Chapter 7 – The Lying Mirror

He slithered out of bed with the rusted springs creaking, opening his eyes and allowing the outside to crawl in. His fur was ignited with intense excitement, and the wall paper was curling away from his luminosity, making the noise of cracked mud when he approached his door. As he slipped his fingers around the sticky knob, a growing apprehension swelled in his throat.

He heard the sound of a door creaking open… followed by light footsteps… someone was on the other side…

The closed hall door that had let out a sliver of an electric ray from within suddenly opened up to its full extent with Nox filling up its entire frame. His brilliant glow panned down the dark hallway causing rust to flake away like scales and then flutter away mindlessly like moist moths. The man imposed what looked like a pipe in one hand, raised above his ravaged face as if to strike, but as soon as the green light clashed with the familiar features of the gryphon his wild eyes softened.

“Ahh.” he breathed out quickly, with shoulders relaxing. “I thought that… heh… we keep running into each other don‘t we?” Realization of how strange he appeared yielding such a device above his head crossed his mind and he dropped it, although it turned to dust long before it hit the ground.

He took a heavy, resounding step into the deserted hallway, which seemed taller and narrower than before. His gaze dropped to Jaciam’s arms, surprised to see what looked like colorful lacerations dripping all the way down to her thin, little fingers. He reached out as if to hold them (although he didn’t know what good that would do).

“What happened to them?”

There was a glow of violent green from the corner of her eye. The curled strips of paint still clinging pathetically to the walls cast long shadows that grew in size as the light grew brighter. Jaciam turned with wide eyes toward the upraised pipe, but before she had a chance to respond in any way that would indicate startle, the pipe had already dripped from his hand to the floor, curling in a pool of melted metal at their feet. It was Nox. She wondered if he would ever have any way of leaving her head, or if she had unwittingly chained him to her. Did he feel suffocated?

She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. As loud and hard as she tried to speak, there was only the silence.

She held up her hands to gesture helplessly, then realized that the criss-crossing lacerations on her hands were moving, reforming, like beetles moving under her skin. They pinched together, curling into something legible. There were words forming on her palms in the lines of red. She held up her palm to ask him—

Did They Leave You Here Too?

She shrugged and grimaced, gesturing uselessly to her mouth. She had been rendered voiceless. She wondered who had taken it.

At his question, she again held up her palm so that he could read her response.

The Mirror Would Not Stop Lying To Me.

She gave a humorless grin and then pointed down the abandoned hallway. If they were the only two creatures alive in there, they might as well do some exploring.

“Your voice box is broken huh?” he murmured as the flesh on her arms wormed into a script he could read. “Yeah… I suppose so.” He blinked in response. “I wonder how long we’ve been here?” He turned to face the hall down which she had pointed her finger, and he lifted his shoulders up, preparing himself for a grim adventure. As if they had a choice…

All was dark except for musty light from inside some opens rooms. Corroded ply boards, dimly lit electric bulbs swinging around and around made the shadows dance, flicker and contort. Fans churned slowly with broken wings, whispering of their past lives and creaking on rusted hinges. The entire building was sighing softly, pining for its former guests. Passing the open rooms, the skeletons of medical equipment, stretchers, overheads, broken glass, melted scalpels emitted haunts that bespoke of a hospital-like nature.

“Do you hear that?” The faintest echo resounded, a rhythmic static… a trumpet… a tuba… a record player was skipping somewhere and then toiling on through the rust that sheathed its vinyl coat, a salsa tango. Omnipresent, perhaps it was coming through the grids in ventilation. It was hard to tell.

At the end of the hall, a glint of bright light seemed to spotlight a poster on the wall. It looked like the poster for a circus, faded out so that it was almost unreadable. Two figures with their arms outstretched were bleached out white and pinkish red.

In a bright splatter on the wall there was another added message, scrawled in wet scarlet… in large, garish letters.

THIS IS NOT YOUR NIGHTMARE.

The blood was effusing from the ceiling and splashing on the ground in a puddle of a cache of entrails, sticky and shimmering with rainbows, like oil in a puddle. A lone chicken was pecking dementedly at the mound, but its golden eyes flashed at the pair approaching, and quickly darted down one of the halls clucking.

“Do you hear where that song is coming from?” asked Nox again, who was eying the cryptic message on the wall blankly, unamused. He peered the tunnel that the chicken had taken. He could have heard someone curse the bloody fowl from the shadows nearby… and as he peered harder, he could almost make out a pair of yellow eyes.

Jaciam stepped lethargically through the wasteland, the air moving in a logy around them from the swirling fan overhead. Two of the blades had broken off, leaving serrated edges. One of them had been stained with blood, although Jaciam couldn’t think of how anyone would be able to get so high to be cut by a ceiling fan. Her sense of unease deepened as they treaded softly over old patient files. Dust and paint chips had crumbled over them. Most of the papers near the wall had been singed into charcoal.

Someone’s name caught her interest, and she bent down to pick up the barely intact file. There was a picture of a young girl in the shape of a moth. The patient’s name had been Brune and she had died in 1952. Jaciam’s eyes were drawn towards the photograph—the unfocused eyes and wry smile, as if she were listening to something that no one else could hear. Jaciam was unexpectedly sad.

