November 29, 2008

In the Hands of Others (19 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Ariadne stood in front of Bobby. She couldn’t stand for too long; aches and pains gripped her abdomen whenever she was upright.

Bobby looked up, his long black pony tail flicking across the back of the rocking chair, his jet black eyes meeting hers. He had a tall, strong face with a jawline that stood out like a pair of symmetrical scars. His pointy canines sometimes made him look like as Count Dracula but now just gave his smile a bit extra charm. He wore his usual camouflage jacket, as if he’d once been in the army. He smiled. Theo had drugged Bobby into a silly, new father stupor; Bobby had been relaxed and content ever since Theo had popped out in the bath.

‘Bobby,’ she said.

‘Yeah?’ He stared back down into the white, unmoving shape in his arms. A chubby red face with closed eyes and dotted with acne was the only part of the exhausted new baby that was visible.

‘Fay told me something else.’

‘Yeah? She did?’

Ariadne glanced behind her. Paul and Kelvin were poring over the blue folder in silence.

‘She told me you were selling drugs. I told her she didn’t know what she was talking about. She said you had to stop because the Cloth would catch us. I mean, imagine that.’

He looked down at Theo again. ‘Yeah? She did?’ She could hear his smile disappear.

‘You wouldn’t do that, right? You wouldn’t risk everything, I told her that.’

‘Yeah. Right.’ He gritted his teeth; the sound of enamel grinding against enamel put her on edge.

‘God do I know we need the money. But I know you wouldn’t-‘

‘Fuck you and your whining. Do you know how much baby shit costs?’ He spoke towards the baby rather than her.

‘Bobby, you shouldn’t talk like that in front of the Theo.’

‘Then don’t piss me off. Don’t fucking piss me off. I’m sure Fay talked all about the weed. Yeah, I’m sure you said nothing at all. Not a god damn fucking thing.’

Ariadne glanced behind. Paul and Kelvin pretended not to hear anything.

‘I’m sorry, Bobby. I knew she was talking rubbish. I knew it, I told her. Sorry to annoy you, I didn’t mean it. I mean, really, I didn’t mean to irritate you. I know how you must feel, this isn’t easy at all, having a baby while trying to keep a low profile.’

‘Alright, shut up. I fucking forgive you.’

Ariadne leaned over to stroke Bobby’s hair, even though she wanted to sit down. The pad between her legs was cold and heavy; she needed her own nappy change. After Fay turning on her, Ariadne wanted comfort from someone. Kelvin was the only one who had shown kindness to her so far today but, from an emotional perspective, he was unreliable. Most of the time, he’d go into a distant far-off stare, eyes glistening, replaying some tragic scene in his mind. Bobby was the only one who could make her feel good.

‘Bobby,’ she said. ‘You do… care about me, right?’

Bobby jumped out of the chair and thrust Theo into her chest like a battering ram. ‘You’ll never let it go, will you? Just the once. I lose my temper just the fucking once and I hear no end of it! If you carry on like this, I might lose my temper again. It was just a fucking tap on the face.’ Ariadne took Theo who flinched at the shouting, but did not wake.

Bobby stormed out of the room, kicking chairs and tables in his path, waving his arms and muttering obscenities as if arguing with himself. A moment later, he was outside, rushing past the window, still exploding as if batting at a horde of angry bees.

The air in the room seemed lighter after Bobby had left. Ariadne sat down in the now vacant rocking chair, warm with Bobby’s heat.

She stared at Theo’s ruddy face trying to picture hope, but it seemed like some cruel joke. Maybe Bobby had been right all along. Why had they bothered bringing Theo into the world? What kind of upbringing would Theo have? He would never be able to be free, enjoy youth like she had. Theo would be kept indoors, under lock and key, having no real home. He would never go to school and never have friends. He would live in this grotesque family of broken people for the rest of his life.

