Trapdoor: a novel by Vixen Phillips
Non Omnia Moria (Not All Of Me Will Die)
Such strange shadows, dancing for me, across a sky I’ve never seen…
I open my eyes, only here I’m staring up at a ceiling, not a sky. Raven? Where are you?
Where am I?
I blink, struggling to sit up in this refrigerated bed with its stiff white sheets, adrift in the centre of a crisp white room. I shake my head to clear the last of the pale shadows, until the only whiteness is on the outside of myself.
I hold my hand in front of my face, clenching and unclenching my fist. Ensuring the flesh, bone, and muscle respond exactly as I have come to expect. Next I concentrate on my heartbeat, the sound of my breathing, the blood flowing through my veins. All fine, in the ordinary sense. Relax. The answers will come.
Nearly dawn, and it’s so cold. Colder than it should be, without his touch. I can’t remember any dreams at all. But I’ve always been able to dream. Raven, I don’t understand. Help me.
I fight to tear off the sheets. It’s as though someone nailed me into a coffin rather than tucked me into bed. My feet land on the hard floor, and I creep across to the window. A hospital? Why should you bring me here?
I run my fingertips along the polished sill. Raindrops trickle down the outside of the glass, so tempting, so close. I press my forehead against their reflections, feeling a patch of cotton cushioning my brow. A dull ache drills into my brain, a memory…
I put my hands up to the glass and push away from the wall. This window has no latch. It’s been designed never to be opened. A window with no soul. Just like my mother’s window, the one that held her prisoner nearly four years, while she watched over me from above and within, before I could ever meet her.
Now the window is open inside me instead. Now I understand.
Once upon a time, I asked everyone I knew about the woman with my face who watched me from that attic window. My sister told me she was an evil witch, and if she ever escaped she would kill and then eat me. My father said I was lying, seeing what the devil wanted me to see. It was the maid who told me the truth.
She was the keeper of my soul. My guardian, my watchful angel. My flesh and blood. My—
“Mama.” Even a whisper sounds horribly loud in this quiet space. I wrap my arms around my body, smiling at the memory of her embrace, after her window opened and we were finally allowed to meet.
“He kept me from you, mon ange. Oh, my sweet Jaime,” she whispered, stroking my hair and face that were both so like to her own. I didn’t understand many things she told me, not at first, but I understood her love. I understood the feeling of being…home. What she sacrificed to give me these feelings, I’ll never truly know. I just know they all ended, with her life…
Until Raven. I was four years old, around the time I first met my mother. Damien is almost four, as well. And my father, who was not my father at all, is—
I close my eyes, focus on my own beloveds, draw them deep into the circle, like my mother drew me, for all that time we spent apart. Love goes beyond both physical pain and baser human needs. There are other ways.
I am learning them all.
Raven… Damien… I belong to you both. Just as you belong to me. If I had no dreams last night, then I’ll dream you instead, become your own watchful angel, separated by no more than crumbling walls and temporary flesh, something I can’t bring myself to hate and yet have always felt this urge to escape. But I was meant to wait, for both of you.
In my mind I see Raven, as we make love, and Damien, as he reaches out to touch my face. So like his father, so like me. Together, we can be complete. As a family…
In all of our dreams, in the here and now, we already are.
Through a sudden swirl of white, my knees give out beneath me. I grab hold of the sill, fighting to concentrate only on my breathing, struggling to steady the floor and myself. I need to be strong. He tried to kill me. But you saved me, Raven. Gave me my life, so that I might rescue you and your son, make us whole.
When everything stops spinning, I return to the bed. A small black box hanging by the mattress reveals a switch to another window that will not open, the television looming in the corner. I need to not be here, but simple distractions will kill time. So I flick on the set, immersing myself in the numbness of everyday life, reflections of a safer world where children are happy and easily placated by a series of colourful squiggles and grinning faces, most of which give me the creeps.
This could be for the last time. I know this, but I’m not afraid.
A certain calm accompanies the knowledge that there is no escaping fate.
