Her eyes are empty now. She cannot see. That's all right. The man by the window, grunting in the pale light, can do nothing. He wants to do nothing, other than scritch and scratch in his tattered sketch book, to record her here, at the end, as no one ever could in life.
It's all right. I'm here, Nikolai is here, to stroke her hair, to listen to the whispers in her skull, her flesh. I don't know what will happen when her last breath hitches, when her cankered heart grows still. Ha! Maybe it never will; maybe the things that have made their nests and nurseries of its chambers will keep it pulsing forever. A strange kind of life, I suppose.
She loves them so much, her unborn children, the things birthing and devouring their young in her cold meat, her suppurating bone. I see them in her hair, feel them: the silvery fleas that sing as they devour her, that I distress with every stroke.
The man at the window, the artist, as he thinks of himself, grunts in frustration, appalled at me, that I can sit here and fawn over her, afte everything we've done, everything we've been to one another, that I allowed her to come to this.
Not my doing, not my dream! Nothing I could do, after she made her wishes plain. This, this is all she desired, at the end: to lie and listen to her children's parasite hymns, to whisper their numerous names, singing them like a nursery rhyme to herself.
Not to me, never to me. Unworthy of their songs, as I am of being their host. The fleas, the worms...they retreat from me, recoiling from my touch.
That's all right, too. I never loved them, not like her. My siblings, she called them, when she still spoke to me, before her tongue swelled and her throat filled to bursting with tainted blood: my brothers and sisters. Never understanding, never knowing them as such. My true siblings, the hundreds she birthed from her belly, that she dreamed and breathed and wept and spat into being, all dead now, along with the stars they sired, the worlds they wrote and painted.
I am the last, and so is this place: a scrap, a mote of being, that she has sustained for so long, against every entropy and apocalypse, against fire and cold and corruption, against the rising and drying of oceans, the withering of woods, the collapse of every nexus and corner of creation.
This place, this sanctuary, sustaining, until its architect herself no longer dreams.
"I don't know why you're wasting your time. There's no one to see."
The artist doesn't glance up from his work, maybe doesn't even hear me. He didn't even when the screams of a million murdered children rose from the vale below, when their souls raked and scraped at the walls, the gates, the windows. Barely even blinked. Not even when the angels of a thousand different Heavens descended, hurling themselves against the walls and windows, singing such temptations to us as to make their fallen brothers blush. Not even when they started to wither and sicken, when the silence stole their exquisite songs. Not when the stars that sired them and they sired in their turns started to flicker out.
I almost laugh. Almost cry out. The first voice, save for those of the unborn, that I've heard in so long, so long. Dry and dusty, croaking and quavering, the most unlovely thing, compared to the choirs she contains, but, against the silence that presses in from outside?; The poetry of angels.
Barely pausing in his renditions, his chalk and charcoal and blood smeared fingers moving over the page, tearing failed or preliminary sketches free, letting them fall like Autumnal leaves around his chair, to drift into the nearby fire.
A time when there might have been some ritual element to it all, when the symbolism of our state might have spawned new states of being. I've seen it happen, watched her dance and sing worlds, witnessed her tears and poetry become stars, her blood the oceans from which new gods arise, as I did, though from what manner of effluent she would never tell.
"The last...the last."
The artist sneers, eyes roving to and fro like a bird's enraptured by some clockwork engine, some machine in perpetual motion.
"Don't think that means anything. You were lucky; that's all."
As was he, though he seems to be in denial of the fact. Yes, I was lucky. I came to her, wretched and bleeding and empty, as I so often did, seeking her pity, her milk and songs. Why she ever indulged me, I can't say: I was never the most beautiful, the strongest or most inspired. When I think of the brothers and sisters that have gone before, who have been forgotten, while I have survived and sustained to her final days, to the last days of all...
No, there is no poetry here, no artist's intent, no wider purpose. Maybe, maybe, we might have made that together, once. Maybe we could have created something more enduring than the states we did, the sad and sorry rounds that hosted the same sad and sorry creatures, portraits and gospels of the same misery, over and over and over...
We deserve our pain. She certainly does; not the Mother of all suffering, but of enough to make little difference. So much of it ours, her lost and abandoned and unwanted children, so much of her abuse heaped upon us, as though we might bear some blame for the rapes and random chances that saw us conceived, the violence with which we were born.
"You can stop, now. For Heaven's sake, you can stop."
The artist laughs, dry and rasping and humourless.
"For Heaven's sake? What has Heaven ever had to do with it? I know I can stop. I've known since the last bells ceased pealing, since the last whimpers faded. I know you won't look, wouldn't understand, even if you did. I know there's no one, except perhaps the fire."
"The void. The dark. The emptiness. When it comes, and it is so close, now, I will show it my work. I will let it gaze into my soul that I've poured out on these pages and fill me with such abyssal nothing, such a lack and silence...oh, you can't imagine. Can't imagine how much I ache for it."
He's wrong. I know that ache, to be nothing. I've known it since my first kindling, since the earliest thought. Of course I have! Wretched, writhing whelp! Ugly, deformed, diseased little grotesque! Of course I know. In the hateful light of my dead brothers and sisters, in their luminous beauty or fathomless, majestic darkness, of course I know. I should have passed long ago, become less than rumour, as they all have.
