If light were given voice, and screamed, what sound would it make? There’s a moment, when Margo pulls the cork from the bottle, and the Radiance realises what she’s done, that she knows that sound intimately. It is not a sound she can hear. It is beyond the capacity of her ears to process. This sound provokes a chemical reaction, violates her cells, her neurones. Vibrates through her, wreaking havoc.
From the tips of her toes to the ends of her hair, it alters her. Deep within. Tiny tears in the fundament. Cracks in the stone. Fracture-lines that grow and connect until everything within her feels fragile as ancient pottery on the verge of shattering. The magic, Solomon’s gift, races to protect her, to heal her.
Afraid of losing her boys and aware they have no such protection, Margo rejects its help. Funnels it instead to the prone body in her arms, and to the one thing he needs to survive: Moe. She can see him across the hall, lost in the light. He’s curled against the floor, clutching the other bottle. His elbows are a mess.
They’re fading. Her boys. Her borrowed magic struggles to protect them both.
‘C’mon you fucking bitch,’ she screams at the light, barely able to hear herself. ‘Get in the fucking bottle. Get in!’
The Radiance gathers into a pure white nova in the centre of the room, and explodes in her direction. A sun on the attack, its scream rises as it hurls itself toward her. Inside her, in response to this new deluge of sub-sonic sound, cells shatter apart. Margo chokes up blood onto Rolf’s face. She looks at it there, on his pale cheek, bleached to marble by the light screaming in her face, and loses it.
Her hand rises, the bottle curled hard into her palm, broken fingers white knuckled and crackling agony. She presses the bottle into the nova. The hairs on her fingers singe, the skin blisters, bursts, blackening at the edges in seconds. Gritting her teeth until her jaw creaks as the urge to yank her hand back rips through her, she pushes on, right into the Radiance’s burning core.
The effect is immediate. Extraordinary. The scream snaps off. There is a violent influx of pressure around her hand and the light collapses inwards, forming a funnel much like water down a plughole but a thousand times more violent. As it drains back into the bottle, the Radiance attacks one last time, in defiance. A whiplash of light at her head. Behind her eyes, something gives way. She doesn’t know what, except that is it vital.
And then the light is gone.
Curled tight within cindered fingers, the bottle weighs nothing. If she couldn’t see it, she would doubt it was there. The light has no substance, only brightness. Such brightness. Shuddering, almost devoid of energy, Margo crams the cork back into the bottle, moaning at the pressure on the burnt ruin of her hand.
Spreading from her lips to her heart to her head.
And the shuddering won’t stop.
She wants to cry, but she’s forgotten how, or why she wants to.
Unsure of what to do next, she simply holds the bottle, staring in mute confusion at the black flesh on her fingers. What is that? There’s a weight in her lap. Quite heavy. She looks down. There’s someone curled against her belly, rested between her legs. A man.
He’s so hurt, her body aches for him. His eyes are swollen shut, and she’s not entirely sure if the movement of his chest is his breathing or her shuddering. If only she could stop. She opens her mouth to talk to him, but doesn’t know what to say. What if he’s dead? Does talking to a dead man make you mad?
A cry from across the room.
She looks up. There’s another man, piratical, with eyes the deep, silky brown of melted dark chocolate. He’s very badly hurt.
‘Margo,’ he calls, his voice cracking. She can see he’s trying not to look at the man in her lap. He’s scared.
She looks down again. Trying to see for him. Discern whatever movement in this man’s chest that might be his own doing. She doesn’t know why she needs to do this. She just does. It’s important.
The faintest rise.
‘He’s breathing,’ she says. And is surprised when she bursts into tears.
A hand on her head. Dark brown eyes staring into hers. He touches her hair.
‘Oh look at you. Your beautiful hair. It’s gone white.’
She doesn’t understand why he sounds so gutted. She can’t remember what hair she had. Is it white now? Who cares? It’s only hair. His gaze slides, by reluctant degrees, to the man in her lap. He covers his mouth with a shaking hand, muffling a cry that seems to come from his very viscera. When he removes the hand, his eyes are red, but dry. He’s still shaking.
‘Margo,’ he says, and his voice splinters on every word. ‘We need to get him help. We need to call Kitty.’
