Saturday, 2 October 2010

Chapter Thirty

From the back seat, Prayer watched Jobe smoke half of a cigarette. He gave Serima the other half. The day was melting into twilight. The reds, oranges and greens of traffic lights seemed to burn in Prayer’s eyes. The whole road was so alive. Prayer noticed a connective glance between Serima and her brother the majestic. She chuckled and glanced from the window again.
How could she tell them everything when she could barely define it herself?
Maya’s instructions had been specific, like her kisses, and Prayer wouldn’t betray her by deviating from them. She knew that Jobe and Serima would probably never see their mum again. There was so much here that she had learned not to question. Stories found a way of telling themselves.
She loved words. Words were beautiful.
For a long time she had been trying to find words for this, something that would do it justice. It seemed like poetry; far too elegant, but maybe that was only because she’d been locked up for so long…maybe the genius of the world would lose its glamour in time, but she doubted it. A living fantasy, a multidimensional work of art; how could something like that fade? She could feel a need to be decadent even more deeply now. She wouldn’t let them take her lust, despite being violated. A victim didn’t have to forfeit her passion.
She wouldn’t do it.
She would rather yearn for the darker tales, she would beautify what they did to her. This would be her passion, salvation and benediction. If she could see it with mere human eyes, what must Akin see? The immensity of it all must be like madness in his veins, the glory threatening to poison him.
Yes, she supposed it was like that for him; no real separation between pleasure and pain, or health and decay. It was vibrating, shifting, too fast. The pathlights were opening, glimpses from the First Edifice. When eyes everywhere would begin to silently read. She would reach through, sensing shapes, and take what she needed, just like her baby boy. They were together. That’s where her power lay. It was the storm of her soul.
If her passion and truth made her hate, then she would hate gladly.

