Trapdoor: a novel by Vixen Phillips
If I Should Die Before I Wake
I stop breathing as my eyes meet his. My lungs only fill with a mist of despair.
I can’t think in a straight line, not with him hovering under the archway, his expression unreadable in the dark. He’s mad at me. That’s what I hope for myself. I couldn’t play anymore, anyway. My hands are shaking too badly, with a fear so intense it’s crawling up from the pit of my tummy and trying to escape my mouth. I want to be sick, I’m so afraid.
Moving in slow motion, he takes a step forward, then another, and another, until he stands by the piano, gazing down upon me. Now reaching out, he takes hold of my hands, his thumbs encircling my wrists. A small sigh parts his lips, before he drops my hands in my lap and runs his fingers through my hair instead. The light shifts, to reveal his face…
I draw in a sharp breath. We were almost happy together, today. Me and him and Damien. Why did I have to be so stupid? Why did I have to go and spoil everything?
I hadn’t been able to sleep at all tonight. Shortly after we went to bed, I heard a soft knock on the door, and froze, holding my breath like I’m holding it now. Don’t make a sound and they won’t know you’re there. The logic of a child, alone and afraid in the dark. But who could it be? Raven?
“Pegasus, are you awake? May I come in?”
A female voice. His mother’s. Nadja, I remembered from when we were introduced, though this didn’t make me any less afraid. Even if his relatives weren’t anywhere near as sick and twisted as my own, it didn’t mean they were powerless to hurt me.
I hesitated, for a moment. “I’m awake.”
Slowly the door creaked open, and she padded in, coming to sit on the side of my bed, out of breath from her journey up the stairs. What do you want from me? I have nothing left to give.
“I won’t stay,” she assured me, as though sensing my fear in the dark. “I know you have to leave early in the morning.” There was a pause. Then, “I just wanted to say thank you. You make him very happy. I haven’t seen him lately, but I know he hasn’t felt that way in a long time.”
She struggled to rise from the mattress, and I felt suddenly regretful, remembering my talk of suicide when I realised this woman probably didn’t have the luxury of so much time left. “He’s not good at—he doesn’t talk about his feelings. Maybe only enough to make you worry.” She laughed, and patted my hand. “But you know, I didn’t raise him to be this way. His father—” But she stopped herself.
“You should tell him,” were the words she left me with. “Tell him how I know you feel when I see the way you look at him. Life is too short. Goodnight, Pegasus.”
Life is too short. The words echo in my mind. His hand cups my neck, and fingers so warm and tender disappear beneath my hair to make contact with my skin. Your mother says I make you happy. But I have no power to do that. You’re both wrong, if you think—
He trails a fingertip across my cheek, and down to my lips and chin, before breaking contact. The expression in his eyes…it hasn’t changed. Perhaps we’re frozen in time. I wish we were. At least that way, I wouldn’t have to deal with what I know will come next.
“Pegasus,” he whispers hoarsely.
I squeeze my own eyes shut. Don’t say it, don’t say it, don’t say it.
“Pegasus, I think—I think I’m—”
“No!” I leap off the piano stool and slap him across the face.
Another silence falls heavy on the room, before I realise what I’ve done. Hands over my mouth to prevent any further sound, I begin to back away. For a moment he just stands there, maybe more shocked than I am. But the moment he looks up, I turn and flee.
Underneath the archway, he grabs me by one wrist, pulling me against him so sharply I feel something snap inside my shoulder. Pain shoots down to my right elbow as he wraps an arm around my waist, the other round my throat, and his body presses closer from behind. This is it. He’ll take what he wanted anyway. They always do. I thought you were better than this, Raven.
For a moment I hang limp as a rag doll in his grasp. Then something deeper, something feral, takes spark inside my soul. I’m not her. You have no idea, and no right to do this to me. I flail against him, wild enough to break free from one arm. That only allows him to spin me around so we’re face to face again. All too quickly, the fire dies out. Fine, do what you will. I don’t care anymore. You can’t keep me here forever, anyway. My mother’s calling my name—can’t you hear her? But you never did know my real name, did you. I never told you. There are lots of things I haven’t told you.
