Adoration. Obsession. Beautiful self-destruction


Trapdoor: a novel by Vixen Phillips


The Word For God

Rain’s falling again, dripping off the branches, leaving teardrops on the cigarette. My third. And by the time this one’s burned out, I’ll have given you ten minutes more than you asked for. Will that be enough? Or too much?

Why are you doing this, Peg? Why did I let you? This is my nightmare, not yours. You shouldn’t be facing it for me. That’s not the way—not the way things were meant to be.

I brought you your son. Isn’t that enough?

No, angel. It won’t ever be enough.

Another fifteen minutes, gone in a heartbeat. My heart beats too slowly, for you.

I drop the butt into a puddle, cross the street, and come to stand again before that house.

I wait on the front step, gathering what’s left of my courage, a useless defence against the cold. But it’s all I’ve got. You’re all I’ve got. Both of you.

The door stands slightly ajar. I put my hand on it, intending to barge right on in, play the triumphant hero who’s come to the rescue, just like they do in the movies. But the second my skin makes contact with the wood, all those memories come back in a whirlwind. All these things I tried so hard to keep locked down in their graves: the nights of no escape, her constant lists of every possible reason I’d never be right and I’d never be enough, how all my beliefs were nothing but shadows, and I—

I let her poison in. I gave in so easy. Too easy. Her words…like my dad’s words. And every time, I fell for it. I used to believe I could do so much. Ma told me—

But when it came down to it, I didn’t believe her. I believed my dad, and you instead, Wendy. Your words were always so much easier. A simpler truth. Something I never once needed to question. The religion of my conscience, and the disease of my soul.

A memory of Damien’s in my mind, his eyes red with tears while his mama hits him and makes sure he knows how this is all my fault—always my fault—for being such a failure. Transmitting the poison, spreading her disease, and I—I just watch. Why do I just watch? Why don’t I do something? Anything.

Cos I no longer believed I could. I thought she was better than me, I thought she was right. And you, Pegasus— I never dared to believe you could love me. All I wished for was some kind of ending, a return to nothingness.

But nothing comes from nothing.

A last image flickers across my mind, light on shadow. This one stems from beyond the house, rooted in the depths of my insanity. The hospital ward, and a bed shrouded in white, and my hand peeling aside the veil…

Damien. Pegasus. All that I wished for.

I sneer at the house. I remember, all right. And because I remember, I’m not afraid of you.

I throw myself against the door, so hard it slams into the wall and the knob on the other side buries itself in the plaster. I want to hurt this house. I don’t want anything left.

Daddy, a voice echoes from inside the crumbling plaster. I had a bad dream.

No, little angel, it can’t hurt us anymore. She can’t hurt us anymore. It’s all going to be okay.

I stand in the deadened hallway. Somewhere beyond the walls, under the floorboards, inside the ceiling, I can hear a child crying. But what are you, really? Just another ghost, another nightmare? Are you still trying to fight me, house? Now I’ve seen the truth, do you think you can win?

I shake my head till the floor spins and the wailing fades. In its absence, I can hear my heart throbbing against my ribs. Guess I’m still afraid. But that’s okay, too. Fear is anything you choose to make of it, and so it becomes my ally.

I walk on forward, defying the house to stop me with every step I take, even while I embrace its shadows as an extension of my scars.

I remember why I wanted to die. It’s not the same anymore.

I find Pegasus in the bedroom, where the voices are loudest and the shadows most deep. He sits on the edge of the mattress, looking very small and holding my son—our son—while his whole body shakes.

Damien glances up as I enter; Pegasus doesn’t. I shuffle into the one ray of light and stand before them, daring to hope. Enough light can drown a shadow, after all. And we’re so close…we might even make it, now.

I spy a bloody trail, red on grey, winding across the hall towards the bathroom. The bathroom door is closed.

He doesn’t want to look at me, and so I focus on my son. If I don’t do that, if I forget again, we’ll all be lost. Can’t let that happen, no matter what.

I kneel at their feet, doing my best to ignore the blood on Peg’s clothing, and his beautiful, spidery fingers, and his silken hair. Better it staining the carpet than my soul… I risk a glance at his face, but his eyes close, shutting me out. “Pegasus.” His name escapes my throat like coughing up a razor. I reach out, wanting to absorb all the pain. It belongs in me, after all.