The doctor who grants me my freedom is a little too reminiscent of those faceless faces on the screen, patting my leg and advising me to ‘take it easy’ for a couple of days. I’m about to tell him nothing is easy, but he’s already vanished into the bowels of the hospital from whence he came. Is this it, then? Am I finally free to leave?
Once I’ve dressed myself, I amble down the corridor, suspicious of the walls to either side of me. I only pass a single nurse, who smiles and waves good-bye and says something nice about my hair. As I step into the elevator, I feel for the loose change that usually weighs down my pockets. There should be enough for at least one phone call.
Only two floors down to the ground, and I’m stepping out into the foyer. Outside, the rain falls in sheets and cars wash up little waves onto the few pedestrians who scuttle by, all of us anxious to be elsewhere.
Near the final exit, I spy a public phone. So close…
Before anyone else can beat me to it, I march to the stand, snatch up the receiver, deposit three coins, and dial.
Dammit. Wrong number. I hang up, and scrabble to retrieve the change. My fingers are shaking.
Behind me, someone sighs, none too subtly. I concentrate all the more on Monty’s number and the keypad. I’m still double-checking the display, matching off each number with the corresponding one in my memory, even as the other end begins to ring. All clear.
The phone continues to ring. And ring.
Dammit, Raven, pick up already.
My heart’s beating too fast. No, not here. Please, just wait until I’m home. Until all three of us are home. It won’t be so long now.
The phone rings for the fourteenth time, and I slam down the receiver, again grabbing my change and glaring at it. Raven… Are you okay? Could they—?
Another sigh, and the person behind me starts tapping a foot; their impatience has a beat, out of sync with my pulse.
No. I feel no pull of separation. Nothing bad is going to happen. Not yet.
I deposit the money one last time and dial the number in resignation, not bothering to check the display as I turn around and greet the restless woman with a pointed smile. She looks uncomfortable and pretends to hunt through her purse.
Five rings… Six…
“Hello?” a sleepy voice answers.
My heart leaps into my throat, so for a moment I can’t even speak.
“Hello?” He repeats the question in a louder voice, sounding no less disoriented.
“Are you drunk already?” I ask teasingly, though all I can imagine right now is hugging him and never letting go.
“Pegasus!” There’s a pause, like he’s collecting his thoughts. “I— Sorry, I was asleep. Then I heard the phone. I was dreaming… I had a dream.”
I’m smiling like an idiot, just for hearing his voice. I know you had a dream. I sent one, all for you.
He clears his throat, before adding, “And no, I’m not fucking drunk. I’m not going to drink anymore.”
I blink. He sounds so serious, and I can’t think what to say.
“When are you coming home?”
I twirl the phone cord around my fingers, feeling foolish. “Well, I don’t exactly know how to get home. Hence the phone call.”
He manages a laugh. “Wait there. I’ll come and get you.”
“I don’t care. Just stay inside, okay? I’m leaving.”
“No, next week. Jesus, Peg. I’ll see you soon.”
“Okay,” I tell the engaged signal, and hang up.
The impatient woman has disappeared, and I’m all alone in the foyer. But I won’t be free until I’m out of those doors. And I want to be outside. I don’t mind the rain either, Raven. Rain can be my friend, until you come to my rescue.
Please don’t take long. Rapunzel can be impatient, too.
I avoid both the cars and the stares of the pedestrians as I splash about in little puddles on the footpath and watch the rain drip from the end of my nose. I’ve been out here long enough for it to soak through to my skin; breathing in petrol fumes, feeling the wind cut right through me. The city air has never felt so cleansing.
I grab hold of the base of a no-parking sign, spiralling around it in homage to Gene Kelly until I make myself dizzy. Miniature rainbows tremble in patches of wet oil on the road, but looking at these only makes my headache arc up again, so instead I turn to the foamy streams that flow down through the gutters. From here, everything washes into the ocean. Just as I will, someday. I’ve heard life formed in the oceans of the world. It’s only natural I should want my body returned there.