She set the file back down on the pile and followed Nox into the next room, which was cast in a thin green haze. The frenetically flickering lightbulb above them was swinging sluggishly on a long chain, like a man that had just been hanged. Jaciam couldn’t understand why it was swinging; no one had been in this room for years.

There was a man on the examining table under the light, and Jaciam ran towards the body. He was dead.

Jaciam did not know what kind of creature the man was. He looked human but his eyelids had been melded shut, his head far too big for his body. His blue-tinted skin was covered in sand. One of his arms lay dangling off the side of the table.

She leaned in, touched the man’s mouth. Someone had stitched it shut.

Jaciam realized that Nox’s attention was on the blood spattered into words on the wall. Someone had forgotten his intestines, which had spilled languidly across the crusted linoleum. Was the chicken pecking there eating the entrails? If Jaciam looked closely enough, would she find teeth sprouting from that beak?

“I think it’s coming from down that hall.” She pointed down the hall the chicken had darted towards, but then her beak fell open in astonishment. She had spoken words—but the voice was all wrong. It was someone else’s voice that she had stolen—someone growly, throaty, inhuman. She had been given a patchwork, impossible voicebox that made her feel unexpectedly violated. Jaciam turned towards the dead, not-quite-human thing on the table and knew unequivocally that it had been his that she had taken.

Nox flinched at the animal noise that Jaciam had made, he checked over his shoulder at her, half expecting another being to have joined them, raising his brows. The gryphon looked just as startled as he did with her bright blue eyes straying to a stretcher that was nearby… and he couldn’t help but think that Jaciam was falling apart at the seams, picking up different fragments to replace herself with. She was just like a magnet…

He hoped he wouldn’t catch anything foreign, he thought.

There was a wet shuffle behind him.

He faced the hall once more and took a guarded step forward. He was sure he had seen someone staring back at him, and his green light crept upon familiar features. Cloven hooves, soft cinnamon fur, a haphazardly chopped mane, a long horn twisting like a conch shell between his lemony yellow eyes. His equine face was unforgettably set with a conglomerate of emotion. Overall he seemed upset; there were rings under his eyes and he was soiled with grime. He also looked annoyed because Nox’s light was shining directly in his face, although he did nothing to shield himself but screw his mouth up in an irritable grimace… (he had rather crooked, unlovely teeth). When Nox lowered his posture to take a closer look at the little man, his grimace faded and it seemed to convey a point of disbelief, and then it broke into a smile.

“Hyson?” Nox questioned doubtfully

“You bloody bastard!” the unicorn roared right into the felines face, the sweetness of countless foreign substances rolled off his tongue before he pulled in Nox’s neck into an embrace, a gesture that  Nox clearly appeared to dislike as he tried to pry loose those dirty fingernails digging desperately into his spine, gagging.

“My god, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry sorry that this is all my fault…. I’m so high on stones right now that flew right through your bedroom window here and popped myself right in, so that’s how I know you can hear me, and so that I can tell you…”

“Hold on… hold on…” Nox was interjecting, not understanding a single word being sobbed into his fur. “You flew right through my window? Didn’t you run into Loki along the way?”

“Low-key? Low-key what? Nevermind. I need to tell you something, I need to tell you that I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you’re dead, this is all a misunderstanding… and you shouldn’t be in this mess… it’s all my fault… and I can’t, I won’t forgive myself until you can find closure. You can’t stay in this horrible place when you’re dead, you’ve gotta go where there’s kittens and beautiful women and the sun wears sunglasses. It’s the only way to –”

Finally his gaze caught up with the purple gryphon standing in the room, and he froze in mid sentence. The unicorn released his death grip on his taller friend who whipped back like a spring clasp, rubbing himself and grunting.

After a moment’s silence, Hyson pointed an excited finger, unable to comprehend Jaciam’s presence.

“What? Are you dead too?”

Jacinta cleared her throat uneasily, uncomfortable with the demonic new voice she had. She had lost her vision the day before and now she could not speak. Had she stolen someone else’s sight too, the way she stole voices? Had that been borrowed, that blasphemous, loathsome shade of oily black and white that smeared across her vision, giving shape to objects like puddles of shiny gasoline? Would she began to lose her other senses too? The unanswered questions ricocheted violently inside her head, leaving her with only the silence of pressing wonder.

There was a shuffling sound, like a mountainous bag full of wet leaves shifting across the floor, or perhaps being slapped with wooden boards. Jaciam stepped backwards in uncertainty. When the person who made the sound like wet leaves bellowed and flung himself into an embrace with her brother, she gave an inhuman yelp that sounded like nails being drawn over gravel. She jumped backwards, her nails scrabbling over the dusty linoleum, and she tripped and fell.

She thought fleetingly that perhaps she should have gone to Nox’s aid, but it quickly became apparent that the man had meant no harm and seemed even as if he knew Nox. What kind of strangers had their dreaming minds conjured up? But this one seemed different—something of solidness about him, or perhaps some unwelcome taint of reality.

When the man called Hyson saw her, she cringed backwards at his sudden awareness and pointed finger. She couldn’t understand the things he said, and without even knowing why, she began to cry.

