Trapdoor: a novel by Vixen Phillips
Nonsolitaire (Pandora II)
Three little things drag me out of sleep and throw me head-first into the hazy dawn. A chorus of birds squawking and flapping right outside the window. The fact that the bed’s empty, but for me. And the sound of screams and panicked cries coming from the room next door.
I fall off the mattress and stagger along the hall, nearly tripping over my own feet as I race to the side of his bed and put my palm against his cheek. He’s dreaming—more likely trapped in some nightmare of the past, tossing and turning and crying out, “Peggy-sis!” and, “Please, don’t kill me!” and, “Don’t, Mama. That hurts!”
Barely awake myself, and not sure what else to do, I unwrap the sheets and pull him into my arms. “Hush, angel. It’s Daddy—your daddy. You’re here with me, you’re safe, Peggy saved us both, remember? It’s okay, I swear on my life, you’re safe.”
He starts up a low keening, shuddering against my chest. Jesus Christ, Peg, where the hell are you? You’d be so much better at dealing with this. But there’s only me.
I rock him from side to side, murmuring a dozen variations on those words of comfort. It takes a long time before I feel him start to relax, and for the wailing and shaking to subside. Then he sits up in my lap and puts a warm hand to my cheek, an echo of my action from before. “Hey,” I choke out. Whatever my lips are doing, I hope it manages to come out as something resembling a smile.
“Hi, Daddy.” He sniffs and wipes his nose across his sleeve.
“You okay now, kittling?”
“Yeah. I had a nightmare.”
No shit. I take a deep breath; at least my pulse is running somewhere closer to normal again. “You want to talk about it?”
He grabs at the cross, distracting himself for a good long moment, a frown of deep concentration on his face. Just as I open my mouth again, he says, “I dreamed you and Peggy-sis got wings. And you grew into angels. Then you both flew away and left me all alone. I was meant to get wings too, but Mama cut them off and locked me in the bathroom. She was mean to me.”
I suck at my lip. His dreams are always so vivid. Same as mine were, before I found a way to deaden them with pot and alcohol. “Your mama can’t hurt you ever again, Day. Besides, Peggy is your mama now, remember?”
He stares into my face, seeing past every layer, every lie and every truth. “Where is Peggy-sis, Daddy?”
I rub my eyes, vague memories of the empty bed floating into my head. “Gone for a walk, I reckon. How about we get you some breakfast?”
He watches me a moment longer before telling me, “Yes, please, Daddy”, and I carry him off to the kitchen.
I fix his staple favourite of cornflakes and bananas, and leave the kettle to boil while I go through the contents of the fridge, freezer, and cupboards. All three seem reasonably well-stocked. Then again, winter isn’t over yet. Monty and Noriko would’ve been up here not so long ago, during the peak of the ski season. Shame about that; Damien’s never seen snow. Tomorrow’s the first day of spring, and in a week he’ll be four years old. And after then, I’ll be twenty-one. Not that it counts for much. Wonder if I’ll make it to my twenty-first birthday, all things considered. Now there’s a happy thought.
I crouch in front of the refrigerator, staring absent-minded at the barely touched bottle of Bundy rum tucked inside the door right next to the milk. I’m about to reach for it when I realise he’s standing nearby, gazing at me. I want to look away, but something else prevents me, something more important. The expression on his face…too old and too knowing. Wonder if I had that expression when I was his age?
Probably not. Without any doubt, mine would’ve been much colder. Nothing changes over time. Just gets stronger, like a disease, or weaker, like a candle dying out.
“Daddy, why are you crying?”
“I’m not crying,” I tell him, but when I blink I feel tears sting my cheeks. Goddamn.
He smiles at me, a soft, reassuring smile that reminds me too much of Pegasus, and says, “I can always tell.” Wiggling his way onto my lap, he traces his fingertips over my face till all the wetness is gone.
I can’t bear it anymore. I lift him off the floor, clutching his soft body tight against mine. “It’s okay, Daddy,” he whispers in my ear, words that sound so much more believable coming from him. If I open my mouth, these emotions will choke me. So I grab for the bottle instead, then kick the fridge door closed. A sweeter poison, to go with my coffee. Why the hell not?
