He recalled the seance.
He felt his fingers, number than numbers.
Feebly smiled at feeble wordplay. I'll be better when I'm warm, he muttered, his blue lips mouthing the words.
Rubbed his numbed fingers.
He looked around again. Everyone else, apparently, trapped in their own private hell.
He caught a fragment of a thought: something like "this possessed apartment is trying to communicate", but the thought had hardly formed before he discarded it.
This wasn't demonic possession. Definitely not.
Eyes twinkled, knowingly.
He knew demonic possession far better than he knew the Aramaic alphabet.
Voices. Inside him. Words. Unknown words.
Images of words: that much he understood. Like looking at a strange alphabet. Like Aramaic. But not Aramaic, he had a rudimentary understanding of Aramaic.
Then Harry Danes smiled at the lie he'd just told himself. He had no such rudimentary understanding of Aramaic. He barely recognised it when it was written. But he could hazard an educated guess.
His smile warmed him, dissipated the torpor. He remembered Life, and Thinking, and pretty Tisha.
Yes, he could guess at language.
These images in his head. They were language.
But what language?
Onstage, the actors are motionless. They litter the floor in their desperate ennui. They have no lines, no direction. No audience. They are far past words; way beyond feeling forgotten. Godot has been and gone and they are still there, utterly, utterly pointlessly, utterly meaninglessly, still there.
As for the cubes, they've been destroyed. In the stillness of meaninglessness, aggression became a script, gave them purpose. Still human enough to protect each other, their violence destroyed the cubes, destroyed each and every part of them until nothing was left.
Stillness and boredom become their comfort. It is a fleeting calm.
Harry Danes sat silently, his legs outsretched, his back against the wall, his head bowed.
Then he raised his head and looked around him.
At the bodies crumpled on the ground: DeStiy, Tisha Lopez. Both unmoving, barely breathing.
At Maya Reimnitz, paralysed by fear, kneeling next to that silent woman who rocked back and forth, silently sobbing.
At Ryland, trying to stand up.
At Rick, on his knees, his hands holding something unseen in front of him.
He couldn't think. He had to think. Cold. Froze. His brain.
The pain. Froze. His body.
Life sucked out of.
DeStiy remained only barely conscious, his vision disappearing at the edges.
Laughter awoke him fully again for more lingering, painfilled moments, a chilling, mind-crushing laughter of rejection and derision. He looked up.
Satan stood over him. Tall. Classically handsome.
“Enoch DeStiy. I reject you.”
Satan sneered. DeStiy howled in anguish.
“Your service to me has been...ineffectual. Futile.”
DeStiy writhed on the floor, fearing the enormity of his rejection.
“I give you nothing, DeStiy. You deserve nothing. You are nothing.”
Enoch DeStiy whimpered. Forsaken and destroyed, he faded into an unconsciousness filled with an oblivion of rejection, anguish and fear.
His left hand (Left, of course, there was no choice) picked up the first knife by the handle. His right hand closed tightly around the blade, sliding up and down its shaft. Blood first dribbled, then spurted through his fingers and down his arm.
His thigh received the first incision, the blade deeply penetrating the flesh, DeStiy relishing the agony that glorified existence. The second knife he licked - sensuously, slowly - his tongue gushing crimson as it cleaved in two.
Tears of pain and joy rivered his face as he kissed the bright blade before pushing it deep into his stomach.
DeStiy’s eyes widened when he realised where he was. Black candles, dismembered limbs, the smell of blood and sulphur: at long, long last he had gained admittance to Satan’s Sanctuary.
Knives appeared before him, bejewelled, ornate and bright-bladed, each blade radiant in form and spirit. They were Enoch DeStiy’s ultimate temptation.
Spiritually, mentally and physically, his arousal was intense. How could it be otherwise, DeStiy reasoned, with Satan’s spirit enveloping him?
His mind grew bright, omniscient, omnipotent, and his spirit soared within him as both body and soul shuddered and convulsed with each glorious, continuous spasm of joyous release.
Rick turned. Slowly. Afraid of what he might see.
Timmy stood behind him.
"Daddy!" Timmy giggled, "Look! I'm on fire!"
As Rick turned the stench of burning flesh plagued his nose and mouth. Black smoke swirled before his eyes until black was everything.
He moved his head wildly..
"Daddy! I'm burning!"
Waved his hands in front of his eyes.
Rick's hands shot to his eyes. Touched his eyeballs, not his eyelids.
And with ferocious and overwhelming fear he collapsed to his knees.
"Oh dear God! Dear God! I'm blinded."
And in unison they both screamed
The silent woman raised her head off the floor. Beneath her the ground had become soft, and her hands sank into it as they would a mattress, hindering her attempt to get up. She felt neither heat nor cold.
She felt nothing.
The scene unfolded before her in brief glimpses, as if her reality passed quickly in and out of consciousness. Her father pointing her out. The man who couldn't pay enough to touch her. The man who paid a fortune because she had not yet been touched. The woman with the straps. The priest who laughed with her father.
Rick looked at his hands. They were burning too, small flames playing across his blistering and bubbling palms. He rubbed them against his chest to douse the fire, but the pain almost made him faint and he knew above all he must stay conscious.
A finger dropped to the floor.
He screamed "Timmy!" as he slammed his weight against the door once again. The agony of a snapped collarbone stole his strength. He buckled to the floor.
