Saturday, 2 October 2010

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Serima could feel her pulse racing in her ears, her heart pounding like she had taken a hit of some exotic, merciless weed. Her mind shimmered. She would have laughed if she wasn’t so scared.
Jobe licked his lips desperately. “I think we lost them.”
She did laugh then, with real fear. “We better have.”
“Who was that redhead woman? She came out of nowhere.”
“That was my doctor,” said Prayer, from the back seat. “My psychologist. Katherine Reece. She works for a paranormal research-unit run out of the MoD. Something called a seeker-cell.”
Jobe glanced at her in the rear-view mirror. “Reece? As in Sean Reece?”
“The beautiful boy?” asked Serima, glancing in the mirror. “You mean this creature that you call Akin?”
“That’s right.”
There was another Serima in her head somewhere, older, and far more dangerous. This darker self had understood the moment that she touched the girl’s hands. She’d seen something. She’d seen what this girl’s father had done to her as a child. Deep down she had known something like this was coming. She enjoyed watching Prayer tear them apart, safe in her tree. Serima remembered that she wanted to bathe in the blood.
She wanted to join with the girl, as Jobe had done.
Now, Fate, in all its skewed creativity, wouldn’t let she and Jobe slip through its fingers. They were ripe for this, and she knew that. Jobe knew it too; that was why he was so afraid. Opening their secrets up to the world, Fate would give them a knowing glance, call out to them by name – smile as their hidden beliefs devoured them whole.
Jobe took another left and then glanced in the mirror. “Something very bad is taking place. These are some bad, bad people. Just like your friend Akin.”
“He gave you a gift,” Prayer said blankly.
Serima stared at her brother, flesh crawling. “Jobe…what’s she talking about?”
“I blacked out, Seri. I saw him, in a huge, monstrous forest. The trees were as tall as skyscrapers. It’s deep in the imagination, I think. I dreamed about it last night. He kissed me. Did something to me.”
Serima closed her eyes at the revelation. A clammy coldness had got into her belly somehow, and she put a hand on it.
“We need to drive,” Jobe added.
Serima stared at him, an angry sneer crossing her face. “What, we just keep driving? For how long, man? Forever? They’ll find us. And then we’re dead. You know it too so don’t bullshit me.”
“I know, Seri. We’ll drive, okay? Until we figure out what the hell we’re gonna do…”
Serima grinned. “Which will be when? Soon after they’ve shot us dead?”
Jobe’s expression darkened. “What do you want, you stupid bitch? You want to get out of the car and lay down in the fucking road?”
She did feel stupid then, glancing in the rear-view mirror for the white Transit or the redhead’s car. Nobody was following them.

They eventually found themselves on Thornsett Road, driving down towards MasterKey. Jobe pulled onto the curb not far from it, killing the engine.
“Why are we stopping?” Serima asked quietly, glancing back down the road.
“You’re the one who said we can’t keep driving forever.” He looked at Prayer in the back seat. “Come on.”
The three of them got out of the car. He locked it and they hurried across to the bookshop. Serima was hugging herself, shifting on her feet and glancing about, while Jobe unlocked the doors and disarmed the alarm system.
Inside, Jobe locked the doors and kept the ‘Closed’ sign against the window. Prayer walked across to the painting of the girl that sat in the branches of a key-shaped tree.
Serima glanced at her brother. “Jobe, why here…?”
“We’re thinking.”
“Thinking,” murmured Prayer, touching the painting on the wall. “Serima, this is you…”
“What’re you talking about?”
Prayer continued to stare at the girl in the key-shaped tree. “This girl is you. You painted this, Jobe? It’s beautiful. I didn’t notice it before.”
Jobe took off his jacket and dumped it on the counter. He searched through the drawers and found the photos of his parents. He snatched out the one of his mother and held it up for Prayer to see. “This is her? This is the Maya that you befriended at Ensler?”
“It’s her, Jobe.”
He tossed it back in and slammed the drawer shut. He put his fists on the countertop and took a slow breath, glancing at his sister and the other girl.
“Prayer,” he said quietly, “Listen to me; you’ve told me practically nothing about whatever it is you’re really trying to achieve. You need to tell me what’s going on, because right now I feel like I’m on LSD or something. This feels too real…”
Prayer grinned at him. “You seemed fine when you had your cock inside me, not ninety minutes ago. You didn’t complain. It felt good to have me, didn’t it? Especially knowing that I’m a rape victim. Dirtier, that’s what boys like – isn’t it.”
Jobe scowled in bewilderment, afraid for their lives.“Why did you come here? Answer me!”
