Tuesday, 15 June 2010

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.

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