Adoration. Obsession. Beautiful self-destruction


Trapdoor: a novel by Vixen Phillips


Beyond The Dawn


Damien lands on my stomach, knocking all the air out of me. Next thing I know, he’s pulling at my hair, poking my eyes, and prodding my lips, experimenting with the magic combination required to wake me. I swat at his hands. No, not yet.

It’s too late. I sit up in slow motion and reach for the switch on the bedside lamp. Too damn early as well; it’s still dark out. At my side, Pegasus dreams on, most of his face obscured by the long mane of silken hair—dry by now. Even in sleep, his fingers grip the doona, and twitch. I glance at the alarm clock I might’ve forgotten to set. A quarter-to-five, and the memories of last night are coming back in waves. I saved your life, angel one, told you I loved you, showed you all I could to make you stay. And in fifteen minutes, give or take, you’ll be nothing more than smoke and memory again.

“Breakfast!” Damien announces, as I try and make sense of the fragments rushing past my mind’s eye. Visions of dragging him out of the water, refusing to believe I might already be too late, of his stories of what they did to him, before I could get there, get to him—

“Hush.” I put a finger to my son’s lips. “You’ll wake him.”

Of course I’m too selfish to wake him myself. I don’t want you to go. And I don’t want you to take him to her. Please don’t leave me. Not after last night. Just cos I told you what I felt, doesn’t mean any of it’s been magically resolved.

And is that all we’d be doing? Fucking?

What the hell do you think I meant when I said I love you?

Damien wiggles in my arms. He’s reaching out towards Pegasus, for the threads of lilac that cover the pillows. “Pretty hair,” he murmurs, stroking the long tresses, then leans down and plants a kiss on the top of Peg’s head. In his sleep, Pegasus mumbles something in a sing-song voice and snuggles deeper into the pillow. I feel a smile cross my heart. If this is all I ever get, it could be enough.

When I’m old—or young—and dying of throat cancer or lung cancer or whatever other type of bloody cancer they warn you about on those ridiculous health labels on cigarette packs, at least I can remember a time when two boys and their son existed, together, doing whatever ‘normal’ families do. Definitely more than I’ve ever had.

“Come on, I’ll fix you some cornflakes and bananas,” I whisper in Damien’s ear. We tiptoe from the room.

He’s already on his second round when the doorbell rings. I’m standing at the sink, finishing the last of my coffee as I stack the dishwasher. My heart sinks to hear that sound. I’ve been hoping Monty won’t come. Any excuse, really, ranging from flat tyres to last minute crises with Noriko to small, non-life-threatening accidents. I wash the last few grains out of my cup and leave it in the sink. Damn you all to hell.

“Should I get that?”

Ma’s soft voice makes me jump. No. We’re not home. Let’s go hide behind the sofa, or upstairs in the bedroom, same as we did whenever Dad was due home from the pub.

“Sure,” I say instead, though by the time I turn around she’s gone. A moment later I hear cheery greetings passing between the three of them, Monty, Ma, and Damien. What are you sounding so chirpy about? He’s only come to take you away from me. Would that make you happy? To go back to your mama, that bitch who’s done her best to destroy us both?

Ugh. I rub at my hair. No, I’m not going to let myself even think that way. Bad enough that she fights with him around me—the lesser evil of all her sins, apparently. I won’t stoop to her level. Me? I’m better than that. Which is why I’m just going to stand here and let you both leave, without uttering a single word.

“Hey there, sunshine.” Monty lurches into the dining room as I march across to clean up the leftovers.

“Hello.” I drop the bowl into the sink, with enough force to nearly break it. I want to smash something, but I can’t, not here. Ma doesn’t deserve that. It would resurrect too many ghosts from her own painful past, of what made her sick. What I really need right now is a drink.

If Monty notices my gloom, he ignores it. “Where’s Peg?” I don’t bother answering. “Not still asleep?” He sighs and takes off his glasses to polish them on his suit. One of his larger hints at frustration. “Better go wake sleeping beauty, I guess.”

“I’ll do it.” Surprised by the possessive tone in my voice, I’m glad of a reason to shove past him and disappear up the stairs. But just as I reach the landing, the floor above us creaks, and Pegasus appears, looking down on us, looping his hair into a make-shift ponytail.

“Well, look what crawled out of bed,” Monty drawls. “Are we ready, Cinderella?”

