Click clack. Margo’s back. Heels smack the pavement, hard as gunshots. Striding fast, furious sparks, fire and brimstone. Brimming with rage cold as the heart of an iceberg. Crashes into Randall’s, bell going off into paroxysms, papers flying. Barry yells, dives to save his accounts.
No other yelling though, there’s no hook to extricate from their backs. Rolf managed to pull them back right to the night they’d left. Time being fluid, ever malleable, the world’s unchanged and none the wiser. Only they’ve changed, and Margo’s beginning to fear that change is not simply a stain upon the soul, but a rot, rooted in and gradually expanding.
She barges through to the back, where Rolf will be waiting. He’s there, but he’s quiet. Too damned quiet. She knew he would be. He’s leant up against the sink in the small kitchen; his eyes like sink holes, wary and shadowed. She goes straight to him, pulls him to her for a hug. He melts; she can feel him fighting back tears.
Too little damned sleep for the both of them. Apparitions and nightmares in every hidden pocket of dreaming. And they’re still connected somehow, right in the foundations, little hooks of Margo in Rolf and Rolf in Margo, and she felt him screaming in the early hours of the morning. His rage, his terror, it cut into her as if it were razors in her flesh.
She’s able to do now what she wanted to do then. ‘It’s OK, darling,’ she croons, stroking his back, ‘Margo’s here.’
‘What the fuck’s happening?’ he wails softly in her ear.
‘I genuinely don’t know,’ she says. Holds him tighter. ‘On the way today, I saw them. They’re everywhere. Not just the ones I could see before and not hiding in their skin anymore. Parading outside of it. Flaunting themselves. There’s so many of them.’
Rolf pulls back a little, sniffs. ‘So many of what?’
She bites her lip. Poppy red slides onto her tooth. She licks at it, thoughtful. ‘Beasts. Monsters. Things that hide in their skin. They’re still trapped in skin, or hidden, and no one else can see them I think. I only used to see them behind their flesh, like shadows, but now I see the whole of them, like the flesh is just an illusion trapped inside the beast.’
Rolf steps away from her, that fear flickering across his face like a movie, cell after cell of nightmare terrors. ‘I saw them in my dreams. And a shadow on you. A fucking huge shadow. Something’s coming.’
Margo reaches out, flicks on the kettle, anything to distract her own fear from rising, her anger from breaking out of carefully locked bars of pure iron will. ‘I know, the angel gave me a warning. I might be a mad bitch but I’m not insensible. I’ll be careful, but I can’t stop. They’re here to hurt. We can’t let them.’
Rolf looks uncertain. ‘Really? You really think that? Even though you’ve only been seeing them for a few months? All this is so new to us. What if we’re wrong?’
Margo rattles cups, coffee grounds and sugar spoons, lips buttoned. Her silence says it all. She doesn’t know a thing. It’s all been instinct and for larks. Fun that somehow isn’t any fun anymore. She gives him a solemn look, so out of place on her face it looks like she’s stolen it.
‘We weren’t wrong about the Mother.’
Margo sits below Rolf on the ladder. Legs dangling, shoes propped on toes and swinging. Little ruby flashes in the chandelier light. She’s handing him books from a box balanced on her knees. One by one.
They’ve stuck together. Margo leaving Barry to deal with the desk today. There’s too much going on in them to want to be apart.
‘I’m worried about Moe,’ she tells Rolf, finally letting go of the concern she’s held to her chest as hard as she’s holding the box of books to her knees.
‘Why? He wasn’t in the connection that hit the Mother.’
‘No. But the backlash hit him. It hit everyone.’
Rolf stops what he’s doing, book poised halfway into a slot. ‘OK. I concede that. But will it stay with him like it’s stayed with us?’
Margo shrugs. ‘I’m not sure. It’s not as deep in him, the stain, but it’s there and I’m worried it’ll grow, like ours is, and it might attract unwanted attention. He’s not gifted like we are. His gift is small. It makes him too vulnerable, despite his knack with blades.’
‘You think he’ll be targeted?’
She nods, that unnatural serious look flashes across her face again. He doesn’t like it, wants to wipe it off and paint her gold glitter, black kohl, poppy lips and bitchiness. ‘I was right from the first,’ she tells him. ‘From when I started seeing them, but before I knew I could fight them. I nearly died, Rolf. I had to run. Had to take off my fucking heels and fucking pelt for it like a pussy. Tore my feet to shit.’
Rolf’s quiet for a long time. Then he admits softly, ‘Me too. Before I knew. They came after me through the between of things. Digging in my head, these claws of invasion, like daggers. I thought I was dying from cancer or something the pain was so bad.’ He takes another book. ‘What should we do?’
Margo goes to answer but Barry calls over. She’s expecting him to, he’s been working up the courage all morning.
‘Rolf can do that by himself you know,’ Barry says, a wealth of distaste and barely concealed irritation in his voice.
‘He can fuck himself too but it doesn’t mean he’d say no to a helpful hand or anus,’ she snaps. Barry’s mouth pinches tight, rather like an anus itself. Margo bites back a grin. She feels Rolf hiding a massive shit-eater of a grin behind the book and elbows his leg. ‘Can it, Cheshire.’
‘Can’t help it,’ he drawls, ‘first funny thing to happen today. I need to laugh. I feel like my sense of humour’s bought a wedding dress and a decaying mansion to go slowly insane in.’
Margo smiles, ‘we can’t have that. Shall we go and wind Moe up so we can keep an eye on him? You could stand too close for comfort, smell his hair and fondle his arse. Poke him about a bit.’
Rolf flings the book back in the box. ‘You’re on. I vote we snaffle a fifty from the cash register, mainly because I’m broke but also because I want to get Barry back for stealing the last of my oolong.’
She gapes. ‘He never snaffled the last teapot worth?’
‘Damn right he did. I was bloody desperate too. Fucking PG Tits instead. Foul.’
‘Oooh. Right, I’ll create a diversion, you raid the till.’
It’s not the people you know that define you; it’s the people you kill. Vespesian knows this. He’s known it since first he felt the warm liquid of a life pour out over his hands. That was the first moment in which he felt finished in some way.
He was a mere lump of unformed boy before that moment. A potential, rather than an actual. Nebulous. Undirected. In that first theft of life he found meaning, self, purpose and actuality. With every subsequent kill he has felt ever more real, coming sharply, painfully into a vibrant focus.
At this point in time, this very moment, stood here in this apex of shadow and light, watching the vapour of humanity drift past like stench on the wind, Vespesian knows that none who live are more real than he.
They are but dim reflections and there is no pleasure in the snuffing of their meagre light. But he is committed to his task. These shades are the little flaws in the stone, represent the diminishment of the value of his world and he will remove them one by one until the stone is flawless.
The bright jangle of a bell calls to his attention. He watches the flaws leave the hovel. These flaws are not quite like the others. The intricate cracking of their blemish extends out beyond this flat plane and into a thousand thousand more, delicate striations of decay, weakness of a far deadlier nature.
To smooth their imperfection from the stone will be something akin to pleasure.
© Ren Warom 2012