Saturday, 2 October 2010

Chapter Thirty-Seven

They were driving towards St Francis Hospital, Serima realised. She glanced through the partition window behind her seat and saw Prayer clutching the gold coin to her chest. It almost glowed in the semidarkness back there. She turned and stared at her brother. He kept his eyes on the road, not looking at her. “The library is on Queens Avenue, back that way. But you’re driving towards the hospital, aren’t you?”
“Yes I am.”
Serima was scared, but there was nothing new about that. “Prayer told you to go to the library, and you said that St Francis is under military guard…”
“It is,” he said quietly. “That’s what dad told me.”
“Jobe, this is crazy. She killed a man.”
He nodded, “She probably saved our lives…” His eyes were tear-filled but empty, like the night she’d found him in the hallway clutching a knife with their mother’s blood on the blade. His eyes were almost as dead as their mother’s had been. Serima cursed inside, but she knew there was little she could do to stop her brother.
“They’ll kill us, Jobe. Or they’ll arrest us at the very least, which is just as bad…if not worse. And then we won’t be able to help mum, will we?” Finally, Jobe glanced at her. He looked so worn out. He looked beaten, defeated.
“Seri…I’m not gonna sit here while some crypto-fascists are doing God knows what to our mother. Do you understand what I’m saying? I’m not gonna sit here and feel helpless like this. I’d rather die.”
Serima understood, but she really couldn’t think beyond the madness of the past few hours. In truth she didn’t even see a future for either of them. How could there be a future for them in all this?
“We don’t even know if she’s there,” she told him, trying half-heartedly to reason with him, “I mean, they could’ve taken her anywhere.”
“We have to try,” he said, returning his gaze to the road. “We’ve got weapons now. And we’ve got Prayer.”
Serima shook her head, glancing from the window at the rain falling from the night sky. Her brother was lost in some fervent hope of salvation. It frightened her more than the chaos she’d witnessed. Serima considered herself a dangerous person when pushed to her limits. But Jobe, he lived his life in a very dark private world, a world to which she was only granted access on brief occasions. He lived his life in fear. It was what she’d tried to explain to Anna this morning, a morning that now seemed like years ago; living with Jobe was like living with a sleeping bomb.
“You’ve lost your mind,” she said.
“I wish.”
Serima turned from the window, “Jobe, please…you sound like some movie-psycho. Think about this. I know we’re past the point of no return, but I don’t want to get shot in the face or thrown in prison. She slaughtered that guy back there. We’re aiding a fucking nut-case.”
Jobe kept a steely gaze on the road. “I don’t care. There’s no going back. You know it too, so lets just accept it.”
“No. I will not just ‘accept it’.”
“So what do you want to do?” he asked her, “Go home and take a nap? They’ll kill us, just like in the movies. Do you think for even a second that we’ll be allowed to go back to our lives? From here on in everything is different.”
“Jobe,” she murmured quietly, “I don’t want to die, man...”
“There’s no going back.”
“Accept it,” he said bluntly.
Serima pressed her lips together and took a trembling breath. More than anything she wanted to take away her brother’s pain. She wanted to hold him and soothe away his guilt and shame, show him how transparent it all was. But today’s events had seemed to justify her brother’s fear. And now she was left with no option but to join him in his fear. What else could she do?
“I must be crazy,” she murmured. Fate would not let them live an ordinary life. She’d known that since she was a child, even before the night of the Aquinas fire. Jobe was the one person who would give his life for hers, unquestioningly. He was the nearest thing she had to a hero. Serima had the distinct feeling that tonight would be the night they died. At least it would be together.

