Trapdoor: a novel by Vixen Phillips
Now, The Last Thorn
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.
And all of this so long ago, in a time and space that doesn’t exist anymore.
My beautiful Pegasus, lost to a dream. I must wait for you once more, believing life begins again. Only now I know better.
As the shadows dance and die a thousand times, I wait. My beautiful Pegasus. My beautiful…
It’s a dark night. No moon, and no stars. I remember it for this, the slamming of the front door, and her warmth departing as she leaves me to surrender herself to him. A night the same as any other.
But beneath the surface, the darkness gets into everything, seeps into my heart, fills my mind with blood and shadow. I remember it so well. I’m seven years old…again…
He throws her onto the mattress, ignoring my presence for the secondary mistake I already know myself to be. The one time we spend together as father and son is when I’m forced to listen to Ma’s screams, her pain…her pleasure. Always the same, this transformation, from victim to accomplice. She always gives in, her mind so weak, her flesh too willing.
I remember the betrayal as though it’s the first time, every time. It isn’t rape if you tell him not to stop, Ma.
I’m shaking, this night, by the time he’s done with her and gets around to noticing me. Hands become more familiar shapes once they’re made into fists. Hatred is the easiest mask to cover up my true feelings, and I hate them both, but I hate myself best of all. And no less than on this night, when he passes on his sickness, the night he hurts me too much.
He takes hold of my hands, both of us stained in the bloody darkness, both of us reeking of the one poison. He tells me we’re the same.
This is the night I make up my mind, that neither of us deserves to be safe from death.
Ma’s voice, screaming my name, haunts my dreams for more than a year after he’s gone. Figure our dreams must be the same, once the strangers come to take her away too, leaving me behind. I’m finally alone.
This is what you wanted, isn’t it, Raven?
Is it not?
Then what? Tell me.
I want the same damn thing I always wanted, all those years ago, formed as a child, broken as a creature doomed never to be man or child. I’m not worthy of salvation. That’s why they took her, not me.
Don’t you see it? Look in the mirror, that hatred is all you are.
They could never love…
Love. Does love even exist?
If love is real, it’s something you’ll never feel. You failed, Raven. You failed by fulfilling that prophecy you feared and hated the most.
No. There never was anything as simple as choice.
This has no meaning or value. You are your father’s son.
The other half of your promise remains incomplete. Or had you forgotten?
The knife looks so beautiful in the morning light. Can’t you feel that beauty?
I don’t want to look, but this voice in my mind’s got such a hold on me I can’t bring myself to move. No, I’ve got to—
What? The voice keeps up the taunts, as I move closer to the glowing object, to caress the blade. I’m looking at myself outside the mirror, outside my body. The cage door is open. They’ve been too careless. So why is it you can’t fly free?
I’ve got no wings.
Even in the final moments you shield yourself with your unworthiness.
No, I’ve got to wait.
I don’t know.
But love is for those with warm hearts and beautiful dreams. What’s in your heart? What do you dream of, Raven?
I don’t know.
Yes, you do. Her voice, screaming—is it your name, Raven, is she screaming for you to stop?
Would she prefer the betrayal over the salvation you offered?
She’s crying, why don’t you see? Tears more delicate and flawed and real than the throbbing in your hands you can’t make stop after hitting him so hard. Look at yourself and tell me you’re worthy of love.
I stare at my wrists instead, till the voice fades to nothingness, and I’m alone, again.
The knife falls to the floor without making a sound. Beyond the reach of any pain, the soft stains appear, surprisingly delicate.
I crawl to the bedroom, watching the petals drip drip drip onto the carpet, down into the abyss I’ve become, swallowed up by the nothingness. Why must I always be alone? I wanted—
God, I don’t know what I wanted, but I know it was different, before that night. A long time before.
What am I seeing, here in my heart? The words elude me, the onlookers who aren’t real don’t care. I—
Arms to hold me when I begin to cry. Stupid of me to cry, when nothing can be changed. I think I whisper her name as the world fades to grey, that girl my cousin plans to have children with…
Perhaps next time I can be worthy. The one I might love could find me then, unstained by blood or tears, uncomplicated like the world in a way I’m not, now.
