Trapdoor: a novel by Vixen Phillips
The Rapunzel Syndrome
What is this?
I’m lying on my back, watching the light bulb on the ceiling expand to become a ball of flame. Gold and amber and red—phoenix wings and phoenix tail—unfurl to encompass the entire room. Ashes drift down, cloaking my body in embers, and burst into musical notes as they touch my body: C-sharp minor, E-flat minor arpeggios. The plaster dissolves into a cloudy vortex. Red swirls to purple, and fades to blue.
A blue glow, spiralling overhead.
So why am I not afraid? I’ve felt this song, I recognise this place that all men fear. I’ve been here before, or nearly so—
Tranquility, found in the eye of the storm. It feels so right, as though this is the moment I’ve been waiting for, all of my life.
Waiting for death.
The blue glow descends, cloaking me in a warmth that burns brighter than flame and sinks deeper than flesh, until this is all I see, all I am. Blue pales to white, and I’m flying.
No. This isn’t right. Where am I? Where are you taking me?
Home, a voice whispers inside me, and I cry out in surprise, the two sounds echoing around the emptiness that somehow isn’t empty, building up into a melodic symphony of sorrow and regret. C-sharp minor, E-flat minor, arpeggios tinkling inside my head. That voice—
A voice I haven’t heard for nine years.
Now, I am afraid. I want to run, want to hide, want to escape, but when the fog starts to clear, I’m floating above the room, somewhere inside the cloud-ceiling.
Below, on the bed, the symbol—the physical form that I and the others call Pegasus—dreams. He looks so peaceful in this sleep, so I turn from him, willing myself to face the light. Only this seems to be dissolving, too. The only thing left is for me to become this feeling of sky. Warmth flares as hands reach down to part the clouds, to pull me into embrace.
I thought you would never return to me.
I don’t understand. How is this happening?
Mortal thoughts. Human thoughts. You haven’t yet learned to break the shell, mon ange.
No, not that. Something is wrong—
You brought only half of yourself to me.
I struggle to make sense of this. Groping blindly in the light with hands that have no form, for a presence that is formless. When meaning comes, it sends a sickening jolt through my gut. No. I can’t have been wrong, Mama. You always said—you always said this is how it would be, when—
Raven, where are you?
Patience. The warmth spins threads of light around me, soothing fear and dulling agony. Soon, he comes. Did you not realise? Long before you ever knew, then he made this choice. Long before he even knew himself.
The warmth drains slowly, leaving only emptiness. She’s moving away.
You must wait here. You will know what to do. When it is over, you will find me. Both of you.
No, Mama! Don’t leave me. Not again.
Patience, she echoes, and a rainbow traces a memory of my body and hers, interwoven, before its colour disappears. I shall wait for you, as I have waited, always.
But she’s gone. And I’m still here.
I don’t want to be here anymore. I don’t want to be without you, Raven. How long must I wait? Is this my punishment? But I thought—I thought that was the point of being there. I thought, once I was here, then everything would be—
What a fool I’ve been, thinking I could cheat death. Trick it into offering me happiness. Why should things be different? Why should anything ever be different?
So, is this really death? Then my funeral—? I hope they didn’t bury me in a box, underground, far from the sea. Did I die in my sleep? Whose hand cut the thread? Or was it simply that which we call Fate?
A cold mist settles in. Hugging myself offers no protection; the chill penetrates so deep. Of course. I have no physical presence here. I can’t use it to hide from the cold or the pain. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe, after everything, this is hell.
Now on the horizon, flecks of ice come swarming along a spiral path, all headed towards a central point. Whiter than white, each little flake seems filled with such purpose, joining together to mould a cage like spun glass. Once this sculpture has taken shape, I understand, at last. With a secret smile, I begin my approach.
Raven stares out from behind the bars of the cage, watching me with confusion, but no pain. Inside, I’m already healing, becoming whole again. He crouches before me, naked except for the silver cross, and the thorns that bind his wrists and ankles. His turn to wait, but not for so long.
Where am I? he whispers, as I kneel before him, examining the lock on the cage. I unfurl my wings, allowing my love for him to flow around us both, an aura of white gold, my own phoenix thing.
Home. You’re home, Raven. And I’ve come to set you free.