“You’re dead?” she sobbed at Nox. She covered her face with her hands but peered at him through clutching fingers with watery turquoise eyes that seemed somehow brighter than usual. “Why wouldn’t you tell me something like that?” she demanded, half angry and half despairing. “Does this mean I’m dead too?” Jaciam was suddenly struck by this possibility, so surprised that she stopped crying immediately. Being dead would have certainly explained a lot of the things that were happening lately.

Jaciam’s sobs clogged the hallow room, amplified and strange by her new voice. Hyson doubled over, alarmed at first by the daemonic sound, but then his upper lip stiffened as he crossed his arms defensively.

“YEAH?” Hyson bellowed accusingly, suddenly turning upon his friend that he had once been so apologetic to. “Why WOULD’NT you tell her that?”

“But… uh… butbut…” Nox was mumbling quietly, looking doubtful; he was astonished by Jaciam’s tears and his brows hiked even higher on his face when she stopped crying, he blinked over and over with the dark eyes of a barn owl, trying to formulate a response but too taken aback by the abrupt appearance of his friend that he couldn’t make one.

Hyson had guided himself over to Jaciam and was now looking her over as if resisting the temptation to prod her. She was uncharted territory and dead or not, he was a willing explorer. It was hardly a idiosyncratic fact to acknowledge at this time that he was in his birthday suit (a fact that Nox himself had failed to notice up until now). However, his eyes seemed to draw all of the attention, his facial expression and his slurred, though charismatic voice. His presence was so out of place here with them both…. and yet he was oblivious to the fact.

He teetered on his heels as he eyed Jaciam as harmless as a drunken wasp. The sweet smell of some sort of herb was peeling off of him at odd intervals, although not all at once. Just a whiff… a taste of where he was in the world.

Nox’s brows knitted together as he shook himself. “I’m not dead.” Hyson turned to face him with a skeptical look.

“I’m not dead!” Nox repeated with more conviction, his voice peaking on a higher note “I’m fairly certain of this!”

“Of course you are, practically everyone thinks you are.” interjected his friend, turning away from Jaciam. “There was a whole frrrruugin search for youuuuuuuu! The police have practically given up slurping up the ocean for your forsaken body. I thought it was all my fault that you went all suicidal because I blew up the ffffrrruug.. (hic) house….. well actually that technically wasn’t my fault… but that’s what I came to tell you about…” At this point, Nox had turned his attention down the hallway and had started making a shuffle towards it.

“Hey, hey are you listening, are you *hic* listening to me buddy? Your sister is having a fit about you, you know since you died! I think she’s goin’ crazy…”

“My sister seems fine to me.,” remarked Nox, whose voice echoed duskily in the belly of the hallway. “Just ask her for yourself, she’s standing right behind you.” Hyson had begun to pursue the glowing beacon down the hall, but at that remark stopped dead in his tracks.

“Whaaaaaaaat–” (and he said this starting off with a high pitch, dropping to a low pitch and ending in a curly Q high pitch) “Are you /talking/ about? Don’t try to make me more confused than I already am.”

“ConFUSED?”  Nox’s voice came slightly fainter…. cubed by the hall, it seemed abraded. “I’m still conFUSED as to why you’re even here. You shouldn’t even be here, THIS IS NOT YOUR NIGHTMARE.” At which point Hyson threw up his arms, as if defeated, but he still marched along, paint chips crunching underneath his feet; he had strange toes, like those of an ancient, prehistoric equine that had not yet merged together.

“Hi, I don’t believe we’ve met,” he said, glancing sideways at Jaciam. “Unless we already have, in which case I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you sooner. I’m Hyson and who are you?”

Jaciam stared back as Hyson leaned over to gaze at her with apparent interest. She willed herself not to blink, and her tear-blurred eyes did not leave his face as she pushed herself off the dusty linoleum floor. She made sure not to trip over the chains of the dead man again. The unicorn smelled a little like salvia divinorum, and the smoky scent burned her cere.

She watched their conversation gradually increasing in volume with interest. “Ohhhhhh…” she finally breathed out, a decidedly strange sound with the dense growl of her stolen voice. “I see what’s going on.” Jaciam suddenly realized this was the funniest thing she had ever said and bent over in peels of breathless laughter. The cacophonous, apocalyptic laughter filled the room, the walls vibrating with her mirth.

“Apologizes,” she finally offered to Hyson once she had gained control of her distorted faculty for speaking. “But let me explain it to you. Nox was off playing his hilarious Virginia Woolf games, which obviously meant that everyone else thought he had died when he won the game.” She placed her hands on her hips with the air of someone making a logical conclusion from very simple information. “It wasn’t very far-thinking of him, to be honest. But as you can see, this has all been a monumental mistake.” At the word ‘mistake,’ the entire building shuddered, dust exploding in a cloud from the ceiling. There was a sound of crunching glass and Jaciam lost her balance, grabbing the gurney next to her.

Nox had already began wandering down the dark hall but he was close enough that Jaciam still heard his remark and Hyson’s incredulity. “Well, Nox is mistaken about that,” Jaciam explained, hopeful that she could clear up the misunderstanding. “I am kind of going crazy, you know.”

She gasped suddenly and leaned forward, pressing her palm to her forehead as a rush of images enveloped her.

