Trapdoor: a novel by Vixen Phillips
Roses are white.
Moonlight on petals, stars on snow. All so white. So perfect. So cold.
I’m kneeling before you, and you’re a vision, a dream. You couldn’t be anything more and yet…you’re everything.
And I, nothing but the mirror that absorbs and reflects.
I feel your pain, your sorrow, your joy, all crazy-tangled up in my own. Standing beneath the moonlight, barefoot on the snow, holding a single white rose, and gazing at the sky. Down here I await your final freedom, and your sign. With the flesh ripped away, I long for such a touch. It’s not—no longer the physical perception, but more of what lies within. What me and my son loved forever. The reason I’m still waiting.
This truth. This truth no one else can know or touch, this truth that remains an absolute.
How can you feel so warm?
My fingers tremble, tingling with the ghosts of sensation. He chooses this moment to turn to me, and I see my own contrast, reflected and absorbed, blood staining the white snow, and I see—
He turns to me, and he’s smiling. And the rose…is bound to one wrist, thorns breaking the skin, and I can see, through the light spilling out of him…
I know the way home.
Running, I’m slipping, I’m fading, I’m my own heart beating and breaking inside my chest. I fall so many times, but in the end I keep running, choking, breathing, searching. And yet I can’t find—
Pegasus, why did you let it come to this? Why did I ask?
Teach me to fly…
I tumble through the snow, rolling a ways before coming to a stop, staring up at the stars, the moon, the puffs of mist. This is how it was that night. The night I handed over the blade. The night I told him I loved him.
When my heartbeat’s died down, I expect to hear nothing. But nothing comes from nothing. This place is alive, inside and out. Even while shadows dance among the trees, and the night wind bites down hard on my veins, I’m so lost and unafraid. I found you before. I waited for you. I’ll always wait for you.
Now I hear a voice, wraith-song flowing over me, tempting me back. I roll over in the snow, inching forward, slowly at first, till I rebuild enough of a concept of self—no, not self, merely the cage, that old hatred rebirthing—to stand, to walk, to run again. But I can’t hate it anymore. For it and I are no longer one, a line more clearly defined than mere alienation, self-mutilation. Tonight you held the thorn at my heart and made me watch.
One day, the angel had a dream. It was a dream of what it meant to be loved.
This light, that blurred vision, maybe it’s only a tear. Yet as I stagger out of the clearing and fall to my knees, driven by reverence rather than clumsiness, I blink, and I can see…
My girl on a swing, my angel-winged thing. He sits here, naked, perched on an old board hung between two vines, swaying to and fro, the rose around his wrist. And he smiles at me, and the song swells about us, surrounding us in a ring of white fire.
I watch him, possessed but cautious, two images shifting, three, maybe more. Juliette, Damien, me… Everything exists within you, Pegasus, and you—
I exist only within you…
His words, I remember. I remember…
I look down. Blood stains the snow: my blood. Warm arms lift me up, lips burning my skin as he kisses away the tears, skin burning my lips as I kiss away the blood that smears the thorns, a more delicate aura of ethereal perfection visited upon the rose. I take hold of his wrists, so wishing to sink beneath his skin, into a place of sanctuary no one else can reach.
But knowing not yet, I gaze into his eyes instead, broken reflections of my soul right here, if I dare to look close enough. And anyway I can’t ever be lost if I know exactly where it is I both need and desire to be. “Please hold me,” I tell him. “I’m like glass, and wish to break.”
My fingertips brush the rose’s petals, and he sighs and trembles. “Then what’s inside the glass may be released. No one understands your path but me.” He stares down at the rose, and murmurs, “I lied to you, Raven. There are things I don’t remember, about us. But we’ll remember, when we make it there.”
“Come,” he says, so self-assured, drawing me up into the fold of his wings, closer to the light of the moon. “Now we walk within my dream. Together.”
“For the last time.”
“No.” He smiles, glowing with defiance and hope. “Forever. We’re free.”
I wake in a cold sweat, wrenched into my body. Fog and smoke burn in my head. With a wry smile, I stare down at my wrists. You don’t want to let me go so easy, cage. But you know—
Come. Walk within my dream.
