Umwelt: Darkness Flows Like A River Episode 6: Anti-Kansas

‘What?’ snaps Margo, gaping at Rolf, her cat-green eyes swirling wells of anger, shock, dismay.

Rolf licks his lips. ‘The second Moe stepped into this room with this letter we were removed from our veil. A beautifully choreographed piece of magic, I couldn’t even begin to understand it. The sigils are so deep, so deftly entwined, they’re almost imperceptible.’

Eerie silence holds sway over the three friends stood in Randall’s small kitchen. The letter sits in Rolf’s hand, innocuous to the naked eye; too fragile an object to be so deadly a weapon. Unimaginable that it could have torn their moorings from known waters, lead them so far astray. Moe reaches out and takes the letter from Rolf, folds it along those lines of creasing as though the movement can undo the damage done. The look on Rolf’s face speaks eloquently of the futility of the gesture.

‘How?’ demands Margo, snapping the silence like a twig beneath her outrage. ‘How does a letter from another fucking veil get to this one?’

‘I don’t know. I can read the sigils, can see what it is they’re made to do, but I don’t understand how they work,’ Rolf says, rendered almost impassive by the depth of his frustration. ‘We’re babies in all of this. We’ve been playing at it as though it’s a fucking game, but it’s serious shit. Sheer audacity brought us this far but, whomever we’ve upset, they’ve far more than audacity to fall back on: skill, knowledge, control, resources, enough to sink us. Fuck’s sake, Margo, this room, this space, it’s all that’s left of what we knew. As soon as we leave it, we leave these timelines, these lives; step into alternative selves. We’ve been massively outplayed.’

‘Will we lose our gifts, too?’ asks Moe, stomach sinking.

Rolf shrugs. ‘I don’t know. I’m not sure they can switch these gifts off, but they don’t need to. We’ll become strangers to ourselves, to each other, forget all we know, including that we have gifts.’ He laughs, disbelief threaded through it like black silk. ‘We have to assume they consider us too dangerous to dispose of via normal channels, which means we’re more than we ever realised. Kind of frustrating to discover that when we’re about to lose it altogether.’

Toxic guilt seethes through Moe. He might have been an unwitting courier but, after all that’s happened, he can’t help but feel miserable it’s his actions have plunged them into what is undoubtedly far greater peril than their encounter with the Mother Immortal.

‘There’s got to be something we can do,’ Margo announces, striding to and fro across the kitchen, heels and eyes striking violent sparks. All that new darkness of hers rolls through the air, dims the light, brings a chill to the room. ‘Can’t we find some way to subvert some of what will happen, give us a way to find one another, to rediscover ourselves? We’re not fucking Pollyannas, we don’t just give up!’

Her words embed themselves in the fabric of Moe’s mind. Ferment amongst all the experience of their recent endeavours, in the thick substance of his guilt, his will to make things right, to be the architect of their redemption. Bubbles rise to the surface of that distillation, bring with them the essence of a notion, a way to use what they already have, what they still possess whilst in this pocket of remembrance. He grins, excitement riding him roughshod. ‘We use Rolf,’ he says, as if it’s obvious.

Rolf’s eyebrow shoots up. Filthy amusement drools across his face in a grin that makes deviance look demure. ‘I’m all for you using me, sweetheart,’ he drawls, ‘any way you like.’ Dangerous desire glitters in his chocolate gaze. ‘As long as I can use you in return, that is.’

Assailed on all fronts by war-ships of lust, Moe’s rendered momentarily speechless. He swallows, clears his throat, trying not to return Rolf’s grin, longing to return it, to throw him down on the floor, against the cabinet, and fuck the living hell out of him. ‘I mean,’ he says unsteadily, ‘what if you follow us where we go when we leave this room? Place some sort of marker, something that will draw us together. An attraction.’

Rolf’s grin grows even larger, all his teeth on show, predation in extremis. ‘Oh,’ he says, ‘I think I can do attraction.’