Red wings erupted from Nox’s back, wings that were tied together with blood and stone, his hair consisted of earthy brown tufts from which curled ram’s horns—

but he would call her Jachee with a tone of fond affection—

“What the fuck you playin’ at,” she muttered angrily, knowing somehow that the images had the hateful smell of The Doppler. Was she trying to make Jaciam believe that Nox was not her brother?

After the sudden pain, Jaciam continued to follow Hyson and Nox tentatively down the hall. “Um… no, I don’t think we have met, but it’s been really hard to tell these days. I’m Jaciam. Nox is my brother. And I want it on good faith that you aren’t The Doppler wearing someone else’s skin.”

The crackling of the salsa record ebbed from the end of the hallway, eventually etching out the conversation that was kindling behind Nox into a white noise. All was static… someone turn off the television please.

At the end of the hall he was nearing, a sliver of dim light came from a narrow window of glass. The fragmented rays kissed the still-floating feathers of a defunct chicken, perhaps the same one they had seen earlier. Nox kept his gaze on the light, his slow, steady transfixed boot steps lead him inches from pressing his nose against the greasy glass.

There was another room beyond those double doors, and that room was serenading him. A salsa. Tricky. You shouldn’t trust a singing room.

He outstretched a glowing hand and let his iron-clawed fingertips trace the grids that secured the doors tight. With a shudder the bars moved for him… like a splitting ribcage. Nox was completely seduced, swaying on his heels. It turned out that it was actually an elevator with a window, and the salsa music was droning on and on through the speaker in the corner… where would this lead?

Then his eyes brought into focus the bloody message written on the wall inside of the elevator, awakening him.

Look Behind You

He tore himself around, eyes diverting down the hall from whence he came, his heartbeat pumping in his ears. He didn’t remember when it had become so impossibly long. It seemed like Jaciam and Hyson were at the very end of it while he was at the farthest possible opposite.

They were depicted as perfect as any photograph; Hyson was endeavoring to convince Jaciam of something in his animated way, with his arms stretched high above him. The gryphon herself with her ionized eyes shell-shocked against her demureness… but both of them were darkening in color and saturation as if passed over by a shadow.

Behind them was Loki suspended in a halo of frazzled hair. Her skeletal remains torqued and jerked violently upon her advance towards the pair’s obliviousness… Nox tore his eyes away for an instant, too terrified with the image to continue, but his voice exploded out his throat as a shock wave, not even sound – a panicked roar

“RUUUUUUUUUUUN! NOOOOOOOOOOOW” His eyes rolled up into his head as he backed himself into the elevator. Terror pinned him to the back wall, magnetized to it, fur, tail, claws and all.

Jaciam listened avidly to Hyson’s strange way of speaking, the manic frenzy, as if the intoxicated words were a liquid that was spilling freely from his lips the way water spills and tumbles over itself. She was so enraptured by his speech that she did not notice how far ahead Nox had gotten, until she heard a shriek. At first the noise was so terrorized that she could barely make out the words in it; she looked towards the green glow at the elevator at the end of the hall and was paralyzed through emotional contagion. Nox looked so utterly petrified, and he was staring right at her.

Jaciam froze, her legs suddenly shaking madly, and backed up several spaces until she felt herself bumping into something behind her. It was cold and wet and laughing.

A sound somewhere between a falcon’s scream and the howling shout of a demon man emerged from her beak, so dissociated that she did not even realize it was hers, and then—

The geometry of the place shifted, the corners and walls melted into each other into impossible angles; the non-Euclidean geometry of it burnished into her vision like a half-remembered nightmare—

Someone was screaming from another room, something with many layers of voices, all tangled up inside in a vivid buzz that set the muscles rigid with terror; it grew louder and louder—

A skeleton hand, bones with strips of ligament and crusted flesh clasped over her face and suddenly the scream was hers (her voice was back, that’s what she was supposed to sound like all along)—

She’s baaaaaaack came the voice in her head, and all of a sudden they were one soul in two bodies and she was The Doppler, moving together in a cold, fractal dance, sinuous and lethal—

And then in the next moment, Jaciam could see Nox through a cloud of something shadowy, a torn and twisted veil, and she wished that she could say to him that somehow everything was going to be all right.

Hyson’s scream was a high pitched whinny, twisted into the chorus of screams that were now fracturing the air. He had toppled over in confusion on the slimy floor, the sudden onslaught of voices and shrieks spinning his mind like a top. The world was mortally vivid with color, every dimension pronounced in the inverse. His body felt numb and helpless with the impact of this change; paralyzed. It wasn’t unlike the feeling a child feels when watching a graphic horror movie for the first time.

Over his shoulder, Jaciam was being engulfed in what appeared to him as a shroud of rainbowed color. He could just see the tips of her wing feathers disappearing into the growing oblivion. Corn white hair whiplashed around the face that was emerging out of from the oily, colorful gloom; a skullish mask. Its hues twisted around like carnivorous beetles, blood streamed down from its hanging teeth, hot and viscous and splattering on the floor.
It turned its gaze upon him with a crack…. its dress billowing outward and the darkness underneath beckoning him inside to join.

“Oh… LIKE HELL I WILL!”

