Revenge: the conclusion.
She was between worlds; rising up through landscapes of memory.
Cloud-like forms carved from a million instances of her life, all bunching together, folding, metamorphosing, blending, and pirouetting through the void.
As she pushed herself up, fighting the current pulling her down, fighting to leave this storm, she finally broke surface, passing above the sea of chaos.
And, as she looked down, amazement shook her, making her forget what she had to do… for a moment.
For, in that split second, looking down at the brilliance, looking down at what tapestries of beauty her subconscious could weave, she was breathless from longing.
All around, scattered beneath her were the lost memories, a brooding storm of sights, each one rubbing shoulders with the next. Sights from childhood, womanhood, all clinging together, dancing beneath her, showing her a past she missed so much.
But it was not what it seemed.
For, as she rose higher, she heard their deceitful sniggers, and she knew what they were: the hounds of longing.
These were the memories that wanted her to stay, wanted her to take the plunge, stay in wonderland; taunting her to follow them down, down to memories that would smother her sanity, drown her existence in a multiplicity of pasts, leaving her trapped below in the caverns of a sleep that she would never arise from.
“No!” She screamed. “Not today.”
She pushed onwards, ignoring their subterfuge.
But, they tried, one last time, sending a cloud swirling up to encircle her, test her composure, her will.
A face appeared in the grey mass, tenebrous lips whispering her name.
As it spoke, clouds pieced themselves together, forming a screen, a beloved cinema from childhood.
Left and right she spied glittering mermaids carved in the walls. And up above, a starry dome with spotlights suspended between velvet curtains. Below her, curving out like a little cove, row after row of satin seats, and like landing lights beckoning her down, soft moody lights were embedded in the carpet.
Then came a voice: it was the old woman who’d serve ice cream at the interval.
“Come down. It’s your favourite film,” she waved as the projector sprung into life behind her.
Shouting at it, she punched out, kicking with her feet, trying to get rid of the scene; a past she dearly missed, but would not want to stay.
She pulled up, banishing the vision.
Heeding her words, the dream catcher stole away, the screen shimmering into chaos once more, diving away into the depths.
Breathless, she watched it. First it turned into a skipping girl who promptly split into a bizarre pattern of twirling Chinese dragons that quickly scattered like spooked fish, seeking sanctuary, disappearing behind sunsets of doubt, and swimming down into vortices of lust and longing. One by one, they melted into another scene then another, then another, without beginning, without end.
It was hideously mystifying.
Above her, she saw it: a reminder of life; a beacon of light revolving high above her, a sunray piercing down through the grey and sullen clouds in a hemisphere of storms.
She pushed up.
With thunder snapping at her heals and subtle flashes of lightning spreading across the surreal boundaries marking the gulf between her mind and intangibility, she rose up, a human balloon.
Floating onwards, she remembered what she had to do.
Jesus! It was still out there; a willow-the-wisp conglomeration of sound.
She had to get it before reality took her beck.
Reality…, that aspect of life she would rather reimagine.
Piecing together fragments of reality and memory, she recalled what had transpired above her, in the oncoming flickering brightness.
For a brief second, she pondered the chaos below and a question.
What would it be: the blade of a raving lunatic or die looking for a name cried out across a bleak square?
Flailing, she desperately struggled to hold onto a vital piece of information, a lifeline, and a clue to her rescue.
“No…!” she struggled, the void smothering her movements, hindering her escape.
“The name, I need the name.”
It had been screamed across a moonlit market square. The secret they had wanted her to know.
But…, now, her journey nearly over, and reality knocking at the door of this world, she screamed out for help across the mists of memories.
But there was no reply.
The final destination.
She sensed the air around her, its cold embrace, the pungent stench of lavender, old books and…, still faint, beyond it all, the soft fluttering of moths continuing their dance against the glass, unabated.
Eyes still tight, she gently took in air, letting the cold trickle into her, the steel still nipping at her neck.
A hard reminder.
But this wasn’t right.