It was raining again, a heavy drizzle. Prayer could hear it spattering on the roof as they moved. The guns that she and Serima had discovered were a comfort. Both pistols had been loaded but she found no ammunition for the assault-rifle, and even if she did she doubted she could figure out how to load it correctly. Serima was sitting up front with her handsome brother, no doubt clutching the other pistol and telling herself that she wasn’t afraid.
Prayer was alone in the darkness at the back. She knew that Jobe wasn’t driving towards Wells Gate Public Library. He was driving towards St Francis, because he believed that his mother was there. She probably was, but Maya made her promise not to alter the plan, even at her children’s insistence.
They’re not as scared of me as they were in the beginning. I wonder why? Jobe’s even a little intrigued now. It must’ve been the blood. He saw the blood on my mouth and it was a turn-on, despite himself. He’d made love to her when she lay in his bed, kissing her slowly, passionate and gentle in equal measure; thrilling, but no different to sex with her father. Dad was sometimes just as gentle and strong as Jobe had been.
She thought about the driver at the cinema; how she’d toyed with him.
God, it had been fun, pure and simple, knowing that he couldn’t do a damn thing to stop her. It sent strange currents through her. She had taken his heart.
I can still taste it in my mouth. It tasted like freedom, finely spun, almost crystalline, not gristly and tough like I expected. Like well-cooked meat shot through with some indefinable spirit. Like coming home. Oh, Akin, baby…I hope you tasted it with me. I know you did. You taste everything.
In the dark, surrounded by boxes and weapons, she unravelled the t-shirt just so she could look at her prize again. The large gold coin flashed with an almost supernal luminescence. Like fire solidified, almost alive. It was alive, she supposed. As living as she was. When she saw the images in Jobe’s blood it had filled her with excitement, but also fear. So many had died, unwillingly, to give this thing some kind of form, and even then it remained just beyond the clerics of Interregnum.
She grinned.
It must’ve driven them mad; reaching and grasping…and failing to obtain. And it was me that touched it…me…and I’m little more than a child really…
Prayer laughed to herself. When Victor used to touch her in his own special way she doubted that anything in this world would ever taste sweeter again. As a girl she tried to accept the sour ghost in the back of her throat. But of course, images had begun to move and speak to her, weaving a centre of strength for her amidst the dissonance and dissociation, in which she could stand and see.
Akin. Her demon prince. Her beautiful baby boy.
He showed her there was indeed a greater sweetness to be found in this world. He taught her that she didn’t have to give up her selfhood. Her father could only take that from her if she allowed him. And so she had not allowed him.
I remember the forest. The trees…my God…I still remember. You loved me more than I loved myself. How could you care so much about one little girl…? I remember your tenderness. I know what you are, baby. I know what others would call you. It doesn’t matter to me. You think I’m in love with your face but I’m not. I adore your face, of course, but it’s your heart I love. The mask is just paper. Just words. I love what’s behind the words. We’ll help each other find the words for what’s coming.
Prayer pressed the gold coin to her chest, closing her eyes.
“Tell me you love me,” she murmured. At that moment, as if guided by a malevolent hand, a soft but distinct throb went through her temples. She shuddered and pressed her eyes shut but the throb came again, at both sides of her head, as if creating an interference pattern in her mind. She slumped against the boxes in the back of the Transit, stunned and disturbed. It happened again and her vision blurred. She shook her head to try and clear the sensation but to no avail.
She knew immediately that it wasn’t Akin. He didn’t attempt to contact her in such invasive ways. There was a projected intensity to the strange throbbing at her temples. A streak of dark fear ran through her.
It’s them… She tried to focus against the sensation but couldn’t. It was Interregnum, she knew that. A C-SOL unit was trying to manipulate her somehow. She thought she was beyond their technology and their probing techniques; hours spent fleeing from scout-walkers that got inside her head through a combination of drugs, hypnosis and careful electronic stimulation.
She grit her teeth with anger and confusion.
How was it that they still had a window into her mind? She had beaten them, she sustained all the tortures and abuses with her sanity intact. They expected her mind would be left a ruin, after all they subjected her to. But she had been strong. With Akin’s help she’d survived.
The throbbing continued, growing quickly in its intensity.
No…no…no…Akin, baby, help me! What do I do…? Akin, tell me what to do! Her baby boy didn’t answer, and she didn’t expect him to. He was only able to completely manifest in her dreams. He could affect the physical in many ingenious ways, but he was still held prisoner on the very edge of this frequency band, contained in an inter-frequency, a density of consciousness that lay beyond the realm of human five-sense perception. Though his powers were great he wasn’t able to help her, it seemed. He could keep her safe from a knife in the throat but he couldn’t protect her from this?
It was like they were inside her mind again, like she was back at Ensler with the doctors, and the ones who pretended they were innocent, those bastard doctors who turned their cheeks because a villain with a military ID told them to do it. Prayer’s fear became terror. All of a sudden she was stripped of her uniqueness, her special talents, and was again the rape-victim and spectacular lab-rat that she’d once been. She was Rebecca again, and Prayer seemed suddenly like a paper-thin lie she’d created to protect herself. And if Prayer was just a lie, maybe Akin, too, was a lie.
No…no…they cannot do this to me…I’m beyond them…I am salvation…I am the message…I am truth…
And then it was like a flash-grenade going off inside her skull.