An awful realisation struck her. The best thing for Theo would be if they were caught by the Cloth. If Theo were an orphan, free of his hunted parents, he could return to the system. Then again, maybe he didn’t have to wait until they were dead. Maybe they could give him up for adoption, leave him on the steps of a local hospital.

Tears patted onto the baby’s cheeks, but they were not Theo’s tears.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 0842

November 15, 2008

In the Hands of Others (18 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

The projection flickers across the brick wall of his cell and 3152 watches a slim naked woman writhing on a naked man, lean breasts rippling against jerky vertical motions in crisp black and white. A soundless wail is carried in the woman’s round mouth as if in pain. 3152 touches the projected breasts as instructed. They are rough and cold, abrading his fingertips. 3152 is crying. He cries out for Mummy. He is the devalued one, the degraded one, the disintegrated one. And the pedagogue behind him whispers: ‘Angel is dark.’

‘Oh God, oh Jesus God,’ said Mr. Alpha putting his free hand to his head, trying to expunge the memory from his mind. It remained there, rotten and putrefying, spraying its dark scent over every thought and emotion. The woman stared up at Mr. Omega’s face with intensity, her head tilting from one side to the other, an amused cat considering how next to toy with her disarmed prey.

Mr. Alpha’s heart thudded. They had lost and were now at the whim of these three people. Who were they? Would they kill him and Mr. Omega? Lost. None of it seemed to matter right now. He was naked and vulnerable, a cloying terror in his lungs demanding escape.

‘Get out, if you would be so kind,’ said the woman. Mr. Alpha had no idea if her cohorts had moved or not, he couldn’t focus on them. He had to get out of here.

Mr. Omega backed away in slow, shuddering steps. He mumbled, ‘Sorry. I’m sorry. Sorry.’ The quaking grip on his weapon was loose, as if he was about to drop it. The old man turned around on his heel, unable to look at the woman in the face, and nudged Mr. Alpha backwards out of the room. The phone in the unused reception kiosk stopped ringing.

The air in the corridor was easier to breathe and the Clothmen remained silent as they made their way to building’s exit, returning weapons to their holsters. They remained silent as they crossed the campus, under the shadow of the Campanile. They kept walking until they had put enough distance between themselves and the college, stopping only once they reached a boardwalk beside the Liffey, forcing them to pause.

They leant forward over the curvy metal railing that rode the edge of the river and caught their breath. While the river was almost silent, licking its walls with gentle waves, the road behind them was cacophonous. A cool breeze danced across the river’s surface, caressing the Clothmen.

Mr. Alpha was the first to speak. ‘Mr. Omega, who… who were they?’

The old man struggled to speak, still not himself. ‘They…’ He stopped. ‘A moment.’

Mr. Alpha could still feel the memory himself, scurrying around like a rodent beneath the layers of the recent, but it was gradually quietening, tiring.

‘I think most likely,’ said Mr. Omega, ‘we just threatened a Saint and her two switchmen.’

‘Holy mother of shit.’

‘Yeah, I know.’

‘We were that close to killing a Saint?’

The river calmed Mr. Alpha and he buried the memory again, shovelling soil onto its face. Rest in peace. The past was the past. He was what he was now.

‘That was a trap, mate,’ said Mr. Alpha. ‘I just knew it when she led us in there.’

Mr. Omega shook his head. ‘I don’t get it. Where was she? I saw her go in. Where was she? Was the Saint protecting her?’

Mr. Alpha swallowed hard and gazed into the water. ‘I don’t know what we saw. I think it’s possible she fooled us.’

‘I saw her go in, lad. Are the Saints protecting her? This doesn’t make any sense. No fucking sense.’

‘This isn’t the first time she’s managed to fool us…’ Mr. Alpha stopped, realising he couldn’t explain anything. The Ambleside hotel room. The plot to kill her parents. ‘Think about it. There was nowhere she could’ve been hiding in that room. She wasn’t in there. She was not in there.’

At first, Mr. Omega shook his head vigourously unable to reconcile what he remembered with what rationality demanded. But he soon came around. ‘I guess so. I just… I guess so. She couldn’t have been in there.’