“Then listen,” said Prayer. “I am a messenger, whether you want to believe it or not. I’m one amongst a court of others just like me. We’re paving the way for a new world. Akin isn’t alone either. He’s part of a hidden intelligence community, that’s the best way I can put it. He broke rank with them, I think. Now he’s a fragment, a traveller. He’s a demon, maybe, but the others are the real monsters. Very, very smart, but heartless sons of bitches.”
Jobe said nothing. She stared at him, as if expecting him to balk at her words. “There’s only one way I can be certain, Jobe. My boy kissed you…and that kiss is lingering in your blood. It’s you who knows what we need to do, not me. I thought...if I fucked you I’d be able to sense the connection. That was your mum’s idea. It didn’t work. I didn’t expect them to show up so quickly. I thought I’d have more time to tease it out of you.”
Jobe looked beyond Prayer to the painting she’d been admiring. He had done it a few years ago, and had never realised it was Serima sitting high in the key-like tree. Serima saw a shudder go through him.
“Why didn’t you just ask your little demon-prince?”
“It doesn’t work like that, Jobe. Akin isn’t literal, not in the way you understand reality. He’s my psychosis.”
Jobe laughed and closed his eyes. “I saw him…in that place. He was real.”
“He’s become my psychosis, but he has a life all his own. He plays by his own rules, not mine. I’m not arrogant enough to think I could match him. You have to fall into a dream to understand what it means to be ‘real’. I’ve fallen into my baby boy. I’ve embraced the psychosis so completely in the knowledge that it’ll save me. This is how deeply connected we are.”
“And if he casts you aside when he gets bored?”
“He’d never do that. I create him as he creates me. There is no ‘if’ or ‘when’, or anything else that resembles sanity. He loves me. I feel it in my bones, Jobe. I can taste him.”
There was silence in MasterKey as greyish light filled the bookshop through the wide windows.
“The information is in your blood. A few drops and I can access it directly, through your DNA. There’s wormholes opening in your subatomic pattern, like quantum apertures. I know it sounds crazy…it is crazy.”
“You want to drink my blood?” Jobe began to laugh. “You want to drink my blood like a fucking vampire, so you can access some star-gate?”
“A pathlight, not a star-gate.”
“What’s the fucking difference?”
Prayer smiled and glanced at Serima. “A star-gate is a bridge. I don’t want to build bridges, Jobe. What I want to do is set off a bomb. That’s what a pathlight is; a dormant psychological explosive. It’ll give humanity back their divinity. If it doesn’t work, then…this whole world will be sacrificed. There’s entities waiting to make new homes in the nests of our imaginations.”
“Entities like Akin,” Jobe said, “pimping you out and not even paying you.”
“No, nothing like my boy. He’s an angel in comparison. He’s paid me very, very well.”
“Right, fine…let’s do it.”
Serima watched as her brother pulled open the drawer again and searched around. He removed a Swiss-Army knife, glancing at her and then at Prayer. Unclipping the main blade, he ran it across the back of his hand, breaking the skin in a few places. He winced and watched as three spots of blood rose from the shallow cut. Walking around the counter, he offered his hand to Prayer. “Here…”
Prayer nodded and took his hand in hers. She licked the blood and closed her eyes. Jobe pulled his hand free. Serima couldn’t look away. “This is a joke,” she muttered, but inside she was fascinated. Jobe watched Prayer swaying softly from side to side.
“Do you see anything?” Prayer didn’t answer. “Hey, do you see this fucking pathlight?”
She tilted her head back, eyelids still trembling and said, “I see you. I’m trying…to look. I see you. Oh my God, Jobe, this is you? There’s something alien in your blood, just like Maya.” A smile crept across her face. “It’s beautiful.”
Prayer laughed out loud and nodded. She closed her eyes. Her eyelids began to tremble again.
Serima was hugging herself, watching the expression on her brother’s face.
“Okay,” murmured Prayer, “There’s Maya, she’s laughing. Peter is trying to dazzle her. Red dress, black suit, candlelight. It works. Barefoot, on the garden picnic table. On the stairs. Finally in the bed. She doesn’t realise that she’s conceived. Later. Pulling dad’s reading glasses off his face, trying to bite his nose. ”
Jobe listened, feeling cold and getting colder.
“Later…later…no, later…Jobe wants to go where no man has gone before, like Captain Kirk and his crew of the Enterprise. Virgin Soil. Dreams. Electromagnetic Portals. Jobe has always known. And the secret controls on our world. Sad, sad truth; no truth at all. Way ahead of the game. No, much later. Serima, the Big-Eyed Googley. His angel. If only he could spare her…the knife! Oh Jesus no, mum…”
Jobe glanced fearfully at his sister. She silently glanced back, wide-eyed.
“Something else. The knife-smell of burning and smoke. Flames. There was a terrible fire, right? Jobe can almost smell the smoke mingled with the blood. He can almost see the flames reflected in the blade he clutches. Oh…shit…no…Aquinas.”