No, she screamed within her.
It wasn’t time to face the old woman yet, not yet.
Just one more second.
Please…, one more second, she begged.
Speak to me! She screamed into the grey.
Concentrating, she put together the scene.
Behind her eyelids, the image of what she had seen appeared: the vast shadow overlooking the market square.
A shadow so familiar. So full of hate and tragedy.
It was slipping away.
“Wait! No! I need to know.”
The more she spoke the quicker it folded into the darkness, a timid creature of the forest scampering away from the hunter, becoming a mere after image, fading from the retina of her subconscious.
“Speak to me, goddamn it!”
She reached out one last time.
Speak to me!
And out there, out there in that barren world, a cry…, so faint, like that of a lost child.
“Focus, goddamn it!”
Fighting against the blade’s edge, she reached out into the void, ignoring the cold, ignoring the slither of death at her neck.
“Let me be!”
But it was drawing her back, a cold hearted fisherman snarling at his catch, drawing her back to the room, and the hiss of reality filling her ears
She swam down into the void, one last time, snatching at the tiny echo, trying hard to fathom its meaning.
“One last time… Please!”
But, as it became a soft whisper, dwindling away, sinking back into to that bleak world, she caught its meaning.
And, like a radio locking onto a lost station, her mouth opened:
Her eyes were wide, she gasped for air.
Cold breath across her eyes.
Time standing still.
But it was there.
The name was there, before her.
Shimmering across the table, piercing the freezing air, filling the room.
She could see it, her breath, twisting and curling in the golden light, dancing above the flickering candle.
As it formed a multitude of formless shapes, she could have laughed, laughed out loud at what she saw. For, as that insubstantial body of air crept through space, its billowing motion brought back a fond childhood memory: a book, old and battered, showing Victorian ectoplasmic apparitions, cleverly spun charlatan spectres depicted in sepia, a world full of half-light, cut-out entities populating a long lost world.
A book of lies and swindles, the worlds she would one day crush.
But not all of them.
She breathed in.
But this was no parlour room play, no childhood fantasy.
It was the here and now.
And, as she stifled the laugh, putting the memory away, she heard the voices; not from outside, but from within.
Massing together, deep within her, screaming, rising up from that bleak world: thousands of voices, all screaming to be heard.
No. It couldn’t be!
They’d found a way out.
Channelling. They were channelling through her.
Voices from within her, all rushing out as one. A crowd running headlong for one opening, looking for the one who had hurt them so long ago.
Desperate for justice, they clawed at her throat.
But…, the knife, hanging at the junction between life and death.
It still hung there. Waiting for the single movement.
But no movement came.
The old woman was frozen.
Only her soft breathing, rhythmic, and her skin, laced with lavender, was the sign of life.
Was a name so powerful?
But her concentration was needed elsewhere: the voices were struggling to get out.
If they forced her to speak?
What then? Would the old bitch ignore them? Or simply cut her, bleed her like a sacrificial lamb?
Is that what they wanted?
Did they care for her existence or just their own pitiful revenge?
She couldn’t let them out, not yet; she had to control them.
Keep them in check.
Hold them back.
Her eyes focussed.
The knife hadn’t moved.
The old woman was a statue, shocked from the name circling the room.
How long did she have before the beast within her shook away the trance?
Breathe in. Keep it in. Don’t let it out, she thought; it was the only mantra that would hold it all together.
In the freezing air, her skin ashen, she held her breath in, the only weapon she had against them.
She closed her eyes.
Her lungs burning, skin awash with the kisses of death’s lowly demons, she saw them beneath the rippling water, her hands holding them down, tiny bubbles rising up. And in one giant glassy bubble she could see them, a mass of ghostly faces, grey, full of hate, full of rage.
Seeing her plan, they sank down, dragging her with them.
The water encircled her head, washing over her body, pulling her down.
Twisting around, she stared up at the shimmering light of freedom, taunting her in this hopeless struggle, distorting the life above, still in sight, her air running low.
