Like calling to like, to antithesis, to equal, to opposite, all unwilling and spitting fury like hailstones. Abrading his mind, they fall and fall, never-ending, such expulsions of hatred, of rage. The Radiance rails at him for daring to bring it within proximity of the Absence.
Threats. Dire warnings. Foul curses. None of it stops Moe from moving, inch by painful inch over the flagstones. Such an endless grey expanse, he’d cry at the sheer breadth of it if he had the strength, desperate to move faster but so tired, so tired, and the bottle is so heavy. He can barely lift it. And it fights. Fights his every halting gain of ground because he’s close now, close enough that it fears he’ll succeed.
He will. Whatever it does to him, he will succeed. The Absence has his Rolf, his Margo, and he would do more than this for them. He would give his life. He will now if he must. None of its dire threats will stop him, nor the sense that opening this bottle is more dangerous than any threat it could offer. Instinctively, Moe senses that the Radiance need not touch him to harm him; it is a force of harm. A light that exposes, burns, excoriates the soul. It will scoop him out and leave him a husk, but he cannot stop moving.
The air pressure drops without warning. Blood roars into his skull, and the skin of his face stretches taut, aching, tingling with pins and needles. His heart thunders, struggling to pump a sudden paucity of oxygen. It is the Absence, trying to run away, and being drawn toward the bottle in Moe’s hand as surely as it pulls Moe, inch by painful inch across the flagstone. The Absence tries to resist the irresistible, and so too does the Radiance, pulling Moe between them, his body under horrendous strain. Both are losing. They are opposite poles and, once close, cannot be prevented from meeting.
He reaches a vast archway, the end of the flagstones. Through it, at the back of a long, marbled hall the Absence awaits, a vast, ink-black wall of vocal rage. He hears it even through the noise of the Radiance. They fill his head and clash, meshing together, and finally a sob breaks loose from Moe’s chest. Raw. Rasping his throat.
‘I’m here, baby’ he says to Rolf, trying to crawl faster and failing, willing the Absence closer, despite the danger. ‘I’m here, Margo. I made it.’
You can stop now.
The voice is gentle, tinged with pity. He recognises it, but in his state of exhaustion can’t summon the energy, the will, to excavate the memory.
‘Who?’ he asks, almost begging. He wants to believe, wants to take this familiar voice at its word, but he can’t. He needs to know if he can trust it. All the people he trusts most in the all the worlds are in the belly of darkness.
‘I know you. You gave Margo that burden, that fucking power.’ No, he doesn’t trust this voice, this creature. Just another broken angel. He recalls the shadow Solomon’s frame, too angular for comfort, threw upon the walls, and shudders. ‘No. I don’t trust you,’ he says, and keeps moving.
Please, Moe, stop. You need go no further. The Absence cannot back away, it can’t escape, but you will die before you reach it. You’re beyond exhausted, and the forces between the Absence and the Radiance will be the end of you. Your body is already failing; it’s at the point of collapse. You must stop now.
Moe stops, and the tears come unchecked. He knew. He knew he was almost at the end of himself. He was too close to saving the ones he loves to care. He couldn’t have stopped anyway. Wasn’t even sure that death could stop him. His body would have crawled on regardless.
‘Then what should I do…?’
Open the bottle. They are close enough. Their nature will take over from here. Just pray that Margo did as I told her, that she has the strength to do the rest. You do realise there is more than merely opening the bottle?
‘More? Isn’t opening it enough?’
Moe feels it then. A hand on his head, like a benediction. Sorrow bleeds from the touch. You must pull the Absence back into this bottle. And you must close it.
‘How?’ Moe asks, his voice breaking, but Solomon is gone.
Moe sits back on his heels. Looks down at the bottle in his hand. He can barely see it, his sight blurred through tears he has no control over. They fall and fall, spattering on his legs, on the marble; leave chaotic patterns on the ugly brown surface of the bottle. The cork is so small; it should be easy to pull free. It isn’t. His hands are too large, too clumsy, and his strength all but gone.
He grits his teeth, ignoring the spikes of jagged pain the movement sends from skull to skeleton, to muscle, to flesh, to fingers and, grasping the cork between finger and thumb, begins in painstaking increments to wiggle it loose. It takes forever. Each ticking second an eternity of hurt and will. This cork does not wish to move. He wills it to. It fights. He fights back. It burns him. He does not give in. And slowly, so slowly, it begins to loosen. Gives way with a pop.
Close your eyes! Solomon roars in Moe’s head. An imperative so full of authority Moe complies without a murmur.
Just in time.
Pure, white light bursts from the bottle, burning his eyes even behind their lids. Such blinding light, it fills the corners of his body. Bleaches his mind. There is nothing in him that it does not see, that it does not show him, and he is on the floor, prostrate, arms over his head, bathed in the light and sobbing. So weak, so small, so frail, such feeble flesh he is. Pathetic. Crawling, puling, mutable flesh. Paralysed by weakness, by emotion, and riddled with cracks. Flaws in the stone.
The truth is a terrible weight. It threatens to crush him. Threatens to end him there and then. He struggles beneath it, overwhelmed and outmatched, diminished and demoralised. Until he realises something. This weight. It’s not so heavy at all. Not as heavy as the bottle. He crawled under that weight all the way here with this tiny, flawed vessel, weak and mutable though it may be. This frail, pathetic shell carried the light, and never faltered. His emotion is not weakness. It is the foundation of his strength.
‘I’m here!’ he screams into the marble. ‘I made it here, and you’re out. You lost. Just fuck off back to where you belong and send that bastard Absence to me. I’ve got something that belongs to it.’
Eyes shut tight, he pushes back up onto his knees, his body cursing him every step of the way, and he raises the bottle, aware immediately of the void within, the insistent yawn of it. And he understands. Void calls to void. But the Absence resists the call, refuses to return. No, it will not win.
Moe lashes out with strength he didn’t know he possessed, commanding it away from the people he loves and back into captivity. The Absence roars at him. Lashes out. He feels flesh open in long, sickening welts. Warm blood courses down to the marble, pooling around his knees. Bones crack and break. But still he commands it return, and it cannot fight him and the void together.
He feels the precise moment when the bottle takes it back, transforming a fragile vessel of clay into impossible weight, throwing his body back down onto the marble with such force his elbows shatter on impact. But he does not loosen his hold, nor does he allow the bottle to remain open. Gagging at the pain, Moe forces his arms to move, bringing the cork stopper the opening and ramming it home.
The Radiance screams victory.
‘Margo,’ he calls out, his voice trembling, dreading what will come next, what horrors the Radiance will inflict upon them. ‘Margo. Open the bottle. Please. Please be alive. Please open the bottle.’
But she does not reply.
© Ren Warom 2013