He lets go of Damien, who falls into my lap with a whimper. Kittling, tiny angel boy. How much did you see?

He’s warm in my arms, so solid and real. I think I might’ve dreamed this moment; I can’t tell if I’m dreaming now. But outside the theatre, that’s where the heroes fade. That doesn’t mean I can’t save you both. I’ve got to.

I force myself to my feet. “Can you do something for me, Day? Go get all your best clothes and favourite things, and put them in your trains bag. And when you’re done, go wait out back, okay?”

He blinks once, then nods slowly. “Can I come with you now, Daddy?”

I smile at him. “Real soon, yeah. We’re going on a holiday. Far away from here.”

Together, we glance at Pegasus. I look away first. I can’t let my heart break just yet.

“Peggy-sis is coming too?” It’s more a demand than a question. Your son, too, Pegasus.

“Course he is. We’re a family.” I only hope, wherever you are, you can hear that. “Go get your things.”

Nodding enthusiastically, he transforms into ‘plane mode’. Spreading his arms wide, he zooms and zigzags out of the room. Still a little boy, not quite lost. One of my fears allayed, at least.

I fall onto the bed, ignoring the way Pegasus cringes as I shuffle in closer. Partly as a distraction, I fish out the pack of cloves, open it up, and shake it so a couple poke out the top. “Want one?” I ask, only half-joking.

Not even a flicker. But I don’t believe this is the ending you saw, either.

With a sigh, I decide against another, too. Closing the pack, I let my fingers go limp. It lands on the floor, more dull red. What am I meant to do here? What can I say?

I reach for him again, but he grabs my wrist and pushes me off. I’ve only got the truth. Your faith. My faith. “I believe you love me, now.”

If he does hear me, he doesn’t respond.

I keep trying. “You saved me from hell…from myself—”

A light of hatred flares in those grey eyes. Not hatred for me, though; I could deal with that. “Perhaps I don’t love you at all.” His voice rasps in his throat, from screaming and wanting to choke back the tears. Yeah, I know how that goes.

I glance at the cigarette pack on the floor. Maybe I should reconsider that smoke.

“Weren’t you the one who said I never tell you? Why would I want to save you? Anyway, now we’re even. You can walk away, run away—whatever you wish. We don’t owe each other anything.”

He draws in a ragged breath. I wait.

“You killed my father, so I killed her. That means the circle’s complete, yes?”

I close my eyes. Auras of grey and red only intensify behind my lids. The circle’s complete. Is that the truth? Your truth?

You killed my father. Then you knew. You figured it out. But I don’t believe you. I can’t believe you. I don’t know what to believe.

I sigh. He’s still not looking at me; somehow, that makes it easier. Maybe it doesn’t matter what I think. Doesn’t mean I can’t have…faith. “Not our circle.”

Again he tries to pull away from my embrace, but this time I’m not letting go and I’m not giving in. While he claws and screeches and slaps at me, I hold on tight, I let him hurt me, I relish this pain, because it’s his gift to me. Even as he fights me off, a new calm lays my mind bare. I see myself, and I see you, freeing me forever from the bars of the cage.

Just like the night we made love.

He shudders and goes limp as a rag doll in my arms, his breath rasping in his chest. It’s not over, angel. It’s never going to be over. Till death do us part? Anyone who truly loved would know it goes so much deeper. And would never settle for saying those words.

“She’s dead, then?” I hear myself asking.

Very slowly, he shakes his head. “I couldn’t finish it…for you.”

His tears trickle down my wrists, lighter than blood, and cleaner. “Hush,” I whisper, kissing the top of his head, willing all my strength into him. “Go wash your hands, then get Damien to Monty’s. Out the back, up the lane, and straight onto the tram. Yeah?”

He comes to life in my arms, pawing at me and swallowing hard. “Raven—I—I can’t do this by myself, I can’t—”

I grab hold of him till he falls silent again. “We’re going home,” I tell him. In that instant, all the auras of madness fade. And me? I don’t ever want to look away. Yes, Pegasus. This is the truth, right here.

