Wednesday, 16 June 2010

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.”
“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.”
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.

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.

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