“Listen to me!” His voice reaches my ears through a choking sob. Raven, are you crying? Submissiveness fades to despair again. I’ve never seen him cry, except for that night Wendy took his son. “I just wanted to tell you,” he says, letting go the arm that hurts, “I—I love you, Pegasus.”
Something snaps inside my mind, like the muscle in my shoulder. From somewhere, I hear laughter. Horrible, hysterical laughter. Mocking both him and myself, such perfect fools.
“Peg?” He echoes my name, voice full of concern, his hand tilting my chin up. “Say something. Anything. Please.”
He’s already expecting rejection. He just needs your confirmation.
But I can’t. Even though I know I’m unworthy. Even though I know I’m only a whore. Still, the ice comes creeping, across my flesh, seeping into my soul. “How can you say that? You don’t know anything about me!”
I’m out of here, escaping. Where to?
I rip open the front door, and the chill night wind hits me full force. The answer comes at once, sent from the sea. You know where to.
Mother is calling. Go to her.
The wind moans in my ears. It’s all I can hear, as my feet carry me further from the house. Moonlight guides my way through the blurry silver fields, on towards the beach. Halfway down a rocky embankment, I trip and tumble the rest of the way onto the sand. By the time I come to a stop, I’m only a few metres from the waves.
So cold. I’m hardly dressed for a winter’s night at the seaside.
Not that it matters, of course. If I’m going to die like Mother, I might as well get this much right. They found her dressed in white lace and nothing more. As for me, I’m naked except for my white satin boxers. Both of us arrayed in such innocence in death, renouncing the filth and rape we’d borne through our lives.
I love you, Pegasus.
The wind dies down, and I can hear myself crying. No tears yet, but I’m wailing like Damien did the night Wendy took him. I don’t want to leave you either, Raven. The realisation hits me as I stare out across the sea, into the inky blackness that seems to me to be the last great unknown. Was my mother this scared? Was she afraid to leave me behind? Did she have any idea what they’d do to me once she was gone?
Where are you, Raven? You say you love me, then why aren’t you here to save me? Please, don’t allow me to do this.
What’s the point, in the end, of love? I struggle to my feet, wincing as I place too much pressure on my ankle. What’s the point, when once he knew what I was, it would always come to this. Better now than later. After I become too attached, too deeply involved.
Too deeply involved. Oh, so that’s it. Who the fuck do I think I’m kidding with this ‘too deeply involved’?
I make my way towards the waves, limping to my death. How totally pathetic. How just like me.
On the edge of the shore, my foot sinks into the wet sand. I cry out in pain, falling onto my hands and knees. My hair trails in the waves.
I love you, Pegasus.
Stop it, stop it, stop it!
Even if you’d said something four years ago, I’d still be here. Even if I couldn’t allow anyone else to touch me, not after we met, not after I knew. Despite how I hated myself for taking all the handouts I could get, the thought of them doing that to me once I’d looked into his eyes and realised I did have feelings and remembered I could be hurt was far, far worse.
And here I am, and I do hurt, more than I could have envisioned. But here is where it stops.
I ready myself and then stand up, like I don’t feel any pain. Foamy water rushes over my toes as I take my first step into the waves. I thrust out my arms, close my eyes, open myself to the night’s full force. Breathe in deep, clear my mind. Once everything is gone, even his face, I throw my head back and look up at the stars. The sky returns my gaze, impassive, strong, and distant beyond imagination, making me dizzy. Both my mother when I was six years old and Raven tonight had told me, “We’re made out of stars. When we die, perhaps that’s where we’ll return.”
A beautiful sentiment. I have nothing better to stake my faith upon, since I don’t believe in hell. What torture remains, outside this dimension? And physical pain is nothing. There are worse things you can do to a human being to break it, and I’ve passed through almost all of them. No more.
“This is the wrong ending,” I whisper, and take my second step into the waves, followed more closely by a third.
Like the sunset. That’s what I’m seeing, beyond the night. A warm glow in the water above me, towards the sky, from which I’m falling, further down and down.
A blue glow spirals overhead, and invites me into its light. You were always better with words than me, Raven. You told me you loved me. I couldn’t have said that.
Panic shivers through me as I remember. And Mother is nowhere to be found. I haven’t gone far enough yet.
Do I want to go that far?
Is this what you want?
It’s never been about what I want.
But now I’m asking you what you want.
