Open your eyes
She awakes coughing from the cold air that stings her lungs like she lost the habit of breathing. Windowless high stonewalls surround and she rubs her eyes hoping something familiar will reach them. Her limbs are heavy as if bound there. Candles cast a stifling stark glow lighting the room. Gargoyles leer and cackle like savage fiends from the corner posts of the bed. She struggles to free herself from the oppression of the room. Her mind races to find the past, but finds only a vacant hole. With every inhale, the air warms and strength returns and she pushes to a sitting position. Her mind drifts like snowflakes scattering in the wind, and her sight falters and slips out of focus.
I will take you
Consciousness disintegrates; her head collapses down to the pillow and she falls through the bed into a space between her body and the earth where the floor swirls and opens into a gaping mouth full of teeth like knives that she runs from searching for the sun but finds herself blinded in a vast grey void that shatters into a sky burning crimson and black which she rides beneath on the wings of a flightless bird that plunges her into the ground through layers of earth away from the chasmic mouths that circle her slowly and ceaselessly like prowling sharks until the earth beneath the bird’s beak gives way and they dive deep into water full of more predatorial jaws made to consume souls so she kicks from the back of the bird and swims sightless from that which she fears but the limitless jaws follow and swallow her into an immensity of space dimensionless and bottomless where light blinds her eyes into a state of sight that stings and shocks and burns her until screams splinter ribs and tear through vocal chords and echo in ears until she slips unconscious and awakes again sweating in the bed that imprisons her.
Come to me
Her eyes heavy, a dull glow creeps through her closed eyelids. The dream haunts her, and she knows not if she still has the ability to see. A smell—sour air and stale cathedral wax—smothers and drowns her. The sensation of being watched feathers behind her ear. Nails scratch against the confines of her mind, pulling her from the depths of enveloping dream jaws. She opens her eyes. A haze distorts the setting and she blinks until sight evens and focuses to the face of a gargoyle sneering down. Swallowing a scream, she wipes the sweat away, pulling the damp hair out of her face.
She sneezes away the smell of candles and decay, and sees a man at the foot of the bed. He is young and he stares at her with yawning ageless eyes. She shoots up and tries to scream, choking on the effort. Her mind slips again and fog blots her retinas.
‘Be careful.’ His voice reverberates in her skull, deep and delicate like the sound of organs caressing the moon. The scent of him—seawater and smoke—brushes over her. He puts one hand to her heart and another to her back, his eyes closed, inches from her.
She gasps and coughs and tries to focus on a single point in the room to fight the swirling disequilibrium.
‘You mustn’t strain yourself.’
Her breath slows and she inhales deep through her nose. His eyes open and capture her. The irises are not a solid ring, but spiral like clouds round a void in ephemeral shades of emerald and cobalt. They shine vivid with a light all their own, not reflecting, but emanating, gleaming from within. Her body relaxes in his hands, but she pushes him away, afraid. Her head collapses again and short breaths burn her lungs.
He folds his arms, ‘You really should listen to me. I’ve only your best interests in mind.’
‘Get the fuck away from me.’ She sputters and coughs weekly, sweating.
‘That attitude will get you nowhere.’
‘The fuck. Away. Go.’ The walls close on her and she tries to focus on the man’s face, but it slurs and drips away.
Do not be afraid
Strings whisper to her past the dead air and dreary candles. Far away, from the past perhaps, from the life she lived when she was awake outside of this stone cell of a room. The whispering strings grow stronger and take shape. Structure and elegance stretch to her balanced on the gentle violin chords breathing through the walls. She finds herself still confined in this bed by malevolent derisive gargoyles that haunt and terrorise her sleep. She rolls out of the bed and tries to catch her breath, falling to the floor.
She breathes deep and slow through her nose and opens her eyes. She pushes herself up from the ground leaning on the bed and the wall. Dizzy, she closes her eyes and shakes her head to reshape sight. A tentative step and she plunges forward, catching herself on the bed. After several faltering attempts, she staggers to the door. Touching the handle, the thought that she is imprisoned rushes through her. Pushing it open, she tightrope-walks through using the door for balance, relieved.
A long hallway stretches before her, and her feet become more sure and stable with each step. The notes fill the hallway like a mist but dance to her like falling raindrops, splashing and soaking into her. Her hand traces the stone of the hallway and the raining notes pull her through the fog of her mind and the collapse of her steps.
He plays there, in a large open room like a barren chapel. His fingers pirouette on the strings and his hand glides gracefully. The notes change when she enters the room into an oscillating melancholic melody. She creeps into the room, watching him play with her knees held to her chest. For me, she thinks, he plays. His eyes are closed, but she knows he is aware of her presence. He must.