‘Yeah, you see. She just wanted us to go in there and kill the Saint.’

Mr. Omega was nodding. ‘She probably wanted us dead. Get us back for chasing her. Killing her parents.’

Mr. Alpha nodded back but didn’t agree. She didn’t want them dead. That wasn’t what she had wanted.

A strong burst of wind scraped across the river, disturbing the surface tranquillity, breaking waves before they had a chance to form. But then it was fine again, the wind subsided, as if nothing had happened.

The river had no memory. The river was content.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 1147

November 9, 2008

In the Hands of Others (17 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

Ariadne sat at the long oak dining table mispositioned beside the front window, preventing everyone sitting around it at the same time. Never had such an occasion arisen previously. It remained there because they didn’t expect it to happen again. Sunlight bled through patchy clouds and illuminated the whorls of the table’s surface, eddies and currents in something that appeared permanent and solid.

In front of the sofa, the blue folder sat on a crippled coffee table with one leg shorter than the other three. Four of them were squeezed on the sofa.

Tamsin grimaced at the folder, her hard features sharper than usual. Paul, the teenage runaway with lost puppy dog eyes and a bald scalp was just a skeletal fragment of a human being, still wearing the same ripped jeans, jacket and jumper that he refused to part with. Clarice, the obese member of their group who acted like their matriarch, spied the folder with eyes buried in a lumpy face, long brown hair swishing around it and over the dark cleft of her breasts. She wore another of her chintz tent dresses that she vocally hated, complaining it was all she could afford on the meagre kitty divided amongst them. Kelvin was perched on the arm of the sofa, a pile of rocks shaped into a hulk of a man in his late thirties, a black T-shirt and jeans strapped to his thick body. His beautiful green eyes glistened on the edge of tears as always, short greying hair, an ear-ring hanging from one ear.

Bobby sat in the rocking chair in the far corner, holding the fluffy white cloud in his arms that was their baby. The blue folder held no interest for him. Ariadne didn’t know why found him so handsome. He had Mediterranean looks, olive skin, dark eyes, long hair in a pony tail, the kind of thing she’d always hated, reminding her of greasy Greeks, slimy Spanish. Antonio Banderas did nothing for her.
Tamsin said, ‘Are you sure you didn’t hear wrong? She wants us to go blow up some place?’

Ariadne said, ‘Yes.’

‘That’s fucking crazy. I’m not doing this. Count me out.’ She adjusted her position on the sofa trying to relieve discomfort, but simply crushed Paul.

‘We have to do it,’ Ariadne said. ‘She said if we didn’t, she’d tell the Cloth where we are.’

Agitated, Clarice said, ‘Who the hell does she think she is? Really, now? We all have to stay alive. That is the most important thing.’

Ariadne raised her voice. ‘I think it’s obvious who she thinks she is. She thinks the fact she didn’t kill us means she owns us.’

‘Then we’ve got to get away from here. She’s been good to us, really good to us, right? But this is betrayal. She’s turned on us, on all of us. We can’t do this. This is bloody stupid, mad.’

Tamsin nodded, ‘Hear hear. Absolutely fucking stupid. Has she lost her mind or what?’

Paul was content just to listen and be crushed; Bobby said nothing. It took Kelvin to speak up and represent the menfolk. He stood up in silence and came over to sit opposite Ariadne.

‘Ariadne, love, you don’t agree do you?’ the Scot said softly. Ariadne didn’t say anything. ‘Come on, you can tell me you think.’

Ariadne studied the pattern on the table instead of acknowledging Kelvin. What had to be done, to her, was obvious and could not be refuted. He put his hands out onto the table, to reach for hers. She met his hands and they joined.

‘It’s true that Fay saved us before. But I think…. I think it’s also true that if Fay stops looking out for us probably we won’t last long. So if Fay tells us to do something then…’ She stopped. The same feeling as when she was on the landing. A piece on the board, at the whims of players with little humanity. Fay was still very much a Clothman; the only that had changed was that she’d gone freelance with her insanity.