We head outside, and I take a seat on a wicker chair on the verandah with my cup and a cigarette, while my son rushes down into the garden—a strange arrangement of fairies and mushrooms and other grotesque little statues—immediately lost in one of his inscrutable games. Wet eucalyptus teases my nostrils along with the clove smoke as I light up. Towards the rear of the yard, above the foggy tips of a line of gum trees, the sky’s all glowing soft violet and gold. It’s been so long since I sat and watched the dawn.
There’s always a new dawn.
That’s what you said to me. And I promised I’d save you from hell. But that would mean saving you from myself last of all, wouldn’t it?
I glance at Damien. He’s collecting wildflowers for the fairies, by the looks of it. But my smile fades when I glance down at the cup. I promised no more drinking, as well. And if I started again, would I ever stop? What am I looking for? Why is there always something lost?
I finish off the cigarette and then empty the tainted coffee onto the grass. I promised. And last of all, I promised you forever, Pegasus. I always keep my promises to you, one way or another.
I do a quick scan of the trees surrounding the house before I sit down again, but the forest is way too dense, and the property itself way too big; he could be near or far and I wouldn’t have a chance in hell of seeing him from here. Eventually I close my eyes, leaning back in the chair. Numbness drifts in, overcoming my body, overriding that feeling of needing to sleep, and I hate—I hate not being able to feel anything, not even fear. So tired, and that’s always when the paranoia kicks in…
But what if they come for me? If? No. It’s all only a matter of time. So when will they come for me? And what do I do to stop it all, to protect my loves from what happens then?
I had a nightmare.
Too many abstractions, too many thoughts, too many emotions buried beneath cotton wool. It’s like watching the ocean from behind frosted glass, watching the waves always return to the shoreline, washing me up, returning me to nothingness instead of you.
Peg. Where are you? I don’t want this numbness anymore, don’t want to be alone. I just want to feel, babe, like I did last night, I need—
Need you here.
Need to feel…
I push myself to my feet. Glancing at my son to confirm he’s engrossed within his game, I drift off towards the bathroom, all awash at sea.
I stand in front of the mirror, squinting in the morning sun that streams down from the skylight as I pull off my long-sleeved t-shirt and toss it carelessly on the tiles. Funny how I can only look at myself, my body, my cage, when I’ve got the desire to hurt it.
It takes several minutes of poking and picking at an old pink shaver to finally dismantle the thing and pry the blade free. At least my mind gets something to do, something to focus on other than my own spiralling mess of thoughts and weaknesses. Both my index fingers and thumbs are bleeding before I’ve got it ready, but I don’t notice any pain. Not yet, but soon. The closest thing to being with Pegasus I can replicate, when I’m alone. Beats what some people do, when they’re alone.
At least this way I’m not left feeling dirty afterwards. Just cleansed. But still alone…
The closest I can get to being with you.
The blade catches a glint from the sun. It strikes my face and triggers a flash of déjà vu. Just like a gag reflex, up comes the memory of a night I tried to force from my mind forever.
It was the night of my biggest mistake, and my greatest blessing. The night Damien was conceived, the night Wendy first got her claws into me. I wasn’t expecting to see her at that bar off Inkerman Street; as best as I knew it, she didn’t drink. But it was raining hard, a steamy summer night, and Pegasus couldn’t make it. So I was alone, more than I am here. She perched beside me on a bar stool, moving ever closer, sipping her one glass of champagne to my three shots of scotch—always her shout—and rinse, repeat, till we both lost count. In those days, of course, I wasn’t anywhere near being in control. I was too young. She was too young. I’m not sure how we got in under the staff radar, but I guess it was their will, and my fate.
I sigh, turning the blade over in my fingers, testing for the sharpest edge.
She took me home to one of her family’s houses, the very same one that would later become my tomb. Taught my body to betray me, even as my mind wished for anything but what we were doing, what she was tricking me into. I remember thinking of Pegasus, longing for Pegasus, wondering why he hadn’t been able to come.