He giggles as Pegasus tells him, in no uncertain terms, to go and get fucked. “Oh, is that so? I’d be careful how you talk to me, young master Belmont. I do have certain secrets of yours under wraps, after all.” I want to slap that grin off his face. What secrets? His mama? What his family did to him? What? What the hell do you know that I don’t?

“All things die eventually,” Pegasus murmurs, pushing his way between us. “Even secrets.”

He moves past us into the kitchen, and Monty turns that grin on me. So that’s what your secrets were about, huh? I turn my back on all of them. I’ve gotta get out of here, before the facade cracks and all the anger and frustration and confusion and despair and hopelessness seeps out like toxic gas from a rock. “I should get Damien’s stuff together,” I mutter, but Ma appears, brandishing the backpack. There’s Mr. Rabbit, poking out the top, and I envy him his stuffed oblivion.

“Oh, no need, darling. I took care of it already.” Fuck. “And some of your things are over there, by the sofa. At least, what I thought you might want to take with you.”

Take with me? Where am I going?

I glance up—now they’re all gathered in the living room, watching me expectantly. I crush the little flower of hope that trembles to life inside my chest. “I’m not coming with you.”

You could cut the air with a knife after that announcement. Ma lets out a sigh of familiar exasperation, and Damien starts mumbling, “Daddy, Daddy,” under his breath.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Monty growls. “You’re not doing this to me. The last time I walked out the door with him under my arm and left you behind, he screamed loud enough to wake the dead. I’m a goddamn defence attorney; I get enough people making me feel like I’m the devil without having a kid on my case.” He glowers at Pegasus. “Dammit, I thought that was the whole reason you came here.”

You at least knew why, then. I shove my hands deep in my pockets. Could really do with a cigarette as well, but I smoked my last one before we fell asleep, too few hours ago. Before we kissed and fell asleep.

Peg says nothing, just takes a seat beside the suitcase that Ma got ready. I can’t even pretend to ignore him when he’s watching me like this. “I’m not coming with you,” I say again, but the words don’t carry half the conviction.

Monty lets out a noise of disgust. “You hear that? He’s not coming. All righty then, might as well get this show on the road. Because this is going to be so much fun, I can tell.” He makes a half-hearted grab for Damien, who clambers up onto Pegasus and immediately begins to howl. Just like you knew he would, you bastard.

Ma mutters something under her breath, and shuffles off down the hall. Pegasus glares at me, his arms wrapped protectively around my son. I keep looking from him to Damien, waiting for the little hole in the ground to open up and swallow me. Stop it, damn you. Sure, I said I loved you. But that doesn’t mean—

Doesn’t mean I’d stay with you?

That’s so absurd, I almost laugh. You’re insane, Raven. And an arsehole. What’s keeping you here? Get in the car, make them all happy, go ride off into the sunrise and live your life.

But I can’t. Going back there means I’ve gotta face the real world for what it is—a world where my son’s own mama is responsible for his torture, a world where the one I love gets raped and abused, a world where my feelings are locked in a cage, where I don’t dare to feel hope or joy.

And you’re doing that here? Expressing your feelings? Daring to feel hope, daring to feel joy?

Sure I am. Look at where that got me, too. “Please,” I whisper. “Pegasus…”

As though noticing the effect Pegasus is having, Damien swallows his tears and wiggles around. Now they both stare me out, not making a sound, both of them looking so sad and so betrayed, by me.

Everything I said last night must seem like a lie right now.

I struggle against giving in. But he already knows how close I am to breaking. He’s smiling at me.

“Well, shit,” I mutter, trying to sound as casual as possible, “if it means that much to you all.” I hoist up my suitcase, not bothering to check what Ma thought I might need. Material possessions never mattered all that much. And yet, there I was, willing to let the only ones who do matter walk out the door with barely a good-bye.

“Hallelujah!” Monty throws his palms in the air, then heads for the door. Damien bounces out after him, though he looks back once to make sure I’m coming. If I ever had half his intuition, I don’t anymore.

“I’ll help you, Raven,” Pegasus says softly, and reaches out to take the backpack. We’re standing too close together for me to resist a quick kiss on the lips. He smiles and lowers his head, blushing again. “Later,” he whispers in my ear, “we’ll have all the time in the world. I promise.”

My turn to smile, though it takes my lips a moment to remember how it goes.