Serima felt her heart tighten when she realised what the other girl was saying.
The Aquinas Cinema, on Halpern Road.
It had been one of the few remaining independents, an old place with decor that hadn’t been refurbished since the late seventies. Jobe had often taken Serima to the Aquinas to see something besides her usual action-movie diet. After school one monumental evening she’d sat on the sofa, watching the report, utterly stunned. She screamed for Jobe. They watched the footage of the flames as it enveloped the entire building, as the Fire Brigade doused it over and over before even attempting to venture inside for survivors. Nine people died, they said. Thirteen others were left with first, second and third-degree burns. It had terrified her, and it had scared Jobe too. They could so easily have been there. It had been an omen of sorts. At least that’s what it came to mean, for both of them.
It was the same night the police took their mother away.
The same night she tried to kill Jobe.
They had gone to bed thinking about the fire, smelling a hint of smoke in the night air. Serima still remembered the blood in the hallway. Mum’s blood, not Jobe’s. Her brother had been weeping uncontrollably. She had never seen him like that before. Shaking, the bloodied knife still in his fist, sitting propped against the bathroom door. Mum was lying at his feet, bleeding. But her eyes were open, blank, like the eyes of a doll. Eventually Jobe’s weeping became an impenetrable silence. The scent of smoke drifted across all of Wells Gate that night. It affected Serima terribly but she knew, with dread and certainty, how deeply it had marked her brother. Now, whenever she and Jobe needed to speak about that night they spoke in pinched whispers about the Aquinas instead.
“Jobe,” Serima murmured, and nothing more.
He nodded and said, “They’ve never torn it down.” Serima could see a familiar darkness in her brother’s face.
Prayer opened her eyes and looked at him. “Maya was right. This is a real place, isn’t it? It means something to both of you. Where is it?”
Jobe glanced at his sister and then at her. “It’s only fifteen minutes from here. A burnt-out wreck, all boarded up. Been lying derelict for nearly four years. They kept saying they’d turn the site into a nightclub.”
“We need to go there,” said Prayer.
Jobe laughed icily. “No way. I used to go there all the time. And it burnt down on the worst night of my life. No fucking way.”
Prayer turned her attention to Serima, looking hard into her eyes, appealing to her previous submission. “There’s something there for us…a trapdoor into resonance. I can use this trapdoor to open a pathlight. Listen to me, the three of us together might be enough to snatch it out of the astral. Right now it’s in a collapsed electromagnetic pattern. It’s only an idea. I’m sure that Interregnum have tried to net it in the past. We’ll succeed where they’ve failed. We can give this thing form.”
“No!” barked Jobe. “This is nonsense. I’m not traipsing around in the dark, you fucking freak. What we need to be doing is avoiding the driver of that Transit. I let you taste my blood- and what you’re telling me is that we have to go find some burnt-out relic? I don’t think so. Give me one good reason. One real reason. Not this mystical bullshit!”
There was a look of incomprehension on Prayer’s face. She frowned, “What happened to you? Maya said you were a genius, that you used to believe.”
Jobe was silent for a moment. Serima gave him a fearful look, reading his mind. “I did believe,” he told Prayer. “Until she tried to kill me one night with a kitchen knife. I kind of lost faith after that, you understand.”
“She was trying to protect you. When she saw the news report of the fire she knew. She understood that something was being set in motion. She knew you were connected to it. Somehow. Don’t you see? You think all this is a coincidence? This cinema, Maya, the Wizard of Oz, even your name, Jobe; none of it is incidental. Can’t you see what’s happening?”
“Lies,” hissed Jobe. “It’s a lie. It can only ever be a lie.”
Prayer smiled sadly. “Fine. Believe what you want. I’m going to this place, with or without you. You can stay here, you’re not my prisoners. Akin has changed you, Jobe. From now on you’ll be carrying the world on your back. I’m talking about the real world. You’ll have insight, you’ll have power, but you’ll also have responsibility. Like Spiderman.”
She laughed. "Your a keeper to your brothers now. The ones that can’t fight for themselves. I hope you know what that means.”
Jobe glanced at his sister, waiting for her to say something. She didn’t. He returned his attention to Prayer. “What about our mum? I need to know she’s okay. I need to find her.”
“They took her. They’ll question her. They might kill her. She was prepared for this. Maya’s not afraid to die.”
Jobe grimaced and closed his eyes. His chest felt heavy and he took a shaking breath.
“You were…lovers?”
“Yeah,” she replied matter-of-fact. “It gets lonely in a place like that. You love who you can, all right? We were good together. We made each other strong. Take me to this place. Otherwise I walk out that door and you’ll never see me again. You won’t do too well without me. I think you both know that.”
Serima glanced at her brother. She had never seen that look on his face before. It twisted her insides.

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