With some difficulty, I help us both into the kitchen. He leans against me, clasping my hand. It’s okay. I know this house. I can protect you from it. I can keep my promise, to guard your soul.

At the filthy sink, I wash off all the blood while he gapes at his shaking fingers. “So much anger,” he whispers. I put my hand to his throat, feeling for his heartbeat. Soon, the cage will break open, and together we’ll fly out.

I think—I think now I can see how it ends as well…

Damien bursts in, clutching a bag full of toys and books. I spin around to face him. “You grab some clothes, too?”

He nods eagerly. “In my room. I couldn’t carry, all by myself.”

I smile at him, my arm tightening around Peg’s waist so there’s no escape. “Peggy’s going to take you to Uncy Monty’s for a bit, okay?”

This doesn’t go down well. Damien promptly dumps the bag and sticks out his lower lip. Oh, Day. Why do you think I’m always so ready to leave you? “I don’t want you to go away again, Daddy,” he says, with a loud sniffle.

I’m across the floor in an instant, sweeping him into my arms and kissing his nose. “I’m not going anywhere,” I assure him, doing up the zipper on his little jacket. “Not without you. Daddy’s just gotta take care of some stuff first. Okay?”

He bites his lip, then nods. I give his shoulder a rub and a squeeze, then glance behind me. Pegasus stares around the walls, though his gaze snaps back to my face as I place my son in his arms. Making a detour into Damien’s bedroom, I fix up the clothes in the other bag, before I hand both it and the toys over to Pegasus. The minute they leave, we’re a step closer. The minute I put an end to all this, we can go home.

“How much money have you got?” I ask.

He blinks in surprise. “What? Maybe— I don’t know. Seven thousand dollars? From my mother, when she—” He trails off, with a frown.

“Can you get to it?”

“What do you think we’ve been living off since Lenny gave me the sack?”

Again the echoes of my brilliant failures, rising to the fore. Time for self-pity later, maybe. “Then I need you to go and withdraw the whole lot.”

He looks at me like I’ve gone mad. “You’re serious?”

“What do you reckon?” My eyes flicker over my son. He’s snuggled against Peg’s shoulder, contented. “Go. I’ll meet you there in an hour, okay?”

I’m not waiting around for him to agree. I give them both a kiss, then turn away, dismissing them. A moment later I hear the back door slam, and I’m alone in this house once again.

A mother to my child. I hold myself, shrugging off the visions that threatened to overwhelm me when I first stepped inside. But I’ve got visions of my own, house. So I won’t be needing any of yours.

I make my way up the hall. Spotting the blood on the carpet that leads right up to the bathroom door is easy now.

It’s already over. Only one last thing left to do, before I save myself—once and for all—from hell.

The tiles are smeared with blood. A yellow haze blurs every corner, and unreality clings to the air. By now the aura of death’s become all too familiar. Over in the corner, a red stain spreads across the bath mat, and Wendy slouches against the tub, broken and torn, staring at me soulless. A battered cabinet lies near her thighs, ripped from the wall, its mirror smashed in a hundred-hundred pieces. Shards of its glass float among the blood, debris on a red seashore, glittering diamonds in the light that flickers through the window. So morbidly pretty.

Anyway, she’s breathing.

I perch nearby on the edge of the tub, then get around to lighting that clove at last. I don’t bother offering.

Of course, she’s watching me. I don’t care. Don’t feel anything, no hatred, no pity, no remorse. I exhale smoke. I won’t feel any regret, either.

She’s still watching, the hatred weakened but not entirely diminished, as I regard the flecks in the filter with new-found interest. “Guess I should call you an ambulance,” I say.

She laughs at me, or tries to, till a choking cough overwhelms her. For a moment I can’t help staring, mildly curious about the blood spilling down one corner of her mouth. The transformation’s happening already, her slow return to nothing, all the poison seeping out from her veins. In the end, this is my freedom, not hers. Somehow I managed to sneak up and steal it from her.

“So. What did you do?” I ask.

She smiles, wiping clumsily at her bruised lips, able to find strength enough for hate. She hawks a gob of blood at my feet. “I told him the truth.”

“Ah. The truth. Tell me. Please. About your truth.”