Margo snorts laughter, ‘You’re just walking right into these, Moe darling,’ she crows. Then adds in all seriousness, ‘Though I shall rescue you, poor love, but only because you’re right.’ She directs a searing glance at Rolf. ‘You’re all we’ve got, darling, our ace in the hole.’ Mischief dances in her eyes, across her poppy-red lips. ‘I may have borrowed Minnie’s trick, may have a ton of my own, but none of those help us here. That little trick of yours, however, could stand us in good stead. Could you create a touch of magnetism, something that pulls against the narratives constructed out there, that draws us together?’

Rolf bites his lip, fully aware of Moe’s eyes on the action. ‘I suppose,’ he says, ‘though it’s a big risk. I mean, yes, the trap is right outside the door, but it’s also not, it’s through a good number of veils. I’ll have to hang on like grim death just to stay with you. Once you arrive, you’re gone, and losing you will be all too easy.’ He shrugs, sighs and admits, ‘It’s better than nothing, though. May as well give it a shot.’

Margo cheers, quits her pacing and brushes down her dress, flutters her eyelashes. ‘Let’s be seeing what we’ve got then. I refuse to spend any further time vegetating in this revolting hovel. I want some fucking fun. I’m going first.’ She strolls over to the kitchen door, sparkles a grin at them both. ‘Anti-Kansas here I come,’ she sings, cock-sure as a sparrow.

‘You’re the Lucrezia Borgia of Dorothies,’ Rolf sneers to cover his concern. ‘In your Oz, the Wizard wears a Gimp mask and calls you mistress when you stomp on his balls wearing your ruby stilettos.’

Margo drops a grin like an atom bomb. ‘Damn fucking straight, he does,’ she snaps in return, ‘and he thanks me for the privilege.’ She blows them both a kiss, bright red lips on sassy fingertips. ‘Don’t lose me,’ she says, and leaves, slamming the door behind her.

Only just fast enough, Rolf leaps into her mind, holds on for dear life as she’s tossed through a complex maze of veils to the intricate construction built to contain them. He struggles to stay with her, too sudden for him to adjust to it, she’s gone. In her place there’s an altogether strange persona, so alien to him he has to remind himself that the stranger is in fact a familiar soul draped in an unfamiliar set of recollections, experiences, a different personality. He needs to mark her somehow, to draw a pattern within that will pull her to him and Moe wherever and whomever they might become when they join her.

Frantic, he delves about for anything he can use but he’s forced to admit defeat, there’s nothing in there remotely connectable. So he widens his gaze, and what he discovers fills him with nascent hope. Though all that she is inside has changed beyond recognition, the form she walks in is her own. Margo still looks like Margo. Whatever this trap is, it doesn’t go as far as to alter physical form, just the shape of the essence within, sprung from that new history. It obviously wasn’t necessary to re-shape the outer self, as they wouldn’t recognise each other, but this is an oversight he can use. Their enemy, whomever it may be, might come to regret leaving that particular detail to chance.

Unhesitating now, Rolf springs to action. What he creates looks delicate, improbable, a silken web attached to the lure of face and form. Placing the structure into the glistening fabric of her alien mind he experiences a second of pure panic, driven by the conviction that they’ll never know who they were again, but he fights it, because time’s running out, her essence is eluding him already, becoming faint. He wishes he had time to read her name in amongst the strands of her new self, but all he can do before he loses her altogether is to solidify his creation, his compulsion to search out his face, Moe’s face, the face of Andreus Witter, to not stop until she’s found them.

It’s not much, Rolf’s all too aware there’s a real chance it may not work at all. He’s no idea, after all, of how big or small this trap might be, whether they’ll even be on the same continent, in lives that would ever intersect, but then she’s gone and he can do no more. All is left in the hands of chance and luck.

Heatless fire washes across his eyes. He turns to Moe, all his fears, his misgivings, written large upon his face. ‘It’s done, for what it’s worth. You’re next. I won’t be able to do myself, you realise, so it’ll be all you and Margo. You have to find each other, find me, and quickly, or we’re done for.’

Moe nods, ‘I understand.’ He walks to the door. ‘I’m ready.’

‘Wait.’

Rolf takes the few steps across the kitchen to Moe. He doesn’t give him time to argue or hesitate; he grabs his face between his palms, pulls him in for a long, luxurious kiss. Selfish, tired of waiting, fearful that this will be his last chance, Rolf explores every last millimetre of those glorious, sculpted lips. Moe resists for only a second, then groans and gives in, his tongue curling around Rolf’s, sending trickles of fire to crawl beneath skin, through nerves and veins, crackling tension between them, lightning hot, fiercely bright.

