Of course I could. So easy, at least in the telling; a few words, silence after. Lingering, lingering; waiting for the storm that would never come.
Nothing, the book closed; wordless apocalyse that we both ached for, that we both denied...
Why? Why couldn't I just tell the damn story, have it done with..?
Footsteps on the landing outside, soft, stealthy; an assassin's tread, come to put me out of my misery. The door sliding open almost silently. Almost.
“Hey. You want some coffee?”
“Oh, bloody Hell, yes.”
Milk, three sugars; frothed to dessert sweetness. He knew; his hand on my shoulder, the other setting a steaming mug on my desk. A chaste peck on my cheek, a rasp of stubble.
“What's the plan for today?”
“This; got to get this fucking manuscript done.”
“The serial killer thing? I enjoyed that one...”
“No; no. That more or less wrote itself; Cam's already looking over it. Just waiting for him to get back with the edit, you know?; This one...”
Fits and starts, feverish; inspired by its own winter chill.
“...I don't quite know, to be honest.”
A nameless thing, waking in a bed of snow; an empty world...save for ghosts; echoes of those whose neighbourhoods it wandered, whose homes and memories it invaded. Old songs, old whispers; confessions so desperate to be heard, as though they might be absolved in the telling; released from the Hell of remembering.
“Don't those ones usually turn out the best?”
What career I'd carved out for myself founded on them; random scraps, scribbled during more desperate years; before Alistair, before his money gave me time, space; freshly ground coffee in my mug, a centrally heated study; a consistent roof over my head. On buses, at cafes, waiting for trains; many unrelated, or seemingly so, when they first manifested on paper; their relations becoming apparent later, when I took time to type them up, expand them into something half coherent...
“I might be a bit later than usual tonight; we've got a staff meeting about some stupid fucking thing. I'll try to get away as early as I can...”
Turning to him, into a kiss that continued, tasting of bon fires in frost.
“Okay, I think that's enough. Or neither of us will get anything done.”
So easy; a telephone call, a text; the computer set to stand by. A day together, closed curtains; on the sofa, a season of something mindless. Too much, in recent days; too much than is good for either of us.
“What do you fancy for dinner?”
“I don't know. We still got enough stuff to make a Rogan Josh?”
“Yeah, I think so. If not, I'll pop into town for an hour or two; you know, blow the cobwebs away.”
He loved it; this world he created; the home, the profession; the boyfriend; a published author, a cook; a pretty, younger thing to flaunt.
I loved it, too. Impossible, barely a couple of years ago; a dream of others, a fairy tale, that I would never know.
The thought of it ending...enough to make me nauseous.
A staff meeting.
Sudden lightning inside, illuminating an image behind my eyes: he and one of his students; a boy barely beyond high school, sweating and grunting over a classroom desk...
A trick of old anxieties, that he'd done so much to help me exorcise.
Standing, going to him, not even showered this morning; still stinking of sleep, dreams; last might's sex. Arms around his neck, a closer, longer kiss.
Breaking from me, laughing through hitched breath.
“I've got to go. Tonight, yeah?”
A shower, before it started again; Winter calling.
The empty room; my room. A gift; renovated, decorated, before I moved in, outside my knowing, until he first ushered me through the door.
Book cases lining the walls, most laden, sagging with ill-organised volumes, folders; files and piles of loose notes. Toys and figurines and ornaments; brick-a-brack of childhood; of the waking now. The desk my favourite part; in front of the far window, which looked out over the back garden (untended, save for the herb and vegetable patches that were his pride and joy), elaboratly carved; deeply stained, scratched and marked from its pevious use. An antique, by all accounts; the most expensive piece of furniture in the house.
An especial shelf separated from the rest, lined with copies of my published work (a detail that he always made a point of showing guests).
His precious, pretty, clever boy.
Waiting for me; document still open, computer singing.
Snow and cold and emptiness; a void that made me smile and shiver. Where was he? Who was she?; My androgyne wanderer, my lost and naked child, padding through the snow, unknown, even to itself, following whispers; distant, faded things, echoes of a time long gone. Lights and faces flickering in darkened windows, shapes dancing at the edges of sight, dissolving into snow and static nonsense beneath its eyes. Children playing, whimpering; singing secrets and confessions that their parents would shudder to hear.
Where are you going, sweetheart? What is this world..?
Not knowing, any more than I did; walking it together, discovering through one another's eyes. My strange, sexless child; no clue as to its nature in its face, the proportions of its body; from one perspective, more masculine, from another, decidedly feminine...shifting with every step, every flicker of expression. Between its legs..?; Shadow nonsense; a state that my eyes slipped from like fingers scrabbling at a puzzle box of polished ice, not able or willing to define; sometimes seeming to protrude, others to flower and gape; not both, never entirely one or the other. A flux that might madden, if fixated on overlong...