“I told him…that he’s just like his precious mama. Both of them, nothing but whores. Daddy told me everything. What she was, how she died. Why she abandoned us, all for some bullshit ideal about going off to be with her lover. His father. I thought it was only right that he knew how her own son meant nothing. How he could never win, just like her. Because you—you belong to me. And as long as I’ve got your precious son, you always will.”

A small clump of ash falls into the little red sea. There it floats, like an island. Maybe he almost believed you, Wendy. But not for long. He’s better than that. And by now he knows it.

I put on a smile. “Your truth, then. But that’s not The Truth, is it? Does such a thing even exist, you reckon? And you know what I don’t understand? Why do you want me to stay? I’ve got nothing to give, not to you.” Not even malice, your most treasured gift to both me and my son.

She sneers at me. “Revenge.” The blood’s started dribbling down her chin.

“Indeed.” I nod, and one of my knees cracks when I stand up. “Well, here it is—your revenge—all around us. It’s staining the floor and spilling out your mouth. Even in death, you don’t see. Hatred blinds you, Wendy, like it always did. Funny…once upon a time, I thought you were better than me. But now I know you’re not the truth. You’re going to die by your own poison, alone with your hate.”

I make it as far as the door before her voice reaches my ears. “Aren’t you going to kill me, Raven?”

Is she begging me? “Weren’t you listening? I’ve got nothing to give you.” No life, no death. I got what I came for.

I’ve just stepped out into the hall, leaving dull brown footsteps on the carpet, when she calls my name again. Already, her voice sounds so distant. So, then she tells me, “I love you.”

Those three little words nearly make me change my mind altogether, make me want to go right back in and wrap my hands around her throat and squeeze it tight while every last ounce of life and lust and vomit pour out over my skin.

But that would be a gift. Not for her. Alone with your hate… “Good-bye, Wendy.”

I close the door on the maniacal laugh, locking off that part of the house forever.

Another step closer to freedom.

Back in the bedroom, I pull everything out from her side of the wardrobe. Anything that’s old enough not to carry her smell or trigger her memory; that’ll do, for starters.

I’ve got together maybe a couple of outfits when I come upon a small wooden chest, buried beneath a stack of old ballet shoes and a tutu. Frowning, I pull it out onto my lap. Roses and waves are carved around its edges, and it smells like the kind of smoke that brings on dreams that are hard to wake from. I can’t see any obvious way to get the thing open.

I turn it over and over maybe a dozen times, before finally discovering a tiny latch on the bottom left corner. One pinch of that and the lid springs right open, spilling the contents onto the floor. Photographs, mostly, and a few envelopes. I go for the pictures first, folding my legs underneath me as I flick through each one. All of this one woman, this face that I recognise…

“Juliette,” I whisper. But why are these here? Wendy must’ve stolen them. Her mama, too.

I turn over the next photo. Here she is again—the fey Juliette—sitting on a beach, holding the hand of a tiny androgynous creature who leans into her shoulder. Even here, his hair’s long enough for a braid, his body draped in white lace, an echo of her sad smile on his lips. I brush aside a tear and wipe my hands on my jeans before I dare to trace the lines of his face. You were such a beautiful child. How anyone could have taken so much pleasure in your torment…

I slide the picture into my coat pocket. Who took all these photos, anyway?

And then I notice something else. How’d I miss it, before now?

After going through each and every photo all over again, I fumble with the clasp on the velvet choker, and lay it on the carpet beside the pile of portraits.

No doubting it. The pattern on the cross, spirals etched in silver, even the shape—they’re identical. My eighteenth birthday present. All along, I had no fucking clue. This was his mama’s necklace.

I pick it up, my throat constricting, my vision blurred. Cold metal brushes my lips as I kiss the cross, then fasten it around my neck once more. Forgive me, Pegasus. I never guessed how true your faith always was.

Next, I turn my attention to the envelopes. All of them sent from France, addressed via a post office to Mlle Juliette Belmont. Not her married name…

They’ve already been opened, so I pick one at random and unfold the notepaper. Holding it up to the light, I strain to read the faded ink. Not that it makes much difference. I can make out just enough to decipher that it’s French, a class I failed miserably in school.

With a sigh of resignation, I pack the whole lot away, then do up the latch and wipe my eyes, laughing at myself despite everything.