I wake in the room of white light with no windows, and they’ve cleaned off all my blood. I didn’t dream her voice screaming my name. From this moment on, I never dream. Or, at least, I manage to convince myself and the others of this.
But I still look for a white feather on my pillow every morning, though never expecting to find it.
I resign myself to fate.
All alone, so all alone, roaming the blackest eternity. I can’t feel myself. Can’t cry either, not even for those things I used to love.
Watching the blood, drip drip drip, sensing otherwise blind through the endless darkness. Feeling my mind, turning over with my stomach. Fuck you. How dare all of you leave me alone like this?
I was so, so close. Was that really happiness?
Don’t say those words to me, those words that always turn out to be a lie. How the fuck could I be worthy of those words?
Your eyes tear through me so much deeper than the knife ever could.
All alone, so all alone, I whisper the name of the one I love. The name I never knew before. Eternally too late, my most beautiful irony. My love too worthless for you to wait around any longer. Isn’t that the truth?
Even so, I can’t hate you, I can’t hate any of you. I can only hate myself. And when there’s nothing else left, I can see I’m the poison that flows through these veins.
Leaving fingerprints on the walls, I stare through my emptiness, out to the other side. Truth taunts me, as cold as the surface beneath my flesh. I’m the angel who could never fly.
I want to be so much better, next time.
I know, the moment he enters the cell, that everything’s over. Everything’s finally come undone.
I sit and watch the thread of my life untangle itself into a flat-line emulation, as he passes over the envelope, a single word upon its face, written in that perfect script, wasted on that word. My name.
I’ve got neither name nor form as I take the letter from Monty—Monty, not Pegasus—and I read the final good-bye.
Beautiful white-winged angel tells me to wait for him, to come with him, to come home…one day.
Sad yet perfect silver eyes tells me he loves me, and signs it with his own name, the name I never knew. Je taime. J’aime. Jaime. A word for love.
I grasp hold of this tiny sphere of light, though I’m scared to even touch it, and more scared to let it go. Love’s always been a trap to taunt me with its promises of unendings and almost enoughs—wait, be patient, and salvation will come.
Endless laughter, and I can’t make it stop. It’s my laughter. I’m laughing cos this is the only response I’ve got.
I think I always thought we’d go together, somehow. Holding hands like kids, and you’d teach me how to fly; you’d show me the light I’ve been so afraid of, let it shatter the cage and shine on my disintegration. But this tiny sphere is all there is. I cradle it beside me, in the cold shadows of my solitary confinement. Even while I let every one of those faceless animals do anything they want to me, till anger—which is only soothing for being something stark against all the other nothings—takes control and I need to be beaten into submission again.
Reality. Have I ever been there? I thought, maybe once, but now my only reality lies safe within this tiny sphere.
You took everything, Pegasus. You took everything away and left nothing for me. Same as your sister, for her part. And I killed you both. Is it any wonder?
No, different with you. You were the first, last, and only… I wanted to give those things to you. And I engineered my own self-destruction so artfully I never noticed, not till it had me in its stranglehold, too late to escape or cry out for help.
Besides, who would listen? Who could ever have understood?
At night, I whisper to the tiny sphere, the sad secret of this truth: the only one who understands or can help me now is myself.
But I hate myself.
I gave you the power of destruction thinking only I could trigger it. Stupidity.
At night, when I’m alone with my cage, I let it cry, and I let it break, unable to finish the job on the outside that’s already begun within. If I ever get hold of a knife again, it will become my paintbrush. I will make myself the perfect canvas, the perfect reflection. Then all the world might be able to look in and see what they’ve done to me…
What I’ve done to my self…
No more barriers. Would they understand, finally? Or would they simply paint over the bleeding cracks in the ice, sew me back together like a poor child’s doll, pet me on the head and toss me into the cage again? Would anyone even notice the difference?
