Trapdoor: a novel by Vixen Phillips
Reality Vs. Dream
Neither away from nor towards anything, simply running, as children are wont to do. For I am a child, so small I’m almost nothing. I could disappear, but for now I‘ve chosen to run instead. The breeze in my hair, the warm sand under my toes, the ocean spray leaping up to nip at my legs and fingertips when I dare to come too close. There’s no sun, yet it’s so bright, and so…
Warm. I remember this warmth, somehow. I remember this place. My mind struggles, but trapped within the dreams of a child, I’m seeing all these things, each for the first time. There are no memories, not yet. They remain to be created.
And so, I have no way of knowing how close or how far from home I really am. Perhaps this is why I’m running.
It seems I must have come a very long way before something black flickers into being in front of me: a shadow crouching on the rocks. Gradually I slow my pace, slower, slower, the clock winding down, time coming to a standstill, eternity to nothingness, until I stop completely, as static as the figure before me, the outline of a man who seems to exist outside of existence.
He’s been looking out to sea, at the waves I’ve been trying to avoid even while teasing them. I still can’t see his face in any detail. We are strangers, he and I, here in this place, though some greater part of me knows this is not the truth at all.
“Do you know my name?” he asks me, his voice little more than a whisper, another shadow, shadows within shadows, in this bright warm land that has no sun, no illumination of truth. I’ve been hoping to catch some glimpse of the reality behind the mask—a smile, some recognition, anything.
Again, nothing. And so I just stare up at him, unable to speak.
“No,” he says, “I didn’t think so.”
I can’t help but wonder if he sees things so much differently than I, or whether I, too, am no more than a shadow to him. This thought frightens me, and I see the warmth is a lie.
“I’m waiting here for the only person in the entire world who knows my true name and my face,” he continues on. “You don’t know where this place is, so I shall tell you. It’s after the very end of the world, little one. Take a look around, and your own senses shall confirm my words truth.”
I do as he asks, glancing behind me, away from the ocean and the rocks and the beach. And what I see next makes me want to scream, only I can’t make any sound. Lights, many colours blurring to a sludge of browny-grey, and translucent hands clawing at a transparent wall, like nails scratching against a membrane of life. Skyscrapers and factories, forests and mountains, empty bodies, all of them contained behind this wall, dying to be reborn, living and dying again, with every breath I take. So much pain. I hear their dirge, I feel their tears within my heart, but they won’t touch me, for I am no part of this. We are separate, they and I.
And then, there is this man. The man with no name and no face, but a being who feels more real to me than those cruel shadows taunting me from behind their barricade.
“Here she comes,” he murmurs, and the tone in his voice gives me a reason to face the ocean, despite my fear of it. He was a poet, this man, when not cast down to a withered shadow. I can hear it in his voice, feel it like a smile that remains unseen. My sense of loneliness intensifies and I long to know his face, even as a rainbow unfolds from the sky and she—the She of his dreams—comes gliding towards us, her delicate footsteps painting a path across the infinite band of colours, down to the sand.
I feel a shiver cross my soul as she touches down right beside me. She’s nothing but a shadow to my eyes as well. But the feelings…this knowledge…this yearning. Please, don’t take only him and leave me all alone. What will I do? There’s nothing else here for me.
The wailing of the vicious souls behind me cuts in and out on the breeze, a timely reminder. Please don’t leave me to them.
Tears blind my sight as she stops to caress my cheek with her lips, whispering my name. “Jaime.”
Jaime. Yes, that is my name. How can she say it so perfectly? As though she knows me, in my entirety, and sees I am more than nothing.
I blink away the tears, just in time to watch her repeat the process with my poor friend the shadow, listening very carefully as she reveals his name with the same sense of knowledge. “Nicholet.”
Nicholet. The name circles my inner landscape, like a bird released within. This name has a meaning, same as my own does, but my heart is distant and I’m unable to find it here.
They’re walking away from me now, as she takes his hand and leads him on towards the waves. The rainbow is gone. But they don’t need it anymore. They’re spreading their wings. They’re leaving me behind.