An insect buzz, a bone rattle, tearing me from the cold; our communion. Far longer than it felt; the day already swollen, cold sunlight streaming through the window at my back.
My mobile phone, buzzing its demands against the stained wood. Baring my teeth, a wolf snarl; silent curses for whoever called me from the cold; from intimacy with my lost and strange babe.
Worse, far worse; the reluctant gratitude, to be back in the warmth and waking.
Plucking up the hated device (one that Alistair insisted on, since we first became lovers), a familiar name and face painted across its screen.
Almost not answering, returning to the white and the wastes. Old anxieties demanding otherwise; poisonous whispers swarming behind my eyes:
Do it; leave it 'til tomorrow. You know what might happen...
How would that make you feel? What would that do to you, knowing all you had to do was pick up the fucking phone..?
Snatching up the phone. Hating myself; the indulgence of it, the surrender.
“Hey...hey, Trev. How are things?”
A momentary burst of demon-babble; some static interference, Trevor's voice emerging from the nonsense:
“...Pat? I'm...I'm sorry; I know you're working.”
Perpetual apology; a status the man had worked so hard to break, but so ingrained; his default condition; to be alien and absurd in any situation, any company; an irritant, endured rather than enjoyed.
Often a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“Don't worry about it; I could use a break, truth be told.”
Nervous laughter, crackling that makes it sound as though he's lying on a bed of crisp packets.
“That's...kind of convenient. I was going to ask...”
Breathless, the conversation no doubt rehearsed ten times or more before he called, the lines coming in ahrythmic, unbroken stream:
“...you maybe want to come over? I can make us lunch...”
Refusals risng like vomit in my throat: I'm sorry, sweety; I'd love to, but I can't: I have other plans; in the wastes, with my lost creature, my nether-child.
Nothing else, until Alistair got home: alone in the wastes. That was okay; I liked it there, in the snow and silence, the strange lights, the whispers...
Wondering, wondering: what had murdered humanity, in that state? What had undone the cycle of seasons, made Earth a cemetery Eden, a garden of ghosts?; Perhaps some military or cosmological experiment gone awry; some engine designed to peer into undisclosed dimensions or probabilities; to provide perpetual energy or to hurl us to the very edges of known creation...maybe cosmological phenomena; something never known or perceived in all of humanity's history, ending us as suddenly as we began. An occult rite, an arcane spell; alien or extra-dimensional influence...
Maybe not quite so clear cut; any and all, none that I or my creature or those that follow us would ever know.
Swallowing the filth back, needing a little respite; a place in the warm; familiar humanity.
“That sounds good. About what time?”
A sigh of relief, another burst of demon-chatter. “...about an hour?; I can have something ready by then.”
“About an hour it is.”
Call ended, a brief wander in the snow and emptiness.
Away. Away from conern and confusion; away from worry and jealousy and yearning. A ghost, trailing its child's footsteps.
Whispers on the wind, calling it to where they played; where they fell on one another. Where they scrabbled and sang and wept; where they lay, frozen in their flights and mournings; their confusion, their wittering pleas for salvation from the coming snow (none hearing, none answering, until now).
My child going to them, drawn by their whispers; clusters of black, withered forms, half buried in the snow, so densely entwined with one another as to seem like parts of the same anatomy; parents fused with children in an attempt to insulate them against the cold, lovers now more one than they could have ever dreamed in ephemeral love making. Many seemingly caught in the act of flight; attempting to outrun the apocalyptic cold or whatever first brought it down. Others on their knees, faces raised to the sky. Statues of frozen flesh, testaments to an end that none foresaw. Some in their cars, crashed to a halt; murdered by their own hands before the cold could find them. Others in their homes; sat in front of long dead TV sets or computers, in bed, their quilts and covers welded to their bodies by frost more completely than by any fire. Following as it went to them, drawn like a magpie to shimmers of silver; a moth to bonfires.
The dead far from inert, here; certainly not to its sight or mine; blazing with blue and green flame, some pale to the point of colourless, others deep and bright; rising high into the grey and swollen sky. Forms in the flames; flickering, flimsy; child's scrawls, stretching and distorting in the wind, endlessly whispering; broken, fractured stories; of their lives before winter, of the world that was.
As though confession might absolve them, as though our hearing might somehow open a way to salvation.
