A muffled noise, the feeling of sheets being draped over and pulled away from his body inch by inch, one by one until the darkness became thick and blue and then, semi-transparent. The hem of each dragged delicately across his skin, over his face and neck and torso, down to his toes, and then the feeling began again, the light filtering through with more intensity, until, every never was keyed up, and he opened his eyes and saw the barn ceiling overhead. It was the earliest degree of morning and starlings settled and resettled in the hayloft, a steady rain of dust and pieces of hay fell down on his prone body.
Ayler touched his belly and he could still feel the wound, the gaping rictus that made a mouth out of his midsection, not sewn shut at all, but neither bleeding. Somehow puckered and dry as if some field held the blood inside of him rather than spilling Next to him was the knife that James used to gut him open, sticky. He remembered the pain running through him as sharp and bright as a bolt of lightning, knocking him backwards until he was prone, looking down to see red spurting out of him like strawberry extract. Then, in his mind, he was knew he was leaving himself, rising upward and forward, moving through curtain after curtain, veil after veil of blue gauze.
Somehow, he pushed through one last slip of cornflower and fell back inside himself. The noises of the animals in their stalls he expected to hear seemed silent. Without thought nor strength, Francis Ayler pulled himself up on his elbows.
In the barn’s far corner, on her knees, her limbs as bloodied as the day she had been born, a being, a woman sat waiting. Her eyes were both cloudy and filled with an amber light, though one was bloodshot and twitched erratically until it was momentarily blinked still. Her blonde hair was long and loose and wild, but she wore a dress fit for any society lady, even through the stain he could see the embroidered flowers. She looked not unlike Marian, perhaps like a doll made up after her, the detail left up to clumsy hands.
Like it was struggling to conceive of a language both could understand, the body, the gray-white face of the figure slid idly to the left.
The accent seemed fragile, like it would break into barking if pushed too hard.
The sick eye was the one that saw him first. When he blinked back, focused, it was smiling.
he’s power of a basilisk
Had he the strength to pull himself further upright, he would have crossed himself. “Blessed Mary.” was all he could croak out. “What is this?”
“It is life. No more, no less.” He blinked and the creature blinked back at him, her pupils widening further than they ought.
“No, no, no…What are you?” She did not rise to tower over him, but instead, crawled towards him, scraping herself and her dress through the dirt, hay and animal leavings.
Commandednammoc! Oooooooooooh…lemman…for strong a hold had the woman and did the wanderer take up her residence at night and when we darknessessenkrad and crime, and supernatural communionoinummoc the departing devilish lie! would I have plunged into skepticism
He did not see her lips move, but felt the words run through him, half-understood, half in a tongue that frightened him. The memories of the events of the past night revealed themselves.
“James murdered Marian…he murdered me…the bastard, he killed us…he killed us!”
“And now you live.” Her spoken voice was as steady as her thought felt like a child’s verse. She held out her hands to him as if he could not see her soaked through with what could only be his blood. “I don’t need to live, it’s HER, it’s her who deserves this unholy resurrection, this life I never asked to have back.”
“He took her body from this place, but her spirit has fled. Even if I were to have the will to revive her, it could not be.” And then drew itself up closer to her than he could bear.
“What are you? A spirit, a devil, you are no creature of the Lord. This is unholy…”
“Tis true. I am no woman…no…creature of the Lord. But now even hell has turned me away.” She picked up the knife and crawled further on top of him and beamed a grin full of yellowed teeth down at his face. Ayler couldn’t help himself from gasping at that eye, bloodied and twitching in its socket.
The being straddled his left leg but felt ephemeral, like the shape of a woman made in dust.
bindless the bound the bindless bindnib themselves
“If you do not want this life, I will take it back.” A stoicism settling on her unpleasant features. She raised the knife and pressed it against his throat. He pulled a hand up towards her pale, red-spattered throat, but there was nothing to grip. His hand moved right through the body as if it were vapor. There was no disbelieving whether she was capable of ending him.
“”Wait! Wait, you demon…what is it you want from me?”
“I saved you for a purpose. For an end. In you, ” She ran her finger over the path the knife had made. “there is a door I would go through. And once I pass, you will have your vengeance against the man who took your lover. Against the thing who has made us both.”
He willed himself to stare into her awful eyes. “What choice is this? Vengeance against James or you cut my throat? Tell me!”
In a singsong voice, she mocked his pleading, “No! I have to know what it is!” Haftoo vantoo neetoo ooh goddessssesseddog hear me me here oh me hony dere before gesturing a bony finger back at the pool of blood that was left where Marian had fallen as if everything was explained in this single object lesson. The sense Mr. Ayler had once claimed as his key to success asserted itself one last time and he pushed her body off of him and stood up, clutching at his stomach and dizzy from the movement, the loss of so much that was vital.
“If I’m your door, demon…”
“I am no demon.” She interrupted, fiercely.
“If I am your door, then I am entitled to some answers. What gives you these powers over life and death?”
“You are gifted beyond all men because I give thee life and I give thee purpose.”
He yanked the blade from her bony fist and put it back at his throat. “No. My life was made forfeit when Marian died, it is of no consequence now if I remain among the living, it is nothing to me. It is you who care. So tell me what you are and why this must be done.”
So confronted, her face contorted into a rage.
know the answer why why love is upon you why I bring forth to body why you pay for why we your grave is full why we kill this man
Then, her mind telegraphed a buzzing noise, but no further words.
Her breath smelt of a spent fireplace, her fingers cold against his flesh as she pressed her cheek against his and whispered. As she pulled her face away, she passed her lips over his in a kiss.
Francis Ayler looked at his savior and in her troubling eye, against everything he wanted to believe about himself, he believed her. It. James Horace, his business partner, his best friend, the man who claimed to love Marian but slaughtered them both with a rusty knife, had killed before, and would without restraint, kill again.
“This is the vengeance you ask?”
A toothsome grin and a nod were her answer.
“Then I will be your instrument.”
He felt himself shout, but didn’t hear the three cracks. 1) The fist against his jutted chin. 2) The stun of skull against the wall. 3) His spine against the hardwood of the floor. He crumpled back to his knees on the wooden slats and filth of the barn floor. A further pressure and his head was forced against the floor as if there was a boot against his neck, his fingers folding up into themselves, a botulism running through his system, contracting every muscle.
As his head swam in pain, he heard her voice as though it filled the barn, blew through the rafters. “This is the first of our meetings, the next shall be the last. Until then, you may not return to this place.”
He blinked and the pressure forcing him down was gone, another look and the wound on his stomach was gone, a scar remained, wide and aggressive but neatly mended, and for the first time in his first or now, his second life, Francis Ayler knew what had to be done.