The cruel voices howl at my back, driving the wind to whip around my ears and penetrate my body. And before I dare to understand what I’m doing, I’m running again, running after the two shadows, the only two who know me, the only two who care.
But the woman turns to me, her own form no longer so grey. She’s smiling at me. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. And yet so familiar to me, comforting. Why?
“Oh, no, you can’t come with us,” she says. Even in the midst of her rejection, that voice won’t allow me to feel any pain. “Somebody else is waiting for you here.”
I look about, hopeful and anxious, trusting her words, but I can’t see anyone. I’ve come so far, I can’t even make out the creatures behind the wall. Nor another shadow. I’m so terribly alone.
I’m so terribly alone.
She’s still smiling at me, though. “You don’t remember yet, but someday, you will.”
This time she really is leaving me, leaving with the shadow—her shadow—leaving me behind. I start to run after them both again, hoping to convince them, but something else pulls me back. The source of the brightness, and the warmth…
Strong hands, holding me down, holding me close. Loneliness. What is loneliness? Only fleeting. You’re here. I understand. Now I have the words.
“Your name… I know your name now,” I say, my smile becoming warmth, my body becoming a shadow, as I let myself fall.
“Raven,” I whisper, opening my eyes. His arms are around me, holding me close. Where was I just now? Alone?
No, not alone. Not forever. You were there, too. You’re always there.
He’s staring into my face, yearning for rest and my own release. Was I in pain? “What?” I whisper gently, reaching up to touch his cheek.
He frowns a moment, swallowing down his sorrow before answering me. “You were screaming for her. Juliette. In your sleep.”
I stroke his face, wanting to memorise the touch of his skin, wanting to tell him they were leaving me behind all over again. But he ducks out of my caress, gazing instead at a spot on the wall over my head.
“Is she calling for you again?” he asks, his effort to be distant not hiding his pain. You waited for me so long. Just as I waited for you. You always think I’m so ready to leave without you.
I’m not. You’ll discover this truth for yourself, as our time draws closer, and her voice—this light—within me grows stronger. “No. She was calling for my father.” He glares at me, so I qualify this statement. “My real father. I had to wait for you. I chose to wait for you.”
I sit up, taking his hand in my own and kissing his cheek, like my mother kissed me in the dream. “Your name… I know your name now, Raven.”
Beside me, he softens, then gently pushes me onto the mattress and strokes my hair. I wish for him always to look at me this way. Such love, and such warmth. I’ve begun to remember, yes.
“It’s too early.” His hair tickles my nose, smelling of cloves and eucalyptus, as he tucks me in. “Go back to sleep.”
I want to watch him forever, but even as he begins to massage my temples, my eyelids are growing heavier, my mind falling with them. Slowly, I allow myself to sink, but I so want to take him with me, just like it will be—
Just like it will be, when we go home.
“Yes.” My voice emerges as only a dull murmur. I hope he can make sense of it all. “It’s not here yet, but I can feel it…closer, always closer. I feel you. And I feel her. Both of you, inside me, beating stronger than my own heart. Can you love me…for eternity? It’s a very long time, you know.”
I’m not sure if I’m dreaming again yet, but his kisses are falling upon my lips and his tears upon my cheeks. “I already promised you forever,” he reminds me.
Yes. Forever. Eternity equals forever.
We’re sitting side by side on the sand. My parents have left us, and his strong wings surround me, cuddling me close. I’ve never felt so safe.
Eternity. Forever. So close.
I stand up and smile at him, waiting for him to shyly reciprocate before I offer my hand. Inside my heart, I can feel it already. I don’t need to turn and look. It’s all for you, my love. “Come with me.”
And the rainbow appears before us once again.
What is reality? Is it merely that which exists the moment I open my eyes, and ceases to exist the moment my conscious mind falls away?
No, it’s more than that. Both more and less than the sum of its parts. For I am whole. I am almost whole. Almost complete. I await my own reality, which lies existent within the dream, my dreams, my world.
I always thought of reality as such a cold entity. Harsh light, cruel words, things delivered to hurt. But that was before I knew the truth.
