Her task complete, the bottle pressed hard against the soft skin of her breast, Margo holds tight to Vespesian’s body, and waits. Cocooned in pain and darkness, she hopes. Tries not to think. To feel. But there is no cure for thinking. Or feeling.
Rolf is within her; she can feel him as sure as the passage of blood from heart to organs and back. His pain pulses inside her, his waning strength, his misery. He can’t sense her. Can’t sense Moe. He’s too broken. Too desperately damaged.
She longs to call out to him. The desire burns on her lips, in her throat. Pounds in her heart. But the Absence mustn’t know that she knows this is not her Rolf she holds in the darkness. It must continue to believe her deception.
For all the lives, the souls, it has swallowed, the Absence still knows nothing of humanity. Is completely unaware that Margo could be blind, insensible, denied feeling in her limbs, her heart, and she would still know her Rolf. She would know him anywhere.
‘Hurry Moe,’ she moans into the harsh fabric of Vespesian’s overcoat, her lips rubbed raw and bleeding. ‘Please hurry.’
Broken as she is, broken as the angel is, Rolf is worse. He has minutes, if that. Margo hangs on to the thread of his pulse, winding its way to her through the thick pitch of the Absence’s belly, and wills his heart to keep beating.
If Rolf gives up, if he loses the will, the energy to fight, then she will fight for him. She has to. There is no place in her comprehension for a world without Rolf. When all else disappeared from beneath her feet, he was there. Always. He made her real, made her beautiful, as she did for him.
Now he’s found Moe.
She found Moe at first, brought him into her circle, where Rolf was waiting for him, all unknowing. And somehow, through all this horror, despite it, Moe and Rolf came together. Like a miracle.
Margo couldn’t care less how it happened, she’s only overjoyed that it has, and she won’t let this be the end of it. Not if she has to give everything she has. If she has to end, then she can end, knowing that they are beginning. That’s worth dying for.
Rolf’s pulse skips, stops, starts again, but slowly, too slow, and Margo closes her eyes, fighting back an urgent need to start screaming. Struggling to quell terror so profound it all but replaces her breath.
‘Fight, you fucking bastard,’ she snarls into Vespesian’s coat. ‘Don’t you dare give up.’
And everything stops.
Margo senses him, beyond her fear, beyond the thick substance of the Absence. Moe. He’s here. He’s been here for at least a minute. How did she not know?
There’s a rushing. A sharp, ear-popping crack, and the Absence roars into the abyss. Flat, endless rage. Pain, too. Horrendous pain. As though it were human and its flesh burning, shedding in great, blistered swathes from blackening bones.
Howling erupts around her head; the Shadows–those souls swallowed by the Absence–shrieking as it turns on them in its rage, its pain. Long dead they may be, but the Absence is cruel, finds a million ways to punish them. Needing to hurt something.
Margo sobs, hanging on to Vespesian’s coat. Reduced to praying that the Shadows’ agony will appease the Absence, and it won’t turn to her or, worse, to Rolf, for satisfaction.
The darkness becomes a hurricane around her, of screaming, and pain, and molten fury. It contracts, still roaring, the Shadows still screaming. Louder now, higher, more desperate, their agony honed to needle-like shards.
Darkness sinks in onto her flesh, pushing hard against aching bones. The Absence fighting some exterior force. The bottle. Moe’s opened it. She moans, hangs on to the harsh wool of Vespesian’s coat as the Absence presses in and in. Grinding broken bones until she’s certain her skin will split around them, burst open like rotten fruit.
‘Oh Rolf,’ she whispers, feeling his pulse stuttering frantically, ‘hold on, baby. Hold on.’
The Absence rips away. So abrupt, so overwhelming, Margo can’t catch her breath to scream before it’s over, and she’s left free of darkness, gasping in the midst of blinding light. She snaps her eyes shut. Too late. Her corneas burn away. Darkness inside instead of out. Then internal war. The power she took from Solomon rising in a tidal wave to fight the damage.
She has no time to wait for it to win. Nor does she care if it does. It’s just power, not part of her. Something she took to be stronger, not understanding how alien it was in comparison to her. How huge. She’s had to fight to stay herself.
The Absence is still out there. Fighting. Screaming. Moe’s struggling to pull it to him, fighting with every ounce of his will. He’s not like her or Rolf, but she trusts him to win. He’s fighting for Rolf.
Beneath her, Vespesian gasps to life in the light. A surge rips through him, like an unexpressed shriek, and he pops out, leaving her to fall. Without warning, without eyes to see, she hits the floor hard, driving hurt into every cell. With pain comes realisation.