I pick up the dresses and the box, stuff them both into a plastic bag I found in the wardrobe, and return everything else to its place. Time to leave.

On my way out, I linger in front of the hallway telephone, then snatch up the receiver and dial those three zeroes. Seems to ring for ages before the other end picks up, and I’m asked which service I need: fire, police, or ambulance. I give them the address and a brief description of the scenario, but hang up the moment the operator asks my name.

It’s over now. I can go.

I close the door to Damien’s room, and leave the front door open a crack, same as I found it, before I at last turn my back on this house and its empty husk for good.

An hour later I arrive at Monty’s, just like I promised. When the door finally opens, Damien bursts out, trying to crawl up my leg. I kiss the tears off Peg’s cheeks, but he’s distracted by the plastic bags, his raised brow asking the question for him.

Like I can’t tell you’ve been sitting here crying all this time.

I stroke his cheek with my thumb. “Go wait in the bathroom.” When he frowns at me, not understanding, I give him a nudge of encouragement. “We’re in a hurry, remember?”

He glares at me, as if to say, ‘I know that’, but disappears obediently up the hall. I leave the bags where they are, lift Damien up at last, and carry him into the kitchen, resting him against my hip as I hunt through the phonebook. There it is. I dial the number.

“Who ya calling, Daddy?” he yells in my ear, right as someone picks up on the other end. I quickly hush him.

Turns out five-thirty is the soonest—and only—coach service up the high country this evening. So I go ahead and book three seats to drop us off as close to Monty’s holiday house as we can get.

“What name?” the operator asks.

I squint at the receiver, cursing my lack of forethought. My own name I can give, simply cos I don’t care anymore. It’ll make things easier, later. But Pegasus— “Raven,” I say, when the operator repeats the question as though I’m thirty years behind the rest of the world. “Raven and…Juliette. Belmont.”

What the fuck are you doing? A little stone curdles inside my chest. Damien giggles and starts playing with the cross at my throat. The voice on the other end of the phone tells me I need to be at the terminus half an hour early to pick up the tickets, quotes me somewhere in the region of a hundred dollars, then hangs up. Service with a smile.

I put down the receiver and let him slide to the floor, though I need to manually extract each of his fingers from the choker before I can stand upright. “You hungry, kittling?”

He shakes his head, so I settle him in front of the telly with a cuddle and a favourite children’s show, and go grab the bags out of the hall. Then I make my way into the bathroom. This is where things get interesting.

Pegasus jumps off the tub as I enter. “What’s going on?” he asks, not taking his eyes off the bags.

“We’re leaving soon, that’s what. But first—” I pull out two boxes of dye. “What colour do you prefer? Brunette, or blond?”

He grabs his hair with both hands and pulls it behind his ears, out of my reach, backing away till he runs into the tub and nearly falls over. “No. Absolutely no. Please, not my hair.”

I shrug, placing the boxes on the sink, like I’m ready to give in so easy. “That’s fine. But you know they’ll be looking for us, soon enough.” I frown. That point hardly needs belabouring. “It’s either that, or I cut it.”

With a whimper, he lets go of his hair altogether, wide-eyed and wild enough to fight me off if needs be. As if I could ever do that to you. I already told you—I already showed you—I’m not like them.

I pull him into a kiss, then turn him around, sit him down, and get to work on brushing the knots out. Next I grab a towel and arrange it over his shoulders.

“You’re not doing this to yourself,” he mutters, full of resentment.

“That’s cos I don’t care,” is all I say, trying hard to avoid my own reflection in the mirror.

“What do you mean?”

I grimace. “Let’s just say I’m starting to see…how it ends, as well.”

I watch him dab at a stray tear. Then he sighs and points to the brown. Guess I don’t need to ask why.

Reassuring him one last time before we get started that Ma went grey early so I’ve got plenty of practice, I don the plastic gloves and mix up the dye, which smells even worse than I remember. Apart from that, I enjoy fussing over him. Towards the end, he finally starts to relax, though by now both our eyes are watering from the stench of all the toxins that go into this stuff.

“Want a coffee?” I ask, disposing of the mess then rubbing at my nose. It’s started to itch like crazy.

