Trapdoor: a novel by Vixen Phillips
Daddy, I had a nightmare…
I open my eyes, fighting for consciousness and air. Blood stains and black clouds meld into striped pillowcases and wisps of auburn, and the face of a sleeping angel comes slowly into focus. Damien’s curled up between us, snoring peacefully against my stomach. A family…
My head feels like it slammed into a brick wall. I sit up and stretch, hear the bones crackle all down my spine—but no wings to shake out, not here. Some part of me’s still caught up in dreams of smashing my body against a metal cage, hung in a room of all-consuming darkness, awaiting my sentence. One arm stuck out beyond the bars, and my scarred fingers, encrusted with the gored remains of shadows that got too close, straining to reach some last grain of light that shines in the distance like a lonely star.
Only a nightmare. That’s all. But one star is never lonely.
Very carefully, I swing my legs off the mattress and stare down at my loves. Yes, that was only a nightmare. But this. This is a dream.
I’m your dream…
The thought of our separation seems so real in the cracks between waking and memories of holding death in my hands. But all these things I did—for you, Pegasus, and you, Damien—real or imagined, they’re only symbols of protection. Smashing my body against a metal cage, hung in a room of all-consuming darkness, awaiting my sentence. Better it be me who stands in shackles beneath their judgements than you; I couldn’t stand it.
Both of you my angels, shining in the distance. That’s the way it is. You’ll stay perfect, you’ll remain free. As for me…I’m not afraid to die. I’d sacrifice anything. Your faith runs deeper through my heart than my own blood. Only one thing I’ve got left to ask of you. Not for you to say the words. Not for you to desire this cage. And you already promised…to take me home.
Both of you so perfect in the sanctuary of your sleep, visions to break through the black veil, gentle dreams to kiss away my own pain and every last trace of the terrible scars. Mama and child. So perfect.
“Teach me to fly,” I whisper, and tiptoe from the room.
I nurse a cup of coffee out on the verandah, ignoring the older desires and habits that won’t die quietly. I’m not giving in to a coward’s heart this time. And anyway, I refuse to go back to a clarity that isn’t truth.
Pandora’s box, the stolen present, lies open on the table beside me. Every now and then I stop myself from reaching out to flick through its contents again. What more do I expect to see? What more do I need to see? She left these things for you, Pegasus. Eternal memories, wisps of a dream no one could ever kill. Fragments of devotion. A reminder.
I rub at my face, then gulp down the rest of the coffee and start prowling the floorboards. I haven’t got any such fragments. Or reminders.
Is that what it comes down to, in the end? I’ve got nothing left for Damien. The only traces of my existence are part of Pegasus, and my son himself.
No. I don’t want that to be the only truth. I don’t want there to be doubts, lingering questions born of doubt, no sense at all of anything or anyone in the void where I should’ve been. I frown, scratching at my hair. That can’t be the truth I leave.
Filled with new determination, I stalk back inside the house and spend the next five minutes hunting through each room. I know what I’m looking for. Some sort of container for any tiny shards that might be left—if not as elaborate as the box of Pandora, then at least something of beauty; another reminder.
I unearth this sought-after thing—fittingly—in the room that now belongs to him. It’s a music box, no doubt one of many from another of Noriko’s eccentric collections. Black and smooth, it catches my eye in the hazy afternoon sunlight. I pick it up and examine the carved image on its lid: a Japanese maiden, her body floating Ophelia-like amid a river of blue and white roses. When I open it, no music plays, but I find the key on the shelf nearby and wind it slowly, till a haunting melody falls like teardrops and lost childhood afternoons and rain.
She’s got dozens of these things; she won’t mind if I take it, probably. She left it here, after all, in a flash of synchronicity. And this is too important. She’ll understand, after everything.
I close the lid reluctantly. There must be something left.
Next I find the suitcase and start fishing through its driftwood assortment of my life—our life, together. In the end, what’s in here is all the world will see. That and an approximation of the story, told by ones who never made the words to begin with. Illusions and material possessions. Neither of them the truth.
