that thrived on the edges of his consciousness.
“This isn’t your power,” he said quietly, more certain of it as he spoke the words. “Something gave this to you and you took it because you thought it was freedom, you fucking amateur…”
The girl stared, upset, slightly angry, but then it softened into a smile. “You are like him, a lot like him for a person. But you really think I’m an agent of evil? You’ve read too many horror novels. I can smell it.”
“Get out,” said Jobe, tears rolling down his face again. “Get out of my shop. You’re fucked. Get away from me.”
She nodded strangely. “All of reality conspires. If good and evil really existed – which they do, kind of – don’t you think they would negotiate behind the scenes? For efficiency at least? Listen to me, the spiritual doesn’t make war. It only pretends to. It communicates, it creates mystery and perception. Illusion…like your mother’s name. You think the war is real because you think your suffering is real. You still think that you are real. You’re not.”
“I’ve heard all of this before,” Jobe forced slowly from himself. “But the truth is that it’s seen a sweet little thing and it’s decided to play with you. Given you a few tricks, I’ll bet. Do you think it loves you? You do, don’t you? You sad little bitch.”
The girl stared, an anger welling behind her expression. “He does love me…”
“You’re wrong about that, darling.”
“I’m-”
“What’s your name?” Jobe’s voice was cold now, empty.
“Rebecca Cole, I told you-”
Jobe shook his head. “No, I don’t think so.”
She looked at the floor and muttered, “Prayer.”
“Get yourself some new friends, Prayer.”
“Your mother said a battle is coming.”
Jobe carefully swallowed old angers and hurts. “Shut your fucking mouth…”
“Maya said the world will change. She speaks a kind of truth. I have to teach you to read, so you can see through all the sad secrets and cheap lies. Seek connection. Notice conspiracy. New worlds are coming, Jobe. Signs in the heavens. Voices in the earth. It’s happening now, but people don’t recognise it. Reality is alive. It loves and it rages and it kills. You must be prepared.”
Jobe dropped the wrench on the countertop again and put his face in his hands.
The King of Dreamless is afraid of his throne. He sighed, hating his pathetic freak of a mother and loving her all the same. She ruined him, he’d long suspected, turned him into a person he had no choice in becoming. What made him hate her all the more was, in the deepest part of himself, he also suspected that all she’d taught him was actually true.
She didn’t even have the decency to lie to me.
“This is impossible,” he said blankly, and then looked up at the girl. “This thing…this thing is your pimp…and it’ll whore you out until it doesn’t need you, or until it gets bored. Believe me, I know. The end of the world isn’t coming, Prayer. It’s been fucked from the beginning. You killed people for a lie. He’ll take it away, whatever it is he gave you.”
She glanced at him briefly and then stared at the floor again.
“No, Jobe. You’re wrong. Your mum knew all of this. She saw it. She’s told me. She knows where the pathlights will be. Help me, Jobe? I have so much to teach you. You’d be a fool to walk away…you know it.”
Of course he knew it. It frightened him. He should have seen this. I should’ve seen all of this. He felt his resistance cave in and his shoulders sagged. He sighed, slowly, a strangely liberating sadness.