I peel open my eyelids and focus on the ceiling, ensuring it remains constant. The pulse in my ears, throbbing continuously, brings me only relief.
No blue glow, and no wings. No death, then. Not today.
A weight presses down on my bladder, and wrenches me into the physical world. I start to crawl out of bed, only to fall back and bang my head against the steel frame. What the—?
I glance over my shoulder, only to discover one wrist has been tied to the metal frame. Tightly, too; no matter how much I jerk my arm about, the scarf that binds me refuses to work itself free or break. “Fuck.” I inspect the knot. I can barely make out the loop. Patience will be required to slip out of this one. Patience I don’t have.
Crossing my legs underneath me, I begin wishing away the need to go to the bathroom. I’m not going to wet my pants, like a child. Or Father will come—
No, that isn’t right either. I’m not there anymore. I’m no longer a child.
What did I do to you this time, Raven? What did I do, to make you want to punish me?
And now I remember. It’s been hanging over our heads like a thundercloud, ever since that night I went down on him. Today. Today is Tuesday.
I was supposed to meet him…afterwards. Five o’clock; we’d arranged it, down the local hotel. Guess this is his subtle way of letting me know I’m not welcome.
A tear trickles down my cheek, as the pain in my bladder grows to a sharp twinge. No, no, no, no, no! Another trickle runs hot down my thigh. I clench my eyes shut, straining against all my instincts not to allow any more to escape. I’m no longer a child. And you’re not my father. You can’t humiliate me like this.
Too late creeps closer and closer. I scan the room, desperate to find something—anything—within reach that might help. At last, on the bedside table, beside the photo of my mother, I glimpse one of Raven’s lighters. I grab for it, flicking it several times, struggling with one hand to get it lit. Tears of frustration stream freely down my cheeks, but at least not down my leg.
Finally the spark catches, and the flame leaps up. I try to steady my shaking hand as I lower it towards the scarf. I’m terrified the tiny light might flicker out prematurely, but once it makes contact with the fabric, the flame takes off and zooms towards my flesh. I grab a pillow, beat at the fire until it dies out, then race into the bathroom. At last—
When I’m done, I lean against the mirror, staring a hole through my own reflection. That was too easy. Too easy for you, Raven.
I dash out of the bathroom, straight for the table by the door. The place where I always leave my keys. They’re gone.
Just to be sure, I turn everything on it upside down, but they’re nowhere to be found. I know where they are.
Feeling the laughter building in my throat, I cautiously approach the door, reach out, and turn the knob. It doesn’t shift. The deadlock. So, I’m trapped, made Rapunzel in her tower, waiting for her handsome prince to come to the rescue.
Will you save me, Raven? Or will you just leave me to my fear and your doom?
The carpet sinks beneath my toes as I pace the floor beneath the window. Eight paces across, eight paces back… Eight paces across, eight paces back…
Only when the phone rings, shattering my numbness like nails on a chalkboard, do I stop to wonder how long I’ve been going. It keeps on ringing, even as I stare at it. Should I answer it? Perhaps it’s Raven. But I already know it isn’t.
Eventually it stops, and I sigh, relieved to return to my pacing, angry that its intrusion made me lose count—how many steps left to make it to the window? Dammit. I’m going to have to start all over, now.
I wander over to the door that will never open, steady myself with a deep breath, and prepare to take it from the top. But just as I place my first foot down, the phone rings again. With a growl of frustration, I race to the wall and almost rip the whole thing off as I yank the receiver to my ear. “What?!”
“Uh, hey sleepyhead, how’s it hanging?”
Lenny. Shit. I glance at the clock. Ten forty-five. In fifteen minutes, Raven will be in court.
And fifteen minutes ago, I was supposed to be at work.
“Are you going to be late?” he presses, as I don’t say anything.
“Um…” I search every corner of my mind for an excuse.
You could always tell him the truth.
“I think I’m coming down with something,” I say, trying to make my voice sound weak. “I might have to give it a miss, today.” I finish it off with a cough, for good measure.
On the other end of the line, he sighs. Tough luck for you, Lenny. And tough luck for me. I actually enjoy teaching, and a chance to play without feeling threatened. But neither of us have much choice here. “Are you bullshitting me, Peg?” he demands in an ugly voice. “After everything I’ve fucking done for you, are you bullshitting me?”