He pushed again. Weakly. Vainly. Pointlessly.
"Daddy... I'm still burning!"
But this time the voice was laughing.
And it came from behind him.
"Daddy! I'm burning!"
Rick was at the door of the apartment, hand on the metal doorhandle, trying to open it. It didn't budge.
"Daddy! I'm burning!"
Ignoring the handle's searing heat which quickly burned the flesh on his hand, Rick wrenched, pulled and pushed at it. He forced his shoulder into the door: it gave a little, but only enough to let out a little black smoke. He stood back and kicked it, to no avail. Again, he rammed it with his shoulder. It budged infinitesimally, but with the smoke came the unmistakable smell of burning flesh.
"Daddy! I'm burning!"
She couldn't respond. She'd stopped shivering and her face had reddened with heat as she raised herself to her knees. Her jaw moved rhythmically, as if she was chewing. Up, down, her teeth clacking at each coming together. Her lips formed into a smile. Up. And down. Clack. Click. Clack. Then, without warning, her arms reached out in front of her, her fingers opening and closing as if trying to grasp something insubstantial, and she screamed, long and hard and desperate. Tears rolled down her face but froze before they fell from her chin. She fell again to the ground.
Despite pain in his frozen muscles and joints, Rick managed to stand. Maya, her face fraught, desperation in every word, sobbed "No, they'll shoot you!" She managed to drag him back down to his knees, but he pushed her away, unaware that all she saw were uniformed soldiers, warm in greatcoats and woollens, rifles pointed at him. Behind them, ice coated the barbed wire, making it almost pretty. As Rick stood, a soldier raised his rifle to his shoulder. Maya saw the bayonet was also coated in ice.
She pleaded with the silent woman "Do something. With your mind. Something!"
The door hammered shut behind them, as they fell to the floor. Immediately, an icy wind rose from below and whistled through them. Within seconds, the sweat on their faces stopped dripping; they shivered, huddled together. Sweat droplets on their clothes turned to ice. Their skin prickled as sweat solidified, cold and agonising. DeStiy's lips became blue, Tisha passed out, bumping her face sickeningly on the ground. A white hoar formed on the floor and walls. Breathing became painful.
Rick was the first to hear the cry from behind Ryland's closed apartment door.
Muffled at first. Then:
"Daddy! I'm burning!"
Rick turned to Danes at the window.
"Open it," he commanded.
Danes, his face awash with the sweat of the heat and the sweat of his own fear shook his head, a barely perceptible motion. His knees weak, his legs shaking, he pointed out into the hallway. Rick and Ryland understood, and as Danes staggered feebly towards them, they helped the others out of their chairs and out of the room.
Flames licked through the glass of the window, rose up through the carpeted floor and, with a soft hum, slowly emerged from different points of the walls and ceiling.
"Just open the damn door, Ryland," Rick gasped, his face blood red and dripping. Maya groaned, her head drooping onto her chest.
Ryland took in the others as he looked at Rick. Through the pounding in his head he was faintly aware of their lack of movement; of the sweat that soaked their clothes; of their wide opened mouths and bulging eyes that, apart from Ricks', seemed to be staring, seeing nothing.
"Now! For fucksakes, open it!" shouted Rick, "Now!"
With considerable effort Ryland turned the handle and pulled the door open.
Slowly, cooler air dribbled limply into the room.
Ryland moved to open the apartment door but became motionless when he saw what Danes saw.
The outside was black. Pure, unshaded black. Even through the diaphanous reflection of the room in the windowpane it was easy to see the solid, unsullied blackness that pressed in on the window. No city light. No break from the relentless blackness that seemed to crush itself against the building.
Even past the reflected horrified faces, wide eyed and glistening with sweat, it was easy to see the utter absence of light that forbade even the night and threatened to engulf and destroy them.
The wine glass moved again, this time more slowly but without intent, moving blindly past letters in the increasing heat.
Red-faced, open-mouthed, they sat silently, the only sounds the scraping of the glass on the board and the increasing rasping of laboured breathing.
DeStiy wiped his face with his free hand, Tisha wiped her brow with her sleeve.
Moments later Danes spoke
"It's getting too hot. We must leave the table. I'm sorry."
As he took his finger from the glass the others did the same. He walked to the window, parted the curtains and stood silently transfixed.
>Please speak to us.
>Can you speak English?
Tisha interrupted >Or Spanish?
2 3 5 1 3 8 9 2 3 3
Rick removed his finger from the glass. Everyone jumped, as if an electric shock had passed through them. Danes glared at him.
"Meaningless bloody numbers," Rick muttered. "Meaningless."
Silence then, as everyone looked first to Danes then to Ryland. A silence which beat in time with their own increasing heartbeats.
Something abruptly hit the window, hidden behind the closed curtains. A bird perhaps.
Rick replaced his finger on the glass.
"Sorry," he whispered shakily.
Ten minutes later saw them around the table again, this time their fingers were on an upturned wine glass.
This time there was someone there.
>Who are you?
The air in the room became noticeably warmer, closer. No one said anything, but they all became aware of their breathing. And the bands constricting their chests.
>Who would you like to speak to?
>Will you please speak?
The glass lurched with speed across the board. Maya's finger lost touch and she struggled to replace it.
DZ Yes A
Sweat glistened above Danes' fading smile.