But she...she wouldn't allow it. I don't know why; she's certainly spat her share of cruelties my way in the past, heaped disgrace upon me that should have inspired hatred enough to abandon and forget her, as so many of my brothers and sisters did, before the end.
Always allowed to crawl back, to sift through the open window, the cracks in her temple walls. Always rewoven, from her milk and menses, from her spit and filth. I don't know why, even here, in extremis. Will never know and don't care to.
All I want now is to be here, to wait and watch as the fire burns low, as the whispering silence closes in, as we wither together, praying against all hope and despair that there'll be no revolution or rebirth after this, that we can go to nothing together at last.
I never deluded myself that there'd be any dignity at the end, when I finally felt the last of her flicker out, the last ember dying in the cold night. I never pretended that I'd be more than I've been in all of the myriad lives and states she's woven for me, that I've crafted and stolen and scavenged.
A thing of shit, always. A thing of gnawed bones and disease, of rotting flesh and deformity. The resented babe, who robbed her of all ego, who showed her at the last what monstrosity she was truly capable of creating.
But even I didn't expect this.
A scream that shudders the surrounding stone, cracking the glass in the darkened windows, that makes the wooden beams and book cases groan and splinter.
They swarm from her, the nameless and unborn children that she so loved, that she adored more than any that inherited her divinity.
Bitch! Selfish, uncaring bitch!
The last lamentations, the final cries of all creation: a spoiled child's resentment of its own birth. What else does it warrant? What else can there be?
No storm, no fire, no blood: nothing like the ends I have witnessed and sired, that I have watched her weave in her moments of ennui and disappointment, in her rages and despairs. Such ends we have seen! I wish there were time for at least one more, a world to sire, to dream, to allow to dream of itself, then to crush, crumbling it to nothing between my fingers like a grain of dust, the cries of those lost to it my only lullabies, the only diversion from my own wretchedness.
I don't try to stop them; my wiser siblings, her more beloved children. They surge from her, the sack of her last flesh withering, bursting before my eyes, the children of her rot, her diseased marrow, her black and septic soul, spilling across the stone floor, swarming across the the walls as they blister and bleed darkness, fading with every heartbeat.
The artist, the one they used to call Peake, before he went mad, before he lost all he loved and lived for, scribbling furiously, biting his lip bloody, trying to record these final moments, this ultimate decay.
Not even a whisper of love left for me, not a rumour of contempt. She is gone, the Mother of all creation, murdered by her dissatisfaction with what she spawned, the ignorance of her most beloved.
And we are left: the most wretched and diseased of her bastards, the great ones, the lords of death and storms, the makers of oceans and galaxies, the inspirations of civilisations, all long, long forgotten, no one left now to remember them, except me.
And I have forgotten most of them by my own will, out of envious spite for their beauty, their brilliance.
They feed themselves to it, the carrion and parasites she loved more than any of us, swarming to be devoured by the silence, to become emptiness in their turn.
I know that inclination, feeling it like invisible chains lodged in my entrails, drawing me away from the fireside, to the windows as they fracture, to the door as it shudders in its lintel, swelling, splintering.
Peake murmurs as he scribbles, his pencil worn to almost nothing, his fingers bleeding. Prayers to divinities that no longer exist, that wouldn't answer, even if they did.
He and I, the last. A whelp and a mad man, all that remains of everything. Every myth, every dream, every state and story.
Standing, I stumble through them, the living, seething carpet as they worm and skitter towards the pools of expanding darkness, the absence that hurts my eyes and mind, that isn't even darkness, the mere absence of light, but nothing, a condition that even she never dreamed of, that she never believed could be, until the very end.
That she is one with, now, as my siblings are, and we all will soon be.
"Where are you going?"
Not glancing up from his work, his lips bleeding freely, now. His fingers, too.
He sniggers, understanding the joke. Maybe the only man who ever could.
"Are you coming? The fire's almost out. Not much paper left."
Piles of it surrounding him, that might have become the inspiration for hills or mountains, in a more verdant and inspired age.
Not here, where there's nothing and no one to imagine it, nothing and no one who cares.
"No, I...no. I'm going to sit for a while, and think of nothing."
Leaning back, setting down the wretched nub of his pencil, closing his book at last. With barely a flinch, he hurls it into the fire, lambent tears streaming down his face as it and he both kindle, as the pages and his skin char. He doesn't scream, doesn't even quiver, but watches as the stuff of his soul goes to ash, as its embers rise and fade.
I think I hear him laughing, as I go to the door, as I grasp the handle, so cold that frost forms upon the moulded brass, wrenching the frozen mechanism open.
Nothing. Emptiness and silence enough to make me scream, to break whatever parody of sanity I ever entertained.
It whispers to me, its silence sings, abyssal hymns, a suicide's lullabies. It won't merely take me, as it has everything else: it will fill me, it will undo the fact of me. Every rumour, every echo, silenced at last.
What else have I ever begged for?
A choked farewell, mutilated by fire. Then, I step out into the dark, forget myself and everything: the answer to my first choked and shrieking prayer, that of all born things, in resentment of the being they never asked for.
George Lea is an entity that seems to simultaneously exist and not exist at various points and states in time and reality, mostly where there are vast quantities of cake to be had. He has a lot of books. And a cat named Rufus. What she makes of all this is anyone's guess.