Kelvin turned towards Clarice and Tamsin. ‘I agree. You see, ladies, you think that we can survive without Fay. I don’t think it’s easy to stay out of the Cloth’s clutches for long without inside information. If you think we got this far by ourselves, well, you probably need to re-think.’

Clarice shouted, ‘She’s asking us all to become killers. Bobby is the only one here who has killed. Do you think you can do that? I’m a teacher. I don’t want to hold a gun. I want to put as big a distance between us and the Cloth as possible.’

Ariadne realised she didn’t need to fight the others; Kelvin was onside. His hands were rough, but warm and comforting.

‘Nowhere is safe, Clarice,’ Kelvin said. ‘Tam and yourself are welcome to go find some safe place if you want, but it’d be better if we stuck together through this. Most of us wandered into this by accident, but we’re here now. We don’t make our rules anymore, Fay does.’

Tam leapt up, bursting with anger. ‘Fuck Fay, fuck Fay, fuck Fay!’ She walked out the room repeating the curse.

Clarice ground her teeth, pushed herself up off the sofa and shook her head in disapproval. ‘We’re all going to get killed. I hope you realise that.’ She also left the room.

Paul, alone on the sofa, picked up the blue folder and flicked through its pages. Bobby also continued to say nothing, making silent faces at Theo.

‘And the motion is carried,’ whispered Kelvin.

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2236

November 2, 2008

In the Hands of Others (16 of 20)

Thread: Alpha and Omega

An open hand descended through the chattering, snapping darkness.

Mr. Alpha reached forward, grabbed it and the crowd dissolved. Mr. Omega lifted him up and the street was just the street again. The tourists that had appeared from nowhere disappeared just as quickly, back whence they came.

‘What’s fucking wrong with you boy?’

‘I… I must’ve just tripped up.’

‘Can’t do knots, can’t do your shoe laces, hey boy? Come on. She went into Trinity College.’

There was no more caution in their approach; they sprinted down the last leg of Grafton Street and the crowds gave way this time. Mr. Alpha felt unsteady, unable to put his feet exactly they should go.

They blazed into the grounds of Trinity College, onto the grand open space of Parliament Square in which the Campanile stood. The tall bell tower, with drizzled white surfaces and four stumpy legs, seemed to watch them from above, an overwrought cross extruding from a scaly scalp.

A wedding entourage was milling around on the right, the bride a white puffy cloud and the groom a grey matchstick figure perfect for the top of some cake. Well-dressed guests surrounded them, taking pictures. Mr. Alpha thought he heard the sound of cameras clicking.

Mr. Omega seemed to know exactly where he was going, but Mr. Alpha couldn’t see the dark silhouette of Morgana. ‘Where is she? I don’t see her.’

‘There, right ahead, going into that building!’ Up ahead was a building that didn’t match the encroaching architecture, looking like the concrete skeleton of some beast. A black figure approached the main entrance then slipped inside. Few students were congregating around the building.

Mr. Omega was panting. He was too old for this. Mr. Alpha picked up the pace, getting ahead of his senior; not to prove a point, but to make sure they wouldn’t lose her. He was trying to avoid thinking of their pursuit as futile. He knew she was too far away; they’d never catch her now. Then another emotion sprang up: the fear of the strange crowd. They had to approach her together. He couldn’t do this alone.

‘Come on, Mr. Omega. Come on!’ He slacked off a little, to make sure Mr. Omega was with him.

They reached the concrete husk the figure had entered. The building, although still under construction, looked complete at this point – although hideously ugly, concrete masts and half-baked abstract designs jutting out at wrong angles. Signs were plastered all over a door before them: “UNDER CONSTRUCTION – KEEP OUT”, “HAZARDOUS CHEMICALS”. Not a second was spent considering the health and safety issues. They threw open the doors and plunged in.