“No, Lenny.” I glance at the window, just in time to catch sight of a butterfly, flitting in and out of the wavering curtains. I should put down the phone at once and go to it. Butterflies have such short lives. All that time they spend, waiting, in transformation, cocooned. Emerging brilliant and beautiful only to die. If there’s any such thing as karma and rebirth, I want to be a butterfly next time.
Maybe I already am. You and me both, Raven.
I don’t realise I’m crying until Lenny’s voice crawls into my ear, sounding more concerned. “Is something wrong?”
My answer hasn’t changed. “No, Lenny. I just—I can’t, okay?”
Like flicking a switch, things are as they were. “Fuck you, you little slut, you’re going to do this to me ten minutes before a lesson? Do you know who your first student is, huh?”
I humour him. “Betty Mitchell, I believe.”
“That’s right, Betty-fucking-Mitchell. With her mother in tow. Have you seen that fucking bitch? She’ll never let me forget this. I’m warning you, Pegasus, unless you get your arse in here now, you’re in deep shit. Trust me when I tell you that.”
“I do,” I murmur. “But—” I smile at the door, which still refuses to open. “I can’t. I told you, I don’t feel well. I’m sorry I didn’t call earlier, but—”
“Yeah, sure you’re fucking sorry. Raven’s moved in to mooch off you, hasn’t he?”
The sudden change of topic catches me off-guard. “Yes.”
He snickers. “I should have known. He always was a bad influence. He never got you as a kid, so now—”
I’m so not in the mood for this. I turn my back on the butterfly, unable to have these two conflicting states of being present in me at once. “What the fuck are you talking about, Lenny?”
“What, did you stay up late last night? Get a little drunk, a little high?” I have to stop myself from laughing—coming from Lenny, these moral accusations are a bit much. “You never did any of that for me. Then again, I always said that bastard was the devil, could get you to sign over your soul if you weren’t looking in the right direction.”
He already did. And I was looking, in the right direction, that is. Even so, Lenny’s words make me uncomfortable. “I wasn’t drunk. And you know I don’t smoke.” I’ve never been very good at lying, but this one flows right off my tongue.
“Yeah, bet that’s what all the kiddies at school said, too.”
I start to trace invisible patterns on the wall. Sure, I’d heard the rumours about Raven and what he did when we were together in that place. Selling pot, suicide attempts, and a psychotic temper. That was my love.
“So, how much is he paying you?”
I blink, and swallow silence.
“No, seriously, what’s your going rate these days? Must’ve come down quite a bit, if he can cough up for it.”
I bite back my tongue’s most instinctive reply, and wait for my nerve-endings to stop tingling before I answer, “He doesn’t need to pay me anything.”
Laughter on the other end of the line, mocking, but insulted too. ”Yeah? What a joke that is. Well, guess what, princess? Now I don’t need to pay you anything, either.”
“You’re fired.” And just like that, he hangs up.
With a trembling hand, I replace the receiver in its cradle. Then rip the whole phone off the wall and hurl it against the door.
It lands in a hundred little pieces around my feet. I blink in surprise. Must have thrown it harder than I thought. Crouching down, I toy with a plastic shard, and inspect the broken receiver, still attached to the body of the phone by its cord, like a severed finger dangling from a single thread. You tried. But nobody escapes this door. You should have gone for the window instead.
I creep towards the rippling curtains, spread them wide, then press my nose against the glass, seeking out any signs. But it’s long gone.
Only as I crawl out from under my makeshift veil do I notice the amber wings, motionless on the floor. I tiptoe towards it, no longer bothering to count my steps.
The beautiful butterfly has fallen, doomed to a silent forever, here on my carpet.
So be it. I crawl back into bed, turning from the splendour that will be no more. Everything dies.
Perhaps even love.
It would be easy enough to fool myself into believing that was truth. But it’s all a place I’ve been before. Just reassurances my mind sends when it thinks I need protecting. My mind doesn’t know me very well, it seems.