Chapter Seventeen

The photo of Sean was contained in a plastic sleeve, taken when he was eleven years old. It was Katherine Reece’s favourite of all of them; when he was still a boy, before the young man in him began to frighten her. A beautiful image of a face that had long since decayed.
She remembered taking it so clearly. By the window, while ‘X-Men’ was playing on morning television. Sean was glancing at Wolverine every other moment, muttering about how cool his metal claws were. Katherine had to crack a joke to get him to look at the camera. Even at that age he hated having his picture taken, worried that the lens of the camera might somehow steal his soul because he’d seen it in a film somewhere. She still remembered the smell of brewing coffee in the house when she’d finally snapped it. She touched the photograph again. He looked intense even at that age, like he might suddenly attack someone in a silent, iconoclastic frenzy.
Something in Katherine shuddered.
According to Rebecca Cole her invisible friend wore this image as its own face. She wasn’t sure what that meant. She’d questioned it many times over the years and still came up wanting. She was sure of only one thing; that this invisible friend, who said its name was Akin, was a real entity. He wasn’t simply an intricate delusion woven from memories of sexual abuse. Perhaps he was some of that. But it wasn’t the whole story. Katherine had seen enough to believe there was more here.
There was something here greater than just the girl, or her PSI abilities, or Interregnum. Something greater than all of them. An intelligence of some kind was present amongst them, a non-linear consciousness that was alien. For some bizarrely obtuse reason it had chosen her son’s face as a medium, a point of contact with this world.
Prayer shared her delusions with Katherine, trusting her at first. She spoke in soft whispers about a foretold global holocaust; an intricately detailed fantasy concerning the end of the world. The dawning of the ‘Altar Sun’, as she called it; heralding an event that Prayer had described many times as the ‘War of Miracles’. Katherine cringed to herself. She couldn’t record any of her genuine beliefs. It was all far too fringe, even for Locus Point. Prayer’s whispers were juvenile, ridiculous, yet they made Katherine tremble. Something terrible was being hidden from her. Wesley was a bastard and had casually thrown her to the lions. She knew that, she just couldn’t deal with it. She couldn’t deal with any of it.
The grey morning light flooded her bedroom through the net curtains. Katherine was sitting topless in her jeans, on the edge of the bed.
She caught sight of herself in the dresser mirror. Thinner than she had once been. When she was younger there was a sexier fullness to her curves. Now, without those curves, her height made her look slightly angular. She stared. Her dad called her Little Red when she was a child. It seemed funny as a girl because she had always been so tall. Not so funny now though.
Shit, how long had it been since she had last seen her parents? Nearly a year. It felt like ten years. They still lived at the house in Nottingham. She missed them both terribly, especially mum. The Reece’s had been married forty-four years. They shared passions and a sense of humour. Comedy, simple fun, had been the crown of their years together. From what she could tell they were still in love. She couldn’t understand it. She admired it though.
Katherine tossed the photo onto the bed.
She raised the semiautomatic that was clasped in her left hand. She watched the reflection put the gun to her head. She could never do this. She stared at the mirror.
Why can I never do this?
Her reflection stared back, looking just as perplexed. Maybe she would try to get back this Christmas. Everyone would eat, laugh and get pissed together. She lowered the gun from her temple and threw it onto the blue duvet with the photo.
“You look so hunted, Little Red,” she told her reflection, who told her the same thing. She laughed out loud.

***

Prayer had slept on the couch of her childhood home, her head resting in her dead father’s lap. His throat was still cut when she woke in the morning and she went into the garden, picked wet flowers, leaving one in the mouth of each parent. She enjoyed that. It seemed darkly artistic, the kind of thing one of those evil geniuses in a crime thriller would do. Her father, sitting there, throat slashed, a flower in his mouth; he had never been so beautiful, never so absurdly romantic, even whilst playing Victor.
“Touch me,” she whispered in his cold ear. Of course, she knew who killed them and why. C-SOL were probably still watching the house. She wasn’t a prize to be obtained. They wouldn’t rile her with these childish things. She was beyond it. She was beyond pain now, thanks to her baby boy. They would never get her tied to a table again, never.
She saw them when she left, expertly concealed in plain sight; a jogger on a ten minute circuit, a postman delivering letters at one end of the road, a man eating a sandwich in his car at the other end. Even to the keenest eye they would have been invisible. Not to her eyes, however. They hadn’t seen her enter last night and they wouldn’t see her leave this morning. She couldn’t allow them to trail her, of course. They called themselves professionals. She laughed at that. They were boys, really. Dangerous boys to be sure, but they were still boys, intently playing their hide & seek games. They didn’t know who on earth they were dealing with.
How could they hunt what they couldn’t see?
She thought about Ensler. There was only one person in that absurd, bleak place that she called a friend.
Maya Kistori.
The woman was far older than her – fifty-three, but Prayer had seen a ruinous knowledge behind her eyes. Eventually, she learnt everything through a kind of shared dreaming. They would cut one another, slightly, taste the blood of the other. They would kiss for minutes at a time. And then when eventually they slept, their dreams would be shared. This went beyond all reasonable knowing. Words that were not words. Maya had painted a vivid picture of her children in this way. Prayer had come to feel it first-hand.
Jobe Vesson.
A brilliant but haunted young man. A lateral thinker fearful of his own duplicitous nature, his ability to find metaphor in even the most brutal of realities. A person of depth who feared that he was empty, spent, useless. He was possessed by the sight, though not in the same way that Maya was. He was a visionary, an intuitive, sensitive to hidden connections and perceptions. The unwilling son of a quasi-prophet.
Prayer had sensed this deep inside herself, confirming his mother’s rendering.
Maya had given her the keys and Akin had given her the reach. Thus when she let her soul blur its edges with Jobe, she realised she knew him, though she’d never met him. An empathy, allowing connection. There was a dark strain running through the undercurrents of his sight. She felt it before with Akin. She had thought Akin one of a kind, but now she realised that they shared distinct similarities. This intrigued her. Men were so often shallow, vapid creatures, without even the instincts to be titled beasts.
Prayer had seen Jobe's face in her dreams. Dark, intelligent eyes. A full and somewhat sexy mouth. She wondered if he would be as discreetly handsome in waking. Maya told her everything; how she wanted to spare her son his destiny, how she had tried to disembowel his fate with a kitchen knife. How it had come to nothing. Maya told her that he would perhaps one day understand but never forgive. Later, she asked Akin about him.
Akin told her that Jobe Vesson tried long and hard to blind his sight, to bury his voice, screaming deep into the earth. Akin said he was watching, and that the young man sensed his presence. This in itself was strange, he told her.
Akin suspected he was a Keeper of sorts, a guardian who would play a significant role in the coming rebellion. Images of things hidden under the signs of others. Jobe was apparently quite skilled in the art of war, though he would go to his grave denying that fact. Prayer couldn’t wait to meet him, to pleasure him. She was quite excited. She didn’t want to disappoint this son of a prophet with a bad show, this son of her only friend.
And she wanted to meet the other one; the girl who had been watching her from the branches of a burning tree.
Serima Vesson.
The daughter. A Deliverer, Akin had said. A reluctant warrior now grown soft and afraid of her own sword. The one that might secretly want to fuck her, horrified and illuminated by what she’d seen, what she’d felt that night high in the burning tree. I’ll dazzle them both…a star is born.
When Prayer finally arrived back in Wells Gate, an hour later, she was ready to come apart with the most exhilarating sense of freedom. She hugged herself and laughed wildly, wandering the streets, searching for Thornsett Road. A life that was finally worthy of her imagination now lay within her grasp.