“At least there will be a later,” he adds thoughtfully, then shoots a glance down the hall. “Will I wait for you in the car?”

I nod, just once. His fingertips brush mine on his way out. This time it’s me who looks back to make sure he doesn’t just disappear, somehow. I need to trust you, Peg, cos I’ve got no idea what I’m doing in any of this.

But I bet you did. I can’t help grinning, as I shuffle off to her bedroom to say my good-byes to Ma. I only hope they won’t need to last me through another five years.

The familiar sounds of A Night At The Opera bombard my eardrums as I open the front door driver’s seat. Monty looks up, suspicious that I’ve changed my mind again, but all I want to change is the goddamn CD.

“Here.” I toss one of the discs I salvaged into his lap. “You’re outvoted. Freddy’s off the air till further notice.” Then I open the rear passenger door and squeeze in between Damien and Pegasus.

Monty examines the cover before he reverses out of the driveway. “Nick Cave. Great. Like the tone for the day wasn’t already set in stone.”

We turn onto the highway as the opening strum of ‘Papa Won’t Leave You Henry’ floods the car. “So,” says Pegasus, “how long have you been on the road now?”

“Oh, don’t worry your pretty little head about me. I spent the night at a nice little joint in Portland. Have to take Nori there someday; she likes the ocean. And fish. Anyway, looks like I’m doing much better than you two. Can’t imagine you got much sleep at all, with the way Raven snores.”

“Shut up!” I snap. Damien giggles.

Pegasus changes the subject again. “So what case are you working on that drags you out on a Sunday?” I turn to look at him, surprised by his interest. Then again, he’s tight enough with Monty to share secrets with him that he won’t share with me.

Monty sighs, running a hand through his already slicked hair. “There was a man,” he starts, as though he’s telling a story. “You might have read about him in the papers a year or two back? Shot his wife and five kids with a rifle while they slept. Archie Springer, the Catholic charity dude?”

Pegasus doesn’t remember this, but I do. For a minute or two, I might have contemplated the possibility of doing something similar to Wendy—though never to my own son. “So, how do you go about getting people to feel sorry for a psychopathic scumbag?” I ask.

“Well, there is his side of the story,” Monty explains, then waits patiently.

“Which is?”

“It was supposed to be a murder-suicide, not just a murder. He, er, ran out of bullets. One kid less and he woulda made it.”

I shake my head, laughing despite myself. Pegasus only shrugs. “Guess that’s what you get for being Catholic,” he murmurs, then snuggles into my shoulder. Not a moment later, I lean in against him, and let my hand drift into his lap. In the rear-view mirror, Monty raises a brow suggestively. I flip him off, before closing my eyes. At my side, Damien’s already snoring.

They can keep their ‘normal’ families. This is perfection.

The loud ding of a tram bell jerks me out of sleep. I wrinkle my nose at the smells of exhaust that seep in through the windows. Pegasus is awake already. As I straighten up, he brushes the hair out of my face. “Where are we?”

“Stuck in traffic,” Monty grumbles, then returns to swearing under his breath. “Damn Neanderthals!” he yells, as a Toorak tractor surges in front of us, forcing him to slam on the brakes. Yeah, right. That would be why my frequent state of insobriety isn’t the only reason I never bothered getting my license.

“Look, guys,” he says, turning around as the lights up ahead change to red. “It’s nearly ten already. I’ve still got to find parking, but we’re right near Spencer Street. Would you mind?”

“Sure,” says Pegasus, and I say, “No.” When he finally notices me glaring at him, he only winks and says, “It’s a Sunday morning. We’ll have the whole train to ourselves.”

Hearing the magic word, Damien rouses instantly, muttering, “Train, train…”

“You’ll probably live to regret this,” I say with a knowing smile, as we gather up our things and prepare to escape the car.

I will give him credit, though—the carriage is empty, apart from a gaggle of teenage girls up the front. I deliberately steer us to a seat down the other end.

Meanwhile, Damien’s so over the moon he’s gone speechless. Even waiting on the platform was a thrill; now he’s actually on a train, he’s got so much to say, he doesn’t know where to begin. I laugh as he clambers onto my lap and makes a face against the window. Pegasus sits across from us, watching on with a strange little smile.

So we spend most of the journey with him pointing out every bit of scenery and observing all the passengers, only losing his tongue when a woman and her little girl get on. Pegasus giggles behind the safety of his sunglasses. “Who does that remind me of, hmm?”