Pegasus holds me tight in my longed-for glass embrace, and some part of me struggles to remember, even as another part struggles to forget. And Damien, sitting in my lap—a twin reminder of why that wish for nothingness could never come true—lays a kiss right on top of my ear and tells me, “Don’t cry, Daddy, it’s my birthday!” He shoves something into my arms, then jumps off the bed, and a moment later he’s already thumping up and down the hall.
I glance at what he’s left me with. His birthday present, the soft toy we bought yesterday. Pegasus laughs at my frown of confusion as I turn it over in my hands. I put a palm to his glowing cheek. Oh, babe, you can’t be well, not with a temperature like this. And soon, I won’t be around to look after you.
Smiling sadly, he presses his lips to my skin, then gets to his feet and pulls me off the bed. “Come with me,” he says. “This time, I have something to show you.”
Déjà vu shadows my footsteps as I follow him into the living room. So sure of what happens next, like it’s already been dreamed for me, by him. He draws aside the curtains, and holds my son to the window. All three of us look out over a world shrouded in white. Snow. It’s snowing…on the sixth day of spring.
Squeaking in delight, Damien wriggles out of Peggy’s arms and makes a dash for it. I catch him right in the doorway. “Not without a coat, you don’t.”
After the protests stop, I set him down so he can grab his jacket off a kitchen chair. He keeps from fidgeting just long enough to let me do up the zip, before he races outside. Excited giggles and shrieks echo across the yard. Today, however, I can only associate this snow with inevitable death, not the purity of last night.
“I’m going out, too,” Peg says, squeezing my fingertips. I start to tell him he should put on a coat as well, over the black sweater and white shorts that are his only protection against the cold. Though with how hot he feels right now, the snow might all simply melt the minute he lands a toe on it.
Somehow I find myself a cup of coffee and a cigarette, barely conscious of movement or existence as I take a seat on the ramp at the verandah’s edge. I watch him teach Damien how to roll and throw snowballs. Another sip of my coffee, another drag of my cigarette. If only time could freeze around us, like this frigid air.
The final days are upon us.
Even as ghosts to the world, we’re still a family. But if this were my dream, my ultimate truth…
I’d come home, through that gate right there. I’d be the antithesis of my old man, just daring to smile, with a toy under one arm, and a flower in my hand. My son—our son—would come running, leap into my arms like I was somebody to be proud of, somebody of worth, somebody… And I’d hold him close, never forgetting the long hours we were parted, never ever taking for granted how warm and alive he feels in my arms, how innocent, despite the pain she branded him with. Even so, I wouldn’t think of losing him, only of love.
And after that, I’d move on, out into the garden, towards the swing, where Pegasus would be waiting, showered with roses, his crystalline wings hiding his nakedness from all eyes but mine. And I’d fall into his scented lap, kiss the blood off the thorns, grant him the same power of healing over me. I’d shed the cage and exist within, black feathers on white, glittering and warm and safe in the sunset.
I look up with a start. The cigarette’s burned itself out between my fingers. And my coffee’s gone cold. They’ve moved further away, leaving me so alone. Why do I sit here, so alone and drowning in what-could’ve-beens, when this right-now is all there is, and not the least of anything?
Launching myself towards them, I nearly end up arse over teakettle as I skid down the icy ramp, stopping only to gather up enough ammunition to fling a snowball straight at Pegasus. Damien lets out a holler and declares this an act of war. Laughing hard, I take off again, making a mad dash for the garden where I found the rosebush. I used to run this fast when I was young, enjoying the knowledge that no one could catch me, not ever. Strength from solitude. My only strength, in those days.
Somehow we end up back where we started, near the front gate. They lie on top of me, Damien pounding me with snowballs, and Peggy pinning my arms over my head, till coughing and spluttering I beg for surrender. Damien lets out another roar, then bounces onto my stomach, knocking all the air out of me. I blink away tears of exertion while they ponder their captive’s fate.
“Ah,” says Pegasus conspiratorially, “so now, he’s all ours. What should we do with him, hmm?”
They both stare down at me, Damien’s frown of concentration belying how seriously he’s considering the question. I’m even starting to get worried, when his face lights up. “I know! Peggy-sis, you have to kiss Daddy!” He falls off me in a fit of giggles. Pegasus arches a brow and leans forward, smelling of roses and with that light in his eyes, and last night’s intensity is never far away.
“In that case, I definitely surrender,” I say.