A tram glides by, driving a spray before it, and I glance up, just like I have for every single tram that’s gone past since I stepped out the door. Only this time he really is trotting across the road, head lowered in a meek defence against the steady downpour. And he looks kind of cute with his blackened hair glistening and wet clothes sticking to his skin. Hands in his pockets, shrugging off the outside world. As he pulls up beside me, I wipe at my face, full of laughter, wild and free. He glances up, shakes his head in amused disbelief, then guides me to the nearest bit of shelter, beneath the hospital exit. All the while, I want to lick the rain off his skin so badly even the cold can’t kill my body’s natural response to him. My turn to stick my hands in my pockets, part of me hoping he doesn’t notice. A larger part hoping he will.
Once we’re under cover, he frowns and drags me in close. “You’re all wet.”
“So are you.” That’s all I can manage before his kiss, so longed for, melts away the last of the chill. I part my lips, allow him to force his tongue deeper into my mouth. His hardness and mine press against each other, as I pull my hands out of my pockets and reach up to his chest. Is this how much you missed me? But it’s almost okay. We’re almost home. Can you see this new dawn as clearly as I can? Please…
He hesitates. Maybe he feels it too, how we’re getting too close here, how people are staring out of their windows, unknown quantities, evil thoughts that wish us harm. I could ignore them; I want to ignore them. But there’s so much we need to do.
He takes off his long black coat and drapes it around my shoulders, then squeezes the rain out of my hair. “Sorry I took so long,” he murmurs. “You should’ve waited inside.”
“I didn’t like being in there.”
He nods, seeming to understand. I blink at him hopefully, then ask, “So…are we going to go rescue Damien?”
A shadow crosses his face, before he grabs my hand and walks me away from my former cell. “Not yet. It’s too wet out here.”
That is a reason, yes. But only one, and he’s hiding so many.
I can wait, for you. But neither of us can afford to wait for too much longer.
I turn around to close the door. Both of us are drip-drip-dripping all over Monty and Noriko’s plush carpet. Raven pushes against me, and I splay my hands over the wood, enjoying his warm kisses on my neck and his cold hands stripping me down to my skin. Such a familiar desperation, only now I feel so safe within its clutches. This, then, is the meaning of trust. And love.
He spins me around and drops reverently to his knees, nibbling at my belly, kissing his way up my thighs, hesitantly and gently taking my dick in his mouth, sucking me until the hardness returns. A new wetness and dizziness envelops me, spiralling all the way down into my soul.
Raven… I want you to want me too.
Am I allowed to want…this?
As if in answer, he gets to his feet, taking hold of my hand once more and dragging me into the bathroom. In a few moments, steam surrounds us, clogging up the mirror, and we distract one another with more delicate kisses as the tub fills.
He lowers himself in first, then pulls me down on top of him. The water, almost but not quite too hot, soaks into my skin. I snuggle up between his legs, and his arms go around me. It’s enough, to allow myself to be held in this way. So warm, so safe.
The soap’s an expensive brand smelling of lavender and something musky. He runs it over my chest, down my arms, and between my thighs. The water laps quietly around us, while his heavy breathing sends shivers down my neck. Outside, the rain scatters across the roof. Waves and sighs and raindrops, a dream of the ocean coming to find me; here, always here.
“I love you,” he whispers in my ear.
We listen to the rain, and he massages my shoulders, and I distract myself a moment longer by noticing such mundane things as the fact that my toenails need painting. Already, the water’s going cold around us. Soon, it will be time to leave.
“Funny, I’d usually fall asleep, right about here,” I murmur. “But now I feel wide awake.”
A brief pause, and his hands fall from my shoulders. “You want to get out?”
As an answer I stand up awkwardly, and he follows close behind, plucking the towel off the rack just before my fingers can grab it. He dries me off himself, patting my skin delicately, and gently wringing out my hair. “I feel spoilt,” I say.
He nibbles my earlobe, then says in all seriousness, “You deserve to be spoilt.”
I stare at his chest. There’s a new scar, this one shorter than most of the others, running below his nipple to about where his heart should be. I trace a finger over it; a little smear of blood comes off on my fingertip. Fresh, then. Probably from this morning, perhaps right before he made the journey to the hospital. “Is that one for me?” I ask.