Jobe and Serima heard a wild screaming from the back of the van. They locked startled, fearful gazes. Serima turned in her seat and glanced through the partition window behind her head. Prayer was on her knees in the dark, hands pressed to her ears, screaming in agony. It pierced some invisible barrier for a brief moment, distorting into a shriek of inhuman depth, and then falling back into a more recognisable sound.
“My God,” Jobe heard himself say.
“You’ve got to stop, man…pull off somewhere quiet; we’ve got to help her.”
Jobe was afraid but stunned to hear these words from his sister. He nodded and pulled out from Vassal Bridge Road, dangerously cutting off the traffic, turning down an approach lane that ran parallel to the railway bridge. The lane curved behind a long and narrow building marked ‘C.K. Poppy: Timber & Aggregate Merchant’. Serima stared wide-eyed at her brother, tears rolling down her cheeks. Jobe could only offer a brief glance amidst the shrieking.
Finally, he swung the van into a small open car park in front of a faceless, darkened building of brick and grey corrugated steel. The Transit ground to a halt, the only vehicle in this small corner of empty darkness. Prayer’s mind-numbing screams wavered in and out of pitch, like something deep inside her was momentarily changing shape due to the pain she was experiencing.
Jobe and Serima leapt from the van, into the cold night rain, both racing around to the back and flinging the doors open. Jobe was the first to jump up into the back of the van, lunging towards Prayer in an effort to at least comfort her with physical contact. Prayer’s head snapped up, her screams almost deafening, and Jobe saw her eyes were as black as the night. He faltered at the horrific sight; her sockets were empty and soulless. A halo of shimmering air like a heat haze seemed to be dancing around her.
“Jesus,” he breathed, almost frozen.
Before he could think to do anything more, an invisible compression wave blew him off his feet and back through the open doors of the van, sailing him past Serima in the blink of an eye and dashing him hard on the cold cement. He landed on his right shoulder, the breath forced immediately from his lungs. Stunned and shaken, he rolled over and saw Serima back-stepping from the van, a look of pure shock on her face.
Serima watched Prayer rear up in the dark like a cobra in jeans and a black bra, her face and hands streaked with dry blood, thrashing and twisting until suddenly her strength left her and she seemed to lose consciousness, slumping to the floor of the Transit.
Jobe pulled himself to his feet and stumbled back to his sister. “Shit…” he gasped, gripping a sore shoulder. They were both numbed into silent astonishment at what just occurred. Prayer lay unmoving. They glanced wildly at each other. “Shit…” Jobe muttered again.
It was then that they heard the low drone of a car’s cruising engine.
Someone was coming down the approach lane. Jobe swallowed deeply and took a few steps to his left, risking a glance. Headlights glared at the end of the long ribbon of darkness.
“We’re trapped,” Serima blurted in realisation. Jobe slammed shut the back doors of the Transit, grabbed Serima’s arm and yanked her around to the front. She scrambled up into the cabin, dashing across the driver seat to the passenger side as Jobe hurried up behind her. He slammed the door and locked it.
The engine was still running. Jobe glimpsed the silenced pistol that his little sister gripped earnestly in her hands, and a wave of dread went through him. Tense and yet strangely numb, he hurriedly swung the van around, engine growling in response. His breath seemed to fade when he realised the Transit was now facing phantom headlights flaring in the dark.

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