Episode 18: Umwelt: The Lights… How They Shine
Darkness. Profound as the deep of sea, a tenebrous burden. It brings its own silence out in the desert, ponderous, sacred. Packs of lycid pacing the flash of landship above slip are fleets of shadow. Predators in the deeps. Moon yellow eyes glinting. Ferocious.
Their eyes are all that lights the darkness. Low cloud swallowed the blue of day and shrouds the night. Hides the bluish radiance of three small moons, the glisten of galaxies. Boxes the desert in, nullifies the sense of infinity to claustrophobic containment. Provides a frame for endless, starless pitch.
Margo stands at the prow of Peggy Dunne, head thrown back, eyes closed, drinking it all in. It fills her every last cell, skin, hair, bone, muscle. Blood and darkness mingling to bursting in her corpuscles. They become constellations within her, black suns, red moons; they chase her body in perpetual orbit. A universe contained.
Faint depression in the air behind her. Her teeth flash in the dark, muted white lights. ‘I see you, Moe,’ she murmurs.
Moe chuckles. ‘You’re getting better,’ he says. ‘Too good.’
She turns to face him. Her eyes are black holes in a pale pool of skin. ‘I feel different,’ she says. ‘Darker.’
Moe heaves in a bright lung-full of chill night air. ‘Rolf’s the same. He’s gone quiet. Vulnerable.’ Moe stops talking a moment, jaw working, then says with obvious difficulty, ‘I can’t help but think that all the fighting in the world won’t save me when it comes to him and I don’t like it, but I don’t like seeing him like this. It’s wrong. I wonder if we should have come.’
‘NLB,’ she says softly, almost whispered to the dark, to herself, to Rolf sat down in Minnie and Meg’s quarters, staring into the wall, into the void, into the souls of the hundreds left aboard the strangely still and quiet Peggy Dunne as it rushes through the night swift as an impulse.
Moe frowns, ‘What?’
Margo steps forward and places her hands either side of his face. Even this close her features are a pale smear in the shadows, eyes fallen like sink holes, bottomless and inexplicable. He sees demons in the depths. Racing from the pit to skewer him, devour him whole. His stomach drops, lands like ice in the chalice of his pelvis. Margo blinks and the illusion is gone.
‘Never look back,’ she says, and beneath it he hears the faintest flutter of sadness, so slight that, like a particle of dark matter, it dies almost the moment it’s born. And he understands. What there is of regret in all this, Margo will never turn to face it. Perhaps it’s better that way.
Perhaps the only way to face the night is to get lost within it.
Mamma holds Rolf’s head against the soft cushion of a breast. Boneless as a sleeping child he lays there, eyes fixed to the wall, corvid black and empty. She feels him, thin as vapour, sifting the chaff from the wheat, hunting out and ejecting those few scraps of dark soul that did not leave when their nightmare ended.
Those once Ravid and now simply lost to light. Seeking to do harm, their essence warped to cruelty, to malice by the torment of their passing. Rolf floats through the weight of flesh, tendrils like roots reaching into every last corner of the souls aboard Peggy Dunne, snagging scraps of darkness. Ragged as fallen feathers. Rotten. All as lost and dead as the bodies they refuse to believe they’ve lost.
Mamma sits and rocks him, slow, so slow. She strokes his cheek, over and over. Wipes away silvery trails of tears. Her heart aches with each brackish drop. Squeezing and contracting hard as labour in love for what he is, what he does. He saves them all and they do not even know. She feels him pass through her and halt. Black bleeds from his eyes. Periwinkle blue stares up at her, dazed, unfocused.
‘Don’t cry,’ he says, voice a sleepy blur, ‘he’s waiting for you.’
As ink clouds through water, so does black bleed once more through the blue, nullifies it. Mamma bends her head and sobs into the soft curls of his hair. Recalls a face, held close within but rarely acknowledged. Eyes just like hers… but his smile. His smile was all his own. Bright white lights dazzling her from the moment she first held him in her arms.
For the first time in a long time, wiping her tears, Mamma looks into the lights and loses herself, just for a moment, in the memory of that smile. As she does she feels a tug deep in her being, something cold, hard and dark dislodges, a shard of pain, of hurt, grown dagger hard and damaging. Rolf takes it with him as he goes.
And she’s crying again. Because it’s such a burden and she can’t bear for him to carry it, and she knows he will, for her.
Mournful cries resonate. Strike the silence like flares. They are low, haunting, an echo of pure longing given voice. They sing to the hidden moons, cry out to them. But the darkness is soulless, cold, unforgiving. No light penetrates the dense lid of cloud it remains sealed tight, impervious to their pleas.
Margo leans over the rail and howls back to them. Grins as their yellow eyes flash in the darkness. They bare teeth in feral grins to match her own and bay and howl along with her. Mocking the night, daring the cloud to stifle them as it’s stifled the moonlight.