She opens her mouth, tasting the sickly, brackish flavour of tears that won’t stop, as if some dam has broken and she’s draining of every last drop. When the tears stop, she’ll be empty. She wants to stop them now, before it’s too late, but something in her knows it’s already too late. No stemming this flow. No saving her now.
She blinks, trying to see him properly. To understand.
‘Margo, hon,’ he pushes her hair from her forehead and leans in, his face contorted with urgent, bone-deep fear. ‘I need you to call him right now. You’re the only one strong enough. Rolf needs help.’
The broken man is Rolf. He needs help. Only she can call Kitty. Who is Kitty? Margo stares, inarticulate, at the brown-eyed man. She wants to shout for the Kitty, but that’s not what he means. If shouting would work, he’d do it himself. He means shout from inside. Except she’s not sure she has a voice in there anymore. Everything’s broken.
It seems important that he doesn’t guess this, so she doesn’t tell him. She turns inward, gently prods at her own mind. It’s in so many pieces. Where does she begin to look for the voice to call Kitty with? Helpless, Margo surveys the mess.
That’s a bit of a state, isn’t it sweetheart?
She recognises this voice. This man. If he is a man. The voice is sexless, the deep timbre speaking more of dense, unquantifiable power than of gender. But she recognises him. There are parts of his essence, of his voice, strewn amongst the wreckage in her mind. How is that possible?
You used it to protect them, he says. I didn’t realise you’d do that. I’m sorry. He pauses for a moment. He’s watching her. His eyes are sad. She can feel them. I’ll call my brother. He touches her then, just a light touch that burns like the core of the light around her hand. That’s all I can do. I don’t know if it’s enough. I’m sorry.
And he’s gone.
She looks at the brown-eyed Moe…
‘I know you,’ she whispers. ‘How do I know you?’
All his attention on Rolf, Moe starts up, his eyes out of focus.
He grabs her head in his hands. How can he do that? His elbows are wrecked. Swollen, with bits of bone poking through the flesh. She wonders if he can feel it at all. That’s a state she understands. She feels nothing too. So why can’t she stop crying?
‘What do I need to do?’ Another voice, like the one in her head, sexless, but deep with power, fills the whole room. Warm and encircling. She wants to hide in it.
Still staring into her eyes, his gaze searching hard, for what she can’t tell, Moe says, ‘Rolf needs help. Don’t you let him die.’
Margo winces back from the whiplash in his voice.
Someone kneels beside her left leg. Leans into view. Ah, that’s why he’s called Kitty. He feels Rolf gently, all over. Nods.
‘I can work with this. Leek can help. What about you, Moe?’
‘What about me?’
‘Your elbows are a mess. And you’re cut. All over.’
Moe blinks, as though he’s only just realised. ‘Oh. Yeah. I can’t feel it. Margo did something. Deal with me later. Sort Rolf first. He’s dying. Whatever she did, she couldn’t help him the same as she helped me.’
Kitty inclines his head. ‘OK. We’ll fix him up enough to get him the hell out of here. It’s collapsing.’
‘The world?’ Moe sounds resigned rather than scared.
Kitty nods. ‘Bound to happen. Two magical super-novae basically just erupted inside it. It’s coming apart.’
Margo fights back the urge to nod agreement. She can feel it all around her now he’s said it. Striations, fine and final as the ones that drove through her mind before it shattered. The man who called for Kitty did something to that. The pieces are still all over, but she can see a pattern in them now. Perhaps she can put them back together.
But there are so many.
‘What about Margo? What’s wrong with her?’ asks Moe. He’s still looking at her, as though only his gaze is holding her there. He looks very frightened, and it’s not all about Rolf. He’s frightened for her. It makes her cry harder, like sudden rainfall. A ribcage full of grey clouds and thunder.
Kitty looks up at her, into her, his golden eyes whirling. Hypnotic. Sadness leaks through them, aging the gold to deep bronze. He shakes his head. ‘Solomon’s done all he can. It’s up to her now. She’s got to put the pieces together.’
‘But there are so many,’ she whispers in reply, unable to stop herself, and hating the fear in her voice, the despair.
But there are so many pieces.
Where does she begin?
© Ren Warom 2013