The water was gone.
Only cold air all around.
Keep them in, she told herself.
She tried so desperately to control them, keep them in. But the knowledge of what she had become had weakened her: she was the conduit, the doorway. They could reach out and take the old bitch.
Please…, not now.
Not with so much danger around her: the knife that could so quickly end her life.
She counted the heart beats, marking out time in her chest, beating, still beating.
“Keep them in,” she whispered in her mind.
Screams thronging in her throat now; so many curses, so many lives cut off too short.
Voices, pushing, pulling at the gate, pushing, pushing, looking for that way out.
She opened her eyes once again, looking around, looking for a point to concentrate on.
There, she’d seen it.
Something caught her attention.
The wispy breath, which had come up from so deep, which had manifested itself before her eyes.
What was it doing?
Why hadn’t it dissipated?
It was circling the candle, a comet trapped in the gravity of a glowing star.
But it looked strange, this dimensionless form shifting in space, fighting forces that would dissipate its simple life.
As it drifted, forming misty rings around the flame, it reached out to the light, like the moths at the window, seeking the light, yearning.
Her heart pounded.
The voices were near.
“Keep them in! keep them in!”
From the corner of her eye, in the third chair, the ghostly figure moved.
Bump, bump…, bump, bump…, bump, bump.
Her heart beating the rhythm of her life.
Seconds stretching out.
But…, the figure. What was it doing?
Raising an arm?
Across the table, it touched the cloud, and with it, the candle light intensified.
It couldn’t be.
She stared at the shadowy form, her heart about to burst.
The figure was changing, taking on a new visage.
It could only be…, the name.
This is what they wanted from her.
She could fight no more.
Her strength gone, they ripped up through her, gushing up, free at last: seeking the figure, the ghost.
The vacuum within her sucked at the air, her lungs filling with life.
The knife at her neck, for a second, gently cut her skin, but withdrew.
Behind her, she heard steps, moving away.
The ghostly figure in the chair manifested itself.
And, for brief seconds, she was there.
And then, as if someone flipped a switch, she was gone.
All that remained was soft flickering candlelight and a quiet wail in the darkness.
The old woman stood back, the knife hanging in the air.
“Lily,” she said, despondently, followed by that chilling wail again.
She finally drifted back into the half shadows. Her shoulders hunching back down, her back rounding, her eyes sinking away, she became a lonely old woman once more.
As that name hung in the air, she shuddered.
Her head dropping, she spoke. Her voice lost, broken, alone.
“Lily, was my mother,” she said. “But…, she… was…..”
Her voice trickled away.
She put her tongue across dry, chapped lips, contemplating her words.
Only the brushing of wings upon glass.
In the hallway, the clocked marked the hour, a prompt for the hunched figure to move into the semi-light.
“He made me do it. My father,” she stammered, words coming in short bursts. “It was my father. I remember,” she said, her words slowly gathering clarity, momentum.
Looking up, her eyes twinkled in the candlelight and she let go of the knife.
“I remember now. I remember his obsession. I remember the books, the pain. Lily knew something was wrong with him, something violent, malevolent. Why do I remember it now?” She turned to the bookshelves.
As she did, Mademoiselle Clements clutched at her neck. She felt a tiny rivulet of blood and the sting of pain.
It wasn’t deep. So just needed to hold her hand there.
She had to listen. The old woman was back.
Was it nearly over?
Had they done it, the spirits?
They’d called her here to find the woman and now they’d forced the old bitch’s memories back.
Now it was time to listen.
Mademoiselle Clements let her body relax.
She’d got away with it.
In the corner, where she’d left it, the sensor device was still on, still transmitting, still blinking.
A confession was all she needed.
It was all she wanted.
At the window the moths were at rest.
A calm entered the room.
The voices had set the arena.
Judgment was to be done.
But they needed to hear it from her lips.
Mademoiselle Sanson stood at the bookshelf.
Her voice sharp now.