You, Raven. I just want you.
A ragged scream sounds in my ears, perhaps from a thousand miles away.
I’m wrenched from the blue glow, lifted from the arms—no, the womb—of my mother. Is this what it’s like to be born? Or am I already dead?
I feel nothing but the need to get air into my lungs, the moment my head breaks the black waves. For so long, no oxygen enters—it’s too late, breathe in, oh God, Raven, please—
A heartbeat pounds in my ears, and I fight and gasp for breath. Why am I here, above the water, beneath the sky, in the cold night air? Why am I alive?
I begin to choke, my chest hot and raw as I purge all the salt water from my system. Not this time, Mother. Not yet.
I’m moving along through the waves, both with them and against them, but all the while the shoreline draws closer and closer. Somebody holds me. Somebody who cares. I look down at the arm that encircles my body, and manage what I think is a smile. Then I look up into his face. Somebody who cares. Who else would it be?
I love you, Pegasus.
“Raven,” I whisper, and fall against his body. At last the tears come to cleanse me.
Without his support, I’m too weak to stagger far across the sand before I drop to my hands and knees. Déjà vu. Only now I’m coming out, not going in.
He wraps me in a thick black coat, then pulls me into his arms. His teeth are chattering. As I lean against his chest, I can feel his body shivering from the cold and his own tears. “I’m sorry,” he whispers at last, wiping at his face with a wet sleeve. “Oh, God, I’m so sorry. I—I misjudged you. I thought you wanted—”
He breaks off, helpless and confused. I do want you, Raven.
“Come back to the house,” he begs me. “We can just go to bed, pretend nothing happened. I mean, forget what I said to you, before— Can’t we?”
Oh, Raven. Do you honestly think I tried to kill myself because I was so repulsed by those three words, coming from your mouth? I have to say something. But I can’t say that, not yet.
He’s helping me to stand.
Then say anything.
“I never thought you wanted me.” I don’t have the energy for more than a murmur, so I hope he can hear me.
Straight away he shoots me the most agonised look I’ve ever seen outside a mirror. He heard me, all right. “Tell me something,” he demands, voice breaking against the tears.
I nod. Anything. Anything, except that most important thing.
“Tell me about the day we first met.”
Huh? I shake my head, mystified by this question. How do I even start to tell you the truth, when I’ve become such an expert at hiding myself and my feelings from you?
But I have to try. He saved my life.
That means he owns you.
So what else is new?
I laugh, and set free the first words that come into my mind. I don’t care whether they make any sense or not; God only knows none of it makes sense to me, and I’ve lived with this knowledge forever. “The first day I met you,” I answer, “I decided to give up selling my body to everyone and anyone who thought they could destroy my soul, because you came along and did such a thing without even touching me.”
I watch him swallow and nod awkwardly and stare down at the sand. Not the answer you were expecting, huh? Want to throw this little fish back out to sea now?
“It started with my uncle.” Seems my confession’s in motion, and I can’t stop it. “I didn’t want him to hurt me. I didn’t want him to touch—” I rub at my eyes, resisting the urge to claw at the lids. The images are trickling back in, only I don’t need any instant replay to tell this sorry story. “At least, mostly. It was worse when they tricked me into thinking I did. So much blood, at first. Father found out, of course, from the maid who washed the sheets. He asked me what happened, and truly, I told him.” I laugh, but I’ve long forgotten how it felt to ever be so naive. “So he beat me. He told me I’d go to hell if this was a lie, and even more quickly if it was the truth. He accused me of leading ‘decent men’ to their temptation.” My mother’s religion was based around faith, my father’s around fear and guilt. “While I lay there on the carpet of his study, he took off his belt and whipped me with it. I think before the end he was enjoying it. Later, my uncle came in and said that if I ever told again, he’d hurt me so bad I’d beg him for what he did to me next.
“I put up with it for a year or two, maybe, before I took off. But by then it was too easy to see what I was, so nothing changed, not really. I was nine years old when it started. I had nothing else.” I’m trying to justify it to him, even after all this time. Even after Noriko, a professional counsellor, had spent months—years—drilling into my consciousness the assurances that none of it was my fault. We both thought I’d been starting to believe her. She’d be so disappointed to hear me talk this way.