I lay aside all the things that should belong. The tape Juliette made, before she died. Her photograph, for so long the only remaining link to her in Peggy’s life. The high school pictures of him and I. The photo I stole from the original box, of mama and child. My hand pauses as I touch the wrapping of the white silk lace dress, but this—just this—isn’t for sharing, not by me. Last of all a CD. The Cardinal Vanity demo we recorded together, maybe a year ago?
Time flies so quickly…
Now the suitcase is empty and the music box nowhere near full. These are the only things I’ve got. I’ve lived my life as a ghost, on the outskirts of everyone else’s reality. What am I? Who am I? What remains to give him?
Outside, it’s started raining. The sound draws me back out onto the verandah, where I salvage the wooden box and retrieve my coffee cup. Above the ridge that walls us in, the sky’s become an artist’s canvas of melancholia. Vague swirls of purple-grey cloud the sunset’s red glare, and a bitter mist rolls in over the hilltops and down into the forest. A wild wind blows straight through my heart, strips me down to my soul.
And oh, I remember this feeling. Like an affirmation. I remember being a child and knowing this freedom, an essence bound to my very existence. That was before I got so afraid, and let the bars shrink tight around me. After that, instead of freedom and nights spent howling up at the moon, all I could do was shiver under its cold light, its air just another blade against my skin.
These things, Damien. My chosen whispers. I want you to remember them, too. Need you to remember me.
All I’ve got, is all I’m taking from you.
I’m still wiping the wind’s sting out of my eyes as two arms encircle me, fingers splaying over my chest.
Pegasus. Help me…
He doesn’t say anything. Just holds on and waits, watching alongside me, till I summon up the courage to speak the first truth that hits my mind. “Living a whole life in darkness, how could I expect…to leave anything more than lies and shadows?”
“Shh,” he tells me. “That’s not what you really believe. Just a false image they forced upon you.” He turns me around, and I stand before him. I’ll let myself be judged, same as in the nightmare. But he only smiles at me. “When the final days are upon us, that’s when you fly, black-winged angel. When you set free all the poetry in your soul. Don’t despair, not for this.”
Every time I look at you, I so want to kiss you, hold you inside me, let you guide me to the shores of truth. I don’t need to ask who I am, when you’re here with me.
“My father told my mother this, too, before he died. Before she died…before she wrote my song. You can leave it for Damien.” Another secretive smile. “I don’t mind.”
For a moment all I can do is stand here, circling his hands with my thumbs, trying to establish which of my wants are right, which of my feelings are truth, and which of my truths are eternal. Then, something flickers among the dregs of my mind, and I ask him, “How did your real dad die?”
I’m not sure why this, of all questions. Straight away, though, his smile fades, and somewhere within, I get that sickening glow of triumph, like I proved my point, whatever point it was I was trying to make.
“Did Wendy not tell you so much?” he answers, squeezing my fingers together hard on purpose. “My—her—father knew, ever since I was born, that Mother belonged to someone else. It just took a lot of patience for him to prove it, and more to kill it, that’s all. Years and years of spying her out, of selling his soul in so many dark places, before he—” He bites his lip. “They go on for eleven years, the letters in the box. Since before I was even conceived. Then, about ten years ago, they stop. Every one of them was opened, but the way they’re written… I can’t tell if Mother ever read them. And still, for all that time, my father waited for her. His name was Nicholet.”
“But you don’t remember anything about him, do you?”
With a sad little sigh, he glances away. I’m sorry. But now you know how it is for me. And for my son.
A last flash of golden light blazes through a fracture in the clouds. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see him watching it too, gathering its strength to him. Your body might wish to return to its home—the ocean, the source of all life—but your soul, your true self, your true home? Well, they lie somewhere else entirely. A place even birds could never fly. But your wings, they might be strong enough.
“I never could, before,” he says now, his words floating down through layers of my reverie. “But lately I’ve been dreaming of him, a lot. Hearing his voice, talking with him, even if I can’t see his face. He feels so much closer.”
So much closer. But not close enough, not yet, right, Pegasus?
“I’ve got to leave something for Damien,” I insist, quiet but firm.
His gaze flickers over me, piercing deeper than shadow, like maybe he hasn’t quite forgiven me for reminding him of Wendy and her old man’s treachery. “They, too, are close. But the final days are not yet here.”