The secrets they told...accounts that might or not have been true; things imagined, things wanted or dreaded or dreamed, all presented in the same, fretful, desperate manner; the actual and imagined having no distintion:
Here, what was once the car park of a sink-estate flat block, now a small desert of pale drifts and dunes, a sexless, shrivelled thing at the wheel of an old fashioned mini-cooper, hands fused with the plastic, another, smaller form in the back seat, head thrown back, as though seeing angels through the ceiling.
Father and daughter, the former howling, voice thin and distant, as he chased the latter endlessly, reaching to embrace her only for their insubstantial forms to disperse, pass through one another. The Father slowing at my own child's approach, staring at it with hollow, ragged eyes.
The stories coming without greeting, without context; of the wife he treated as a second Mother; his maid, his sex-doll; seceretary and chaperone; unabashed in his self-condemnation:
...no wonder she left us. No wonder...
The girl laughing as she paused, perched on a nearby dune, waiting for Daddy to follow.
...wait...wait for Daddy, sweetheart...
Laughing, laughing as Daddy crawled, as Daddy slipped and slid after her. Such knowing in her eyes as they found us; such conscious cruelty.
Elsewhere, a once-park that had become a desert of snow, littered with the frozen forms of dogs; their masters, children at play. Contradictory fires, rising high; great conflagrations like witch's bon fires, fed by the powdered bones of murdered babes. The children still at play, some, at least; a small gaggle screaming and barking laughter as they chased a weaker specimen through the snow, the diminutive one burning brighter than all the rest combined, flaring to drive them back, turning on them with high-pitched harpy-shrieks, a voice like metal claws running over the strings of an ill-turned violin. Smiling at us, as they scampered back, as they fled from it, gathering form and substance as it approached.
The others; the cowering and animal pursuers, scattering, dispersing into cold-condensed tatters of breath and weeping, pathetic threats.
More coherent than most; able to speak, able to hold itself. My child not answering; not with its spoken voice, at least.
A smile, the child laughing; a child no longer; transforming before our eyes; warping in the fire that wreathed it, limbs lengthening, neck elongating, its face becoming almost crocodilian; a black-eyed, saw-toothed beast; an echo of one that the girl used to dream, back when she lived.
They used to chase me; Billy and his friends. He got sick when the cold came.
She liked that; hating him, hating him; liked watching him cough and moan, liked watching him shiver.
Calling to her, trying to speak, though I had no mouth or voice here; though I was less than a mote of snow or dust.
The creature she became bounding away through the snow, sniffing out the traces and tatters; raking them from the air, into the dunes, where they coalesced, shivering; children still, lacking the wit or imagination to dream themselves other. Whimpering not only in fear, but in jealousy of their victim's new state, of her solidity; pleading with my child to lend them a little of the same.
Happy to, with a glance, with a breath. The one that the former girl pinned down in the snow suddenly screaming like a wounded pig, the others flocking to it, swarming around the pair as we watched. My child smiling, tendrils of silver vapour seeping between its teeth, the shadowed uncertainty of its sex disturbed, rippling and distorting. All of them kindling in sudden, common conflagration, their stories, their desperate confessions, merging as one; a single, contradictory tale that seethed and elaborated into surreal nonsense. As for the spectres themselves, swelling in their own pale fires, like their victim before them; the one she pinned down in the snow with a many-fingered, spidery talon swelling and bubbling, its swine-screams congealing around it into a bloated, gelatinous form, many eyes rolling in its folds and recesses, a porcine mouth biting at its captor.
The others dancing, laughing even as they kindled; knots of matter like wax in the flames, but swelling rather than melting, taking on form and substance beneath our fascinated and appalled attentions.
Soon, a new menagerie; something far beyond ghosts and echoes running wild in the desolation.
Maybe our business here; why I dreamed the child into being: to populate tomorrow; to make something new from the filth and sorrow of yesterday.
Yes; idiot insistance; the paranoid twittering of an alarm clock in the back of my mind. Timeless, here; an hour meaning nothing.
Wandering, following in the child's wake; through parks and fields, streets and market squares and neighbourhoods.
Magpie fascination drawing her; the fires and embers, the stories and songs.
The beaten-senseless Mother, frozen in the process of being dragged along behind her husband, bleeding and half-delirious from her last transgression; a new crime that she'd not known of before, that she hadn't understood would hurt him so. Bodies fused at the hands beneath the snow, the child in her arms all but featureless; a black tumor, a knot of nothing, tears long since gone to crystals and dust.
Their polluted fires blazing; the Father's belching black smoke, the Mother's thin and pellucid, almost nothing. The child?; A stuttering light, brilliant blue and green, shifting and flaring in its Mother's smothering embrace.