For the moment it lasts, it’s perfect. Then they pull apart, chests heaving, molten desire branding flesh to flesh. Rolf stares into Moe’s eyes. What he sees there makes him wish with all his being that this was happening at another time, another place, where instead of being a last chance, it could be the beginning of something lasting. Reality is cruel and cold and dead as stone, it drags him down into the depths of Moe’s dark brown eyes. If he could choose to lose himself anywhere, it would be here and now, with this man.

‘If that doesn’t make you remember me,’ he says, husky, a ripple of tired, lost laughter in his voice, ‘then I don’t know what will.’

Moe smiles, half-sad, half-sensual, it steals Rolf’s breath. ‘You could have fucked my brains out, sugar,’ he says softly. ‘That might have done it.’ Then he opens the door, and leaves.

Gob-smacked, for a moment too shocked to think, Rolf’s forced to race to catch up, mind moving faster than it ever has. When he does, before Moe can leave the veils and hit that trap wherein he’ll no longer know who he’s messed with, Rolf plants a lurid, white-hot image of them, mid-fuck, bang smack in the centre of Moe’s mind. As the vivid reaction reels along the fragile thread of their connection, he chuckles to himself.

Then Moe, mind as delicious as his body, his mouth, is gone, replaced abruptly by a complete stranger. Taken by surprise, submerged in loss as keen as grief, Rolf folds to the kitchen floor, hands clenched to the pain in his middle. He didn’t know it would feel like this with Moe. Had expected it to hurt, perhaps, to affect him harder than the loss of Margo, but not like this, anything but this. Moe’s gone, as surely as if he’s died and, whoever he is now, whether or not he wears Moe’s face, he can never be Moe again, unless he remembers. If he remembers.

Choking on tears, on the unexpected burden of grief, Rolf does what’s necessary, weaves into that mind the image of his face, of Margo’s face, and Andreus. Those images fixed, the strange mind that was once Moe slips from Rolf’s grasp. This time, the fire burns as it washes across his sight, brings a wave of savage anger with it. Rolf pulls himself up from the floor and faces the door, armoured by this welcome carapace of fury.

Whatever fucker’s done this had better hope their plan works. Because, if he lives, if he remembers who he is, Rolf’s going after the cunt, and there’s no force anywhere in the veils or beyond that can stop him from making them pay.

 

//

 

Chorley strolls down the street, touches the tip of his cane to the brim of his top hat as he passes a dowdy chaperone, her gaggle of pretty debutantes. They giggle behind fans. Such artifice, sour as the spoiled milk of their damaged virtue; clear to his eyes as the alabaster powder lending their cheeks that modish, ghoulish hue. He continues toward the great Palace, admires the Georgian splendour of this section of Greater Londinium, the unfamiliar architectures beyond. It’s remarkable how the place has developed its own narrative, a unique identity. It all seems real, not a dream of veils to entrap some bothersome flies, to alter the course of the game, to play it in his own fashion.

What fun it’s been to play with the veils, not so dangerous as he was warned, uncomplicated indeed, most gratifying. Stability reigns in his little trap, however passing strange it’s become, and it’s ever so strange. Odd snippets of other veils have trickled in, woven seamlessly into his creation, as if they were meant to cohabit. Other membranes have leaked in, too, worlds not his own, containing wonders and possibly terrors he’s never encountered. The unusual blending fascinates and repels him, yet it’s all so perfect, holds its shape so very well. His old master would delight to see it, despite his warnings that such games are no longer possible, that all the veils and membranes have become too unstable to hold new patterns, let alone the ones they already form.

Chorley breathes in the scent of smoke and steam, of horse dung, perfume and crisp spring morning. Swings his cane, replete with satisfaction at his own genius. Life could not be better and, as the only soul in this delightful fabrication who knows its true nature, he’s in a perfect position to oversee the game as it plays out.

He’s almost disappointed that it must, in time, come to an end.

 

© Ren Warom 2012

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