I’m not looking at the photo of my mother. She’s in my mind, though not as she was in the dream. Here in my head, she’s only a still image—her hair, her face, her expression a perfect copy of the picture. If I hadn’t salvaged it, I may have forgotten her altogether already.
But not today. There’s a feeling about this day, too much a refrain of nine years ago. Then, as now, I’d been locked in my room, only I escaped by crawling out the window, out to the beach, to where I saw her walk beneath the waves. I didn’t understand. Or perhaps I understood perfectly. I yearned to follow her. But Father caught me. Afterwards, once he knew for sure, he laughed at me.
So, you see, love doesn’t die. It simply isn’t, or it is. That’s all I know. But I’m certain, when I’m not certain of anything else, that this is the truth. It must be. And today feels like that day because I know I’m about to lose—
I cover my face with a hand. Dangerous, these thoughts. If I’m not careful, they’ll make me cry. Death is such a finality, yet no one ever says good-bye.
With a shaky sigh, I lift myself off the bed. Stepping over the butterfly, I wander over to turn on the stereo, pressing play on a tape that’s been copied so many times there’s more hiss than music. But my mind can fill in the gaps.
This was my good-bye, from my mother. For my ninth birthday, she wrote and recorded this song for me. She was always so much more refined in her technique, a better pianist than I’ll ever be. I tiptoe into the bathroom and perch on the edge of the tub, my hands clasped against my heart, staring into the running water. Until this moment, I’ve never thought of it. If I went, that night, I never would have said good-bye to Raven. He would have thought it was all his fault.
The song always ends too soon. I turn off the taps, and move to switch off the tape. Then I crank up a New Order CD, before settling down into the bath. The water’s hot, but soothing too, lulling me to sleep.
Next time, I’ll at least say good-bye.
Because good-byes aren’t forever. Only love is.
I wake to find myself shivering, the last rays of sunlight giving way to sunset. The window is open, and the water’s freezing. Why am I here, all alone?
Love? What do I know of love, anyway?
My tummy growls as I clamber out of the tub and rub myself down with a towel. Beyond the bathroom, the first thing I notice is the butterfly, still dead upon the carpet. I pick it up gently and take it to the window, leaning out over the roof. All across the city, people are returning home from work to nothing in particular—ambitions and lives and relationships I don’t understand, and don’t want to understand.
“Perhaps it’s better this way,” I whisper, letting the weightless husk fall from my palm, watching as it spirals off on the breeze, heading for the sky, until it floats out of sight. I gaze into the sad, pale sunset, before closing the window and turning my back on everything.
My tummy growls again. I suppose I should eat. I drift into the kitchen on automatic, grab a knife and a loaf of bread. I’m just reaching for a plate above the sink when I catch sight of a coloured fragment. Another photo.
Things are out of place here. I don’t leave it like this. I leave these hidden, buried. I wasn’t planning to take them out again until I could no longer remember your face. That’s how it was, with my mother.
I flick through the photos. Most are in order, except for one sequence. Pictures of me and him, mostly from our high school years.
Dammit, why did you have to do this, Raven? Why not leave them be?
My gaze falls across the picture that should be second from the bottom—not third. Am I seeing it for the first time? Why did I never realise before? He looks at the me in this photo the same way he did the night he told me how he felt. A recorded confirmation, of truth.
Did you not realise? Long before you ever knew, then he made this choice. Long before he even knew himself.
Then I hear a scream, and the nearest plate hurtles towards the window, bounces off, and shatters in the sink. I throw myself at the glass instead, satisfied at last by the window’s smash as it breaks against my fist.
I pull my arm out, and study the bloody tears and little pieces of glass glittering in the flesh. The pain hasn’t reached me yet. I run to my bed, and the tears don’t stop for the longest time, long after it’s too dark to eat and I’ve lost the will to get up and turn on the light.
I crouch forward, squinting through the shadows, picking out glass fragments, making my arm bleed again. Are you ever coming home, Raven? I can’t be here anymore, and yet I can’t leave. Was this your wish? Or did you just forget all about me?
By now, the court case must be over. I look at the remains of the telephone in the corner.
He wouldn’t have called you anyway. He never does.
Then does that mean—?
Don’t. I can’t afford to think about that. Because I already know what it means.