“Only because you’re everything,” he whispers, and our lips meet. So warm, I could melt, and drown, and then—
The piercing ring of the telephone sounds an alarm from inside the house. I break out of the kiss, looking to him for help, but he’s already moving aside. Fuck. Of course, he’s right. This time, we’ve got no choice.
I trudge back up the ramp, and into the house. Inside the kitchen, the caller ID reveals it’s Noriko’s mobile. No choice.
I stare at the phone, another season passing with every breath I take. Trying to dodge this moment, desperate to figure out some other way.
Yeah, there’s another way. You let them find you here, one way or another, haul your arses off in front of your son. That’s something to remember you by, all right.
Or you keep running like foxes, and next time, you don’t get any warning, no wake-up call at all.
Fuck fuck fuck. I snatch up the receiver, pin it close to my ear, squeezing my eyes shut as I struggle to compose my thoughts.
“Raven!” Her voice is barely a whisper, but strange emotions stir through my body like goosebumps on the inside to hear it again. Impossible reminders, of both past and future.
You looked after me as best you could, Noriko, when there was no one else. And I know… I know you looked after Pegasus, too. After—afterwards, would you, could you, look after—?
“Raven? Please say something. They’re looking for you.”
Finally, I force out the words. The only words that matter in this moment. “Tonight, I promise. Please, somehow, just till tonight. Look for me in town. Around midnight.”
Terrified by the sound of my own desperation echoing inside the receiver and inside my head, I slam down the phone again. Peg’s arms are around me already, his voice hushing my shock, keeping me whole. But once I’ve stopped shaking he nudges me aside and says, “Why don’t you two go play, huh? Your chef wants to commandeer the kitchen for a while.”
Works for me. I need to be out of this house, as far from the phone as I can get. After this, it takes me all of an hour to relax, to assure myself she isn’t going to call again and tell me it’s too late, that they’ve already found us, that we aren’t worth the risk, that we aren’t—
I’m pushing Damien on Peggy’s swing when he breaks off from the song he’s been improvising and asks me, “You won’t forget me, will you, Daddy?”
I grab hold of the vines and chains, forcing the swing to a stop, and kneel in front of him. When I reach out to touch his face, he grabs my hand, nuzzling against my palm and kissing it. I take in a deep breath. “Is that what your dreams tell you?”
He scuffs a foot against the ground. “Will I have to go live with her again? Will they hurt me?”
I slump to my hands and knees in front of him, staring at my fingers buried in the snow, willing my body to sink down to where my heart’s already fallen. No legal hearing in the world would listen to my reasons as reason. But this is the only reason they’ve got, for what they’re about to do to us.
“Peggy saved you too, kittling. You don’t need to go back there. You don’t ever need to go back there.”
“But I want to come,” he murmurs, a tiny frown twisting his features into something with the power to destroy me.
“Then who’ll teach me to fly?”
I go to cover my eyes with one hand, but he tugs my fingers away from my face. Pegasus…you’d tell him better than this, he’d believe you.
He needs to hear it from you, Raven.
Do I even want for this? Do I want my son growing up with such knowledge? What’s the alternative? Nothing to keep him whole when they try and tear him to shreds? And they will try, if he’s got anything of myself or Pegasus inside him. It’s started already. That’s how we got here to begin with.
It doesn’t matter what you leave. It matters what you give. That’s how we teach one another to fly.
I draw in a deep breath. “When you’re old enough, you’ll understand this.” I falter. I’ve got the gift of his undivided attention. He already believes, he already knows. He just needs to hear it. Just like you, with your need for words of love. “I’ll never forget you, kittling. And I’ve tried to leave as much as I can, so you don’t forget me. But—” Enough. That thread doesn’t guide either of us down the right path. “We belong to you, Peggy and me. When you look at the stars, the clouds, a rainbow…you’ll find us there.” I try not to choke on my own words, rubbing at my nose. “But most of all, we live, in you. Always. Like the angel in the story, trapped in his cage, a butterfly in glass. And if you break the glass—” I fall into a sitting position atop a mound of snow, burying my face in my hands. The swing creaks, preparing me for his embrace.
“Then the butterfly flies away,” he says, stroking my hair. He’s so much of your son, Pegasus.
“Are you okay, Daddy?”