Monty murmurs something about a funeral. Shadows dance in front of my face, taunting me, disappearing when I focus on them, reforming as thorns around the outskirts of my sight. When I can find the words, I tell him at last that they shouldn’t put my beautiful angel in a box, they should scatter him over the waves and leave him to become eternal seafoam, just as he wished. My voice is barely a whisper, parched and foreign-sounding within the splintering walls of my cage. I look up, wondering if he can hear me. But he’s gone, and there’s nobody here.
It’s a dark night. No moon, and no stars. I remember it for this, the slamming of the door behind me, all warmth departing as I return to hell. A night the same as any other, stained forever with that same darkness. I remember it so well. I’m eighteen years old, and too drunk to care.
Her eyes and hands are everywhere, wanting to maul the cage, keeping me so trapped through proof of my unworthiness that I can’t even think to pray for salvation.
I want to imagine his face in her place, but everything is wrong.
You should be with the person who makes you happy, Raven.
No. Me, just me. I’m not allowed to feel. And besides, the person I love doesn’t want me around. He would’ve come, that night. He’d come any night, to save me from this.
Now I can’t get away, and I don’t want to get away. Maybe she can be the one to destroy me. It’s the best I can hope for.
When I came to her I was fucked up, but somewhere inside I think I still had some inkling of self-worth…
She rips it into shreds with her perfect claws, dancing over my skin, dresses me in thorns like the ultimate prize. I lose myself because she’s always watching me, wanting to be there inside my head all the time, and I can never break free.
I dream of being alone when I’m optimistic enough to think I might survive such a thing. I dream these things during the day, when we’re out walking, me and my tiny son, my second angel. And I dream such a thing when we end our visits with the one I love and he turns away, dismissing me. That’s not the path, then.
Nights are forever bitterly cold, and I seek refuge in the same things that destroyed my dad. I become that person, stretching the mould to fit like a straight-jacket, in the belief it will kill me more easily.
I’m so tragically wrong that after she’s done with me and lying deep within her empty sleep, I laugh at myself in this darkness, till the tears wear me down, and I stagger to the bathroom, puking up our twin poisons, and I turn to the blade and set about freeing myself again.
This sequence, this snapshot, becomes my life. Once she’s gotten inside my head, there’s nothing I can do to stop her. Feelings become weaknesses, truths the object of ridicule and scorn. I give up on every childhood dream, my last shrinking refuges stowed away in razors and music and my son. So much easier to lie here and do nothing. So much easier to believe what she tells me about myself.
Resigning myself to my own cowardice that doesn’t let me cut myself deep enough to put an end to all this, I lie in the dark and pray to a god I never had faith in. Please let it all end soon. There’s no point to this. I will believe in you, if only you’ll destroy me.
I touch a photo of Pegasus in the darkness, the only one of us I could keep. Please kill me more quickly than this.
In the morning I always wake to her interrogations, poking about inside my skull, her words demanding more pieces of me—she can never, ever get enough. Or is it that I can’t be enough? Either way…
Soon I give up on praying to God who, even if He does exist, seems to enjoy mocking me all the more by ignoring my pleas. I ponder His alternative, except all I’m seeking by this time is to escape hell, not spend eternity there.
When she finds the photo of Pegasus and I, she rips it into shreds, and turns to face me once again.
This is an infinite loop. I accept this, too easily.
Not easily enough.
Bail hearings, doors and keys and money changing hands for my safe-keeping, and here I am, stepping out into the dim light of the world, standing beside Monty. Free of one cage, still trapped firmly within the first.
Did you expect it to be any different? Really?
Yeah. Yeah, I really did, damn you all to hell.
I grow tired of all the voices, this chorus to rouse my fleeting anger. Anger is something, and I can’t be something anymore. I must be nothing.
So there’s only emptiness. This way, the voice I’ve been waiting for will get a chance to be heard.
People, others, here…familiar faces, familiar place. I was born nearby, child who somehow escaped death with a blunt object before ever getting a chance at life, unlike the first. Maybe you’ve gone to meet him in my stead, Pegasus. I always was the poorest substitute.