They parked opposite it, a little further down. The Aquinas Cinema was nestled between a small pub and cab office that were both boarded up. The three of them got out of the car, gazing up at the dark building. It was back-lit by the twilight dusk, and Jobe felt an inevitable sense of foreboding. He laughed to calm himself, glanced down to the main road for police cars, and hurried across. Serima followed, taking his hand.
The world felt not as it should be “You all right?” he muttered. His sister nodded. Above them a streetlight blinked on, and then a few others further down the road.
“Looks creepy like that,” Serima said as they approached the building.
Its windows were covered with metal grills, its doors fixed tight with wooden sheets, multicoloured graffiti tags adorning them. Fixed to the sheets, here and there amongst the graffiti, were bunches of drying commemorative flowers and little cards scrawled with personal messages to the dead.
Serima touched a card with a drawing of a mother cradling her child, and a message that said Still Missing You. Another one read House seems empty now, baby. Still love you. Another said Not In Vain; there are those who Know. Serima felt something of a shiver at reading them. “Not nice…”
She glanced at Jobe, who frowned, eyes drifting over the cards. There were dozens, some of which were very faded and streaked with dirt, possibly dating back four years to the fire. Some of the cards had been stapled to the wooden sheets, others had been nailed there. Jobe shuddered and slowly shook his head. A cinema was supposed to be a sanctuary, a place of peace, not a house of violent death. It disturbed him. He was looking at an omen, he realised, a personal symbol shared between he and his sister; an event that had secretly fused with the narrative of their lives.
Prayer took a step back and gazed up at the shell of the Aquinas. An alleyway beside it was cordoned off with a padlocked iron gate. Prayer came up behind them and grabbed it in her hands. There was a loud metallic snap; the padlock fell away. Serima watched intently, gripping her brother for comfort. “Shit…how did you do that?”
“Focus,” muttered Prayer, pulling open the gate and hurrying into the mouth of the alleyway. They ducked in behind her and she closed it, wrapping the chain around the railings. “Come on.”
The alleyway was dark and it stretched all the way behind the building. The windows along this side were covered with the same metallic grills as the front. Despite herself, Serima felt flutters of excitement go through her.
Jobe said nothing, silently following Prayer’s lead. Around the back was a high brick wall enclosing a strip of concrete where staff had once parked their cars. The strip was piled high with junk now; burnt wood and cinema seats, bits of charred and twisted metal. Weeds were growing through it all in places. Prayer glanced about in the fading light and hurried to a narrow flight of metal stairs that led to a basement door. Jobe and Serima followed.
At the bottom of the staircase they found heavy planks of wood affixed to the metal door.
Jobe watched the girl, like a shadow in her black outfit, put her pale hands on the door handle. Another metallic snap as the lock came apart and she backed up, raising her leg and kicking at the door. It blasted inward with a dull clanging sound.
“He really gave you some juice, didn’t he?” Jobe said rhetorically. He could just make out the smile on her face as she glanced at him.
“Yeah, he really did.” She stared into the black gut of the Aquinas.
They could already smell the scent of old smoke stirring in the air that drifted from the darkness. Serima peered inside but could see nothing. Jobe removed a small Maglite torch from his jacket and switched it on, sweeping the beam inside. A red corridor, its walls caked with soot.
“There won’t be enough light to see in there,” said Serima.
Prayer stepped inside. Jobe took Serima’s hand, and they followed her in. It was brighter than they thought it would be, perhaps because the corridors were painted red. They passed a door with a ‘Gentlemen’ sign on it, and then at a corner a door that said ‘Ladies’. There was a small flight of stairs illuminated in the torch beam. A set of double-doors, and above it, ‘Screen One.’
“Jobe, are you scared?” Serima asked suddenly. He nodded in the dark but she didn’t see it. He held her hand tighter.
Prayer went up the steps and pushed the scarred doors wide open. Blackness. Jobe went up to the doors with Serima and flashed the Maglite into it. The beam reached further than he thought it would, particles of ash floating in its light. An arc of seats rising up into the darkness, profiled in the torch-beam, many of them burned and skeletal. He swung the torch around. It was a big place, but the darkness made it seem like a chamber of hell that should be buried deep in the earth.
Rows and rows of burned chairs; it was odd how the Maglite picked them out, like a jaggedly cut piece of a surreal photograph. When he tilted the beam others came into relief, a row of them up high, melted into one another at crazy angles. “No,” he said blankly, “This isn’t right…they said nine people died. This looks like, well it-”
“It’s like more than nine people died,” Serima reasoned.
“Lots of people passed here,” said Prayer. “I can feel it. More than nine souls, I don’t know how many but…it’s here. God only knows how they covered this up…”
“Well fuck,” Jobe said, incredulous, “if that’s true then why didn’t they raze this place to the ground? Why in God’s name have they left it standing here?”
“Because it’s a trapdoor,” said Prayer. “It’s a window into the astral. I think this is a forgotten temple, like there might’ve been a church erected here a very long time ago, not a Christian church but an altar of some kind. Serious magic was conducted here. It still throbs in the air. This must’ve been going on for…ages. They’ve had clerics in here before, I know it. They wanted to manifest the very soul of this place. They’re like magpies that way, with all the power of birds…yet they still love trinkets and shiny things. They think their tools will save them, you know, but their tools will turn against them. It always happens.”
She walked through the doors, across the floor, to where the beginning of a narrow flight of stairs appeared in the torch beam. Jobe twisted the neck of the Maglite, switching the beam to floodlight. A larger swathe of charred seating emerged from the almost fluid darkness. Jobe was suddenly overcome by the sensation of the ash in the air.
He coughed, “Shit…what’re we looking for?” Prayer was hurrying up the staircase. He hurried up after her, the scent cloying in his throat. “What’re we looking for?” He held the torch straight up and a section of the roof was illuminated; caked in soot, burned or scorched in many places. “My God…this must’ve been horrible.” He swung the beam round, lighting Serima on the stairs not far behind him.
She squinted in the light. “Jobe, I know what this was. This was a sacrifice.”
Jobe said nothing. Prayer dashed into a row of burnt seats, moving quickly amongst the ruined ones, darting around them like a cat, deeper into the blackness, leaping a row higher and moving along. “It’s here,” she called as she moved, “It’s got to be here…”
“This is insane,” he murmured, lifting the beam higher as Prayer moved further away, searching and touching at the immolated seats. Prayer went further than the light reached but they could hear her moving around.
“Jobe, come help me!”
Jobe turned and handed Serima the torch. “Come on.”
Serima nodded silently. They walked into the rows, moving slowly, picking precariously though charred seats, climbing higher, into the next row. Jobe took his sister’s hand and helped her over. “Mind out…”
Serima swept the beam and illuminated Prayer, hunched on her knees in front of a particular seat, dark with soot but otherwise unmarked. Tentatively, the girl touched the cushioned seat-back with her fingertips. There was a sudden double flicker of green light like a heartbeat, the kind of chlorophyll-light that leaves would make if they could glow. Prayer gave a stuttered gasp like it was something erotic.
Serima and Jobe were both sent cold at what they had seen.
“It’s here,” she muttered, and began clawing at the fabric, ripping it free, reaching her fingers into the back of the seat.
“What’re you…hoping…to…” Jobe stared silently in the charred darkness, staring at the thing in Prayer’s hand.
A large gold coin, shimmering with brilliance in the torch-light.
“See,” murmured Prayer.
Jobe stared with disbelief at it. The coin was burnished so brightly that it was almost like a lamp of gold flaring in the torch-beam. “Is that real?” he asked inanely, unable to take his eyes off it. Prayer grinned, soft trails of ash dancing around her in the pool of light.
“Yeah, it is now.” She glanced at Serima who had the Maglite trembling slightly in her hand. “A pathlight is a rainbow in a way. A self-contained rainbow of invisible light. Black Light. And what do you find at the end of a rainbow?”
“Gold,” Serima chimed, eyes wide at the coin in the girl’s hand that was shimmering like amber fire. Prayer nodded slightly.
“It used to be called the ‘solar metal’, the ‘metal of the gods’. Used in Alchemy all the time…a symbol of changing form. You can do it with anything. Metals, flesh, ideas and images. It’s all the same energy.”
Jobe pressed a hand to his mouth in the darkness. “How is this is happening…?” He glanced at Prayer and then at his sister. “This is what we came to find?” Prayer nodded. “Then let’s get out of here. Come on.”
“Wait,” said Serima, “This wasn’t just a sacrifice was it?” Prayer rose to her feet and hurried past her. “This was an exchange, right? This was about power.”
“Yeah, but they failed. Our combined presence brought it here. It’s a physicalised metaphor. This is our window onto the real world. It’s what they tried in vain to manifest, but the souls of these people wouldn’t let them have it. They wouldn’t pass so easily through the fire into the arms of grim idols.”
Serima turned the beam on her, and froze, as some of the light fell past. There was a figure half-illuminated at the very bottom of the rows, looking up at the three of them with a gun in his hand. Serima’s blood went cold, and then Jobe and Prayer saw him too.
“Oh shit…” Serima clicked off the torch.

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