The few glasses of champagne, along with what she made me do to her, were enough to send her into a deep sleep shortly afterwards. That left me to sit on the edge of the bed, shaking and whispering his name, willing the dawn to come, willing it to all be over, willing myself to wake up in my own bed. Wishing I hadn’t been so goddamn weak.
I made myself sick, pining for the dawn. After throwing up in the toilet, I found her daddy’s razor—an old-fashioned one, the type they use in barber’s shops. If I hadn’t been so fucking drunk, I could’ve ended it right there and then. But my mind wasn’t far gone enough yet. I kept weeping for Pegasus and shedding tears for myself. And the razor smiled in the moonlight, a colder, purer glow, as I slid it over the inside of my forearm, cutting skin like velvet, blood drip-drip-dripping onto the floor, cleansing myself of her poison. Even then I could sense it, mutating my cells. Given that, it felt right to hurt the cage.
The blade clanged against the tiles, so loud in the cold, echoing, empty space of my mind that for a moment I feared it might wake her. But of course it didn’t. Instead I just sat and stared, watching my essence spill across my skin. Asking myself, over and over, Is this what you want, Raven? Do you want to die like this?
Do I want to die?
But it wasn’t my voice, asking the question. It was his. And I remembered his gentle touch, the distant knowledge of truth as he’d kissed my scars and made me see we were the same. Where are you, Pegasus? I begged the endless void of night. Was all that just a trick of the light, or do you really care?
I traced a finger through the pool of blood, spelling out each letter of his name, lovingly rendered within my own pain. Kissing my fingertips, I passed this love down to my own creation. Right about then, I knew I was lost completely. So I spent the dregs of that night drifting in and out of a fitful sleep, waking to wash away my artistry upon the arrival of a miserable dawn. She should’ve found it then, my cry for help, and it should’ve been over, once and for all. But she never did.
After that, I learned there was only one way to cleanse myself. And a few weeks later, I found out about Damien, and how that was what she wanted—all she’d wanted—all along.
No one ever cared that I wanted him, too. Except for Pegasus.
A cold draft sweeps in from down the hall. And the razor, despite its small size, is penetrating my skin. Cutting along that old scar, a well-travelled path, more deeply than I ever intended. No. I don’t want to die. Not like this. Not just yet…
Something hard and made of wood clonks to the floor behind me. In another moment, the blade’s knocked out of my hand and clatters into the sink, spots of red staining the perfect white porcelain, just like his skin. It’s no surprise.
He stands right here between me and the mirror, slightly out of breath, his eyes burning diamond fire, his fingers gripping my wrists. “Don’t.”
I blink in surprise; the word cuts through me more sharply than metal. As my body comes online again, my flesh starts to sting, especially round the cut, and more drops of blood fall on his pretty grey dress.
But don’t you remember? Last time you kissed me. Last time, you cut me as well. “Why’s it so different?” I ask hoarsely. “Why stop me today?”
Tears form on the edge of his lashes, more enchanting in the sunlight than any tiny trinkets crafted by man, as he lets go my hands. “Because today I can see the look in your eyes.” He sniffs, then glances behind me. I follow his gaze; the wooden chest lies on the floor, its contents spilled out across the hallway.
Now when I look at his face, there’s only resentful bitterness. “What?” he snaps, not waiting for me to speak. “Did you think I was never coming back?”
I swallow, mostly to choke down the need to tell him I love you. I rescued you, and you rescued me. But only for a little while, isn’t that how it is? Tell me how it ends, then, so I can fight this fog tearing down the corners of my mind. Please.
“One day, you won’t,” is all I can bring myself to say.
“No, Raven. I’ll be—” He clears his throat, annoyed by the effort. “I’ll be waiting for you. Haven’t you figured it out?”
When he puts it that way, seems like it must be so damn obvious. But—
I shiver, looking away. “You should know I haven’t got any power for answers.”
Shaking his head, he leans in, with his words kissing my ears. “How it ends...”
How? Tell me how, Pegasus.