I turn my back on him, ready to give him the chance to withdraw without guilt or the need for pity. “You see it too, don’t you? I don’t deserve your love. I’m just a whore. You’re better off with Wendy. I’m sure she’ll still have you.” Sure, I’m overdoing it, but I just feel so fucking resentful now. I don’t want any of this. Can you really see?
I want you. Only you.
“Buy her some flowers, some chocolates, take her out for a romantic dinner at McDonalds. She’ll come round. Look on the bright side. You can be with Damien anytime you want.”
This last sentence is too much for him. Swearing violently, he rips me around to face him, and glares at me. Then he grabs me by the waist, hoists me over his shoulder, and carries me all the way to the house, caveman-style. I’m not sure yet who really won. But I guess I’ll find out soon enough.
After hauling me up to my room, he sets me down in front of the heater, then wanders out without a word. I’m left to hug myself, as the warmth from the fan takes too long to seep into my chilled bones. Is he coming back, or abandoning me to my own misery?
When he returns he’s wearing dry clothes, and carries a towel, a polar fleece top, and some track pants under one arm. Two cups of coffee balance precariously in his other hand. He dumps the clothes at my feet, then sits on the bed and slides the cups onto the bedside table. “Take those wet clothes off and get dry, for Christ’s sake,” he mutters, then moves away to open the window a crack. I watch as he pulls out a pack of his beloved clove cigarettes and lights one up. He doesn’t want to watch me undress. I suppose I shouldn’t blame him.
My heart feels leaden as I strip off the overcoat and boxers and rub myself quickly with the towel and squeeze the water out of my hair. I try not to think too much as I dress myself again. The top’s a nice shade of purple; it almost matches my damp tresses. Warm, too. Now the only chill remains where heaters and towels won’t reach.
I turn around. Our eyes meet right away; he’s been watching me. From his pocket, he pulls out a comb and brandishes it in front of me. “Sit down. You look like a drowned rat.” But his voice is kinder.
He kicks the wet clothes into the far corner, then sits behind me, and runs his hands through my hair before following it through with the comb. Soon I start to relax, despite myself.
“So beautiful,” he whispers at last, allowing his fingers to brush my neck. A shiver that has nothing to do with cold runs along my spine. Then, “I want to tell you something. About—” He sighs and keeps up the grooming, though I can tell he’s removed all the knots already. “About the day we met. I—I wanted—” He breaks off again, with a laugh. “I never thought you’d want me either. That’s why I said yes to Wendy. That’s why I didn’t kiss you, when we were alone together, that first day when we met.”
I put my hands up to my face, mainly with the intent to catch my heart as it makes a desperate leap for my throat.
“But I always loved you. And I still love you. You’re not a whore, not to me. You’re perfect.”
I shuffle around to face him, take the comb from his hand, and drop it on the floor. We don’t break eye contact for a long time. So many tears. Where do they all go?
Finally, he puts his arms around me and gently pulls me forward. Panic is never far away—now what does he want?
Fool. What do you think he wants? A kiss, of course.
A kiss. I’ve never actually kissed anyone before. Our mouths brush together, innocent enough at first, like when we shared the smoke. This time I focus hard to keep my body steady, my mind tame. Then his tongue licks at my lips, forces them apart, and finds its way inside my mouth. At first I flounder, making a complete mess of it, but once I relax and follow his lead, I find I’m able to kiss him back.
He guides me down onto the floor, lying protectively on top of me, his hands disappearing beneath the polar fleece to make contact with my skin. Oh, God. I’m certainly not cold anymore, judging by the familiar hardness between my legs, this time pressed against his belly. Nowhere to hide. You always did have a knack for getting this kind of reaction from me, Raven.
His kisses grow deeper and more desperate. I moan as his tongue spirals around my lips and penetrates my mouth with sharp little stabs, in a rhythm too much like the one I want to share with him. His fingers move up my tummy, my chest, to discover my nipples, which he promptly begins to squeeze and pull. Further down, I can feel the effect I’m having on him, too.
I giggle as his tongue tickles my neck, then gasp as his hand moves down to my crotch, running the length of my dick. He pulls down the track pants, just enough to reach inside and grab hold of me. Another little moan escapes my lips. I begin to move against him, trying to thrust up into his warm, soft palm.