We drift towards each other, our lips brushing roughly together…but one kiss is always lonely. I surrender myself, forgetting my cage and dreams of that other cage, as the kisses grow more passionate, echoing intensity.
Why is it always so easy with you, not to give up, but to give in? How can you undress my mind of all its storms, make everything okay?
We go home, Raven.
My heart beats faster, a different sense of urgency overtaking me, as he pulls off my sweater, pushing me up against the railings, biting my lips, nibbling and licking my tongue. Laughing at me, a mysterious music. Rain trickles over the scars on my back, teaching me how to fly. Everything falls away.
I grab hold of him, one hand on his hair, the other around his neck. He freezes a moment, but I don’t want to hurt him, just desire him…close. Closer than the cage, even taken to my extremes, would ever let me come. Need—a wish—to truly be free, to never be separate, to be complete beyond completion. By now, even the breeze is dead. Only our hearts, beating as one wild thing. Can you hear?
“So quiet,” I whisper. “So alone.”
Pegasus takes in the smallest breath. “Loneliness…that comes from outside,” he tells me. “External influences, tastes, memories, skin. Self broken apart from its natural state. It doesn’t last forever. When you exist within me, you need never feel loneliness, ever again.”
I take his words as a promise, accept them as a gift, my body pressing against his, inhaling his musky floral scent. Tastes, memories, skin. Tastes. I’ve never…tasted you. I could lose myself in you. It’s all I want to do.
But a small voice calls to me from the doorway. “Daddy, I’m lonely.”
Another angel. The other half of my soul. My reason. With three simple words, he’s got complete power over breaking my heart.
On my way past, Pegasus touches my arm. “Hey,” he tells me, staring deep. “It doesn’t matter what you leave. It matters what you give. This is how we teach one another to fly.”
He moves forward, sweeping my son into a hug and dabbing kisses all over his cheeks. “Like father like son, hmm? Why so sad? Soon we celebrate the day an angel was born.”
Yeah. Three days. It’s gotta last at least that long. For me to protect them, if it’s all I can do—
“Who?” Damien demands, wriggling in Peggy’s arms.
He responds with a little squeeze, but his eyes remain fixed on me as he answers, “You.”
Me. Fifteen days. Too much to ask for, probably.
The final days are not yet here…
I force myself to remember this, as he hands over Damien and announces he’s going to take a bath. I catch the tiny hand in mine, stop it tracing one of my scars, and then whisper in my son’s ear, “Peggy does know how to fly.”
Damien smiles up at me, as though pleased I’ve finally accepted this as fact. “I know,” he says proudly.
Oh, kittling. What will you do without me?
And the real question, the one whose answer lurks beyond every shadow…
What will I do, without you?
“Come with me,” I whispered in his ear shortly after, and now we’re traipsing through the forest, wet silver bark and leaves squishing beneath our feet.
“Where are we going, Daddy?” he asks, trotting along cheerfully behind me.
“No idea,” I answer, grinning. “How about we just see where we end up?” We’ve long since lost sight of the house, so I hope I remember how to get us home.
Side by side, hand in hand, we climb through a gully and over a ridge onto flat ground. The trees are spaced further apart here, but thick ferns cluster around their trunks. Damien zooms ahead of me, running hard, never tiring. As I pick out a path, my mind keeps churning the last vestiges of this morning’s nightmare back to the surface. I’m still thinking about bars and bloodied fingers and wings, when a distant voice cries, “Daddy!”
Fuck. I’ve gotten so wrapped up in my own thoughts I haven’t been keeping an eye out for him. I stop in my tracks, listening hard over my thumping heartbeat, till it comes again. “Daddy, quick!”
I urge myself forward, his position fixed in my mind. A quick turn to the left, swatting fronds aside and tripping over tree roots, before I come to a halt in front of a barbed wire fence, strung up between a series of moss-covered posts. Only a few feet ahead, the ground drops out of sight, leaving us with an uninterrupted view of the mountains, and a vast lake, hundreds of metres away below the horizon. Mist races across its glassy surface. In the dull light, the water shimmers.
“Pretty,” my son coos, and reaches for my hand. Lifting him up, I tentatively climb over the wire. Together we take a seat on a patch of grass, as far from the edge as I can get.