Chapter Sixteen

They had cornflakes for breakfast again. Jobe tried the hotline number but it was still engaged. He couldn’t leave the vivid images of the dream; tall story-trees like psychological gatekeepers, and the thing that had been watching him. Like a real place, a genuine realm cloaked from human senses. He was almost certain that a measure of its essence had seeped into him. He felt himself shiver slightly and he glanced at his not-so-little sister. Her hair was a wild mop of black. She dutifully spooned the flakes and milk into her mouth.
“Are you going into college today?” he asked her.
“Yeah. What else is there to do?”
“Good luck with the Wizard Of Oz.”
She glanced sideways at him. “You’re twisted, man.”
He smiled faintly and continued eating his cornflakes. “I guess I’ll go open up MasterKey.”
“Okay. You gonna give me a lift?”
“Yeah, why not.”
Jobe left his cornflakes and went for a bath, leaving Serima alone in the kitchen. Eventually she got up and found the notepad by the phone in the living-room, and dialled the hotline number. It was still engaged. She stood by the window, holding the handset, listening to the beep-beep-beep. Suddenly the buzzer for the front door went. Serima put the phone back and padded out into the hallway.
“It’s me,” she heard on the intercom. It was Anna’s voice. She opened the door and waited, watching as her friend came up the stairs. Serima smiled.
“Hey, babe, this is a surprise.”
Anna was dressed in jeans, her blonde dreadlocks spilling from the hood of an ancient ‘Smashing Pumpkins’ sweatshirt, chunky headphones around her neck. She looked uncomfortable.
“I saw the news last night, Seri. I’ve been calling but you had your mobile switched off.”
Serima nodded, “Sorry, I didn’t think. I just…didn’t want to talk.” She ushered Anna into the flat, who glanced around and then looked back at her.
“I figured I needed to come and see you guys. How’s Jobe?”
Serima went into the kitchen and Anna followed. “He’s okay, I guess.” She poured a glass of orange juice and handed it to her friend. “We don’t know anything yet. Not much we can do right now.”
Anna put the glass down on the table, staring at Serima with curious eyes.
“Have you told Michael about your mum?”
“No. There’s no point. He’d just turn it into something it’s not.”
Anna frowned. “Meaning…?”
“Meaning he’d turn it into something romantic. He’s like Jobe that way.” She smiled and for a moment she thought she might start to cry. “He thinks everything’s a dark mystery, you know? This is the last thing I need.”
Anna nodded and glanced out of the window. “Seri, I’m sorry that this is happening to you, of all people.”
“Yeah, well…don’t blow it out of proportion…I’m not gonna entertain some flight of fancy. Fuck that. I’ll find out soon enough.”
“It won’t be her, Seri.”
“I know that.”
Anna sat down at the kitchen table and took a sip of the orange juice. “Where’s Jobe then? I wanted to thank him for the Lou Reed CDs.”
“He’s in the bath, I think.”
Anna lit a cigarette, took a few pulls and then handed it to Serima, who smiled.
“You’re so cool, Miss Duncan, showing up here for me.”
“Seri, come on. I got all my sisters with me.”
Serima took a pull of the cigarette and smiled again. “Yeah…you do.”
“You coming in today?”
“I think so.”
Anna nodded, not looking at her. “Go together? We can get some breakfast before class. Hark, what say you?”
Serima felt a rush of warmth for her friend and almost felt like crying again.
“I’ve had breakfast,” she said quietly, “But methinks we should still proceed.”
Anna gave a faint smile, “Verily.”
Serima stubbed out the cigarette, scribbled a note for her brother, and the two of them left the flat.