The Radiance is not like the Absence. It has no substance. Only light. Pure and blinding. And for the moment, miraculous as it may seem, the light is paying no attention to her. She can feel all its attention on Moe as he fights to pull the darkness back into its prison.
‘Rolf,’ she mutters, and begins to inch along the floor, following the thread of his pulse.
She finds his hand first. Nearly loses all self control as she takes it and feels how utterly fucked it is. Ruined. But it’s the rest of him that breaks her. Her hands, her senses, feel across every inch of him and learn the full extent of the damage wrought by the Absence as it played with him.
‘Oh god no.’
Her beautiful Rolf is shattered, a mess of swollen, torn flesh and broken bones. His breath bubbles out through parted lips. She’s blind, but doesn’t need to see it. She smells it. Blood. Ruined lungs. She wants to gather him in her arms but where would she hold him without hurting him. How?
So she contents herself with touching. Lightly. Fingers on his brow, his lips, and whispering brokenly, not sure he can even hear her, ‘I’m here. I’m here. Hold on, baby. Hold on.’
Dimly, she senses the Absence shrieking as it loses its battle. Perceives Moe’s pain, on top of hers, on top of Rolf’s. Such layers of it. They drown her. Suck her under. Take her strength. She hangs on for grim death, her fingers on Rolf’s forehead. Her lifeline the bubbled breath from his lips, the thin shudder of his heartbeat.
The triumphant laughter of the Radiance echoes around her, swallowing the faint sounds holding her secure. Setting her adrift. Lost, she begins to waver. Fading out. So little of her left. So little of Rolf. And Moe out there, hurting. His blood draining away onto the flat, polished stone. What was it she was hanging on for?
She hears Moe call her. Faintly. From so far away. A million miles. She can’t reach him. Has no voice left to respond. But the Radiance hears him too. It hears him, and notices her, falls upon her like an anvil, and she is flattened. Pared down to those ugly scraps she thought so deeply buried they could never be found.
She should open the bottle. Send the light away. But why? When she is nothing. When Rolf is nothing. Her reflection. His. They looked into one another and saw something worth keeping in so much useless flesh, but it was just an illusion. Driven by fear. By the certain knowledge that there was nothing here worth keeping. So much ugliness. In her. In him. Ugly hurt. Ugly emotion. They saw beauty in each other and thought it was enough.
She sobs, face pressed into the stone. Cold. Hard. Unforgiving. Like her. The light has stepped into the darkest corners of her heart, her mind, thrown her wide open. No more secrets. No more hiding this ugliness. No more believing she can mend, that her ugliness can transform to beauty. It cannot.
What, then, is there to fight for?
Beneath her hand, Rolf’s head moves. He coughs. She feels specks of his blood spatter her hair. He tries to speak, his throat too ruined to produce anything but a thick gurgle. He clears it. The sound breaks her heart. Then he speaks. And everything inside her falls apart.
Her hand on his hair, his gorgeous black hair, gummed with blood and stuck to his skull, his face, she wails, ‘I can’t. How can I? It’s Moe. Moe makes you beautiful.’
Rolf moves his arm, rests his broken hand against her cheek. The pain must be horrific, but it doesn’t stop him. And he smiles. She feels that smile all through her; wishes she could see it.
‘Both…of…you,’ he says, halting. Each word taking an enormous amount of energy. ‘Always.’
The weight doesn’t lift. Yet somehow it is no longer on her. In her. Instead, she feels that power of Solomon’s. Waiting. Waiting to fight for her, if she’ll let it. Margo understands then. How much she’s fought. This power has been trying so hard to change her, and she hasn’t let it. She’s tried to be in control. But you can’t control something like this by fighting it.
What was it she learned?
Sometimes strength is in the surrender.
So she surrenders to it. Allows it to do what it will.
Her sight clears immediately, corneas re-written from the memory of cells. She blinks, seeing in the Radiance. Rolf encased in light like a fucking angel. So beautiful. She sees herself in him, and knows that she was wrong, that the light was wrong. It showed her only what she thought was true, what she feared was true. It lied. It has to go.
Margo reaches into her bra and grabs the bottle. She scoots up, carefully scooping Rolf’s broken body into her lap. To protect him, to stop the light from hurting him. She smiles then. Bloodied teeth and blood red lips. Bloody furious.
‘Oi, you cunt,’ she sneers, grasping the cork in broken fingers and caring nothing for the pain. ‘Lights out.’
And she tears the cork loose.
© Ren Warom 2013