But his smile morphs into a sneer a few stops later, as the girls from the front of the carriage suddenly converge on us and park their butts in the seats across the aisle. Subtle. All right, here we go. Money, cigarettes, or drugs? You’re too late for any of the above, I’m afraid. But there’s plenty of free angst. Want some?

“Hiii,” says a blonde, her red greasy lips parting to a horsey grin. “What a gorgeous little boy. Is he yours?”

“Oh,” I say, feeling guilty. Having a kid’s kind of like walking a dog. People make conversation, not cos they’re after anything in particular, just to admire. Especially women.

“What’s his name?” another chimes in, green eyes smiling beneath burgundy pixie hair, plastic rose petals adorning her slender wrists and ankles. “How old is he?”

“Uh, Damien. He’s almost four, aren’t you, kittling?”

“What’s your name?” asks a brunette, looking down her freckled snout at me.

I’m not used to this kind of attention, even if it is all on account of the boy. “Raven.”

“Mmm.” Seems she approves. “Now I know where the little one gets his good looks from.”

This causes a new round of cackles and looks of scandalised admiration. Dammit. I look down at my son, down at my feet. Why can’t they leave me alone?

Little miss rose pixie is asking if she can cuddle him. I can’t think of any good reason why not, so long as she doesn’t run off with him. But the minute she takes him in her arms, he begins to squirm. “He’s just shy. It’s okay, Day.” I try and encourage them. Big mistake. He lets out a scream as she props him in her lap.

“Ooh.” She pulls back, and her friends screw up their faces. As for Damien, he doesn’t stop screaming or let me get near him till Pegasus lifts him off the girl. Straight away he snuggles down, perfectly content, and gazes out the window again.

Well, how about that?

Pegasus pushes his sunglasses onto his head, and shoots them all a look that makes even me a little afraid. “He’s not shy. Not if you know how to do it right.” Then he, too, returns his attention to the window.

Defeated, the girls traipse back to their end of the carriage, muttering, “Probably gay”, and “Eww!” with as much subtlety as those in possession of a terminally low IQ can muster. The pixie miss casts me a regretful, apologetic look as she trails after them in silence. I feel compelled to offer her a wave. Thank God that’s over.

I turn to Pegasus and Damien, but both of them are ignoring me pretty well. “Thanks, Peg,” I tell him anyway, and reach for his hand. He jerks it out of my reach, then looks around, as though to make sure no one else is watching. Would me being affectionate with you in public bother you that much?

“What?” I demand.

‘What’s your name?’” he repeats in a smarmy tone, mimicking the brunette. “‘Mmm. Now I know where he gets his good looks.’” He fakes one of their laughs, then cuts it short, wiping the sneer from his mouth and turning away till his nose presses right against the glass.

For a moment I’m stunned into silence. You’re jealous? Of them? “Silly,” I mutter, dismissively. “They’re just some girls.”

“‘Just some girls’ who think nothing about sauntering up here and hitting on you, right in front of me. Thinking they can hold your son, ask you your name—” He frowns.

“That bothers you?” I’m trying very hard not to smile. Even if it is ridiculous.

“No, Raven.” At least he’s looking at me. “What bothers me is how much you got off on the whole thing, how you were like, ‘Oh, look at what a fucking God’s gift to women I am.’

All right, no, I wasn’t stunned before, but now I am. Am I meant to be upset, apologetic, or what?

“You don’t care who you’re with,” he continues in a low voice, “so long as they’re better than no one, or better than Wendy. So long as they pretend the whole fucking universe revolves around you. This is the only way I ever stood a chance, yes? Well, if this is your price, fuck it, I’m not paying. You’re not my—”

He forces himself to stop. But I can already guess where that was going. You’re not my uncle, or you’re not my old man, or someone who did all those God-awful things to me. Well, nice to know you think of your Raven so highly.

“So we’re back where we started,” is how he ends it instead.

I wait it out, giving myself a chance to compose my thoughts and emotions before I dare bring myself to speak. Anger fades through doubt into sadness. What if he’s telling the truth? You don’t care who you’re with. Is that the sort of person I am? What sort of person am I?

“Are you finished?” I ask at last, wringing my hands together and cracking my knuckles.

He moves sideways, letting Damien slide onto his seat. “Whatever.”