They took a bus and went to Bacchus, a small bar not far from the college. The interiors were all panelled in dark wood and it was usually a quiet, soothing place for them both. It was almost midday and Bacchus was just opening as the two of them arrived. Anna ordered them two sweet black coffees. They waited as Su-yen, a pretty Oriental girl, added new filters and beans, as all three of them listened to the ritualistic sounds of the coffee-machine.
They took a table by the window, the only patrons, and Anna held the cup like a prop, moving it gently in her palms. She glanced then at Serima, “I watched Deliverance again last night. And Look Who’s Talking. I also watched Die Hard.”
Serima smiled, “Cool films.”
“You’re supposed to be disgusted by the last two.”
“I like the last two.”
“I was just testing you; unrepentant lust junkie that I am. Nothing sexier than watching people try to kill each other, and kids are always amusing if they’re placed in peril. I love all the Home Alone movies. There, I said it. God no, I’m joking. That’s just sick.”
Serima put a hand on Anna’s wrist, familiar with her absurd rhythms. Anna stared expectantly at the touch. “I dreamt about it, babe. I dreamt about those people being killed.”
Serima expected her friend to shift nervously in her seat but she didn’t. She continued to stare. Serima sighed and licked at her lips. “Our mum had it. Me and Jobe reckon she passed it on to us. Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves so we can deal with our lives.”
“You’ve told me this stuff before. I believed you then, I’m not gonna believe you any less now. People have written for thousands of years about psychic abilities. In every single culture on the planet.”
“Anna, I’m not psychic.”
She shrugged and lit a cigarette. “What would you call it then? Sensitive?”
Serima felt a half-smile shimmer on her lips. “Plain and simple? I’d call it madness.”
“You would, would you?”
“Yeah, I fucking would.”
Anna took a sip of the coffee. She looked almost angry. “Well, genius and madness. Thin line, right Seri?”
“Exactly.”
“Exactly,” parroted Anna. It made Serima laugh. They both fell into silence. Anna traced her finger across the back of Serima’s hand.
“How’s Jamie?” Serima asked eventually, gently pulling her hand away.
“Jamie’s good. We’re planning to go to Mexico in June if we can organise it.”
“Sweet. You’re gonna take some cool footage, right?”
Anna grinned, “Yeah, I will. Weird things happen in the heat, don’t you know. I’ll get it all on camera.”
They lapsed into silence again. Eventually, “What about you and Michael?”
Serima lit a cigarette. “Me and Michael…he’s a nice guy.”
Anna nodded and arched an eyebrow. “Nice guys are woefully underrated.”
“I suppose.”
“Seri, don’t tell me there’s no clicks. I’ve seen you guys together. There’s gratuitous clickage. He’s gorgeous too. I don’t get it. It doesn’t have to be forever.”
“The truth; he reminds me too much of Jobe. It feels weird.”
Anna glanced out the window and said. “You love him a lot, don’t you?”
“Michael?”
“No.”
Serima didn’t say anything for a while. Eventually, in a soft voice, “Mum gave it to both of us, Anna. Whatever it is. It’s unhealthy. And Jobe is such a coward but I get the suspicion that he understands all this a lot better than I do. But he can’t handle it. He could be a great man, but he’s not. He’s distant and self-indulgent, and occasionally cruel. There’s a darkness in him that sometimes frightens me.”
Anna looked unconvinced. “He’s a sweetie. This doesn’t sound like the Jobe I’ve met. I’ve hung out with him a lot; to me he’s the kind of guy you could trust with your life. Your brother is cool. He’s a little sharper than you think, Seri.”
Serima stared at her friend until they held each other’s gazes again. “Anna, look…he’s the sharpest person I know, and because of that he’s full of fear, and in a weird way that makes him easy to control.”
“Yeah…by who? By you?”
“No, no, by the sight. You can never know it like I do. With the sight, well…the world isn’t real anymore. It becomes an epic dance. A romance. Responsibility fades when everything is a metaphor for God. Or gods. You don’t know how dangerous it is.”
Anna was silent. Serima continued, “My mum tried to kill Jobe, you know. She wanted to stab him to death. He fought with her. Self-defence. Stabbed her instead. But it was like she didn’t even feel it. You should’ve seen her eyes when the ambulances and police came. They were cold, man – completely gone. I have my mum’s eyes…so I know that this is very potent stuff. You can’t flirt with madness, babes. You end up fucking it. Ooh-la-la, and such.”
Anna looked almost frightened now, and she took a long sip of her coffee, took a deep drag on the cigarette perched between her fingers. “Okay, Seri, I get it. I’m just concerned. You’re a mate. You’re my people.”
Serima smiled and wiped away stealthy tears with the back of her hand.