He nods, and goes on staring warily at his reflection. I give him a quick peck on the cheek, then sneeze my way out of the room.

Once in the kitchen, I turn on the kettle, blow my nose, and go check on my son. Much to my relief, I find him where I left him, staring intently at some commercial. “Daddy?” he says, as I enter.

“Yeah, kittling?”

“Why can’t I be like him?”

He points at the TV. The usual mock imagery of the perfect nuclear family flashes subversively across the screen. Loving mama, daddy, and son, united in their love for the latest innovation in worming tablets. I make sure to unclench my fists before I crouch beside him on the carpet. “What do you mean?”

“My mama doesn’t love me,” he murmurs, turning from the set and looking down at his spotty-socked feet.

I sigh, then pull him onto my knee. “But you are loved. I love you.” I squeeze him tight so he knows how much I mean it. “And Peggy loves you, too.”

In the kitchen, a loud click announces that the kettle’s done boiling. Giving him a final kiss, I head towards it. I’m halfway across the floor when he asks, “Can Peggy-sis be my mama instead?”

I stop in my tracks, then turn to face those three-year-old eyes, filled with hope and innocence and such capacity to see deep into the heart of the matter. Something even Wendy couldn’t destroy, not for want of trying. “Why don’t you ask him that?” I say, with a nervous glance to the hallway. And maybe then, Pegasus, you’ll understand—

That my faith is every bit as true.

I find Noriko’s copy of The Velveteen Rabbit stashed away in a bookcase, so Damien and I snuggle up on the sofa to read it. I’m trying real hard to ignore the clock, but time’s always moving, whether I’m around to see it or not. The hiss of the shower from down the hall seems to drone on forever. Hurry up, Pegasus.

At last, with the squeak of a tap, the sound of running water stops. I’ve just finished the story when he calls my name.

I wander out to meet him. He’s standing behind the bathroom door, torso and hair both covered with a towel. Glancing down the hall for my son and not finding him, he beckons me forward, then moves my head so I’m looking at the other plastic bag. The one I filled with Wendy’s old dresses. His voice is cold as he asks, “What do you want from me, Raven?”

I hesitate, remembering the photo in my pocket, the gown folded at the bottom of the wardrobe, his childhood flashback to that bastard cutting his hair. “I want you to have a choice.”

He glares at me. “You want me to make a choice, you mean.” I open my mouth, but he’s there ahead of me. “Is it because of what my father said?”


“Don’t ‘what’. Because he said I dressed like Mother. Is that why?”

Oh, that. I put my hands on my hips. “Well, to start with, he’s hardly your father, is he? And you think I ever listened to a word that came out of the mouth of that c—” I check myself quickly, making sure to lower my voice. I’ve just caught sight of Damien lurking around the living room doorway. “I never listened to a goddamn word he ever said. Besides all of which, he’s dead, isn’t he? So think about that. Really.”

In answer, he slams the door in my face. I drown a “Fuck!” in my palms, and then turn back to my son.

Ten minutes pass in front of an ad-free station on the TV. At a quarter-to-four, I lose my patience and call out into the hall, “Come on, Peg. We’ve gotta leave soon.”

Five minutes after, I stride out of the room and nearly run right over him. He’s huddled just a few paces back from the door, arms folded across his chest, leaning against the wall. I pull up, taking in the long lace-up boots, thick black tights, little corduroy dress and white skivvy. And the chocolate-coloured fringe falling over his face, turning sad silver eyes a smoky grey. “You’re the prettiest girl I ever saw,” I say, before I can help myself.

His eyes narrow. “Do you really think that’s how it works?” Fingers start twirling a long brown wisp of hair, as he glances around the doorway, looking in on my son a moment. “Is this how you see me?” he asks, more softly. “Me taking her place on the throne, wearing her clothes?”

I shove my hands in my pockets. “It’s not meant to deceive me.” He twitches as I step forward and take both his hands in mine, and shivers as I start slowly kissing his fingertips. “I see beyond everything. I love you, no matter ‘who’ you are. But as some kind of replacement for her, after everything? Is that how you see yourself?”