He was on four legs instead of two, galloping at full tilt down the hall, although he didn’t feel to be getting anywhere even as his limbs kicked out beneath him. The world was blurring and shaking in throes of transfiguration. Only the elevator remained where it was, in perfect suspended animation like a glowing square. Nox was crumpled into a ball at the corner, his face buried within his hands.

La Santa Meurte was muttering something that sounded like a chant.

“… sabes quien soy, sabes como me llamo, pero no sabes cuanto te amo…”

When Nox opened his eyes again, he found that Hyson was clobbering down every button inside the lift that he could reach, cursing and egging it on to go faster. The bars of the elevator drew inward like a cast iron cage. Beyond their rusty movements he could see that Lokivu was quite close, walking slowly and indulgently forward.

It was as if she knew that –

“Everything is going to be all right.”

It was Jaciam’s voice that Nox heard, and he choked back a sob. Within those two empty sockets he noticed the shimmer of blue orbs boring back at him through the hair, the pupils dilated and glowing.

“SHUT UP YOU BITCH-FACED BAT!!” roared Hyson, as the elevator finally began to churn upwards. The equine was twisting his ears into ribbons at the nightmare that glowered up at their ascent from the hall. Black filled the room as they passed through a floor, and Hyson was blathering nonsensically through his frightened stupor “- I don’t know where … but it isn’t… this isn’t heaven… and I’m pretty sure that it’s not hell either… and oh bloody hell, how did she show up here all of a sudden–”

Light rays pried between the bars as the next floor roved into view, and Loki was there waiting, standing in the exact same spot where they had left her in the hallway below. Both men drew back back before she was cut off again by another floor, another moment of blackness as the elevator continued to rise; Nox was hissing through his teeth.

“You’re giving her too many ideas. Loki being in two places at one time is bad enough, but being in three places at once means that she’s getting stronger.”

There she was again, standing close to the iron bars, barely feet away this time.

“YOU AIN’T GETTING AT US!” Hyson taunted in a cry before another bar of blackness cut off the image. The elevator groaned.

KER-SLAM.

A jerk in the lift stopped the sequence its tracks. The electric light above flickered and the salsa music suddenly expanded to fill the entire room, playing the same loop over and over. Loud and abrupt, over and over as if it came from another age and place.

This was different.

Utterly.

The nightmare had been intercepted.

Nox was aware of this only subconsciously, as he was linked to Jaciam, Jaciam had become a deeper part of The Doppler  (why did he just think, The Doppler?). He felt momentary confusion and Loki’s excitement, which had become inflamed. The very reality of the dream had rippled in a shock wave response- confused

Someone from the outside the dream world, other than Hyson, was pushing their way in.

The screaming had stopped, followed by another slam… and Nox realized that it was coming from his side of the elevator, where his back had been pressed. He backed away and took a few steps back stumbling stupidly. Hyson was clinging to him like a burr, hyperventilating.

“Oh jeezus dude- I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry, and that’s all I wanted to say dude… fuckthiscrazytrain, it’s not what I signed up for… where did Jaciam go? Where the hell is she?”

A sizable dent had appeared above the words Look Behind You… which were now crying so profusely that all the letters had bled together.

Another crash and the entire back of the elevator was blown to smithereens. A horrendous rubble that hardly looked real, a situation emphasized to the point where it was chimerical. For there in the hallway, an individual stood. Rhyme and reason harmonized.

Nox could barely make out the outline of a large, big cat before an invisible force pounced upon Hyson and jerked him off his feet with such a powerful force that neither could have expected it.

Loki was screaming from somewhere…. no, Jaciam was.

Nox was screaming too… and so was Hyson as he was dragged from out of the elevator by the big cat, legs flailing. The last Nox could see of him was the dashing white spots on his rump vanishing into another realm entirely.

Before Nox could even digest this, the elevator was zooming in the opposite direction, far far away from the gaping hole in the wall and the rhyme and reason embodied. It was like a subway, only much much faster than any sort that he’d ever been on. He almost smirked just then… almost, for he felt the flustered emotions about the force that had momentarily ruffled the chaotic balance that terrorized this Wonderland. Loki was drawing him inward as one draws in a fish in with a reel, and Nox didn’t fight it.

Jaciam was still back there… and even though he suspected what may lie in wait for him, he had to return to get her out of there. He couldn’t imagine what his sister was seeing now, or what was happening to her even in that brief eclipse of his absence.

“Mr. Sable…”

In reality, Hyson’s face looked far worse for wear than in the dream. Snot streamed down his nose, his chapped lips harbored thin lines of blood, and tears leaked from his crusted, bloodshot eyes, cracked open just slightly as he was shaken gently from his stupor. It was foggy out; he couldn’t tell if it was the smoke of the room from all the incense he’d burned or the aftereffects of all the substances he smoked and the pills he had washed down with less than safe cocktails.

He was naked; he had to strip down for the ritual to take place properly. He lay in the middle of a carved out pentagram in a wet wooden floor, laden with bones, tobacco, rice, blood, and candles that were now drowning in their own wax. A small plastic figurine of Santa Meurte herself stared down at him from atop the shambles of his makeshift ritual site. The record player that he had put on earlier that evening to set the atmosphere was skipping, repeating the same segment over and over and over again like a Spanish cuckoo-clock.