But the moment he starts to rise, I yank at his ponytail and use it to pull him close to me. “Are…you…finished?

“Yes!” He spits the answer in my face.

“Good.” I take hold of his neck instead and draw him even closer, into a kiss. Only the old anger drives me, to begin with. And then, my desperation takes control.

At last, we pull apart. He leans forward, panting, his forehead pressed against mine, two pulse points meeting. “You promised me all the time in the world,” I remind him. “That’s the only payment I’ll hold you to. And I don’t think I’m God’s gift to women—unless God’s a clown, that is—and I do care about you and I do want them all to know that you’re mine and—” I close my eyes, take a breath, open them again. “And I do love you, Pegasus.”

He finds his way up onto his seat, using Damien as some kind of emotional shield so I can’t see his face. But I can see this is our stop. “Home sweet home.”

I scoop up our luggage, using my free hand to steady Pegasus and my son as the train screeches to a halt. A quick glance around the carriage reveals several sets of judgemental eyes trained in our direction, all set in the same appalled expression, as if we just committed some atrocious act like sacrificing a goat and drinking its blood, or something. I lead both my loves quickly through the door. I’m not afraid of any of you.

Even after the train’s long gone and we’re out of the station, I haven’t let go of his hand.

It’s my decision to take Damien to Wendy’s on my own, though the bitch either isn’t out of bed yet or still isn’t home when Pegasus calls. I’m really not looking forward to this. Which is truly the understatement of the century. I don’t want her to take my child. I don’t want to go back to that horrible house. I don’t want her to tell me what happens next.

We never discussed it, so I’ve honestly got no idea what happens between me and Damien now that she and I— Now that Pegasus and I—

But all of my guesses leave me cold, enough to make me wish I’d let us both go last night, let him drag me down through the waves, like a Siren, a Rusalka.

I linger on the doorstep. I can’t ring the bell. I can’t do anything other than hold my son too close. I’m not going to cry, not in front of her.

“What’s wrong, Daddy?” a little voice asks in my ear.

I take in a deep breath, then set him on the step and kneel beside him. I can’t think what to say. I was never prepared for any of this, I was just—

I was just too damn selfish.

“Listen, Day,” I begin, wiping at my nose. “Daddy’s gotta tell you something. It’s really important, and you might not understand, but you’ve gotta remember it, okay?”

“Daddy’s got a secret!” he calls out. For a horrible moment, I’m paranoid he’ll alert Wendy. I clamp my hand over his mouth.

“Yeah, all right, it’s a secret, which means you don’t go screaming it in the street for the world to hear, okay?” Or soulless demons like your mama.

I wait for him to nod before letting go his mouth. Straight away he whispers, in a conspiratorial tone, “Daddy loves Peggy-sis!”

I’m so blown away by this observation I almost fall over backwards. Might be better off leaning on my knees. “What—what makes you say that?”

He shrugs, looking away shyly. I’ve almost given up, when he finally says, “Well, I love Peggy-sis. I love Peggy-sis more than Mama. Does that mean I’m bad?”

“No, kittling. You’re an angel, and angels are never bad.” I’m only a little ashamed of myself for seeing this as some kind of victory. Do you hear that Wendy? Even your son hates you. I win.

Lowering my head, I pull him close again. “And I love you, too. Forever and always. But, Daddy…might not get to see you much anymore. Not for a little bit.” Don’t cry, don’t you dare fucking cry. For the first time, the true meaning of these words hits home.

My son puts his arms around me and snuggles into my neck. ‘Angel’ is right. How will I ever do any of this without you?

As if to answer my question, he lets go and says happily, “When I get big, I want Peggy-sis hair!”

I can’t help a laugh, but it all drains away the minute the door opens. Wendy towers over us, leering at me with pure contempt.

I swore I’d never fight with her in front of my son, same as I promised him I wouldn’t ask about Jonathan and the bruises. So, the minute she starts with the expletives and the accusations, I walk. How very fucking big of me.

Back to Monty’s. Back to my old habits, clutching a bottle of scotch, a bottle of coke, and two cans of Midori and lemonade. I wait anxiously on the doorstep after ringing the bell, ears pricked for any signs of life. Hearing nothing, I ring the bell again, then knock: once, twice, three times. Where are you, Pegasus? Did you change your mind so soon? Come to your senses?