I slump forward into his embrace, focusing on a spot of blood in the sink behind him. Red rose petals, white rose petals, everything a blur of then and now and when. He finds me a bandage from the first-aid kit in the medicine cabinet. Then, after washing off my arm, he winds the cloth round and round it and tells me, “You forget too quickly.” Once the ends are fastened, he takes my face in his hands. He’s smiling at me. He’s here. He won’t let me go. “It’s not numbness you feel at all.”
He sounds so sure of this, as he lets one hand slide down to grasp mine, and leads me into the bedroom. I stare into the ashes, black in the fireplace, and I remember again. I promised him. Forever.
Then that’s how it ends.
I’m forever afraid of how I feel, but this is something different again. Lust, love, and sorrow all intertwining, like tangles of thorns cutting into my skin. I’m not going to hurt you, Pegasus. I just want you.
I pull off the dress, tear down his leggings, and prop him up against the open window. Parting his legs, I open him up, for me.
The first was for love. This is for completion. My promise. My vow. Forever.
He wraps himself around me, caressing my shoulders with his nails and my neck with his teeth, as I cover my dick with the scented oil and slowly make my way inside him. This is like—this feels like—
So warm within that I can feel the thorns breaking off, white roses blooming in their stead. White, not red, just like his wings. I can fly, when you’re here with me. I can be anything, feel anything, because this is all for you.
Arching his spine, he leans back to let me enter as deep as I can go, his throat now exposed to my own teeth and tongue. My name escapes his lips in a series of little moans and sighs, before our mouths press together. The kisses start off life as delicate butterfly things, then grow ever more bat-like, violent and desperate.
You’re right. I’m not the same as them. If any of them ever felt this, they could’ve saved you, could’ve made you feel love. I’m only late. But not too late.
I lap at his body lovingly, memorising his taste, his scent of musk and roses, biting his neck, caressing his nipples, gently taking hold of his dick, stroking velvet.
So much more cleansing than anything I could hope to achieve by myself.
He surrenders to everything, his breathing in my ear alone threatening to drive me over the edge. But I don’t want that, yet. Living my dream, lost so deep, I want to make him feel this too. I want him to know, want him to tell me so. Need to hear the words…
Slowing my rhythm, taming my intensity—just a little—I press my forehead against his glowing cheek for a moment, my breath still ragged in my ears. “Why do you let me do this to you?”
“Do what to me?” he asks, raising an eyebrow, faking innocence. When he aims a lick at my neck, little goosebumps bubble up and down my skin, but more than skin deep. All things with you run true, just like this. You make me feel, too much.
“Make love to you,” I answer.
“Hmm.” He smiles at me, a playful gleam mixed with seduction. “That’s why.” Digging his nails into my shoulders, he moves even closer, squeezing my dick so I can’t escape.
There’s no such thing as too much. I gasp and close my eyes; I’m starting to lose control. Yes…let me lose myself in you, and me-and-you-and-me-and-you.
I’m making love to an angel, all crystal-seafoam feathers and alabaster skin. And the shards break off and return to the waves, but he holds on tight. You give up your wings, Pegasus? Why? For me?
No. For completion.
I push him against the window, keep on falling into his soul, dooming myself, a death so unlike that understood by too many men and their coward hearts.
With one last shudder spent between us, he swallows my moan with a deeper kiss. I am the ocean, returning to the shoreline, and everything of me exists within him. “I won’t hurt myself anymore,” I whisper in his ear, but he just puts a finger to my lips and kisses my cheek.
All my strength’s gone, and I can’t hold him up any longer. Reluctantly, we pull apart. I whimper as my knees give out beneath me, while he makes a little show of pulling up his leggings and slipping back into the woollen dress, a languid grin on his face. I wonder if he knows how much power he’s got, to make me feel anything. Everything. Just enough.
He grabs for my hands, kissing my fingers, pulling me along till we stand in the doorway. “Come, Raven,” he whispers. “It’s a new day. And our son is waiting.”
I pull my sleeve down over my bandaged wrist, making sure to hide the evidence. What did you find in your Pandora’s box? And will our son continue to wait, like you did?
Smiling sadly, he keeps tugging on my other arm, and I let him lead me where he will.
Whatever the answers now, I trust him.
Next Chapter: 20.PEGASUS: Reality Vs. Dream