Moe would run. He would run until he broke. Until he could not breathe. Until his heart ruptured within his chest. All the way to Rolf. Into the castle. Into danger. Into the Mother’s arms. Into darkness. The devouring shadow. He would run there freely, if it would take him to Rolf.
Instead, he walks.
And it is pure agony.
But the bottle is so heavy, and every step he takes the burden grows. His hands ache, his shoulders burn, his thighs, knees, ankles, all seem to creak with the effort of movement. The weight of the bottle drives them into the ground. Seeks to anchor them. It is afraid. He feels its fear.
Right up until the moment its equal and opposite was opened, it was ravenous. He could feel it as though it were his own hunger. Gnawing in his belly, crawling at his spine, trembling in his fingers. Then it was gone, as sudden as it arrived, and fear took its place.
All the bottle wants is to be opened. What lies within the bottle exists only to be unleashed to ravage the veils, and all the worlds within them. It is a horror, an abomination unlike any other, except for its equal and opposite. Neither can exist without the other, and neither can be destroyed, but the bottles do not want to be opened in the same place.
Opened at the same time, in the same place, they drive one another back into bondage, back into the bottle to be trapped for as long as it takes them to convince another poor soul, another foolish soul, to try and open them. It has been, and will continue to be, an endless battle, an endless competition in search of a final victor.
It does not want to be opened now. It is afraid of being trapped again, the bottle is so small, so confining, it wounds it to be so constrained, and it is furious that when opened, it will be trapped once again. It despises Moe for daring to carry it to that fate. The hatred boils in his head, a stinging smoke, a nest of vipers, a swarm of wasps, thousands upon thousands, their angry buzz a roar of pain in his skull. But still he struggles on.
‘Hold on, Rolf,’ he grits out, between his teeth, the sweat pouring down his face. ‘I’m coming.’
And it speaks to him. Emotionless. Certain. A single voice like the breath of a hurricane; relentless, implacable, and utterly without conscience.
You will never see him again, you will never hear him again, you will not smell him, nor sense his presence, he will be as a ghost to you, and you to him. This I promise if you dare to open me.
Margo waits. The Mother ran screaming when she felt it open. The look upon her face transformed her from living, breathing horror to a small child facing that which terrifies it the most, the monster under the bed, in the closet; the monster who devours made whole, made real, and coming for her. Margo almost pitied her.
Now she waits. She is bound to the chair and she has discovered that these bonds can hold her. That was unexpected. What use are her new powers if they make her so vulnerable to simple trickery? That’s all it is. Old magic. But then, the Mother has been around for a long time. She has her ways.
‘Tricky old bitch,’ mutters Margo, casting around for something, anything, that might be of use.
The room is empty.
And the darkness draws too near. It hunts her like a hound on the scent of a fox.
‘Well you’re in a hole now, Margo love, and there’s no mistake,’ she says to herself, the tremble in her voice telling her how frightened she is. She tries to ignore it, but she is not used to fear.
She reaches into her new powers and searches through them, through her old powers too, trying to find something that might aid her, but she knows so little of what she can do. It’s all so huge, it sits inside her like an undigested meal, almost unbearably uncomfortable, and she doesn’t understand any of it. So little time, and so much still to learn.
‘You might ask.’
Margo blinks. She looks up, and gasps. ‘Solomon?’
He’s a faceless shadow of angles upon the wall. ‘The one and only. So ask me then. Quickly. There’s not much time. It’s almost here.’
She nods. ‘What can I do?’
White teeth, oddly elongated, appear in a long, long, grin. It makes her shudder. Everything about him is attenuated as a spider’s limbs and somehow just as troublesome to the eye. All that endless length moving so swiftly, so silently in delicately jointed, discordant harmony. Then he’s by her ear, his teeth clicking in the shadow of his mouth, and he is whispering, and his words build webs in her mind.
It is one voice, and too many, so many, speaking together, howling together, a wail and a whisper, a scream and a moan. The door flies open. Darkness fills it from top to bottom, black as the sky robbed of all its stars, an awful blackness, so deep and unending that to look upon is to see the darkness within oneself and despair. Even the lights cower before it.
Margo is alone. But she is not abandoned. Her head is full of strands woven together. They fill her vision, such intricate embroidery, such artistry in it, such simple beauty, and all Solomon whispered was the truth. She never knew it could be so beautiful and so terrible all at once. She’s still afraid. She’s still bound. But she is no longer helpless.
She smiles. ‘Give me back my friend,’ she says softly.
The darkness, the Absence, the lightless multitude, the ravening horde, the many things it is and isn’t and will be, surges forward, surrounding her in an ocean of itself. Cancelling out the room, the light, the very air she breathes.
Margo looks into it, even in her fear. I’m coming, Rolf, she promises. Hold on. She looks up at the wave hanging above her, poised to crash down, to devour, to obliterate.
‘Come on, then,’ she says. ‘What are you waiting for? A proposal?’
And darkness falls.
© Ren Warom 2013