His lower lip’s just starting to quiver when Damien dashes out from the living room again, and we let go each other’s hands reluctantly. As for my son, it takes him only a moment of gazing at Pegasus before he declares, in quite the serious voice, “You look very lovely, Peggy-sis.”

“We can’t leave the house together,” I say, as we gather together our things, one of them being that wooden chest. Pegasus frowns at it, then lets me hand it over. “You’ll take that,” I tell him, “and the bags, and Damien. I’ll go first; gotta get there early to pick up the tickets. Once I’m gone, you wait—give it fifteen minutes—and then call a taxi from the phone box round the corner. You got all that?”

I put my palm against his cheek, burying my fingers behind his ear, in among that strange new hair. I’m leaving him with you, Peg. This is how much I trust you.

I give them each a kiss—not a final kiss, just a kiss—and walk quickly from the house. I don’t look back.

Don’t be late. This is our only window of opportunity.

This is my only chance.

I pace up and down the terminus, clutching our tickets in one hand and a clove cigarette in the other, not concealing my impatience too well as I watch the driver load up suitcase after suitcase into the luggage compartment. We’re scheduled to leave in fifteen minutes.

I take another drag, hugging myself against the onslaught of a cold wind that wants to undress me from the inside out. Trying so hard to stay calm.

But he was meant to be here more than half-an-hour ago.

The driver joins me, a round-bellied, balding, dwarfish creature, lighting up a cigarette of his own. The stale stench of burnt tobacco fills my nostrils as I get a face full of smoke. In a gruff voice, he mutters, “Women, eh? They’re always late.”

I grunt, which seems to be enough. My own fault, then, for making the one I love play this charade, for ever getting him involved at all. But—

I love you, Pegasus. What else was I meant to do? You should’ve told me, right from the start, if all this was so wrong. I can’t lose everything so close to the edge. I just…can’t.

I finish the last of the cigarette and throw the butt on the ground, grinding it out with my heel. Now there’s only the cold. And her last words, ringing in my ears. Words I want to forget. Words I can only forget, if you—

“Daddy!” a voice screams out, and I whirl around despite myself. Some other dad, some other son. And then Damien’s in my arms, and I’m holding him tighter than ever, and it feels like I wasn’t even breathing before. I don’t want to let him go. Now, I don’t need to.

I watch Pegasus slide out of the taxi, a small but stupid smile glued to my face. Time returns to its former meaningless state, and I forget I was ever impatient or cold, as he draws near, clutching the wooden chest under one arm. “You’re late,” I tell him.

“What can I say?” he murmurs, gazing shyly into my face. “Being a girl sucks. I should have remembered.”

I blink, pondering, but it doesn’t matter. I’m only for kissing him here. He brushes my lips, turning to eye the faces aboard the coach. But after this, he kisses me back, and we don’t stop till the driver interrupts with a dry, “Better hope we stop by a hotel, cos you two really need to get a room,” and Peg falls out of my embrace, unsteady on his feet.

We take a seat near the back, he and Damien snuggling together by the window. Damien bounces up and down, pointing out the obvious in a manner only toddlers can get away with. “We’re on a bus!” And, “There’s another bus!” And, “Our bus is bigger!” And, “What if this bus turned into a plane!”

I glance at Pegasus, but he’s staring out the window, distance veiling his reflection. It strikes me that I’ve got no real idea what he feels about any of this. He’s barely said a word to me, since—

With a sad, tired smile, he turns in my direction, not quite meeting my eyes as he squeezes my hand. “Sunset…,” he murmurs. “Like the whole sky’s bleeding to death.” As he looks to the horizon, I feel a little spark of electricity pass through his fingertips. “So much blood. No matter where I look.” He nods at the box that lies between us. “Maybe that’s why. I couldn’t open it. Not yet.”

I put my arm around him, inhaling the remnants of the dye in his hair, an old, familiar scent. “It doesn’t matter. It’s going to be okay. Remember? We’re going home.”

But Pegasus, my angel—one of my angels, and the saviour of my soul—is already fast asleep. Twilight fades as the coach glides through suburbia, and I’m left with my own words, my son, and his warm breath on my neck for comfort.

It’s okay. We’re going home.

Next Chapter: 18.PEGASUS: Illumination (The Bottom Of Pandora’s Box)

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