I laugh, and reach for the remainder of a joint he left on the bedside table. As though he knew I’d need to stop thinking, eventually. I manage the lighter with more success this time, forcing myself to keep in the smoke, and not to cough. Seems strange to be doing this when you’re not here. Seems strange, that you’re not here.
I attempt a few more drags, but the third puff fills my throat with fire and leaves me doubled over and choking on the floor. By the time I recover, the rest of it’s burned out, leaving me to my darkness. At least now I don’t have to think.
Feeling even more miserable, and sick as well, I crawl into bed, just as the throbbing waves hit. I focus on my breathing until everything passes, and I can zone out by staring at the ceiling again. Everything travels in circles. My mind won’t stop. It won’t allow me to stop caring for you.
When are you coming home?
Please don’t leave me here.
I must have slept, because the minute I hear a door slam I jerk upright, awake in an instant. There’s a shadow on the wall. Maybe it’s nothing more. I look at the clock. Two a.m.
I roll off the bed and dash towards him, so grateful he’s finally home I’m willing to ignore the stench of alcohol and sickness that shrouds the rest of the room. But instead of the hug I hoped for, he shoves me face-first onto the mattress, knocking the air from my lungs as he falls on top of me, rubbing against my butt. Before I can even whisper his name, he pulls down my underwear, and bites and sucks at my balls.
Is this your love for me, then? Are you so surprised I’m always afraid?
I manage the strength to push him off, long enough to roll onto my back. Despite his drunkenness, he’s able to keep a firm grip on my boxers, and now his tongue and teeth go to work on my dick instead.
He’s too drunk to notice that, after about five minutes of this, I’m still not responding in the ‘usual’ way. “What’sa matter, Peggy?” he asks, slurring his words. “You don’t love me no more?”
Why does he always ask? Doesn’t he know? Or does he just need to hear me say it? “You locked me in here all day.” As he tries to keep kissing me, I slap at him.
“I thought you’d leave me, angel,” he murmurs, unable to focus on any one part of my face. “Thought you’d—” He lets go of me to wave a hand absently through the air. “Thought you’d fly away.”
I’m not going to say it. “Dammit, it’s my goddamn house!”
His eyes narrow into pinpricks of hate before he lashes out, striking me across the face so hard I fall onto the bed. Then I’m on my tummy again, the shock of my stinging cheek not enough to prepare me as three fingers force their way inside my arse, so cold and savage I cry out in pain.
He chuckles in my ear. “Does that hurt you, babe? Pain is so…exquisite, dontcha think? It’s what makes us human. It’s what makes us more alive than them.”
You think we’re in on this together? You think, by doing this to me against my will, we’ll reach some higher spiritual plane? Oh, Raven. What have I done?
I hear myself sobbing long before the tears come. I’m surprised they still fall, after all this. I should be able to block it all out, like I did with the others, but—
Damn you, this is different. I didn’t want it to be like this, I just wanted—
His thrusting grows fiercer, more urgent, inflicting a new kind of pain. “Raven, please, not when you’re drunk!” But of course he isn’t listening. I can hear him in the dark, fumbling with his belt. There is no more time left.
He has to extract himself eventually, to pull down his suit pants. The moment he lets go, I’m barrelling towards the door, every instinct screaming escape. My fingers reach the knob and slide down the frame as he tackles me to the carpet.
“Ah, so you’d prefer the floor?” He pins me with his knees, and finishes up with his pants. I try to claw him off, but he shifts into a position where any sudden movement on my part would leave me in a great deal more pain. Now his flesh presses against mine, and I don’t know whether to feel relief or dread as he begins to laugh hysterically.
Once he calms down, the explanation comes. “How about that. I finally got you right where I want you and I can’t even get it up.” Giggling, he struggles to his feet, and helps me to mine. I meet his gaze with only a glare, snatching my hand away. But I’m surprised to see him blink back a tear before he turns his face from me. “Go to bed, Peg,” he says, and buries his face in his hands. Not taking my eyes off him, I do what he tells me, pulling up my underwear and tugging down my t-shirt. When I run into the mattress, I let myself slump, and wrap myself in the doona like it’s a cocoon.
He approaches me cautiously, and kneels at my feet. I shrink away from him as he reaches out a hand, guilty when he withdraws. Some part of me wants to let him in despite everything. And yet, I just—I just can’t.
