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I. Daylight: M
Deliverance delivers me to a three-story brick Victorian. It used to be beautiful, but it's spent decades crumbling into the cracked 1950's slum buildings to either side of it. The neighborhood feels dense with history and that makes me nervous. I step out of the taxi but nothing happens, despite the history.
The rain has stopped but daylight doesn't come. I look at the half-flight of weathered wooden stairs to 315 Grant Street, shrug, and limp up. The wooden door at the top with the cracked black paint swings open easily, and I head up another flight to the second floor landing, looking for apartment 2A. The inside of the building is clean and white and freshly painted, recent enough I can still smell the chemical tang. A shiny brass "A" hangs a little crooked on the door down the hall to my left, and there's a "B" on the door to my right. I head left because I don't know what else to do and put my hand on the scarred old brass door knob and--
three men wearing woolen great coats dusted with snow and
a stray cat with a white tip on its tail bounds to
the sharp smell of fire and burned meat, choking and
two men holding hands, tall and beautiful, knocking
with sharp knuckles, the angry, round-faced woman calls
the taste of mint and tears
charlie, her red hair half-bound in a blue tie and slipping out all over her face, breathless and--
Black blots out the vision like the night killing the sun. The darkness unfurls into an eye, big as a city, round and flat like a fish but with the iris and pupil elongated and lumpy, like a cancerous goat. The dizzying smell of rotten sea creatures chokes me and I pull back, retching, but am frozen by its basilisk gaze. I stand before the eye for a lifetime. And then another. And then--
black out, blink back, charlie knocks again
rage and pain and the smell of iron
a pool of blood on a marble threshold
The man with the thin face looks and me and smiles. "Hello Serenity Banks. You will make a lovely new sacrifice. Your power is just delectable."
I fall across the threshold of apartment 2A, the vision having lasted only the time it took to turn the doorknob. Like dreams or a trip to Avalon, I live terrible lifetimes in the visions, while only a fraction of a second passes in reality. Like dreams, the visions linger. I paw at the back of my head with my fingernails, feeling the itchy gaze of the awful eye on the nape of my neck, hearing the chuckles of the man with the thin face echoing through the hall. Seeing Charlie, who I'm too late to save and can only hope to avenge, lying dead as people with hoop skirts dance across the floor, disconnected from time. I'm drowning in history, whimpering beneath the weight of the years.
Finally, I snap out of it enough to sort out what is possibly real. Candle light. Warm, yellow, flickering. The smell of paraffin and kerosene and wood smoke. A woman stretching on a divan, propped on one elbow. Long, black hair coils and contrasts against her white breast; a complicated black corset clasps over a flowing white gown; huge black eyes gaze at me with an expression on the edge between beneficence and savagery. I'd think it was just another vision, but to the right of her on a little table a television sits on top of a VCR and CD player, so I must be in the late 20th century again. Maybe I was wrong to stop taking my meds. Not that they helped. My breath catches on a snag of doubt and fear and I choke on it as I take three steps into the room, closing the door behind me.
The woman on the divan sits up, alert.
Like someone has thrown a blanket over my feelings, the ball of terror woofs out. My knees go wobbly with the abrupt change of state. I don't feel anything. Anything at all. It's like I've entered a world without madness. And that seems, rationally, mad in itself, but I really don't care.
A small, satisfied smile curls around the woman's face. She extends a pale hand and says, "Hello Serena. I'm M." Her voice is soft, calm, deep.
I feel nothing.
I expect her hand to be cold as death when I take it, but it's warm and dry, and her grip strong.
"Charlie told me you'd come tonight; I have a room drawn up. Here, drink some tea."
I drop her hand and fall back into an easy chair. An elaborate cast iron fireplace dominates the room, probably the original central heating unit in the house. Delicate scroll work of ivies and roses curl up either side, and a father time holding an hourglass floats frozen in wrought iron above the softly glowing coals. Heat radiates. A short antique table has been pushed off-center, between M and I. Small trays of tiny bones cover it. The trays are black lacquer. The bones are very white. A mis-matched tea set rests on the edge of the table nearest me, next to the bones. Steam curls from the thrift-store ceramic teapot.
I feel nothing.
Maybe a little comforted? Just briefly though; the feeling evaporates as soon as I name it. "What--"
"You've had a very long night," M pulls herself the rest of the way into a full sit, and I can see her thin bones move beneath her white skin. Small bones. "You need tea. And rest. There will be time for questions in the morning." She pours tea into the cup and hands it to me.
The tea is slightly bitter, but not in a bad way. Warmth spreads through me. When I'm done, M reaches out her hand again for me to take.
I glance over at the little white bones in the little black trays. I take her hand.
M leads me a short way around the glowing fireplace, through a kitchen, and down a short hall into a back room. Thick curtains pile over what might be a window. A queen-sized bed fills most of it. I lay down on the soft duvet and sink into a billow of warmth and feathers. I feel nothing at all.
M removes my pajamas. She bathes me in warm water from a kettle, and puts cream and bandages on my feet. She dresses me in a soft sweatshirt and sweatpants and tucks me under the covers, and I realize the mattress is made of feathers too. M brushes her hand over my forehead like a mother and leans down and kisses me lightly with warm breath and soft lips. "Hush," she whispers, "sleep."
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