“Each book, all held together with rusty clasps, tells a story. Not in words. No,” she said, letting her hand wander across the glass the shelves, her voice still distant.
“My mother had known it. She’d seen how they’d affected my father, made him change, especially after starting his research. His job had been to find special books. The “Lost” books, as the museum director had called them. All full of secret histories. He’d found people, all over France, collectors, all with stories to tell and books to sell. My mother could remember the first one he’d brought back. It had fascinated him. It was a book that should have been burned in the Revolution, but had somehow survived.
Night after night he would sit in the study, reading under candlelight. Hour upon hour, only the sounds of swishing pages and a fountain pen hard at work, dipping into ink, scrawling his thoughts, his fears. She would often find him asleep at the table, his head resting on those vile pages.
She’d pitied him, thinking work was causing his obsessional work.
But then came the dreams.
He would wake up shouting and screaming. Names, places, strange words of unknown origin.
She said it was often the voice of another.
It was this that had struck fear into her heart.
Fearing the worst, she’d sought medical counselling.
After seeing my father in one of his darker moods, the doctor had proclaimed the book had a hold of him, manifesting another in his body. It could only be the work of powers we never speak of, was his answer. He decreed that my father should receive help of the psychiatric nature and that we should speak to no one of his ailment.
Lily was advised to get rid of the book immediately. Take it to the museum, he advised her. Let them take care of it. Get my father help for his troubled soul.
But when she called the museum, they’d told her that my father had handed in his notice weeks before.
Lily could take it no more.
Who was she living with?
The following evening, when he was in the study, she confronted him. Asking him to put the book aside.
But, as she’d feared, they’d waited too long, and the “other” was behind those eyes.”
The old woman moved to the centre of the room.
“I can still see her, back there, in our old home. I can remember what she told me. She saw what he had become: a haggard shadow of his former self. Eyes sunken, skin yellowed like the pages of the book, his energy had been sapped away by those pages. And now it was being used to resurrect something else.
I remember waking up, running into the study, seeing them both there, I saw her trying to take the book, and this gaunt figure lashing out at her, striking her to the ground.
My mother screaming out.
I saw her on the floor helpless; my father standing at the table. Not trying to help her.
I was frozen.
But then, I saw her reach for something on the floor. She picked something up, a knife. Getting up, she lunged at my father, plunging it into his chest.
He fell next to the table.
Prone against the table, a pool of crimson spilling out from between fingers, he clutched at his belly, as his life trickled away.
I was frozen in shock.
Gasping, crying, barely understandable from hysteria, she tried to tell me why. Tears streaming down her face, she told me my father had died inside months ago and that a stranger had been living with us. The book had changed him.
Thinking only of staunching the blood, I ran to him.
However, in those few seconds, as I touched him, the life finally ran away from him.
And I remember the cold. His skin, so cold.
It was only then that I realised my mistake.
But it was too late.
Why hadn’t I listened? The words of my mother.
For, in the seconds his life expired, his madness entered into me.
That monster entered his flesh and blood.
I’ve done its bidding. The puppeteer holds me for its performance.”
She looked at the rows upon rows of books. Tears now streaming down her face.
“I buried my mother in our cellar. He’s there too.
I suppose they are still there today.
He made me kill her.
She knew too much and I had so much work to do, he’d said.
Who’d believe a young girl had done it, the voice had told me. He’d forced me. Every time. It was him.”
The old woman studied the books.
“I remember now. You’ve made me remember. I remember that it wasn’t me. Never was me. The books, it came from the books, feeding on their suffering, always seeking more. He said they had to pay for hiding that which had to be burned. Purge those who hold onto the old values, hiding from the guillotine.”
She banged her fists on the glass.
“Purge? What do you mean?”
“Kill them. Kill them all. Take their books. That’s all he ever wanted.”
Did she finally have it?
She couldn’t believe it.
“Yes. Blood on my hands. Blood everywhere. Screams. All their screams ringing in my ears. But he wanted it,” she held out her hands. “He said they’d never find me. Never suspect me.”