He plays for hours, and the notes and smells and sights swirl in her mind. She bites her lip and feels the sound, the smell: the essence of him inside her. Writhing, she gasps for him as he drifts deeper and further inside, filling her. The beat of her heart skips and pounds in time with the echo of his sorrowful strings.
Give yourself to me
The gargoyles follow her while she sleeps and gnaw at the edge of her dreams. Sleep becomes a graveyard of emotion, a birthstone of horror. Bladed teeth fill the dark behind her eyelids. Her dreams collapse into voided space where daemons ravage and devour her. And their eyes, eyes illuminated from an immense self-contained depth—incandescent and savage—incinerate her. She disintegrates beneath their glare only to open her eyes and resurrect with him inside her until she slips once more into the dark, desolated by consuming shadows.
She cries alone in the bed that never feels familiar. The tears fall and fill the room extinguishing the candlelight until he appears.
‘What’s wrong? I’m here.’ His voice penetrates and calms her, like the deep sound of the tide.
‘I can’t remember anything before I woke here.’
‘There was nothing before here.’
‘But where is here?’ Sobbing, she turns her eyes to him.
‘This is my home. I live here.’
‘But where?’ Her voice cracks in desperation.
‘Portland. Be calm, there’s nothing to fear here.’
Her chest gives way in soundless cries and he embraces her.
‘You’re safe with me.’
‘I’m afraid of you.’
She beats a fist against his chest and screams until he lets go. ‘Get the fuck away from me, you fuck!’ Her tears fall, ‘You can’t keep me here. I’m not a fucking prisoner.’
‘I’m not keeping you here.’
‘But you are. You fucking are.’ Her voice fails and all that comes are wheezed threats through weeping fits. ‘This place is a disease and it’s killing me. I can’t see or think or remember and I feel you inside me and chasing me in my mind trying to swallow me or eat me and take me and bind me like a slave.’ Flakes of snow blizzard in the space of her skull. The image of the room flickers in and out of focus and she wonders if any of it is real. Her mind slips and the walls swell and wave like a puddle brushed by a gale. She bites down on her hand to fight the snow and the collapse.
‘You really shouldn’t do that. You’re bleeding now.’ He touches her hand.
‘Get the fuck away from me.’ The tears abated, but the weakness weighs her down and she speaks in and out of consciousness. ‘I want...to...go home.’
‘I can cure you, make you new.’ His voice is sonorous and calm; the words weave into her mind and take hold, carrying her on wings of light.
She breaks free and the words stab cold into her chest and fear seizes her, claws at her brain until the panic rises. She pushes him away with force enough to make him hit the wall. Every step a struggle, almost blind, she staggers and crawls into the hall and tries to escape screaming for someone, for help, for anything.
I will save you
A dream or hallucination or reality, the lines and boundaries melt away. The nature of her reality falls apart with the hours she spends unconscious in his home. Her mind reels even while sleeping and the moments of wakefulness do not convince her that she is alive, that he is real, or that she is where she is—where he wants her to believe she is. The memories she knows she once had refuse to return. This loss of self and identity, the obliterated past, confuse the domains of reality and unreality further. Even now while she sleeps, she dreams of dreaming all of this and when she wakes, she will wonder if this or her dream is the dream.
‘I can fix you.’ He sits on the bed beside her. She wants to scream, to call him a motherfucker, but her eyes cannot stay open and her mind stumbles. ‘I’ll make you better and you’ll remember who you are.’
‘I don’t believe you.’
‘You don’t know what you believe.’
She smiles, almost laughs but the words take nightmarish shape and crush her. ‘Why are you doing this?’
‘To make you free and whole and pure.’
‘Then let me leave. Please.’ She touches his hand and tears well behind her eyes in desperation.
‘Please, just let me go. I won’t tell anyone. Please.’
‘You’re not captive here.’
She looks him in the eyes and begs, though she cannot speak.
please please please please pleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleasepleaseplease
‘The daemons haunt you.’
She sees herself spiralling in his eyes and feels recognition there. The feeling of him inside her returns and blackness erupts from her heart. It courses through her veins, pumping with each heartbeat. It strings to each molecule of blood and flows through her until every atom of her bursts with a beautiful blackness. The shadows fill her with belonging and attach her to him by an ageless, unbreakable wire. She wants to fight, but the black infects and ties her very being to him; she recognises a home in her for him.