He squirms in my lap, stretching forward, but I pull him closer, fingers tingling when I stroke his hair. “You stay with me, okay? Damien can’t fly just yet.”
With a giggle, he sprawls in my arms. I close my eyes, rest my chin on his head. Only a little while ago, the forest behind us seemed so silent. Now it’s come alive with bell miners and kookaburras, and the secret whispers of leaves, and limbs creaking in the wind. I hope, next time, I can bring Peggy here, too. Something about this endless sky makes me think it would bring him peace.
“Why are you scared, Daddy?”
The question startles me out of my waking dream, but before I can attempt some kind of answer, he lays the softest of kisses upon my cheek. “I won’t fly away and forget you.”
I hold him tight, my protection against these feelings, this inner vision of myself, shattering and reforming anew. I want to say, “I love you”, but the longest time passes before I can bring myself to speak. When I finally do, my words surprise me. “How about I tell you a story, kittling?”
He nods eagerly. For a moment I panic, not sure where I’m going with any of this, but from somewhere within, if I keep reaching past my fears, I’m able to drag myself through the void, out the other side of the nightmare. That’s where it begins.
“Well,” I say, my voice breaking, “you see… Once upon a time, there was an angel. With huge black wings. Blacker than night, blacker than the shadows that scare you in the dark, blacker than the spots between the stars where dreams are born. And just like stars, they shone in the darkness, these wings, and reflected every sorrow and fragment of poetry the angel had ever heard. But they were also his downfall. Because of them, because of their reflections, people didn’t understand him. They feared him. He’d seen planets die and dreams wither, heard children laugh and mermaids sing. But everyone he came into contact with eventually turned away from him. Evil, they called him, and failure, monster, nightmare. They bound him up with thorns, and speared his body, and locked him in a great cage carved out of silver ice, and hung the cage from a hook sunk into infinity in a room of no walls and no light.
“So the angel fell into a dark gloom. He forgot what he knew, and grew to distrust his wings and all the things he’d seen. Hearing nothing, seeing nothing, and feeling only a dull emptiness, till…one day, the angel had a dream. It’s kind of hard to describe the dream, except that it was like seeing something wonderful—like a star being born, or a wish coming true—right out of the corner of your eye. It was a dream of what it meant to be loved. And when the angel awoke, alone again, and still in the dark, but this time remembering, he started to cry, for the very first time. And each tear, as it fell, morphed into a white rose petal, till all these petals lined the floor of the cage. Then, once you could no longer even see the floor through so many petals, they began to hum, and to glow, and to glitter with the light of a rainbow, shining out through the void.
“At first, the angel was blinded, after living so long in darkness and despair, but as his eyes adjusted and he followed the line of the rainbow’s path right to the very end, he caught sight of another very beautiful angel, right up close to the cage, white wings spun with grey feathers that reflected the same dream he’d just woken from. And this other angel was smiling down upon him.”
“Peggy-sis!” Damien whispers in awe.
My trance state broken, I look down at him and raise a brow. In answer, he pokes at my chest and says, so matter-of-fact, “Peggy-sis always saves Daddy.” He throws his arms around mine, so hard I fall against the fence post. “Please tell me that story again sometime.”
I manage a laugh. “But I never got around to finishing—”
Never mind, then. He’s already out of my arms, ducking through the wire, perilously close to the spikes, and running off in the direction we came from. Only stopping to make sure I’m ready to follow, he says, “It’s okay. I know how it ends, Daddy. Let’s go home.”
I linger a moment, the shiver that traverses my spine rooting my feet to the earth. Then, as he keeps on running into the forest, I step over the fence and take up the chase, casting one last glance over my shoulder at the eerie-magical place we’re leaving behind. Next time, Pegasus.
Memories of beauty, things to be shared, and therefore a chance for them to survive beyond a single life.
Tonight the air’s crisp and clear. I let Pegasus lead me out onto the verandah; this time’s my turn to hug him from behind. We gaze at the stars, mist lingering around our lips as we breathe in unison.
“Hard to believe he’s four—or nearly so,” he murmurs. “I remember, you know. The night he was born.”