He hadn’t thought it would work, this ritual to communicate with the dead. After all, Hyson was a unicorn who couldn’t perform magic… ironic as it sounded. Guilt and drunkenness however had driven him over the edge that night. He had been building up to it throughout the month, spiraling downhill, unable to keep his mind straight… dumping his girlfriend, gambling his money away, selling off his wares, his car and what was left of his home. All because he couldn’t get closure. He fucking hated that he didn’t get any closure… and even now, he truly felt that he hadn’t succeeded. Whatever had just happened had simply baffled and frightened him rather than reassured him.

“Mr. Sable, please look at me.” came that sweet voice again. Hyson coughed as his lips were being wet, his posture pulled upright. He was being wrapped up inside in a thin jacket, smelling faintly of perfume, and a scent that reminded him of a hospital.

He opened his eyes further, just enough to take in the fuzzy shape of his guardian.

“Hey, I remember you,” he managed to squawk out in a raspy tongue before falling limp in the arms that supported him. Boy, did it hurt like a sonzbitch to talk.

Everything is going to be all right.

Darkness shuttered inwards in brilliant streams and her mind suddenly was blissfully calm. The tranquility did not feel like hers; it felt like a borrowed state of mind.

She was standing in a hallowed, dilapidated institution, but it wasn’t the Schmerzen asylum. The architecture was older, and entire segments of the walls had crumbled away into ash. The lights were not blinking, not even the flickering green fluorescents that had bathed the blue man corpse on the gurney. Jaciam was suddenly aware of being violently hungry for something that she didn’t even know.

“Hello?” she tried to call out, but there was no sound. This was somehow different than the voicelessness she had embodied earlier. She had a sudden vision of attempting to make ripples on the surface of a pond, on the surface of a mind, and being blocked by the material that was already there. There was already too much going on here to let Jaciam contribute.

Where am I? Jaciam wondered. This didn’t seem like a fictional place. This felt like something The Doppler didn’t want her to see, but she was too deep inside for The Doppler to keep her from it.

She wandered through the halls, her taloned feet scraping against the ground, which seemed as if it could have crumbled beneath her at any second. At the Schmerzen asylum, her claws would have made clicking sounds against the linoleum, deceptively loud. Here, there was nothing but the yawning, crushing silence. Jaciam knew better than to shout for anyone again.

It seemed like the building was empty; all the rooms were shuttered and locked. The darkness and cold were overwhelming. Just as Jaciam was about to conclude the profound and total abandonment of this place and wonder why she had been unintentionally brought here, she heard something.

It was a soft meowing, emerging from a room on the right on the corridor she was on. Jaciam hurried to the room, gazing with some trepidation inside.

It was shadowy but for a small lightbulb on a chain hanging just above a cage. The cage’s bars were rusted, bent in some places. Jaciam initially thought the cage was empty, but then saw a young, starving cat curled up in the corner, facing away from the well-intentioned gryphon. The shadows cast by the stark bulb illuminated the sharp, jutting ridges of the cat’s spine.

Where do you go home to? Jaciam mouthed, unable to speak a word. The cat turned to her, and she only had empty sockets for eyes.

There was a rushing sound and the institution evaporated into dust, snapping close like a book. It had a belated quality, as if Jaciam had seen more than she was supposed to. It felt angry.

Swathes of rainbow light spread across her vision and Jaciam again became aware of being suspended off the floor in a mass of sound of light, covered by a skull mask that dripped blood from its teeth. Something was rushing forward in front of her, like a metal monster barreling towards them. The iron bars of the elevator flew open with a clank, and Nox was there, illuminating the interior of the flying box. Jaciam could barely make out the vivid words behind him, half torn away by whatever had ripped away the back of the elevator: Lo- Be- Y-

/I’ll never leave this deadhouse/, came a giggling whisper in her ear, and Jaciam was deposited unceremoniously on the ground in a heap, a rushing sound growing louder in her ears.

The very instant that Jaciam hit the floor, Nox had dove for her. His intention was to pull her away from this entire mess, maybe back to the elevator where he had a brief glimpse of freedom. Purple feathers were free floating around her as he swatted them aside, muttering her name for reassurance.

The rushing silence was deafening around them.

A pulsing dark had suddenly swallowed everything, emitting a cold and metallic feeling. The only light now came from Nox as there were no windows, bulbs nor doors. It appeared that they were in a very small, concrete room, empty but for a small table that was in the middle. Although, scripted on the walls over and over and over again so that it covered almost every inch, was a familiar phrase…

eM oT gniyL potS dluoW rorriM ehT….. eM oT gniyL potS dluoW rorriM ehT.

As Nox looked over these words, he came across a phantom-like shape that was staring back at him and he sprang to his feet, only to realize that it was himself reflected inside a large mirror.

“You’re in a cement room with no door or windows. All you have is a mirror and a table. How do you escape?” To Nox, Loki’s voice usually sounded deceptively fragile and slinky… like Shirley Henderson’s. He noticed in the reflection that she was standing on the table right behind them, though as he turned to look she wasn’t there at all. When he turned back she was still there, unchanged… although not grinning her usual grin. Her face was well hidden under a veil of hair, but a single, red orb glared from between those cobwebs. Something about her seemed terribly upset.