The day winter came like any other, for them; an unwanted waking, tip-toeing around the house, hardly a whispered word, for fear of waking Daddy. Daddy, who'd been working all night. Daddy, who'd played with his trains, with her, most of yesterday; who'd let her work them at the controls. Daddy, who was so sad so much of the time; so tired.
Daddy, who sometimes swelled out of his skin and became something black and wild-eyed; who sometimes called her name in nightmares, slurred and growling, as he sometimes did Mommy's. How she knew; that Mommy had been bad again; had done something stupid again. Not understanding; money and loans and bank accounts. Bills and telephone calls and men on the doorstep, calling Daddy home from work...
The same story, told in so may ways; from so many points of view. Lingering with my empty one as it went to them, the Mother and Father screaming, bellowing at it to stay away, even as they congealed under its attention; as its sweat and breath, as its tears and the seepages from the nonsense between its legs threaded through them, weaving matter from lies and nothing.
The daughter, the child, flaring, the Mother wailing as she tumbled from her arms, reaching for her, calling...the child laughing as she skittered away; swelling to something new, something ragged and many limbed, that others flocked to; children murdered by the sudden winter, enraptured by her transformations, begging for some semblance of their own.
Over and over; following, lacking any choice in the matter; a mote orbiting my own child's skull, tethered to it by demands beyond gravity, beyond parental adoration (though I did; it and every one it found, whose story it consumed and provided the means of reshaping itself).
Here, this dark and quiet house, frost and ice on the carpets, the ceiling; on the bannisters and photographs lining the walls. Echoes here wailing a different species of lament; weeping accusations that raked though my child like rusted, steel talons in her entrails:
Clinging together, shuddering on the sofa; their pale fires flaring as one, immolating them; more coherent than most; shades that boasted some detail and distinction; a half-naked woman, swollen breasts punctured and bleeding, wounds at her throat, her flanks, her heart. The man trying to comfort her weeping red tears, his eyes put out, his placations hitched and trembling with despair.
The ones responsible for their murder watching, basking in their pain; nourished by it, swelling to parasitic substance without my child's input:
Two boys, teenagers only; sixteen, seventeen at the oldest; the one wiry, whippet lean, handsome, in a wan and ephemeral way, the other taller, broader; already hirsuite, rugby-player's frame pelted in wiry, dark hair, the thick glasses perched on his nose incongruous, lending him the look of something pieced together.
The pair of them shivering in one another's embrace, painted in blood, the apologies they once sang long since run dry. Now, revelling in the suffering of those that would have murdered them for the sin of their affection, that almost did, not realising how strong they'd become together; how much more they were than the frightened and retiring children they'd once been.
A story that seethed on the air; in every shadow, every frozen ruby droplet decorating the room:
The best of friends; more like brothers than children of separate households; hardly apart, since they were three years old. Every weekend, every Summer; every Easter and Winter and New Year: together.
Knowing from so young; in ways that I never did; knowing also that they'd be condemned for the kisses they occassionally shared; for the touches that had grown more intense and intimate as their bodies swelled to adolescence.
Not hating themselves, like so many; not denying; hating the world around them for its ignorance and condemnations, for its idiocy and judgement.
These two; the parents of the skinnier boy; his natural effeminacy drawing grunts of disgust and cruel eyes from Father and Mother both since he began to swell into his own state.
Never physical; the two of them too cowardly for that; their cruelty in looks and words; in the questions they'd never dare ask.
Learning to hate them.
The other...cruelties of a different shade; marked out for his size, his retiring nature; a nerd born, more at home in the darkness of his own room, on the computer or buried soul-deep in the books that had come to predominate his existence...endlessly harangued; both at school and at home: Why don't you go out once in a while?; Get some fresh air. Meet some girls, maybe...
The answer he gave earning him silence; a coldness that stabbed into his very depths, murdering whatever love their might have once been.
Fantasies of emptiness; of waking to find the world barren of humanity, just themselves; a playground in which they could wander and laugh and be.
A playground that we'd made for them here; beyond all blood, beyond all judgement; the flesh they once wore frozen as one in their bed upstairs, those that would have murdered them for it going first; less than a day before winter fell and gave them the world they ached for.
Such beautiful boys, my child going to them; drawing their eyes away from the wittering, weeping things that would never know, never see. Drawing them out, out into the pale day, the grim light. No longer merely ghosts, but growing more solid by the moment; not the boys they once were, but as they dreamed themselves; wild things, running and howling in the snow.
Black lightning, a hideous wrenching; my child feeling it too, trembling, almost losing its feet as I was torn away; an echo of that original expulsion, in all its trauma, no denying it, no matter how desperately I clawed and wept; no matter what prayers I silently cried.
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.