‘I can take them away. You flounder and choke in a grey void, dimensionless and cold. It collapses and crushes you regardless of how far you run or how you fight. It’s like blindness. A fog falls over you and forms dissipate and haze. Teeth hunt you from the cracks between shadows and sunshine where the world is neither black nor white, neither light nor dark. The shades blend indistinct and imperfect until there’s nothing but grey; snowflakes drift in your mind choking your vision and turning the landscape soluble and collapsible. A line you can’t remain on; you tightrope on transient strings dodging shadows and light. I can make you whole, make you see what’s really here.’ He waves his hand to the room, but she does not see it.
In his eyes, she no longer swirls, but moves inside them, deeper with every step; she leaves footmarks but has no feet. She ghosts farther and farther in the ethereal dust of his pupils and hears the echo of her body trickling far away like rain on steel. The inside of his pupils open wide and it shimmers and waves like it is formed of heat and gas and dust. Shapes weave in and out like phantoms from an imperceptible world.
I will pull the black from your grey
He presses the palm of his hand to her chest, to the place where her heart beats. Her heart explodes; she gasps back to her body, and her heart flows in reverse pulling the shadows from the atoms they infected. The blackness slides and washes from her as if she was made of glass. Her gaping mouth struggles to inhale, to find air while the blackness pours out of her and into his hand. She feels no pain, just a flushing sensation in every fibre of her body. His eyes swirl and he sees her, not as a physical form, but as a collection of memories and moments and captured, radiant embers and dancing shadows falling apart. Her body quivers at his ripping touch until light erupts from deep inside, not her heart, but from the infinite recesses of her spirit. He sees it first as a compressed ball of luminescence ringed in twilight where it pushes against clouds of gloom. The clouds sweep away and the ball decompresses and shines furiously through her.
Open your eyes
The light is everywhere.
Eyes see nothing.
The light is everywhere.
Step in the blight.
The light is everywhere.
Running now through the perilous light, searching sightless for a purity of existence that cannot be named or touched but only seen in the cracks between absolutes and nothings.
The light is everywhere.
Particles float and shield away the unforgiving radiance forming bridges for sightless eyes to cross into a realm of visions and forms distinguishable in the miniscule shadows cast by the collective particles.
The light fades.
The light flickers and the shadows sputter and structure ghosts into a shaky form viewable where the shades meet and the images take shape in a blaze like watchtowers lining a transient shore.
Open your eyes
She opens her eyes. The ceiling waves like water. She blinks. The walls ripple like pools. She rubs her eyes. The vision remains unchanged. She closes her eyes. Her eyelids are transparent like blurred glass. She traces a line, an eyelash, searching for a beginning, for a memory. A dream, she thinks, I must be sleeping for dreams have no past. She finds none inside her. An image flashes fleetingly: an eye made of cycloned clouds. A hand to her chest: she touches the place above her heart and it feels hot against her fingers. A sensation reminisces: a feeling of fullness. She tries to remember what happened before she opened her eyes and saw through walls like they were nothing more than murky water. Images and sensations fly past her in the flickering light of the dim candles, but she cannot touch or slow them down.
It’s you, she says. She knows not where he appeared from or who he is. She meant to say, Who are you, but then she saw, or rather, felt his eyes and the way they swirled like clouds funnelling into an ageless cavern.
‘You’ve been asleep for days. I was afraid you wouldn’t make the transition.’
She stares at him feeling a sense of belonging, a connection binding her to him, but his words mean nothing. He walks to her side and she follows his movements, but does not see him as a form. Rather, he appears as a collective of images and sounds and smells swirling round a bright orb of light inside a structureless boundary formed by the collision of external shadows and his internal light. There are no shadows within him. She sees not a face but a kaleidoscope of sensations, and it exhilarates her.
‘What do you see?’ His voice, she sees the tones sinewave towards her and bounce off the forms in the room. It washes into her like she is the beach and he is the sea.
Everything, she says. A wave pours from her towards him, not like a tide, but like a feather blown by the wind.
‘Are you hungry?’
I want to watch a sun die, she says but knows not why, though she imagines it more satiating than anything that her mouth could consume.
He smiles at her but she sees not lips and cheeks or even teeth; she sees his ball of light flicker a bit more luminous and she senses warmth and tenderness spreading from him to her. He extinguishes the candles in the room one by one and she stares hungrily at every flicker. With each wick that turns from fire to smoke, she writhes with a pleasure unknowable. The light rips from the candles; ravenous in the bed, she tastes the fire of the dying light fill her wondering if it will ever be enough, if the bliss will reach satisfaction.
In the blackness of the room, she sees only where the light of him mixes with the dark. She soaks in the pleasure of the dead light and keeps writhing with ecstasy. He comes to her and he is inside, filling her. She clutches him in the dark and drives him deeper and deeper, faster and harder. He grabs her and holds her in place and says, ‘You belong to me.’ She screams, Take me.
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by James Grant