I manage a tentative nod, and he smiles, all the fears and doubts dissolving. “Good. It’s my birthday. You can’t cry on my birthday.”
He takes off in the direction of the house. Looking back, I see Pegasus waiting in the doorway.
Then the butterfly flies away…
If you break the glass.
Damien sits at the head of the table, wiggling and bouncing up and down in his chair, excited by all the food and the blinding array of decorations, most of them scavenged from a box of Christmas trinkets. Once Peg joins us with two glasses of wine and a red cordial, I light the candles, and we sing ‘Happy Birthday’, and shower him with kisses and streamers. Then we all take a seat, and the feast begins.
So this is how it should be, always. Mama, daddy, son, defined by love over all other things. This…this is all I wanted, all along?
Pegasus reaches out and squeezes my hand, then drapes a blue streamer across my hair and gives me a look, a silent order to eat. After lunch is over and done with, Damien sits between his new toy and the old faithful Mr. Rabbit, while we take turns reading him stories, and when we run out of books, we make them up, dreaming new worlds and old into being. Love, death, salvation, roses, cages, shadows, angels… After a while, all our stories meld into one great dream.
Only once the words begin to fade do I make a move for the phone.
I pause in front of it, cracking my knuckles. Almost in slow-motion, I pick up the receiver and dial the number—not hers, never again hers, even if it’s the one my mind keeps regurgitating at me—distracting myself with the sounds of my son and my beloved tidying up around me.
After seven rings, an old man’s voice answers, sounding half asleep. I book two tickets on the bus that leaves for the city at six tonight. Same as last time, I give a false name to cover Pegasus, and everything’s sorted.
Hang up the phone. Another nail works itself loose from my heart. Two tickets. One for him. One for Damien. Simpler, that way.
He’s begun stacking dishes in the machine, and I find myself talking over the top of him. As if it’s no big deal at all, I tell him what name to claim the seats under, and a dozen other mundane plans for later. It’s already obvious that I don’t need to mention how Damien won’t need to sit on his knee for this trip.
Not quite meeting my gaze, he crouches in front of the dishwasher, slams the door closed, and stabs at the switch. Hot water hisses down the pipe, and he straightens up. “Damien said you have something to show me.”
I blink, slow on the uptake, so he adds, “He said, where you told him the ‘Peggy-sis’ story.”
“Oh.” I swallow. “Yeah, all right… Peg, please—”
“It’s okay.” He places a hand on my shoulder, caresses it all too briefly. “There’s only now anymore. So this is enough. Right in this moment, this is enough. You see?”
I don’t know.
With a flick of the wrist, he passes over my coat. “Let’s go.”
Somehow, even in this glittering light and all the snow, Damien manages to find the way. I keep hold of Peggy’s hand while we’re in the forest, enjoying—preserving—the this-is-how-it-always-should-be feeling of him walking beside me, the sight of his breath rising in puffs of mist, the sound of his voice as he randomly sings or whispers next to my ear.
We reach the barbed-wire fence, and here all three of us gaze out over the valley, down at the smoky trails swirling across the glassy lake.
“How long have you known about this place?” he asks me.
I shrug. “Not long. We found it a few days ago, by accident. Or instinct. It seemed the sort of place you should be…”
Motioning for me to help him get over the fence, he stoops down and bundles Damien into his arms, murmuring encouragements in his ear. I push down on the barbed-wire, then climb over to join them.
Only Pegasus keeps marching forward, till he’s just a step from the edge. I swallow, hard, and he whirls around to face me, all on fire with defiance, loss, and love. My son nestles on his hip. “What will you do, Raven, if I take one more step?”
I open my mouth, close it again right away. Depending on how I answer this, Damien might get his wish. And tonight would never matter. And I could go with them. And everything…everything would be so exact. But—
Kittling… Angel… My place in your story will be done with, soon enough. It’s not mine, anymore, to break the circle.
My body’s already trembling as I take a step forward, and another, and another, trying to keep myself under control. I creep closer, focusing on my heartbeat, never looking up from the ground, not till I’m standing right in front of them, holding my breath in case even that’s enough to blow them both over the edge. I don’t want to fall too soon. Or the ground to crumble beneath my feet, or the wind to knock me off balance, and goddamn this sickness in my stomach.