I pound on the door. Panic rises in my chest, constricts around my lungs. I fall against the stained glass panel, breathing in quick, shallow gasps, like I never stopped pretending I could keep it all at bay. Why the fuck did I come back here? Please, let me in.

One last time, I stab the buzzer. The door springs ajar, so that I fall through into the hallway. First I gather up the alcohol, then look at Pegasus, who stands above me with a bemused grin on his face, wearing only a red towel dressing gown covered in pictures of kittens and Kanji characters. “Sorry,” he says, “I was in the bath. Asleep in the bath, actually.”

I look to the floor. Little droplets are forming on the carpet. But it isn’t raining out there.

Only here, in my mind. The storm’s broken. Now it’s washing me away, and there’s nothing I can do. Nothing. He may hate her just as well, but she’s always going to win cos she’s his mama, and—and—

You won’t be seeing him again until you’re in hell.

—but I already am, goddammit.

It’s only when Peg puts his arms around me that I realise how badly I’ve broken. He covers my forehead and neck with kisses, whispering some sort of sing-song melody till I go quiet and lie against him, listening to his heartbeat and the words. They’re French.

“Are you okay?” he whispers at last.

“No.” I’m not going to lie to him, I’m through lying to him. “What was your song?”

He flutters his lashes. “Oh, that. I don’t remember what it’s called. My mother used to sing it to me when I was small. Pretty catchy, huh?”

I let out a heartbroken sigh, and pull him up with me. Nose to nose, we stand together, holding each other’s hands. I can’t bear it anymore. I’m glad he put off what might’ve happened last night. Whenever I look at him, I’m so afraid to lose him too, I can’t bear to think about what might happen if we actually—

“Yeah.” I force out a smile and let him go to gather up the supplies. “If you know how to do it right.” My smile is a touch more genuine, as I lead him into the kitchen.

A few hours later, Monty and Noriko arrive home with food. We sit in silence, eating our Japanese take-outs—it’s permanent take-outs here, I’m told; at least till the long-running dispute between the two of them as to whose turn it was to actually do the cooking and the washing-up’s been resolved.

“How long has this been going on?” Pegasus feels obliged to ask.

There’s a pregnant pause, before Monty looks up from his chopsticks and says calmly, “Two months, four days, six hours.”

“Oh.” Pegasus and I exchange a knowing look. Probably as good a time as any to go for the scotch. I bring the bottles and some glasses back to the table, juggling the can of Midori and lemonade under an elbow. Drinking may not solve anything—I know that from harsh experience—but at least it lets you fool yourself into thinking that it does.

After a few glasses of scotch, everyone’s feeling more chatty, except for Monty, who’d rather brood over his impending case. Noriko tells us we’re both welcome to stay the night, once they’ve drunk too much to drive Peg home, and this leads to a brief argument about who gets the sofa. He wins—guess he’s got more experience being the humble guest than I do. Although, after spending the afternoon asleep in each other’s arms, I don’t feel too guilty.

We’re in the kitchen together, he and I, having washed up and moved on to a tea-towel fight, when the doorbell rings. He drifts out towards the hall as I start to stack the glasses, pretending I don’t care who it is.

“Ted!” we hear Monty exclaim, sounding pleasantly surprised. See? Just a friend, paying a visit. Nothing for you to concern yourself with. Then, “How’s life at the old Barton and sons?”

Barton and sons. A law firm. How do I know that? Where do I know that name?

A law firm…the same one used by Wendy’s parents.

The realisation hits just as Monty appears beside Pegasus in the doorway, not quite making eye contact. “Hey. Someone’s here for you.”

No doubt my chances of scoring a cameo in a George Romero flick would be pretty high as I trudge towards the front door. On my way past, Pegasus’s hand brushes mine, but I shake off his touch.

A man with the jowls of a St. Bernard waits outside, dressed in a suit despite the late hour and the fact it’s a Sunday. He’s got a few years on Monty, and his thin lips and serial-killer cold eyes remind me of Peg’s old man. “Raven de Winter?” he asks redundantly, plucking a stray rose petal off his jacket with distaste.

“Yes,” I answer anyway, switching to auto-pilot. A strange sense of déjà vu, of being completely powerless, washes over me. Just like in high school, with the teachers, who thought they had me figured out based on the cut of my fringe and what bands I listened to.