What did you do Jaciam? He thought loudly.

“It’s a shame he can’t cry with those silly robot eyes his mommy left behind,”  the onryo was saying in a mock tone. In the mirror she was now on the ceiling, standing upside down as her hands reached up towards the top of Nox’s head. Her fingers formed little spectacles around his eyes, although nothing obscured his vision as he stared at what was happening to himself in the mirror.

“I’m going to fix it.”

She cracked her head to the gryphon as if to dare her to ruin his surprise bestowal.

“… just look at those pretty wings. She never uses them. She just sits there while they rot on her back… while she stares and stares without really knowing. She sits away the day and rots away without knowing how pretty they are. If she is afraid to fly… she better tell me or I’ll get curious.” Upon her back, the vestiges of Loki’s pinions expanded themselves like fish bones, dead tissue tearing.

And then she was gone.

Nox was suddenly blind. His reflection remained perfectly stagnant in the mirror as his real body lost purchase and crumpled to the floor. His palms were crushed into his eyes. His mouth was open and screaming, but no sound was coming out. It seemed as though somehow he had lost his voice completely and only his frantic flopping and crashing on the floor spelled out what great pain he was in. Blood was splattering on the floor everywhere… his dead eyes were liquefying away into his face, sinking deeper into his skull. He fought to tear them right out of his head before they melted straight into his brain.

The reflection in the mirror was still standing, frozen in the posture Loki had left him in before plunging her thumbs into his eyes. The blood was now dripping down his face in many lines- crying crying crying. There where so many tears inside that had wanted to get out for so long that now they rushed out in a confused melee. The Nox reflection had become like a sculpture in a fountain, forever crying bloody tears, while the real Nox thrashed on the floor.

Jaciam felt Nox’s hands on her as he pulled her away from the cobwebbing mass from which she had emerged, the face that covered up secrets and a violent song and a cat with no eyes. She could not stop shaking; it was a disease, the tremors and vibrations that spoke her terror in the most somatic, primitive way possible. They would only get worse as the room darkened and the mirror flashed flickers of light from Nox’s bright fur. Her fear was a thing lodged deep inside her, like a quaking animal that could not understand things like hope and knew that there were things in this world much worse than dying.

What’s happening? she cried silently to herself, tears coursing over the slick feathers of her face from the eyes that could only see ruined, greasy grey shapes. It’s all wrong. It’s all wrong. Everything has gone wrong. The mirror wouldn’t stop lying! It wouldn’t! It wouldn’t!

“I don’t know!” Jaciam cried at The Doppler, at that singular red orb that burned like a bonfire through her brain. “I don’t know how to get out. We won’t tell anyone. We won’t do anything bad. Just let us go.” Jaciam’s tears began to slow, a swathe of quiet wonder taking its place as The Doppler stared at her wings. As The Doppler’s spider-webbing wings cracked outwards, a sound like a raven bursting from the ground, feathery and brave, Jaciam’s wings stretched outwards unbidden, as if the Doppler was her own reflection that she had to obey or the world would turn upside down. Does she want them? Jaciam wondered peacefully, unexpectedly tranquil. There was a quiet humming in her mind. She can have them. I will pay her with them. They have been damaged anyways.

As Nox’s scream rose cacophonously, the room exploding with sounds of pain and terror, Jaciam began shaking, tears slipping fresh from her spoiled eyes. The Doppler had done a terrible thing, a horrifying thing.

“You can take them! You can take my wings!” Jaciam sobbed, feeling sick inside as blood splattered into the mirror. “Don’t sell his eyes… don’t… don’t…”

She was drawn to Nox’s reflection, standing there in stoic emptiness, his expression a void but for the tears of red drawing rivulets down his cheeks. The blood was a sickly oil color, the black and white of her vision rendering everything into greasy monochrome. “There’s a new cloud over your grave…” Jaciam whispered, stepping forward towards the mirror, Nox’s blood dabbling at her bare feet. She took another step forward, her body completely devoid of any sense of autonomy.

“Did you sell your love?” she murmured to the reflection. “When the road turns, will your ghost find freedom?” she reached both her hands forward as if in plaintive offering, stretching them in the mirror towards the reflection that was far too real, towards his vacant, ruined eyes. Her hands stretched through the glass, which pooled in metallic silver around her forearms. “I see you. I saw you.”

There was a hollow weight in her hands, and Jaciam pulled her arms methodically from within the bowels of the mirror. There was a large tool in her hand, all jagged edges. Her expression was reflected in the flawless steel, all pale and scared, until blood began to blot that too into sickly streams of charcoal grey. Jaciam ran her finger along the edge of one of the serrated points, and blood began to well up and drip from her finger. Nox’s screams seemed to fall further away from her, as if she were sleepwalking.

She stepped slowly towards the table, dreamlike and smooth. The surface was radiating rivulets of blood that had no source, as if the pores of the wood itself were weeping with all the rage and sadness of the world. The streams circled around each other in a strange, chthonic dance, pooling along the floor, which bucked and trembled with the weight of so much blood. “With your eyes resting upon the nearing dark… will you sleep inside the season that has frozen within your grasp?” she whispered to the room before plunging the saw into the wood, pulling it back and forth in swift, smooth sweeps.