Before I could remember.
Before I knew your name.
Before I gave myself to you.
I wake from the dream, always so alone. One day I will rescue you. Free us both from our solitary confinement, just as it is when we make love. Just as it will be, when we go home.
I brush aside the tears, then reach under the bed. Out comes Pandora’s box. I sit up to pry it open, leaf through its contents, recreate my own reality, once again. The letters… But I’ve already read them. Letters from Nicholet. Letters from my father. The shadow of my dream.
I find quickly that which I am seeking, my entire being tense with the knowledge. Time. What is time?
I already promised you forever.
Time is nothing, when one has something that outlasts it.
I still believed in time in this photo, as Mother held me, and I feared even then it would not be forever. I always knew they’d try to separate us. For they always tried. Only to fail. They’ve failed so miserably, haven’t they, Mama?
It’s no longer me who is the failure. Raven, you rescued me from that. My salvation. My white rose…
I sigh softly, trying to remember, like I tried within the dream. I have this photo memorised—my mother’s face—so even if in dreams she appears to me in shadow, I can at least touch her in the reality of my conscious mind. And it won’t be so long to wait. Won’t be so long to remember.
For I know, without trying—and even though I do try—that I don’t remember. I don’t remember the weather, or what season it was, my mother’s perfume, or the man behind the camera. It all eludes me. Each intricate element remains a shadow, dying in a place without light, before she ever promised me he would come.
All of it. I can’t remember.
I put the photo away again. It has to be soon.
Raven, I can’t feel you…
But now, from somewhere without, I do.
Echoes from down the hallway flow into my heart. Someone else is crying. Someone else feels this loneliness and loss. Someone else…
I wipe at my face, and throw on a stray pullover. Then I leave the room and pad down the hall, to where I can feel it the strongest, outside Damien’s door. Cautiously nudging it open, I peer inside. Raven’s sitting on the bed, holding his son, who’s in tears.
Without turning around, he says in a tight voice, “It was the same dream again.”
As our eyes meet, Damien wiggles out of his father’s arms and comes running towards me. As he stares up at me, I swear he’s reaching into my soul. “Please don’t leave me, Peggy-sis!”
Avoiding Raven’s accusatory glare, I lean down and pick up this tiny creature, holding him close and wishing all my warmth—our love—into him. He sees everything.
Then is reality something two or more people share? Something that can be verified?
“Let’s find you something to eat, hmm? And then, I’ll tell you a story.”
In the kitchen, I blow his nose, and prepare some toast, before switching on the kettle to make Raven and I a coffee. His curiosity piqued by the space-age toaster, he seems content enough, childlike and happy, though I know too truly how appearances deceive.
Childlike. He understands too much, to be as a child.
He smiles at me as I touch his cheek. I kiss his nose, then make my way back to the bedroom. It’s not enough for Pandora to have her box and have opened it. No. Now she must share. In such a way, do these things become reality.
I linger outside the door a moment. Down the hall, the shower’s running. I smile to think of Raven inside, remembering how he held me so, in the bath. How he holds me…
I retrieve the box and dash to the kitchen in time to snatch up the two pieces of toast and turn off the shrieking kettle. But it can wait, the coffee, until he emerges from the shower in a little while, water plastering his hair to his face, little droplets beading his pale, broken skin.
Never again will I forget. Not a single thing.
After spreading some butter and jam on the toast, I take a seat beside Damien at the table, smiling as he forgets all about the food the moment I present him with the box and show him how to undo the latch at the bottom. Not questioning me once, simply watching and paying attention, he masters it on the second attempt; tiny, pudgy fingers being no hindrance. One day they’ll be beautiful, graceful creatures. Just like Raven’s.
I show him all the pictures, watch him trace the lines of Mother’s face, laughing shyly and nodding when he recognises me among the images. But when I start to explain about his grandmother, he only shakes his head. “I know who she is.”
I blink. You’re so like your father. And he knows it. He knows that’s why my sister hurt you so much. “How do you know Juliette?”