He starts fishing through his briefcase, making it all look very official. “A few matters, so I’ll try to keep it short. First—” he thrusts a document into my face ”—your presence is required at the family court next Tuesday at eleven a.m. sharp. Second—” he hands me another page ”—I have here a temporary restraining order, which decrees that you are not allowed to visit, make contact with any resident of, or come within five-hundred metres of the occupants or their residency at 112 Portugal Terrace, specifically those persons being Ms. Wendy Delaware or Damien de Winter. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” No. No, I don’t fucking understand. How can you march round here and toss me this fucking worthless piece of paper that tells me I’m not allowed to see my son?

“Good.” He beams, somewhere between butcher and politician. “Then I’ll see you at eleven a.m. next Tuesday. Better bring a good lawyer, though I don’t recommend Monty personally, you understand.”

I’ve got no idea how long Peg’s been standing behind me, but now I hear his voice, speaking the words that I can’t say. “Just get the fuck out of our house.” With that, he slams the door in the lawyer’s face.

For a moment nothing, nothing at all. Then I let the papers fall from my hands. I figured I’d be angry, but I just feel—

What? I wish I could be angry, build myself up to a whirlwind of fire and ashes. Anything would be better than this slow black hole void. Pegasus grasps my shoulders, eyes wide, pleading with me to lose myself in them, in him, in his soul. Why would you offer me that, when you know it’s not what you want yourself?

I can’t feel, not anything. Not with those words buzzing around my brain, amplifying and multiplying upon themselves, till a million clones crowd my head, all babbling about family courts and times and addresses and restraining orders and cackling maniacally as they tell me what this really means, of course, is that I’ll never be able to see my precious little angel ever again. Through the haze, Peg’s lips are moving, but echoes of the evil laughter take the place of whatever he’s trying to say.

I search the corners of my mind, desperate for some kind of sanctuary. Instead I stumble into an even darker recess—a red flash, and I’m wrenched back to a memory of the night we ‘created’ Damien, to when I could fool myself, although in truth Wendy was the one doing the fooling this time around. Forced to watch myself from the outside, being with her in that way I always despised, I see her transform as she starts to climax, putrefaction unfolding in fast-forward. Maggots bloom from her every pore, and drift out of her cunt instead of cum. Before I can blink, they’re swarming across my dick, crawling up my torso, coming to eat their way through my ears and up my nostrils, into my brain—

Jesus. I’ve got no idea if I’m still breathing, or whether the scream that’s reverberating through my mind managed to make it out of my mouth…whether I’m there or here.

But now I’m someplace different again. I recognise this place, where even the roses are white. I’m at the hospital. And, I know what day it is. September the sixth. Damien’s birthday. Damien’s very first birthday.

I find myself in the maternity ward, not entirely sure what new tricks my brain’s got planned for me this time. On the surface, at least, everything about the memory plays out as normal. The nurse, a curvaceous black girl sporting a perfect smile, ushers me through into a private room. Only the best for Wendy and their grandchild. I step inside, but it’s empty.

No, these are just first impressions, shallow of truth. I can’t see the bed cos it’s hidden by some kind of curtain that blends into the walls like smoke. I approach it as that last little voice of sanity begs me to stop—just turn, and run.

There is nowhere left to run. Another voice in my mind, a powerful voice. It overrides my terror, drawing me down into cosy paralysis. All I can do is watch, as my hand lifts up the curtain before me—

—and there on the bed sits my son, same as he looked the day he was born. It’s been nearly four years, so I’ve almost forgotten such pure torment. It runs through my veins, pinpricks of sweetest agony, as I finally come to realise, in that tiny little blanket, that little creature, that little version of me—only so much more perfect—is the one thing that’s going to save my life. That will give me a reason to keep living, after all others have become null and void. God’s mocking me, all right.

In the dream, I turn to his mama, and find myself reaching out to stroke the long ice-blonde hair. No, wait—that’s wrong. Wendy cut her hair once she started to get big, and it was never that shade of blonde. The face that looks up at me glows with a pale angelic smile, and I recognise its voice as the one that drove off all my fears. “Raven,” it says.


The carpet reels beneath me. “Raven!” Now he’s calling out my name.

Are we in the real world yet? I dash down the hall, and wrestle with the handle of the toilet door. Which layer of hell is this?

As it gives way, I fall in front of the bowl like it’s an altar, so violently sick that it blocks out all other pain.

Therefore I never want it to stop.

Next Chapter: 08.PEGASUS: Blood Makes Noise…

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