When the table finally collapsed into two disparate pieces falling away from each other, Jaciam dropped the saw into a pool of sickly grey oil, blood smattering across her legs. She grabbed one half and lifted it, holding it upright, but she could not reach the other side. When she stretched her claws towards it, the side she was holding began to topple. She could not do it alone.

“Nox!” she cried over his howls of agony, her turquoise eyes glossy with intensity. “Nox! Help me! I am here. I can get us out. I need you to hold this! Please! Trust me!”

Nox let out a constrained growl… shifting and rolling on his stomach. He did not dare lift his face too far, in fear of what a monstrosity he might have become. It seemed that he had taken on an appearance not unlike Loki’s herself. His now empty eye sockets contained only slosh, which were obscured under a mane slicked with red slime. As he dripped, he felt like some sort of monster crawling out of a lagoon as he groped for Jaciam’s voice. His fingers touched something hard and sharp, serrated like teeth.

“I remember …” he gurgled, dragging the hacksaw across the floor for support as he pulled himself up to a slouch “… she used to carry this everywhere with her, Loki did… used to call it her only friend… I haven’t seen it with her in so long.”

He coughed wetly and swung his arm, hitting his knuckles on the leg of a table. He fumbled with that too before he hauled himself up, the legs of the table scraped against the oily floor as he righted it. Nox was teetering, tail flopping in puddles while he continued to drool and fountain down his front like an uncontrollable wound.
Splat splat splat it rained on the surface of his table. What manners.

Even as the edges of the two halves of the table neared each other, he could hear something faint growing. Voices maybe, it was hard to tell… muffled and warped, in and out as if someone was speaking through a fan. As the edges of the mahogany bumped together, a faint, sterile breeze blew directly in his face, as if a window had been opened up and he was standing right in front of it. He wondered if Jaciam could hear what he was hearing… and he wanted to ask her what she could see…

“Jaciam?” he whispered, reaching out for her hand… but as his fingers stretched forward, his entire body came with it, and somersaulted forth, right through that window before him.

He found himself spilled out somewhere flat, soft and uncomfortable, and his probing hand brushed against something extremely cold. He drew back sharply, hissing through his teeth, not yet realizing that it was only the steely safety bar to his bed, frigid with the morning atmosphere. There were voices around him, probably not in his room, but farther away. It was as if his ears were stuffed with cotton balls.

He tried to open his eyes, but found that it was simply too much trouble trying to unstick them. Even through that the little sliver of light he dared to let into his head through a forest of eyelashes, it seemed that he was staring through a screen of vaseline. Had be been crying? His dry, taught eyes certainly seemed to say so, and they throbbed and throbbed and throbbed. He simply flopped his head to one side of his pillow, aching and itching. The nightmare was subsiding as he tried to focus on his more immediate needs.

He had to pee.

And vomit.

He debated on which one he should do first, and it was only this indecision that kept him from doing both at once.

Loki’s only friend… Jaciam wondered at that, the sound of dripping magnifying in her tufted ears until it dwarfed everything else. The only one who couldn’t cut into her. What does she go home to when it’s dark? Jaciam felt unexpectedly sad for The Doppler, who had had her eyes carved into sharp little pieces of coal. Charred pieces of bone that would have no place in the soft curves of a human countenance. Is that why Nox’s eyes had been melted into rotting dust and flapping membrane?

The floor, so slick with blood running down into the cracks of the linoleum, was now black with flies. They crawled and slithered over the stinking ground, wings twitching and jerking like spastic wasps. There was no sound; where there should have been a deafening hum, there was only the steady drip of blood and a sweeping, soaring sound that made the stomach tighten into knots.

Nox had grasped one end of the table, barely able to stand. Jaciam dove for the other half, its wooden edges sharp and splintered. She muscled it upwards and pressed it against its twin. The flies were disturbed; they swarmed all around her, their hot breath warming her legs. She was their dead meat. A ghost that had possessed a corpse, reanimating it into a shadow of life, her limbs jerking about awkwardly. She had fooled everyone but the flies.

There was a growing whisper of voices and a breeze that struck her face, breaking away the stench of rot and mold like melting scar tissue. The air parted and swept around her, and she could see her body from above. A huge hole had burned into the fabric of the dream, the edges whispering and tempting. Below her, she twitched and mumbled in her sleep, her face covered in a swathe of thick black hair.

“Nox… it’s time to go…” she whispered as he tumbled into the hole, nestled safely within his own body again. The flies dug past her feathers and burrowed into her skin. They were hard little lumps in her muscles, crawling up and down her arms.

Jaciam tipped forward into the wide, blasphemous hole (whole), falling awkwardly as a ghost into her own reanimated cadaver.

She woke with a pained start, choking on her own gasp as she stuttered awake. Her eyelids flew open to greet the sticky black and white smears of the hospital room. She felt crooked, backwards, as if she had fallen into her body the wrong way. It was like a bathing suit that was bunched in some areas and too thin in others, a skin that did not fit quite right.

There was some part of her that wanted to cry, but another that felt somehow at peace with what had happened. She wondered if Nox could see, and violently hoped that he had been untouched by the Doppler’s greedy fingers.


~ by komicks on February 27, 2011.

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