Turning to the shelves, she banged her fist on the glass.
Now…, now. You must take them. Take the books. That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? Take them all.”
She pounded on the glass. “Take them all. Burn them. Just take them.”
Mademoiselle Clements simply shook her head.
“No. I’m not here to take any books,” her voice soft, calm, in control. “That’s what you wanted to believe. The truth is…, I’m here for you. I’m here for what you’ve done.”
The old woman looked at her incredulously.
“Done? What have I done?” Innocence in her voice. “It was him. He did it. It was always him. I’m his puppet,” she whimpered, pointing to the books. “Don’t you see? Haven’t they shown you, your spirits? It’s in the books. He wrote it all down. He had control.”
But the young woman remained calm, watching the old woman.
“It was him. HIM! I tell you!”
“It’s wasn’t him, was it?” Her voice calm.
“Mademoiselle Sanson, you’re wanted for the murder of fifty three people, and perhaps countless more. I‘ve been working with the police to try and find you. The only information I had were the voices of thousands of people who suffered at the guillotine. People killed hundreds of years ago. All my life I’ve heard them. I never believed them; I thought it was just some crazy dream about some strange books. But slowly, over the past six years, their voices crystallised into something tangible: they told a story even the police didn’t want to believe. I tracked everything they told me, every single detail, every single avenue of evidence. It was those voices who led me to you.”
“Then outside, the old wood they found was…”
“People were executed here. Decapitated. It’s the reason the moths were attracted to this place. That was the breakthrough we’d needed. The voices focussed on this place. And then, I met the priest.”
“Then…, you are not of the cloth?”
“I’m a medium. Helped the police on a lot of cases.”
“Then…, they will arrest me? Take me in?”
The old woman sank to her knees.
“It was always him. Always,” she sobbed. “I have no way out. He trapped me.”
It was over.
Or so it seemed.
Was it too easy?
Had the voices accepted her confession?
Something had disturbed them.
“What is happening?” sobbed the old woman, staring at the window.
The tiny insects were going crazy, their bodies banging against the glass, a raging storm battering the glass.
“The spirits they’re…,” the young woman looked confused.
Cold wafted around again.
Within her she could hear their footsteps running across the cobblestone market square, all shouting…, and screaming. But what were they screaming?
“Revenge? Are they screaming for revenge?”
Her throat was dry again. Within her a storm was churning in her stomach, in her mind they were shouting, over and over again.
The old woman was hysterical.
“Oh, please take me to the police. Please! It is so cold. They will….”
Her eyes glazed over.
She clutched at her chest, falling to the carpet, her legs kicking out, her head thrown back in agony.
“Mademoiselle Sanson!” God!” The young woman got up, going to the now still body.
She stopped herself at the last second,.
In that instant, that terrible sound began again.
The booming from the bowels of the house thudded into the floor, sending out ear-splitting screams as the foundations slid beneath her feet.
Thunderous roars shuddered through the room, sending ornaments flying.
Ominous sounds buffeted the floor, the walls, hammering, unrelenting, deafening.
As it built up to a crescendo, the lights flickered on; pulsing white light blinded her, turning the room into a vision of unreality.
Her mind in confusion, she struggled to stay on her feet, grabbing the table.
Above her, the chandelier rocked from side to side, driven on by the quake.
As the roar started a fresh assault, she saw the damage.
Spiralling out from the chandelier, long cracks shot across the ceiling.
As plaster drifted down, the wave of sound thumped into the walls, into the floor.
Something had to give, she thought.
And, as the sound became unbearable, and the cracks reached the window, her silent fear was confirmed: the windows warped, then…, exploded.
Glass sparkled in the air, tiny fragments flying inwards.
“Jesus,” she screamed, diving down beneath the table, her only option.
As the glass came to rest, a new noise filled her ears.
A shrill, high pitched scream, all around.
Thousands of tiny shadows fluttered before her vision, smothering the light.