I close my eyes, nuzzling against his neck, as shame cuts into my heart. Yeah. Even if I was what most observers would’ve termed blind drunk, I can still call up vague flashes of that evening, too: Monty trying to drag me out of the bar, me making a fool of myself, the red-black lips and painted nails and eyelids of various whores—male or female, didn’t matter—Pegasus laying his hand on mine, speaking the words, the words that would break the spell forever. Your son is waiting. For you.
After that, I spent the entire trip to the hospital crying in his lap.
I never did get blessed with that so-called gift of being able to drink and forget. Even after all these years, I remember. Every goddamn thing.
But all I say out loud is, “He knows too much.”
Peg leans back, with a languorous sigh. His hair smells of honey and roses; he must’ve washed it while we were gone adventuring. “Then that’s as it should be, don’t you think?”
With a smile, he reaches out to the sky, framing the stars between his fingers. I move in closer, running a hand under his long-sleeve t-shirt, caressing his stomach, the bones of his hips. So warm in my arms, fragile yet strong.
“They’re so close tonight,” he says. “Like they’re whispering her song to me. I’ve been hearing her voice, inside my soul, nearer than dreams.”
They, too, are close. But the final days are not yet here.
You told me that mere hours ago. How fast is the second-hand moving? How close? How will I know when—?
Maybe I’m crying. His lips are wet. “Please don’t be sad,” he says. “One day you’ll see how beautiful it is.”
I won’t fly away and forget you…
“One day soon,” I mutter.
“Yes.” His fingers encircle my wrists, and pull me against him. “But until then, please just hold me. From inside out and outside in. Until I can feel your heartbeat. Until it’s your blood pulsing through my veins instead.”
It’s too hard to separate love from despair from hope from pain, in the fire that spreads across my chest. My tongue and teeth force their way into his mouth, licking, sucking, biting; ready to devour him. I drag us both down to our knees on the floorboards, and my fingers go to work on undoing the buttons of his velvet jeans. Once I’m there, my hand slides in beneath his underwear. I’ve never—never done this before; who knows if I can? But I’ve lost the ability to care for myself, buried beneath the need to care for him. “This isn’t about sex,” I whisper in his ear, stroking the soft skin beneath my palm, closing my fingertips around him, “and this isn’t for the cage. This is all only for you, because…I love you.”
His sigh is like a kind of permission. I duck my head and kiss the tip of his penis, then run my tongue down the stem. Above me, he gasps and caresses my hair. It’s all right, angel. I can’t hurt you. You know, by now, that’s never been my wish.
I open my mouth to him, dry and sweet, wary of my teeth and going too fast. Now his fingers knot themselves up in the roots of my hair. I can tell he’s trying so hard not to push me down for fear of gagging me. For a moment I withdraw, teasing him with my breath and tongue, laughing to hear him moan, before I swallow him again, trying to relax my throat muscles without choking, remembering to breathe as he moves against my lips.
“Raven!” Suddenly his hands are trying to pull me off. No, no, angel, you don’t get away so easy.
I’ve never tasted you.
He gasps again as I start to suck on him, nibble and lick at his pulsating skin, my heartbeat, his breathing, speeding up together…
I let my mind fall away, my throat relaxing for one last throb, and he’s washing over my tongue, down my throat, sobbing quietly, long tresses tickling my cheek and neck as he grips my hands, and I—I drink in all of him, waiting for every trace of his hardness to disappear before I release him.
He collapses into my arms, both of us trembling but unafraid, embers burning bright in defiance of the cold night air. At last, he places a kiss on my lips. Then he just shakes his head, unable to speak.
It doesn’t matter, though. We’ve reached some state of mind and being, where words are no longer needed.
I tuck his dick carefully into his pants, and do up the buttons on his jeans. Then I lay my head in his lap, looking up at his face while he looks up at the stars. He’s still panting softly as I reach out to stroke his cheek. “Thank you…for waiting for me.”
He smiles down at me and it’s my turn to gasp, as I catch a glimpse of the white-winged creature I described to Damien, in my story that came out of nowhere.
No, nothing comes from nothing. My angel. That’s what it comes down to, in the end. These things, my chosen whispers.
All I’ve got, is all I’m giving to you.
Next Chapter: 22.PEGASUS: Angel Tears