He closes his eyes, nuzzles my cheek, and whispers in my ear, “Go get dressed.”
I nod and pad down the hallway, finding the spare bedroom with ease. I’m still pondering a choice of clothing from the mismatched fragments inside the suitcase, when the door clicks shut behind me and strong hands push me onto the floor. He hovers above me, his tongue spiralling over my lips, my neck, my chest, as I hold my breath, desperate not to giggle when the kisses come too close to tickles. But he stops right over my belly, frowning like he wants to go further, if only...
I’ve just begun trailing a finger through his hair when he sits up abruptly, searching for something in my face and looking away too quickly to find it. Not fear, then. Shame?
“What?” I ask, watching him move over to sit on the bed, rest his head in his hands. Staying on all fours, I scuttle across to him and pull his elbows off his knees, so there’s no place for him to hide from me. Perhaps I’m being cruel, in a way, when I take each of his fingers in my mouth one by one and suck on them, lick them, nibble on them, suck them again, until his imagination kicks in too, and he laughs at me softly. With a smile, I drop his hand into his lap, and wait.
“It’s not fair,” he mumbles, “that I think of you…that I dream of you—” He rubs at his face.
“That you dream of me…?”
“That I dream of you…as his word for God. As his mama. Too much, to expect—”
He looks away, leaving the shadows to fall upon my heart again. “I’m not good enough, perhaps?”
“What? No, that’s not it at—”
“There’s a lot of things you don’t think I’m good enough for.” Too late, I bite my tongue. Where did that come from?
With a sigh of annoyance, he shoves me aside and starts fishing through the suitcase for some clothes of his own. “Fuck this. I’m going to get Damien.”
I stop trying to unravel the strands of bitterness and paranoia all knotted up with my thoughts. I’m going to get Damien. Just you? By yourself? No, that isn’t how it’s supposed to—
“But it’s raining,” I tell him, distracted again as my mind at last reaches one end of the thread. Make love to me, Raven. So, it led me to a wish.
I swallow hard, quashing the words that I want—I need—to speak, holding my breath until my chest starts to hurt. Too deep a confession, not meant for this moment. I put his arms around me. And still, I don’t say the words.
His head rests close to my heart, the heart across which these silent words carve so much pain. “I’m scared, too,” is all I allow myself. Another truth. A truth that cuts, scars invisible to every eye but his.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers.
“Don’t.” I disentangle myself from the hug. Already these barbed-wire thoughts begin to uncoil and fizz in the light. Love goes beyond both physical pain and baser human needs. There are other ways… I glance at him.
“What?” he asks, frowning suspiciously.
“You think of me…as Damien’s mother?”
“And a child to my heart.” He holds me tighter, as though I might try to escape. The rain continues to fall.
I am learning them all.
By the time the rain stops, he’s almost asleep. I keep nudging him until he groans and sits up beside me. “Time to get dressed. The rains have passed us by.”
Rubbing his eyes and mumbling something, he stretches and drifts off through the hallway. A moment later I hear the sounds of the kettle boiling in the kitchen, the chink of a spoon against a cup, and the buttons of a telephone dialling a number. This last sound guarantees my curiosity gets the better of me, and I wander out just in time to see him hang up the receiver, paler than usual as he leans over the counter, inhaling steam and the coffee’s aroma.
“What’s the matter?” I ask cautiously, taking the mug he passes me and sipping a little off the top.
He reaches for the pack of clove cigarettes lying conveniently within arm’s reach and lights one up, evidently not caring that Noriko would go nuts if she came home and caught him smoking in here. Behind a lung full of smoke, he asks me, “What’s the time?”
I glance over my shoulder at the Astro Boy clock on the wall. “One-fifteen.”
He nods, expelling the smoke into the air. “We’re gonna need to be quick about this. No time for fucking around. I think Monty’s due around seven, and Noriko’s always home by six.” He stares down at his cup, but makes no effort to drink from it. Above the counter, his hands are trembling so badly I don’t think he could pick it up at the moment without spilling it.