I force myself to look at Pegasus. Cold, cruel angel, awaiting my answer. I want to touch him, but I can’t tell if he trusts me. If he thinks I’m fighting him, he’ll simply walk off the—
I fold my arms tight across my chest, trying my best to find clarity while a shiver crawls up and down my spine. And he waits, and he waits.
Break me open, apart, free my soul, my dreams, my heart. We can fly, we can cry, tears of blood.
We did all that, you and me, last night.
When you break the glass…
I can feel this scar on my chest, and the nausea’s fading. I think I understand. I trust you. Completely. “Wherever you lead,” I tell him like a vow, “I’ll always follow.”
He smiles at me, glowing as he hands over Damien. I can’t help a sigh of relief. Then, still smiling, he turns, facing the clouds, above and below. Now I’m not looking into his eyes, I know he’s going to—
I open my mouth, but nothing comes. Instead it’s my son’s voice calling out, “You can’t fly yet, Peggy-sis. I don’t see your wings.”
He glances at us over his shoulder. He knows I’m afraid, afraid to lose him. There’s something more, but all my thoughts are still wrapped in cotton wool. He sighs, stretching out one arm and then the other, examining each in turn, as though to confirm there really are no wings in sight. “Ah, so you’re right. Just as well one of us noticed. Your father was ready to follow me blindfolded.”
He winks at me sadly, then takes hold of my arm and guides me back from the edge, over to the sanctuary of the fence. At least here, I can think. Though at this point in time, maybe cognitive thought processes are the last thing I should be wishing for. I stare down at my fingernails, but they won’t come into focus, so I gnaw at my fingertips instead.
Finally, he puts an arm around my waist, and points to a dark patch of cloud hanging low on the mountainside. Just as he lowers his hand, a rainbow slowly shimmers over the ridge. Then the wind changes, and those dark clouds come rolling straight towards us, bringing their storms, and their premonitions of storms.
Wishing for rainbows, and now chased by the wind. We dash through the forest, following our tracks back through the snow. I laugh till I run out of breath for laughter, keeping enough for a final whoop. So, this is us. So this is what it feels like, having wings.
Let’s just see you try and catch me.
We fall upon the towels in the bathroom, sweating and soaked. By the time we get dry, Damien’s worn out and stumbles straight into bed. I lean over the mattress and stroke his forehead. Fast asleep before I can even tuck him in. My own exhaustion’s starting to sink in, just watching him.
“Come,” Pegasus whispers in my ear. He sits beside me and pulls me down into his lap, long spidery fingers threading through my hair and massaging the knots out of my left shoulder.
I’m almost dreaming altogether when he says, “You never told me. How you felt, when she died.”
I open my eyes. Seems like it’s only a question, not an accusation. “That he was safe, no matter what happens to us.”
“What happens to us,” he echoes after me, then lays a kiss on his fingers and touches them to my cheek.
“Hush. Just hold me.”
So we’re lying in the freeze-frame, staring into each other till the lines between self and love burn away. He breaks the spell first, letting my head slide off his lap before he goes wandering up the hall. Sounds like he gets as far as the kitchen. Then his footsteps come scampering back, and now he’s standing over the bed. “When does the coach leave?” he asks, grabbing my hands as I try and pull him down next to me.
“It’s five o’clock. It’s too close, Raven.”
I blink, and sit up, and blink again. The adrenaline’s already surging through my veins, same as when we ran from the storm. Same as we’re always running. “I’ll call a taxi.”
As I stand up, he draws me into a deep kiss. Time enough to melt, desiring more, and then he leads me to the phone. During the conversation with the local taxi company, I’ve gotta look up where we are on a map taped to the fridge to give out directions to the property. After this, facing him fills my stomach with lead.
“You’re not coming with us,” he says flatly. “Are you.”
“I’ll come in the taxi. Into town.”
He grits his teeth, then says, “I meant after that.”
I touch his cheek. “It’s my destiny…to wait for my Pegasus.”
“Please don’t wait too long.” He takes me in his arms, and we hold one another in stillness and peace, for the last time…on this side.
It’s ten minutes before six, and the sky’s bleeding out over the dark mountains, when we step out of the car. I haul the suitcase out of the boot. They’ll be taking it back with them. I left everything for Pegasus: Damien, the music box, and most of the money.