Inside, an empty reception kiosk to the left was missing paperwork and a receptionist; a chair wrapped in plastic, fresh and unused, awaited a grand unveiling. A phone in the kiosk was ringing with a repetitive scrum of high-pitched beeps. A bench against the right wall was missing visitors. A noticeboard was missing notices, but it bore some pins. Corridors moved off to the left and right.

Mr. Alpha thought they would have to split up – they would still be close enough together not to break the pairship rules and face excision – but he didn’t welcome the prospect.

Mr. Omega shouted, ‘Come here, you bitch!’ and scarpered down the right-hand corridor.

Mr. Alpha followed and was amazed at what he saw. The old man was racing down the half-finished corridor, dissolving into scaffolding and construction materials at the far end, towards Morgana who stood calmly outside one door, smiling at them.

She looked how she did before. The black top and leggings made her look like she wore a catsuit, lithe and ready for action. Her face drenched with contempt yet there was still a place there for some mirth. Something around her neck; a pendant of some kind that looked like a hand. She seemed indistinct somehow, as if he couldn’t focus on her properly.

Mr. Omega had his weapon out and was preparing to fire.

Abruptly she dived through the door and slammed it behind her. The entire corridor reverberated with the sound as if something throbbed deep beneath the ground, stirring from slumber. It gave Mr. Alpha pause.

Mr. Omega fell against the door but it wouldn’t open. ‘Help, twat!’

Mr. Alpha got his own weapon out and ran towards the door.

‘After three,’ said Mr. Omega. Mr. Alpha tensed up his shoulder. ‘One, two, three!’

They threw themselves at the door and broke it off its hinges, only just able to stop themselves careering into the room.

Inside was a dingy office with an overhead window, a desk upon which a middle-aged woman sat facing them, and two men flanking her. None of them were Morgana.

The woman was trim with untidy brown hair and leered at them behind a pair of thin-framed glasses. She wore a pair of jeans and a blank cyan T-shirt. The two men beside her were wearing similar casual clothes. One was a bald black guy in hooded navy jacket, young enough to look like a troublemaker on one of the East End estates; but he was well-groomed and clean. The other wore a denim jacket, over a weathered T-shirt bearing the words Hell’s Angels; older but more unkempt. Long scraggy blonde hair spread out over his shoulders. A scar was posted over his right eye.

Mr. Omega raised his weapon at the woman. ‘Alright, where the fuck is she?’

Mr. Alpha raised his weapon too, pointing it at the hoodie. He noticed there were no other exits from the office and the office too small to hide in. A bad feeling swelled in his stomach. Something was wrong. Again.

The woman cocked her head to one side and took her glasses off. She rubbed her eyes. She spoke calmly with a thick southern Irish lilt. ‘There is no one here. We are not here. I’d leave while you still can on those bony legs of yours.’

The two men either side of her didn’t move at all. They stood there, unmoving, as if waiting for instructions.

Mr. Omega took a step forward and placed his black gun a few inches from the woman’s head. ‘You don’t know who we are. You will tell us where the woman is. You will do this otherwise I will pull this trigger. Belief is rock.’

Mr. Alpha was tense. Wrong. This felt like… he struggled to articulate it. He could still hear the phone down the corridor, ringing like an alarm bell, trying to tell him something. Morgana had baited them here. It felt like a trap.

‘Mr. Omega,’ he said.

‘I’m going to count to three,’ said the old man ignoring him. ‘And then I’m going to be very tired and bored with this. I get trigger-happy when I get tired and bored. One.’

‘Mr. Omega, hang on.’

‘Two.’ The phone continued to ring.

‘Mr. Omega, don’t you think-‘

‘Three. I am so fucking bored.’

The woman jerked her head up, still not wearing her glasses, staring directly into Mr. Omega’s eyes and screeched in anger: ‘Angel is dark!’

Something deep in his mind burst like an artery, splashing bloody memories across the ordered structure of the present, demolishing his resolve. The brutality of it. He hadn’t been prepared for this. Not this!

Posted by: The Harbour Master @ 2009