“Raven,” I start to say, but he quickly shakes his head, as though I’ve interrupted his train of thought.
At least that explains the phone call. “Should I go pack the rest of our things?”
“No, we’ll leave the suitcase. We’ve gotta come back anyhow.”
I don’t ask why. Not really desiring caffeine, I push the cup towards the sink, knowing that if I stand here in this kitchen for too much longer, I’m going to end up with the shakes as well. Perhaps I already have, on the inside. Fear is contagious.
To keep up my momentum, I grab for his free hand, press the house keys into his palm, and close his fingers around them. “Come on.” I nod at the cigarette. “You can smoke that on the way. You said it yourself, there is no time.”
Still not meeting my eyes, he gulps down half the coffee. Then I catch hold of his sleeve, and pull him out the front door. With every step closer to Wendy’s house, the greater my sense of destiny and doom.
It’s only in this moment, huddled together beneath a tree on the opposite side of the street, that I understand how much he fears coming back here. Why he even killed to avoid doing so.
He stamps out the remains of the clove cigarette that’s been dead for a good five minutes, and folds his arms across his tummy. His breath catches in his throat, threatening to choke him; when I hold him close, I can feel the pulse racing through his body.
I have to do something, and soon.
“Pegasus,” he hisses, desperate to control the shivering that’s ready to consume him from the inside out. “I’m so sorry, but…this house… I don’t—I can’t.”
It’s okay. This is my dream. My offering. One of the many ways of which I have spoken.
“Shh.” I hug him even tighter, kissing his cheek, waiting for my own courage or something beyond courage to overtake me. I understand, Raven. I don’t understand what she did to you to make you fear this place so much, but I can guess.
All places have auras. The one emanating from this house is so sickly yellow that it nearly makes me forget. Strange I never saw it like you do before today. But in those days I always assumed this was some place you’d chosen to be.
“I already had this nightmare,” he tells me. “I can’t go in there now, I’ll never get out.”
“Then I’ll go,” I say, determined.
His eyes fix on my face, wild and terrified like a fearful animal. “No. I can’t let you—”
I press a finger to his lips. “Shh,” I tell him again. “Just listen. Wait for me.” I draw in a short breath. God only knows what state I could be in once we need to leave. “If I’m not back in twenty minutes, you’ll just have to get over it and come right on in anyways.” I try to sound light-hearted, but I doubt I’m close to pulling it off. “Okay?”
He opens his mouth, frowns in hesitation, and closes it again.
All right, then. If this is the way we have to play things. “Do you want us as a family, or forever incomplete?”
I regret these words, but by this stage they’re all I have left. The familiar spark returns to his eyes, before he turns aside. I can tell he’s more ashamed than angry, though. “Of course we’ll be a family. That’s all I ever fucking wished for.” Softening somewhat, he adds, “I want you both.”
I nod, just once. “Then give me the keys.” The calm tone in my voice belies nothing in my heart. I won’t show him that, though; won’t show any of them.
This will be the last chance anyone in my so-called family ever has to hurt me. I can’t say the words, but perhaps, after this, you’ll see. Once and for all.
He surrenders the keys to this house of nightmares reluctantly. “Go wait around the corner,” I tell him, and I linger until he disappears from view. You might not believe it, but you’re much braver than I am.
So do you think he’ll want you around his precious son, after this?
This is my only chance. The only choice, and the only way. This is what the dream showed me. This is all I can do.
I take a moment longer in a last attempt to cast these fears and doubts aside, before I bound across the street and onto Wendy’s doorstep, pocketing the keys. She’s there. That’s what he told me. I don’t need these, then. She must invite me in, of her own free will.
Staring intently at the door, I project my thoughts inside and onto her. A woman I no longer think of as my sister. Merely another obstacle.
This is the last choice you have, Wendy. Choose death, and pass on the souls of those you don’t love to me.
Today, I become Death.
I ring the doorbell.
Next Chapter: 17.RAVEN: The Word For God