I stare down at my son, fast asleep in his arms, as the cold bores through the invisible holes in my forehead. His hair whips around his rosy cheeks, just as it did in the forest, perched on the edge of reality and dream. “I don’t know how to do this,” I tell him.
He takes my hand in his. “It’s not forever. We are.”
I throw my arms around him, kissing away the stains of my tears, sins upon the immaculate powdered skin. I’ve got so much to tell you, but I can’t say the words, I can’t speak, I can’t—
He already knows.
He already knows.
Still asleep, Damien murmurs something, cocooned between us. “Don’t be scared,” Peggy whispers in my ear. He nuzzles against my cheek, and gazes longingly into my face. “You know exactly what to do. This is your dream.”
A little laugh escapes me. I want to say something to the contrary, but end up throwing one hand in the air. So cold.
“We go home.”
All around us, people have begun to appear, more and more of them shuffling past to get onboard the coach. Standing here, we’ve become a rock in the stream. The driver takes the liberty of stowing away the suitcase; already our fingertips slip one another’s grasp—me, and Peggy and my sleeping son.
Then he lifts his hand to my chin, raising my face, pressing his lips to mine. I open my mouth, tasting him, letting him taste me. Taste, touch, caress, a teardrop, a…
And now he’s moving away from me, the last passenger up the steps. Leaving me so small, so empty. Nobody sees. They never did. You’re the only ones.
I fold my arms over my chest, holding in the whirlwind, as the engine starts and he edges up to a window seat, pressing his hand to the glass, cradling Damien on his knee. I can already feel myself coming apart at the seams, like all those knots on the inside are untangling, snapping one by one, spilling forth sorrow, devotion, and despair. And love.
I give him all these things, for sake-keeping, as I blow him a kiss, touch the cross, and the coach rumbles out onto the highway.
I stare after it, till that pair of angels disappear from view, and all light within me shuts down and dies.
So, onwards, to the pub. Onwards to get as wasted as Ravenly possible with the money he left in my jacket pocket. I don’t need to care what happens to me anymore.
I never have to care again.
And right now this faith, even more beautiful for being so twisted and broken, is all I’ve got. Yes, drink. Not for escapism, and not for clarity, but fuck-it-all just cos.
I push open the doors. First duty is to call Noriko, keeping that promise; second is to caress the edges of oblivion, make-believe that a state of mind—a non-state—could be a blade against my neck.
Gotta keep moving, closer to the end.
Outside, it’s still snowing.
Five hours later, give or take what feels like a year, I stagger out of the pub, courting a particularly violent shade of nausea. The doors slam shut behind me, locking me out with the night. Maybe I overstayed my welcome.
I stare down the road, trying to focus—mind and vision—only vaguely able to recall the finer details of my last conversation: a lengthy discussion with some local high-school teacher, on the principles and possibilities of quantum physics, and godonlyknows how many drinks between. His wife…she was only young; she died last summer. But all those impressive words, and impenetrable arguments, clutching at straws with precision instruments, notions of faith, elevated above the noise-floor of words by mathematical rules, threads of science as proof…as proof…
Except now I’m just a ghost again, seeking solitude when solitude’s already suffocating me, wandering homesick beneath the stars.
We’re made out of stars. When we die, perhaps that’s where we’ll return.
That was me, wasn’t it? Telling him…
Laughter, a soft strange sound, carrying echoes of truth and insanity and sorrow.
I find the solitude I seek where else but the local graveyard, a few blocks off the main road. Gum trees sway with a lonely knowledge, leaves rustle like waves. Bathed in this ethereal glow from moonlight on snow, I pass through the gates and down the main avenue, playing the vampire seeking redemption, all the way to the end, to the statue of an angel. I get a feeling like it’s been waiting for me. Waiting to judge, waiting to set me free, waiting to cage me.
No, that’s too close…too close to sobriety. Hold me, Pegasus. Come back, wings or no. There must be another way, something I didn’t see before, where it doesn’t hurt like this hurts, where it isn’t so cold that even time’s frozen over.
Just like glass, I wish to break…
But that’s the only way.
Noriko, where are you? Why don’t you come? Or you, Monty, or you, Ma, Dad, Damien…Pegasus?