“She’s in my dream,” he tells me. “She takes you and Daddy away.”
“Does she say anything?” I ask.
A little frown flickers over his brow. “She says I can’t go with you. But I try not to be sad. She says you go someplace no one can hurt you. Not like Mama’s friend hurt me.”
“Oh, angel,” I whisper, resting against him. Someplace no one can hurt you. You know. How can you know? You…recognise me?
“It’s okay,” he says. “Peggy-sis is my mama now.” I feel myself blush, and he giggles. Underneath the table, I plant my feet firmly on the floor. It still doesn’t feel like reality. This is how I can tell that it is.
Outside my own mind he keeps talking, and I remember my vow, making sure I save every single word.
“In my dream, you get big white wings and you fly, whoosh!” He throws his arms into the air, mimicking a bird taking off. “Daddy’s got black wings, but he doesn’t fly till you show him how. Will you show me too, Peggy-sis?”
I’m about to respond—or try to—when I feel a strange chill coming from the hall. Raven’s standing in the doorway, watching. I want to hold him, but he’s pushing me away before I’ve even left my chair.
“It was only a dream, kittling. Peggy doesn’t really fly.”
My eyes drift from his face down to the latch on the box. I don’t?
Peggy doesn’t really fly.
I can, for you.
“Yes he does!” Damien insists. “His mama taught him.” Throwing his arms around my neck, he adds, “And he’s going to teach you, and you’ve gotta teach me!”
Raven becoming Damien’s Juliette. There’s the thing about a circle. Once it’s complete, it has no ending.
But Raven shoots us both a warning glare. “Enough.” His son trembles and pouts, and folds his arms across his chest. I wait, neither blinking nor looking away. It won’t be me who backs down first.
You can tell us to be quiet all you like, but you can never deny it.
He shuffles across to the refrigerator, ignoring the kettle and coffee altogether and fixing himself a glass of rum and coke instead. Who are you seeking to escape here, my love? You know that’s not the way. I am your escape. Come with me.
Noticing how tired he looks, I ask him, “When did you last sleep?”
Moving away to stand over the sink, he offers nothing more than a shrug and a muttered, “Dunno,” before he downs the contents of the glass in a single shot. After he slams it down on the counter, there’s a moment’s silence. But he won’t fetch another; he promised me. And if he tries, then I’ll stop him.
Never in front of my son…
No. Never in front of our son.
“Daddy’s crying.” The sudden whisper tickles my ear and makes me jump.
Raven? I glance at him, but as he regards us both suspiciously, his eyes are dry.
I see that, yes, but reality lies beyond those senses.
“In here,” Damien continues, pointing to my chest. Wrong side, but otherwise right about the spot my heart would be. “Where no one sees, only me.”
I smile, accepting the challenge. “Maybe yes, I see too.” Not shy in the least, I sidle up to Raven, grabbing hold of both his hands as he begins to shake. Please don’t be afraid. Aren’t you so tired, of that?
He tries to pull away, but I won’t let any part of him go. Not his hands, not his gaze, and not his soul. I’m yours. That means you can’t cast me aside. Touch me.
Look at me.
He gasps in surprise, but just as I wish, he’s unable to break my hold. “Your eyes. They look the same way they did, the day—”
Breaking off mid-sentence, he frowns and looks at his feet.
“The day I realised there was a new dawn,” I finish for him. “The day I realised how I felt…for you.”
Kissing the scars, telling him the truth. There’s nothing I wouldn’t have done for you. Still nothing I wouldn’t do.
Now I draw him gently towards me, and lead him into the bedroom.
No one can tell me what I’m feeling is wrong. This is the true nature of reality.
I push him onto the bed, and order him to sleep. He manages a laugh, but I recognise it for what it is, an attempt to throw me off the scent. I don’t believe the laughter. I believe what I can feel.
“You have to rest, Raven. How long has it been, hmm?”
He shakes his head, running his hands through his hair. “I can’t. I can’t sleep, Pegasus.”