No one can look at me, so I’m not afraid of trying to stare right through every one of them. At least they didn’t bring our son. He should believe in his heart that his angel really flew away, not be distracted by the empty cage rotting in the box they lower into the ground. It’s all I can do to trap my tears as the coffin disappears from view, and a scream pierces my heart. To sidetrack myself from having any feelings of my own, I go back to concentrating on the others. Another cowardly attempt to save myself, heart bound shut with barbed wire and dozens of thorns.
Monty stands, one hand in his pocket, the other over his heart, eyes closed. By his mud-encrusted feet, Noriko sits cross-legged, face turned up to the heavens, index fingers touching her thumbs, arms outstretched over her knees. I watch the rise and fall of her chest, so hypnotic, so constant. She doesn’t blink. Things she knows that I could never understand. Did you escape all this; did you make it to where Pegasus is? Tell me…
And last of all, Ma. Do you blame yourself for everything? You should. You did everything you could to protect me while I lay half dormant within you, and you were enough, for that. You told me I could do anything I wanted, never stopping to think what would happen when I eventually and inevitably found out that I couldn’t. And you let me live, so I might destroy everything I ever cared about. Yes, Ma, you are so to blame.
Each one of you who cared enough to keep me alive, only so it could all come to this. Maybe that’s why none of you can look me in the eye. Or maybe it’s cos I no longer exist.
With every one of the sermon’s passing words, I can feel myself disappear. Dissolving into the earth as they fill the box over, inscribing its resting place with white roses, and the name I knew too late.
I become the worms that eat into decomposing flesh.
I become the flesh itself, dripping off the bones, the stench, and last of all, the lifeless emptiness.
Three spears of light rip the sky apart, and it begins to rain. I watch she whom no one else can see turn her back on me and walk into the ocean, steps in time to a melody only half-remembered. When I look down, I realise she’s left another thorn for me, glistening at my feet. Her last gift.
I love you, Raven.
“Pegasus,” I whisper, clutching at the cross around my neck, another gift that when kept from me kept me from myself.
Overhead, the clouds are parting. It’s already over. Soon, the rainbow will come. I can finish it, like this. I can finally be that strong.
The sun shines down on me alone, a halo of illumination just for me, and somewhere beyond, my son. If I can find my way through the clouds and ice, I know I can make it home to you. Now I see how it ends, beautiful angel. I’ve been such a fool.
I think…this is the first time since that night I’ve seen my face in a mirror. Lit only by the full moon, I erase the shapes. I could be brave enough, just in this moment, not to hate myself.
Pegasus. I’ve been waiting for you. Please touch me. Please hold my hand. It made me so happy, when you did that. I always wondered if you ever saw.
Strands of silver drape over my wet skin, reflected in the light like a knife, as he kneels to kiss the scars on my wrists, the delicate thorns left for me as a sign by his mama. The kisses sting, but they won’t heal to become scars, not this time.
He smiles at me, blood staining his lips, his whole body shining through the shadow as he beckons to me. Our feet pad across the staining tiles, and we return to the bed where we once lay together, each of us saving the other from our hurts. Protection.
It can be this way again. Even if he’s the one whispering, Sleep, my beautiful angel, in my ears, and teasing free my wings. He plucks out a single black feather, placing it carefully upon the pillow by my face, then one of his own, black and white merging into soft grey as I feel my tiredness, my self, all draining away.
Yes. I accept this. This is all I can do.
Is it enough, Pegasus?
You are enough, Raven. Truly.
Through the clouds, I’m finding my way. It seems so easy to fly, I wonder how I could’ve been so afraid before.
Leaving only our son, to remember us as real.
When I find you again, Pegasus, I will lay you down on the soft sand by our ocean and cover your soul with my wings and kisses.
Kisses are feathers. My wings are very strong.
And, following the truth in my heart, when I make it home to you, I’ll finally give you what I was never brave enough to give you before.
Everything, of my self. You might love me again.
I fly higher…the world beneath us regrets and forgets.
Soon, it will be dawn.
Next Chapter: 26.EPILOGUE: At The End Of The Rainbow