I jerk upright, my heartbeat thudding. Under my palms, ripples of consciousness make a pulse within the angel’s marble skin. Long silver tresses fall beneath its thorny crown, brushing over my wrists, then sinking into my veins. It’s coming to life, beneath my hand.
“Pegasus.” I reach out for him—stone effigy, pale apparition—speaking his name like an enchantment. My Pegasus.
But I asked you to leave. I gave you such perfect instruction in how to set up and deliver my doom. I could never let you suffer—for my sins, my mistakes, what she did to our son…
Except the form’s shifting, altering subtly, the lips softening, edges taking on a distinct female flow. I don’t even need to ask, don’t need to look, can’t bear to see. I hang my head in shame, and kneel before her. Oh, I know who you are, sure as if I belonged to you myself.
What’s inside the glass may be released.
Her voice is siren and wraith and Lilith and Eve, this voice that sings to me. This is the source, of all nightmare and knowledge, faith and dream, rose and thorn, life itself. And I’ve got no words to give her.
I don’t need any. She reaches down, and our fingertips brush together just long enough for me to feel all the pain, the dirt, the treachery, the poison, and the fear, leaking out of me, leaving me drained, clean, free. She presses a rose into my palm. And then she hardens into night and stone, just a statue again.
I open my eyes and look down at the flower. But all that’s left is the stem of bitter-sharp thorns, twined around my fingers. I hold it against my wrist, to the light of the moon, illuminated by memory…bound to one wrist, thorns breaking the skin…
All I can do is burst out laughing. Surrender myself to my own form of consumption.
Insanity equals salvation.
I wake, not remembering having slept, in a warm and unfamiliar place. But the moment the ceiling comes into focus and the dancing shadows leave my mind and join the others, I realise exactly where I am. Noriko leans over me, her skin worn by too many tears and no dreams. By some premonition, she’s changed her hair colour again, the red of congealed blood. I admire it from a distance while she strokes my forehead, telling me, “Monty found you, Raven. You passed out.”
She backs away as I sit up slowly, trying to sense… “Are Peg and Damien okay?” My voice rasps in my throat, and my tongue’s all hairy and heavy. Guess I really did drink too much.
A new shadow flickers in the doorway, and Monty’s stomping towards me. I watch him, slowly and vaguely making sense of his ‘What the hell have you done?’ tirade. So many words.
What good are words? All I’ve got is the truth. There simply isn’t anything else.
Noriko hushes him, seeing something I don’t. I let her take my hand, help me out of bed, and guide me across the hall to the door of the spare room. I take a few steps inside, but no more; an invisible indivisible wall separates me from my loves, a barrier that will not break on this side. There in the bed we once shared so long ago, Peggy and Damien sleep, curled up ouroboros-like together.
I blow them a kiss, sighing in contentment as Damien smiles and Peggy snuggles instinctively closer to him. I whisper, “I love you,” one last time, before closing the door behind me, leaving the bedroom for good.
I remember. I’ll always remember. I’m no longer afraid, no longer hurting. Everything melts away, and soon I’ll be able to spread my wings.
Noriko’s still waiting, out in the hall. Behind her, in their bedroom, Monty slouches on the bed, shoulders shaking. Are you crying, cousin? Why? There’s no need for tears anymore.
She tries to tell me something about Peggy having a terrible fever, but I drift past her, staring down at Monty, more guardian and friend to me than my own dad ever was. Yeah, you too. You’ll take such good care of my son. Filling the hole in your own heart. You were so broken when Noriko lost her baby. You think I don’t remember, so safe in the cotton wool of self-absorbed teenage angst. You’ve got no idea. But I remember everything.
“It’s time,” I tell him. “You know.”
Time to confess my sins. And bury my love down deep under lock and key, till the final rainbow comes. I’ll wait for you, Pegasus. Just like you waited for me.
Monty nods, resigned to our fate. I watch him kiss her good-bye, before he leads me away. Now my tears are all dried up, I can’t feel a thing. They won’t fall again.
In the silence of the car I stare at the scars on my wrists, all the way to the police station. Resigned to my fate, a cage within a cage.
It doesn’t matter. All this is just a trick of the light. This isn’t where it ends. This is just a temporary step, between tomorrow…
Then the butterfly flies away…
Next Chapter: 24.PEGASUS: Juliette Smiling/Final Dawn