For a moment he does nothing more than hold me there. But then he begins to stroke me, his breath heavy in my ear. Oh, what am I doing, Raven? I’ve never wanted anyone before, let alone like this. He raises himself up on one elbow, eyes glazing over, so pure in his need for me. Could you make it all go away? Make me clean again. I feel cleansed when I watch you touch me.
It hits me, how I want to say the words. I want to say them because they’re true of course, but can I? Could I? “Raven.” His name escapes my lips, beneath a wanton sigh.
“What?” Instantly, he freezes. “Do you want me to stop?”
In answer, I push his hand down towards my balls. “I—” No, I can’t. The terrifying reality of it all is almost enough to bring my new-found attraction crashing around me.
He asked you if you wanted him to stop. That means if you’d said yes, he would have.
I love you, Raven. I rehearse the words in my mind, then sit up to aim a lick at his mouth, only to miss and swipe his nose instead.
With a laugh, he rubs at his nostrils, then swings me around to face in the opposite direction. Grabbing hold of my dick once more, he starts to move against me from behind, nibbling patterns from my ear down to my shoulder. He’s distracting me. But I’m determined to say it. “Raven,” I whisper again. “I—I think I—” Again I falter. Dammit.
“Hush.” He leans into me, nuzzling my neck. “You don’t need to say it yet. There’s plenty of time.” He laughs again. “Took me four years, after all.”
A reprieve. I can feel his hardness pressed between the cheeks of my butt. Wanting to be inside me. Wanting to possess me. Thrusting against me in the rhythm I longed for, when we first began to kiss. Could I do that with him, even after they—?
“God, Pegasus, I really want to fuck you.”
The words are a hot breath in my ear. Letting out a whimper, I pull away, hurrying to tuck myself into my pants. Once he realises, he grits his teeth and looks away. I wish you were the same as all the rest. At least then I’d know what I was dealing with. And who I was expected to be.
“Hey. Peggy…I’m sorry.” I allow him to pull me out of my foetal pose, into his embrace. “I didn’t mean now,” he adds, once my stiffness has started to melt. “When you’re ready. Only then.”
“What if I’m never ready?” You’ve seen all my other imperfections tonight, what’s one more between friends?
“Well, you’ll just have to keep me in a steady supply of Kleenex, is all.” He taps my nose gently. “I’m not like the others, babe.”
My forced smile is fleeting. That wasn’t what really bothered me. “And is that all we’d be doing?” I make myself look him right in the eye. “Fucking?”
He shrugs, ashamed, which in turn makes me ashamed—the fear that ran down my spine when he spoke those words almost made me come, right there in his hand. But I need to know.
“Let’s go to bed.” He switches off the heater and takes a tentative sip of his coffee, then makes a face. I look to my own cup. I’d forgotten all about it. Cold, without a doubt. Guess I was distracted. Like I’m being distracted now. Still, I can’t be too antsy about it when he told me I didn’t have to say the words. And he told me he loved me. I guess that will have to be enough.
It’s more than I ever had, after all.
“What about Damien?” I ask, as he turns off the light and crawls into bed behind me, wrapping his arms around my waist and cuddling close.
“Oh, all the rooms have got intercoms connected to mine. Video too.”
Wow. I can hardly imagine a mother so concerned for her son she’d effectively bug the entire household. “If only I’d known. I could have watched you undress.”
He chuckles into my hair. “Well, I wasn’t actually the first of my line. Which is why.”
“What do you mean?”
“Raven One never made it.” He sighs. “I think…maybe that’s when it started, for Ma. Anyway, when she got pregnant with me, you might say she took a few extra precautions.”
“Oh.” But my mind’s already reeling with fatalistic possibilities. You could have died. Or he, this first Raven, could have lived, and you might never have been born. Or—
“Go to sleep, Pegasus,” he mutters, as though he read my thoughts.
I close my eyes, wriggling my body against his in an attempt to snuggle even more tightly together. I never thought I could feel so safe. Never thought I would.
I’m nearly asleep when he whispers so softly that I almost don’t hear him at all, “And when you’re ready, we won’t just be fucking. We’ll be…making love.”
I smile, and feather-float down and down, into a peaceful sea of dreams.
Next Chapter: 07.RAVEN: Beyond The Dawn