“I’m an arsehole,” he whispers, with no sense of self-parody. “Anybody who knows me will tell you that.”
I tremble, unsure where this speech could lead. Confused and alone in the dark. Like I have been all day. Like I have been always.
“I can promise I won’t ever hit you again.” He draws in a shaky breath, seeing the look of disbelief I can’t hide cross my face. “And I won’t ever hurt you—”
“That’s what you always say.”
“No. This time I can promise. I’ll show you.”
He staggers to the wardrobe, and almost pulls the suitcase down on top of himself. Next, he fishes the few items that belong to him from off the hooks, and stuffs each one inside. For some reason, I’m more afraid now than I was when he was hurting me. “What are you doing?” I ask.
He rubs at his nose, then starts to fiddle with the latches. “Keeping my promise. Just for once. Just to prove that I can, okay?” The suitcase locks, and he drags it to the door, but he doesn’t come back to me.
I don’t want him there, in that horrible place that he is. The seventh layer of hell, he said. Then mine must be the sixth. “Raven! Where are you going?”
The silence lasts so long I’m almost ready to ask him again, before he says very quietly, “Away. Somewhere I can’t hurt anybody.”
My heart stutters. Anybody? Not only me? What does that mean?
Slowly, an answer begins to take form, the only explanation that could be the truth, and yet I beg not to be the truth. “You lost, didn’t you.”
He lets out a single laugh, then falls silent. But even in the dark, I can see his shoulders shaking. He can’t answer me. He doesn’t need to. He must hate me right now.
“Don’t leave me,” I tell him, surprised by the strength of my words.
He turns to glare at me, his face lit by the street lamps, a beautiful ghost. “Aren’t you worried what will happen if I stay?”
“Yes. But I’m terrified of what will happen if you leave.”
He shakes his head in disbelief, too drunk to come up with any logical arguments. “You’re insane. And better off without me.”
“Why?” he yells, stalking towards me, and I hate myself for shrinking away again. “See? I can’t get near you without you thinking I’m going to hurt you, or fuck you. I may be too drunk tonight, but I will hurt you, Pegasus. Same as I hurt my son.”
A weight grows hard in my chest. Hurt your son? When? “You never—” Feeling my faith falter, I close my eyes, calling up images of him and Damien. That doesn’t make sense. That wasn’t you, it was her. I saw it. We all did. That bitch. That bitch I want to— ”You never hurt him.”
He laughs again. “Try telling that to his mama.”
“She said this?”
He glances down at the floor. “Forget about it.” Looking up again, he meets my gaze defiantly. “Forget about me.”
“No.” I grab for his hand, but he promptly jerks it out of my reach.
“Fuck! Am I that drunk? Am I having that much trouble making myself understood? I can’t be here anymore.”
“Then where will you go?”
“Why do you care?”
I look down at my fingers, quavering in my lap. “Because I know how it ends,” I whisper, recalling my dream, and fall into his arms so he has no other choice but to accept me here now, to warm me and hold me and stay.
Eventually we draw apart. He tucks me into bed, then sits nearby, facing towards the window, but doesn’t climb in next to me, nor remove any of his clothing. “Pegasus, I—I’m sorry.”
“I could just hold you.” Two broken creatures, you and I. If we can’t fit the pieces together again, let’s just make something new.
But again, he shakes his head. “How can you be so—?” He breaks off and changes tack. “How can you want to give me so much, when I’ll only ask for ten times more in return?”
I can’t do anything more than shrug. “Faith?”
He looks at me; even in the dark I can feel his gaze, piercing the depths of my soul. “You really believe that, don’t you.”
I nod mutely. He smiles sadly, but stops himself from reaching out to me again. “Maybe one day, I might too. But tonight it’s beyond me, I think.”
What does that mean? “Raven?”
“I’m so sorry,” he repeats.
He faces me now, raising his hand in what appears to be a fist. In another heartbeat, a heavy dull ache pounds my forehead. A darkness I can’t fight drags me down, into the sleep with no dreams. Rapunzel falls from her tower window, finally free.
Next Chapter: 11.RAVEN: Sole Destruction