“You’re afraid of the dreams, aren’t you.” I brush a few stray strands of blue off his face. “But it’s okay, this dream. Dream of me, and you’ll find me. Everywhere.” Cautiously I lean down, planting a kiss on his lips, and he wraps his arms around me. Sitting up, pressing against me, he returns the kiss with a hunger all his own. He wants to be reassured. He needs me. The intensity sets my mind whirling dangerously. Consciousness becomes buried. All else disappears.
But he’s already pushing me aside, hugging himself in an effort to tame the uncontrollable shaking. I reach out for him, asking, “What’s wrong?”, but the shivering only grows stronger as he shakes his head again. Finally, he takes hold of my hand, brings it to his lips, and bestows a gentle kiss on my knuckles. It takes another moment before he’s able to speak.
“It’s— This isn’t what I want it to be about anymore.”
My heart skips a beat, and another. The intensity…the hunger…him pressing against me…
Sex? It’s never been about sex. You told me as much. Don’t you even remember?
“It’s not,” I murmur, unthreading my fingertips from his and moving in to stroke his hair again.
He snatches at my hand and holds it at bay, but his hatred isn’t for me. He remembers, all right. He just doesn’t understand. “But I make it that way,” he insists, dropping my wrist and trailing his fingers along my thigh instead. “Please don’t wear the dress again. Not just for me.”
I clench my fists involuntarily. Oh, not just for you. Do you really think—?
I open my mouth, but another glance is enough to keep me silent, for now.
“I don’t want things to be about sex. I love you, Pegasus…and sometimes it’s the only way I can show you, so it’s not the same—not the same as it was with her—but when I think of this…this cage…I hate its desires. I hate it.”
There it is. These reasons I knew already. Did you ever try to tell her such things? I can imagine how she would have reacted. No wonder you’re afraid I’ll reject you. No one understands you. But I do.
“Well, what do you want, then?” I ask gently.
“To…go home, I think,” he whispers, one last little shudder consuming him, before he falls silent, hanging his head. Expecting me to give up on him too, like so many others.
But they don’t matter. I’m here for you. Just as Mother promised. I chose this. I chose to wait, for you.
It’s my turn to take hold of his hand and kiss it. “I’ll grant you anything you wish for. We can go home, if that’s what you want.” Taking a deep breath, I reveal my own truths to him, those the dreams have shown me. “This is who I am, what I am. I exist only within you. The outside world…their reality— None of them see. To them, I no longer exist. Maybe I never did. Only now, I don’t care.”
He’s frowning at me, not daring to believe. You will soon enough, my love. Your dreams are my truth, just as your truth is my dream. I wish I could say the words, the ones that would reassure him the most. But I can’t, not yet. I’m saving them for the final moment, when no more doubts exist. When she crosses the rainbow, for us—
“What do you mean?” he asks, and I struggle to recall what I actually said, separating the inner visions from those without.
“I’m your dream. I’m never going to let you go. So please, don’t be afraid.” He sniffs loudly, but I’m not done yet. “It’s all right. You’re my dream, too. We go home.”
“Shh.” I start rocking him gently, side to side. “Of course I promise. I’ll take you there, free you from the cage, from all your pain. Teach you how to fly. It’s destiny. We go home.”
One little sob, and then the room returns to silence. But not complete silence. I sense… I feel…
I frown, glancing over my shoulder. I should have known. How long has he been standing here—Raven’s child, our son—watching on? How much has he heard? How much does he not already know?
His eyes…his eyes tell me everything. There’s not a thing that escapes his knowledge. His dreams, they must be mirror images of mine.
Those beautiful eyes close as he leaves the room, shutting the door quietly behind him. Trying to become a shadow. But that’s not what you are. If I could take you with us—
But no. You must find your own reasons. Your own ability, to love.
Someone else must show you how to fly.
“We’ll wait for you,” I whisper after him, cradling the sleeping Raven in my arms, arranging the pillow and blankets around him. And so I remain, his guardian angel, for a few minutes more.
Until all sunlight fades within him, and I follow Damien out of the room.
Next Chapter: 21.RAVEN: Chosen Whispers