Moe watches her. There’s something too wild in the woman. Untapped wells of energy seething under the surface. Magma boiling under too great a pressure. He worries that one day she will explode. Take worlds with her. It amazes him that he believes in worlds now, but he can’t deny experience. That would make a fool of him.
He holds on to the rail of a ship racing aloft a shining glassy strip, the delicate green phosphoresce of thaumic byproduct trails a cloud behind them. Below, on the sand, great wolves large as shire horses pace the Peggy, howling to Margo, who howls back. Seeing is believing. He has seen, to deny his belief would be madness.
Peggy Dunne’s horn joins the mournful chorus below, the joyful harmony of Margo’s mad howls. From the fluted brass horns across the breadth of the Peggy it rises high into the night. Following on its heels a metallic burr, then a voice. Loud, authoritative, ringing. The EngineMaster speaks.
‘Invidium city approach. Make ready for disembarkation.’
Moe strains his eyes into the obsidian dark. On the horizon, as if the storm of the Angel still surrounds them, cuts them off from the world, there is solid black. No sign of life or light, not even the meagre glow of a small town. Where is this city? Perhaps, like the sky, it has been swallowed whole by cloud and sealed away from them. Left them locked in a dream of ships in the desert.
Footsteps on the deck behind break his reverie. A voice, warm and sweet as apple pie with cream, ‘Y’all plannin’ to stay at Invidium long?’
Moe turns to Mamma. She’s got Rolf against her side, slumped. He looks wraithlike, see-through, the delicate veins in his face livid blue against milk white. Moe rushes to take his other arm and Rolf rustles up a smile.
‘Look at you,’ he murmurs, voice a thin replica, ‘desperate to touch me.’ He flicks a wink at Mamma. ‘Next thing you know he’ll be begging to suck my cock.’
Mamma’s rich chuckle pours over them, chocolate syrup. ‘Oh he will, baby. He will.’
Margo quits her howling and takes Rolf’s other arm from Mamma. Between them, Margo and Moe lead Rolf to the rail. Stand there with him. Margo lets out a long, wavering howl. The Lycids return the cry a thousand times over, echo upon echo upon echo, a litany, a chant, a polyphony. Rolf laughs his delight, finds the strength to wind an arm about her waist, hug her tight.
‘My magnificent Margo, you and your tits make my goddamned world whole,’ he says.
She giggles. ‘We’re waiting to see Invidium. The Wolves, my tits and I.’
‘Any minute now,’ says Mamma. ‘Keep them ahs peeled, shugah… you ain’t gunna wanna miss this.’
They all three look to her for clarification but she just winks one of those semi-precious amber eyes. ‘Ahs front mah dahlin’ baybees, ahs front.’
Meg comes running out, breathless, as they do as they’re bid. ‘Am ah late?’ she gasps, grabbing hold of Mamma.
‘Just in tahm, precious.’ Mamma scoops Meg to the rail and they all watch the horizon.
Peggy’s horn blows again, long and low, a chorus of Lycid harmony rises beneath it, a fugue for a thousand voices, a great swell of heart-rending refrain. And before them the darkness rends asunder as they break through the great mountainous bodies of the pass that’s hemmed them in.
Light explodes across their eyes. A cascade of diamonds. A chain of supernovae. Invidium rises cast in lights, a million and more as if the city were built from stars stolen from the firmament, chained to land. Luminosity dazzles them. Fuses and sparks and fireworks light within them and they’re laughing and clapping like children at the display.
Peggy slides ever closer and pure light begins to form to shapes. Bears and trees and rainbows and ships and houses and ladies in hooped gowns, twirling multi-coloured parasols. Carriages pulled by horses built of lights, hooves flashing and twinkling.
Vast Cathedrals constructed of fairy lights and graced with giant Angels, wings shivering, blinking, white to blue to white. Dancing maids and marching soldiers, monkeys playing violins. A child running with a hoop flashes over their heads, a progression of smiles and legs and spinning and bells formed of lights chime all across the faces of Invidium’s great stonewall highrises.
Peggy Dunne sails in a sea of illumination, blowing her horn and, at the rail, their faces shine. Lights in the darkness, dark transformed to lights. Lit from within and without. And the clouds are driven back. Almost as if the lights are an army, invading darkness. One by one stars break through gaps in the lid of cloud, twinkle above them, until above and below they are surrounded by light. Drenched and drowned in it.
In silence, together, they watch, allow it to bleed a little life back into the parts that have died. Necrotic soul essence sparked back into being. Those black suns and red moons joined by a glittering string of white stars. A wall against the endless night within.
Peggy slides to a regal halt. The horn sings its last song and, somewhere in the distance, the Lycids pick up the refrain and play it out, to three blue moons, to countless stars, to the lights of Invidium. Margo raises her voice one more time with them, a blissful look of complete joy resting on her face.
‘All exit at Invidium,’ cries the voice of the EngineMaster alongside her, ‘journey’s end.’
© Ren Warom 2011