Above her, the air was alive.
The night air rushed in, bringing with it the storm of moths, frantic wings beating, furry bodies swirling around, all coming together, forming a spiralling cyclone, a twisting funnel revolving around the room, a blur of bodies encircling the prone body of the old woman.
“No!” she screamed out. “Leave her alone. You don’t know what she is!” She screamed out.
But it was no use. The spirits were in the tiny creatures, this hurricane of insects.
She knew what they wanted, and there was nothing she could do to stop them.
A moth landed on her arm, its body bloated. A hazy blue glow shimmering around its body.
“What energy do you carry?”
A tingle shot through her.
“Oh no. It can’t be!”
She got up, heading for the doorway to the hallway.
Running fast, she had to escape.
But it stopped her.
An invisible energy shot out and held her.
“Leave me alone!” She screamed, fighting the force.
An invisible hand pulled her back by her hair, dragging her painfully into the side of the table, making her lose balance, fall over.
Her skin crackled with the blue energy.
From the body lying close by, she heard a laugh.
“Thought you could outwit this old bitch, did you?”
What had been Mademoiselle Sanson turned over to stare at the petrified woman, its eyes streaming blue crackling energy.
“Keep away from me. The police. They’ll be here. They’re waiting. They’ll shoot you if you try and…”
“What do you think they’ll do to this bad old bitch? Oh yes, I know. You told me. Thank you for that piece of information.”
The old woman stood up, hitting out at moths, bright light leaking from cracks in her pasty skin.
Through the storm of bustling creatures, she slowly opened her mouth, releasing a thick beam of blue light. It shimmered up, twisting in the storms of insects.
“I think it’s time we said hello to your friends outside? Time for some action!” Her voice vile, hateful.
“Get away from me.”
Mademoiselle Clements started to crawl backwards, to the door, a way out, tiny fragment of glass cutting into her back, her hands.
“Get away from me!”
The old woman looked down at her, her face now a mass of blue blinding light, sparks of iridescent light spilling out into the air, swirling around in the storm of insects.
“Oh, you think I want to touch you. That’s it,” she laughed. “No. I can let these foul creatures do all the work for me,” her laugh was obliterated by the hiss of wings. “It was nice meeting you, Mademoiselle Clements. But now I’m afraid you have other business to attend to. All I can say is adieu.”
The glowing blue light shot from her mouth and eyes, enveloping the moths, turning their tiny bodies into glowing stars flying around the room.
The vortex of energy hit Mademoiselle Clements, knocking her back into the carpet, pining her down.
As she tried to get up, she felt energy seeping away, and as consciousness left her, she was being sucked down a tunnel, her vision dimming, until only darkness.
But wait, she wasn’t dead.
She felt her feet on the ground.
The moths all around her.
She opened her eyes.
All around were stars, blue stars, the moths.
She was being lifted.
Looking down, she saw the thousands of moths, circling around her, their tiny bodies blurred in her vision.
They weren’t moths: they were hands.
Grabbing her, lifting her, propelling her forwards, taking her outside, through the window, into the road, into the night.
And there, under the street light, the tall shadow of the guillotine awaited her.
Her body was so weak, powerless, arms dead, legs like lead.
She tried to struggle.
But it was to no avail.
She looked back at the house, and saw with horror, leaning out of the window, not the old woman, but a vision of herself.
Around the corner, she saw the laser sights of the police.
So close. So close.
They would never know.
All around her were voices: shouting, guns being cocked, radios chattering, boots beating down on cobbles tone, engines charged.
But she was still in their clutches, held in the air.
Now they were lowering her.
Above, she saw it, the grotesque shape high above. A ghostly shadow version of what had once stood in the street.
And, there at the top, a sliver of metal, ready to fall.
As she strained to look up, she felt cold damp wood encircle her neck.
The hands let go.
She was trapped.
She could hear them screaming at her:
A thousand voices.
All wanting one thing.
The hiss of the blade.